Part 1 out of 6
Corrections to this eBook were performed by Martin Robb.
Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country
by Irving Bacheller
Early in the last century the hardy wood-choppers began to come
west, out of Vermont. They founded their homes in the
Adirondack wildernesses and cleared their rough acres with the
axe and the charcoal pit. After years of toil in a rigorous climate
they left their sons little besides a stumpy farm and a coon-skin
overcoat. Far from the centres of life their amusements, their
humours, their religion, their folk lore, their views of things had in
them the flavour of the timber lands, the simplicity of childhood.
Every son was nurtured in the love of honour and of industry, and
the hope of sometime being president. It is to be feared this latter
thing and the love of right living, for its own sake, were more in
their thoughts than the immortal crown that had been the
inspiration of their fathers. Leaving the farm for the more
promising life of the big city they were as men born anew, and
their second infancy was like that of Hercules. They had the
strength of manhood, the tireless energy of children and some hope
of the highest things. The pageant of the big town - its novelty, its
promise, its art, its activity - quickened their highest powers, put
them to their best effort. And in all great enterprises they became
the pathfinders, like their fathers in the primeval forest.
This book has grown out of such enforced leisure as one may find
in a busy life. Chapters begun in the publicity of a Pullman car
have been finished in the cheerless solitude of a hotel chamber.
Some have had their beginning in a sleepless night and their end in
a day of bronchitis. A certain pious farmer in the north country
when, like Agricola, he was about to die, requested the doubtful
glory of this epitaph: 'He was a poor sinner, but he done his best'
Save for the fact that I am an excellent sinner, in a literary sense,
the words may stand for all the apology I have to make.
The characters were mostly men and women I have known and
who left with me a love of my kind that even a wide experience
with knavery and misfortune has never dissipated. For my
knowledge of Mr Greeley I am chiefly indebted to David P.
Rhoades, his publisher, to Philip Fitzpatrick, his pressman, to the
files of the Tribune and to many books.
New York City, 7 April 1900
Of all the people that ever went west that expedition was the most
A small boy in a big basket on the back of a jolly old man, who
carried a cane in one hand, a rifle in the other; a black dog serving
as scout, skirmisher and rear guard - that was the size of it. They
were the survivors of a ruined home in the north of Vermont, and
were travelling far into the valley of the St Lawrence, but with no
Midsummer had passed them in their journey; their clothes were
covered with dust; their faces browning in the hot sun. It was a
very small boy that sat inside the basket and clung to the rim, his
tow head shaking as the old man walked. He saw wonderful
things, day after day, looking down at the green fields or peering
into the gloomy reaches of the wood; and he talked about them.
'Uncle Eb - is that where the swifts are?' he would ask often; and
the old man would answer, 'No; they ain't real sassy this time o'
year. They lay 'round in the deep dingles every day.'
Then the small voice would sing idly or prattle with an imaginary
being that had a habit of peeking over the edge of the basket or
would shout a greeting to some bird or butterfly and ask finally:
'Tired, Uncle Eb?'
Sometimes the old gentleman would say 'not very', and keep on,
looking thoughtfully at the ground. Then, again, he would stop and
mop his bald head with a big red handkerchief and say, a little
tremor of irritation in his voice: 'Tired! who wouldn't be tired with
a big elephant like you on his back all day? I'd be 'shamed o'
myself t' set there an' let an old man carry me from Dan to
Beersheba. Git out now an' shake yer legs.'
I was the small boy and I remember it was always a great relief to
get out of the basket, and having run ahead, to lie in the grass
among the wild flowers, and jump up at him as he came along.
Uncle Eb had been working for my father five years before I was
born. He was not a strong man and had never been able to carry
the wide swath of the other help in the fields, but we all loved him
for his kindness and his knack of story-telling. He was a bachelor
who came over the mountain from Pleasant Valley, a little bundle
of clothes on his shoulder, and bringing a name that enriched the
nomenclature of our neighbourhood. It was Eben Holden.
He had a cheerful temper and an imagination that was a very
wilderness of oddities. Bears and panthers growled and were very
terrible in that strange country. He had invented an animal more
treacherous than any in the woods, and he called it a swift.
'Sumthin' like a panther', he described the look of it a fearsome
creature that lay in the edge of the woods at sundown and made a
noise like a woman crying, to lure the unwary. It would light one's
eye with fear to hear Uncle Eb lift his voice in the cry of the swift.
Many a time in the twilight when the bay of a hound or some far
cry came faintly through the wooded hills, I have seen him lift his
hand and bid us hark. And when we had listened a moment, our
eyes wide with wonder, he would turn and say in a low,
half-whispered tone: ' 'S a swift' I suppose we needed more the fear
of God, but the young children of the pioneer needed also the fear
of the woods or they would have strayed to their death in them.
A big bass viol, taller than himself, had long been the solace of his
Sundays. After he had shaved - a ceremony so solemn that it
seemed a rite of his religion - that sacred viol was uncovered. He
carried it sometimes to the back piazza and sometimes to the barn,
where the horses shook and trembled at the roaring thunder of the
strings. When he began playing we children had to get well out of
the way, and keep our distance. I remember now the look of him,
then - his thin face, his soft black eyes, his long nose, the suit of
broadcloth, the stock and standing collar and, above all, the
solemnity in his manner when that big devil of a thing was leaning
on his breast
As to his playing I have never heard a more fearful sound in any
time of peace or one less creditable to a Christian. Weekdays he
was addicted to the milder sin of the flute and, after chores, if
there were no one to talk with him, he would sit long and pour his
soul into that magic bar of boxwood.
Uncle Eb had another great accomplishment. He was what they
call in the north country 'a natural cooner'. After nightfall, when
the corn was ripening, he spoke in a whisper and had his ear
cocked for coons. But he loved all kinds of good fun.
So this man had a boy in his heart and a boy in his basket that
evening we left the old house. My father and mother and older
brother had been drowned in the lake, where they had gone for a
day of pleasure. I had then a small understanding of my loss, hat I
have learned since that the farm was not worth the mortgage and
that everything had to be sold. Uncle Eb and I - a little lad, a very
little lad of six - were all that was left of what had been in that
home. Some were for sending me to the county house; but they
decided, finally, to turn me over to a dissolute uncle, with some
allowance for my keep. Therein Uncle Eb was to be reckoned
with. He had set his heart on keeping me, but he was a farm-hand
without any home or visible property and not, therefore, in the
mind of the authorities, a proper guardian. He had me with him in
the old house, and the very night he heard they were coming after
me in the morning, we started on our journey. I remember he was a
long time tying packages of bread and butter and tea and boiled
eggs to the rim of the basket, so that they hung on the outside.
Then he put a woollen shawl and an oilcloth blanket on the
bottom, pulled the straps over his shoulders and buckled them,
standing before the looking-glass, and, hang put on my cap and
coat, stood me on the table, and stooped so that I could climb into
the basket - a pack basket, that he had used in hunting, the top a
little smaller than the bottom. Once in, I could stand comfortably
or sit facing sideways, my back and knees wedged from port to
starboard. With me in my place he blew out the lantern and groped
his way to the road, his cane in one hand, his rifle in the other.
Fred, our old dog - a black shepherd, with tawny points - came
after us. Uncle Eb scolded him and tried to send him back, but I
pleaded for the poor creature and that settled it, he was one of our
'Dunno how we'll feed him,' said Uncle Eb. 'Our own mouths are
big enough t' take all we can carry, but I hain' no heart t' leave 'im
all 'lone there.'
I was old for my age, they tell me, and had a serious look and a
wise way of talking, for a boy so young; but I had no notion of
what lay before or behind us.
'Now, boy, take a good look at the old house,' I remember he
whispered to me at the gate that night ''Tain't likely ye'll ever see it
ag'in. Keep quiet now,' he added, letting down the bars at the foot
of the lane. 'We're goin' west an' we mustn't let the grass grow
under us. Got t'be purty spry I can'tell ye.'
It was quite dark and he felt his way carefully down the cow-paths
into the broad pasture. With every step I kept a sharp lookout for
swifts, and the moon shone after a while, making my work easier.
I had to hold my head down, presently, when the tall brush began
to whip the basket and I heard the big boots of Uncle Eb ripping
the briars. Then we came into the blackness of the thick timber
and I could hear him feeling his way over the dead leaves with his
cane. I got down, shortly, and walked beside him, holding on to the
rifle with one hand. We stumbled, often, and were long in the trail
before we could see the moonlight through the tree columns. In the
clearing I climbed to my seat again and by and by we came to the
road where my companion sat down resting his load on a boulder.
'Pretty hot, Uncle Eb, pretty hot,' he said to himself, fanning his
brow with that old felt hat he wore everywhere. 'We've come three
mile er more without a stop an' I guess we'd better rest a jiffy.'
My legs ached too, and I was getting very sleepy. I remember the
jolt of the basket as he rose, and hearing him say, 'Well, Uncle Eb,
I guess we'd better be goin'.'
The elbow that held my head, lying on the rim of the basket, was
already numb; but the prickling could no longer rouse me, and
half-dead with weariness, I fell asleep. Uncle Eb has told me since,
that I tumbled out of the basket once, and that he had a time of it
getting me in again, but I remember nothing more of that day's
When I woke in the morning, I could hear the crackling of fire, and
felt very warm and cosy wrapped in the big shawl. I got a cheery
greeting from Uncle Eb, who was feeding the fire with a big heap
of sticks that he had piled together. Old Fred was licking my hands
with his rough tongue, and I suppose that is what waked me. Tea
was steeping in the little pot that hung over the fire, and our
breakfast of boiled eggs and bread and butter lay on a paper beside
it. I remember well the scene of our little camp that morning. We
had come to a strange country, and there was no road in sight. A
wooded hill lay back of us, and, just before, ran a noisy little
brook, winding between smooth banks, through a long pasture into
a dense wood. Behind a wall on the opposite shore a great field of
rustling corn filled a broad valley and stood higher than a man's
While I went to wash my face in the clear water Uncle Eb was
husking some ears of corn that he took out of his pocket, and had
them roasting over the fire in a moment. We ate heartily, giving
Fred two big slices of bread and butter, packing up with enough
remaining for another day. Breakfast over we doused the fire and
Uncle Eb put on his basket He made after a squirrel, presently,
with old Fred, and brought him down out of a tree by hurling
stones at him and then the faithful follower of our camp got a bit
of meat for his breakfast. We climbed the wall, as he ate, and
buried ourselves in the deep corn. The fragrant, silky tassels
brushed my face and the corn hissed at our intrusion, crossing its
green sabers in our path. Far in the field my companion heaped a
little of the soft earth for a pillow, spread the oil cloth between
rows and, as we lay down, drew the big shawl over us. Uncle Eb
was tired after the toil of that night and went asleep almost as soon
as he was down. Before I dropped off Fred came and licked my
face and stepped over me, his tail wagging for leave, and curled
upon the shawl at my feet. I could see no sky in that gloomy green
aisle of corn. This going to bed in the morning seemed a foolish
business to me that day and I lay a long time looking up at the
rustling canopy overhead. I remember listening to the waves that
came whispering out of the further field, nearer and nearer, until
they swept over us with a roaring swash of leaves, like that of
water flooding among rocks, as I have heard it often. A twinge of
homesick ness came to me and the snoring of Uncle Eb gave me
no comfort. I remember covering my head and crying softly as I
thought of those who had gone away and whom I was to meet in a
far country, called Heaven, whither we were going. I forgot my
sorrow, finally, in sleep. When I awoke it had grown dusk under
the corn. I felt for Uncle Eb and he was gone. Then I called to him.
'Hush, boy! lie low,' he whispered, bending over me, a sharp look
in his eye.' 'Fraid they're after us.'
He sat kneeling beside me, holding Fred by the collar and
listening. I could hear voices, the rustle of the corn and the tramp
of feet near by. It was thundering in the distance - that heavy,
shaking thunder that seems to take hold of the earth, and there
were sounds in the corn like the drawing of sabers and the rush of
many feet. The noisy thunder clouds came nearer and the voices
that had made us tremble were no longer heard. Uncle Eb began to
fasten the oil blanket to the stalks of corn for a shelter. The rain
came roaring over us. The sound of it was like that of a host of
cavalry coming at a gallop. We lay bracing the stalks, the blanket
tied above us and were quite dry for a time. The rain rattled in the
sounding sheaves and then came flooding down the steep gutters.
Above us beam and rafter creaked, swaying, and showing glimpses
of the dark sky. The rain passed - we could hear the last battalion
leaving the field - and then the tumult ended as suddenly as it
began. The corn trembled a few moments and hushed to a faint
whisper. Then we could hear only the drip of raindrops leaking
through the green roof. It was dark under the corn.
We heard no more of the voices. Uncle Eb had brought an armful
of wood, and some water in the teapot, while I was sleeping. As
soon as the rain had passed he stood listening awhile and shortly
opened his knife and made a little clearing in the corn by cutting a
'We've got to do it,' he said, 'er we can't take any comfort, an' the
man tol' me I could have all the corn I wanted.'
'Did you see him, Uncle Eb?' I remember asking.
'Yes,' he answered, whittling in the dark. 'I saw him when I went
out for the water an' it was he tol' me they were after us.'
He took a look at the sky after a while, and, remarking that he
guessed they couldn't see his smoke now, began to kindle the fire.
As it burned up he stuck two crotches and hung his teapot on a
stick' that lay in them, so it took the heat of the flame, as I had seen
him do in the morning. Our grotto, in the corn, was shortly as
cheerful as any room in a palace, and our fire sent its light into the
long aisles that opened opposite, and nobody could see the warm
glow of it but ourselves.
'We'll hev our supper,' said Uncle Eb, as he opened a paper and
spread out the eggs and bread and butter and crackers. 'We'll jest
hev our supper an' by 'n by when everyone's abed we'll make tracks
in the dirt, I can'tell ye.'
Our supper over, Uncle Eb let me look at his tobacco-box - a shiny
thing of German silver that always seemed to snap out a quick
farewell to me before it dove into his pocket. He was very cheerful
and communicative, and joked a good deal as we lay there waiting
in the firelight. I got some further acquaintance with the swift,
learning among other things that it had no appetite for the pure in
'Why not?' I enquired.
'Well,' said Uncle Eb, 'it's like this: the meaner the boy, the sweeter
He sang an old song as he sat by the fire, with a whistled interlude
between lines, and the swing of it, even now, carries me back to
that far day in the fields. I lay with my head in his lap while he was
Years after, when I could have carried him on my back' he wrote
down for me the words of the old song. Here they are, about as he
sang them, although there are evidences of repair, in certain lines,
to supply the loss of phrases that had dropped out of his memory:
I was goin' to Salem one bright summer day,
I met a young maiden a goin' my way;
O, my fallow, faddeling fallow, faddel away.
An' many a time I had seen her before,
But I never dare tell 'er the love thet I bore.
O, my fallow, etc.
'Oh, where are you goin' my purty fair maid?'
'O, sir, I am goin' t' Salem,' she said.
O, my fallow, etc.
'O, why are ye goin' so far in a day?
Fer warm is the weather and long is the way.'
O, my fallow, etc.
'O, sir I've forgorten, I hev, I declare,
But it's nothin' to eat an' its nothin' to wear.'
O, my fallow, etc.
'Oho! then I hev it, ye purty young miss!
I'll bet it is only three words an' a kiss.'
O, my fallow, etc.
'Young woman, young woman, O how will it dew
If I go see yer lover 'n bring 'em t' you?'
O, my fallow, etc.
''S a very long journey,' says she, 'I am told,
An' before ye got back, they would surely be cold.'
O, my fallow, etc.
'I hev 'em right with me, I vum an' I vow,
An' if you don't object I'll deliver 'em now.'
O, my fallow, etc.
She laid her fair head all on to my breast,
An' ye wouldn't know more if I tol' ye the rest
O, my fallow, etc.
I went asleep after awhile in spite of all, right in the middle of a
story. The droning voice of Uncle Eb and the feel of his hand upon
my forehead called me back, blinking, once or twice, but not for
long. The fire was gone down to a few embers when Uncle Eb
woke me and the grotto was lit only by a sprinkle of moonlight
'Mos' twelve o'clock,' he whispered. 'Better be off.'
The basket was on his back and he was all ready. I followed him
through the long aisle of corn, clinging to the tall of his coat. The
golden lantern of the moon hung near the zenith and when we
came out in the open we could see into the far fields. I climbed
into my basket at the wall and as Uncle Eb carried me over the
brook, stopping on a flat rock midway to take a drink, I could see
the sky in the water, and it seemed as if a misstep would have
tumbled me into the moon.
'Hear the crickets holler,' said Uncle Eb, as he followed the bank
up into the open pasture.
'What makes 'em holler?' I asked.
'O, they're jes' filin' their saws an' thinktin'. Mebbe tellin' o' what's
happened 'em. Been a hard day fer them little folks. Terrible flood
in their country. Everyone on em hed t' git up a steeple quick 'she
could er be drownded. They hev their troubles an' they talk 'bout
'What do they file their saws for?' I enquired.
'Well, ye know,' said he, 'where they live the timber's thick an' they
hev hard work clearin' t' mek a home.'
I was getting too sleepy for further talk. He made his way from
field to field, stopping sometimes to look off at the distant
mountains then at the sky or to whack the dry stalks of mullen with
his cane. I remember he let down some bars after a long walk and
stepped into a smooth roadway. He stood resting a little while, his
basket on the top bar, and then the moon that I had been watching
went down behind the broad rim of his hat and I fell into utter
forgetfulness. My eyes opened on a lovely scene at daylight Uncle
Eb had laid me on a mossy knoll in a bit of timber and through an
opening right in front of us I could see a broad level of shining
water, and the great green mountain on the further shore seemed to
be up to its belly in the sea.
'Hello there!' said Uncle Eb; 'here we are at Lake Champlain.'
I could hear the fire crackling and smell the odour of steeping tea.
'Ye flopped 'round like a fish in thet basket,' said Uncle Eb. ''Guess
ye must a been drearnin' O' bears. Jumped so ye scairt me. Didn't
know but I had a wil' cat on my shoulders.'
Uncle Eb had taken a fish-line out of his pocket and was tying it to
a rude pole that he had cut and trinmed with his jack-knife.
'I've found some crawfish here,' he said, 'an' I'm goin' t' try fer a bite
on the p'int O' rocks there.'
'Goin' t' git some fish, Uncle Eb?' I enquired.
'Wouldn't say't I was, er wouldn't say't I wasn't,' he answered. 'Jes
goin' t' try.'
Uncle Eb was always careful not to commit himself on a doubtful
point. He had fixed his hook and sinker in a moment and then we
went out on a rocky point nearby and threw off into the deep
water. Suddenly Uncle Eb gave a jerk that brought a groan out of
him and then let his hook go down again, his hands trembling, his
'By mighty! Uncle Eb,' he murtered to himself, 'I thought we hed
him thet time.'
He jerked again presently, and then I could see a tug on the line
that made me jump. A big fish came thrashing into the air in a
minute. He tried to swing it ashore, but the pole bent and the fish
got a fresh hold of the water and took the end of the pole under.
Uncle Eb gave it a lift then that brought it ashore and a good bit of
water with it. I remember how the fish slapped me with its wet tail
and sprinkled my face shaking itself between my boots. It was a
big bass and in a little while we had three of them. Uncle Eb
dressed them and laid them over the fire on a gridiron of green
birch, salting them as they cooked. I remember they went with a
fine relish and the last of our eggs and bread and butter went with
Our breakfast over, Uncle Eb made me promise to stay with Fred
and the basket while he went away to find a man who could row us
across. In about an hour I heard a boat coming and the dog and I
went out on the point of rocks where we saw Uncle Eb and another
man, heading for us, half over the cove. The bow bumped the
rocks beneath us in a minute. Then the stranger dropped his oars
and stood staring at me and the dog.
'Say, mister,' said he presently, 'can't go no further. There's a
reward offered fer you an' thet boy.'
Uncle Eb called him aside and was talking to him a long time.
I never knew what was said, but they came at last and took us into
the boat and the stranger was very friendly.
When we had come near the landing on the 'York State' side, I
remember he gave us our bearmgs.
'Keep t' the woods,' he said, 'till you're out o' harm's way. Don't go
near the stage road fer a while. Ye'll find a store a little way up the
mountain. Git yer provisions there an' about eighty rod farther ye'll
strike the trail. It'll take ye over the mountain north an' t' Paradise
Road. Then take the white church on yer right shoulder an' go
I would not have remembered it so well but for the fact that Uncle
Eb wrote it all down in his account book and that has helped me
over many a slippery place in my memory of those events. At the
store we got some crackers and cheese, tea and coffee, dried beef
and herring, a bit of honey and a loaf of bread that was sliced and
buttered before it was done up. We were off in the woods by nine
o'clock, according to Uncle Eb's diary, and I remember the trail led
us into thick brush where I had to get out and walk a long way. It
was smooth under foot, however, and at noon we came to a slash
in the timber, full of briars that were all aglow with big
blackberries. We filled our hats with them and Uncle Eb found a
spring, beside which we built a fire and had a memorable meal
that made me glad of my hunger.
Then we spread the oilcloth and lay down for another sleep. We
could see the glow of the setting sun through the tree-tops when
we woke, and began our packing.
'We'll hev t' hurry,' said Uncle Eb, 'er we'll never git out o' the
woods t'night 'S 'bout six mile er more t' Paradise Road, es I mek it.
Come, yer slower 'n a toad in a tar barrel.'
We hurried off on the trail and I remember Fred looked very
crestfallen withtwo big packages tied to his collar. He delayed a bit
by trying to shake them off, but Uncle Eb gave him a sharp word
or two and then he walked along very thoughtfully. Uncle Eb was
a little out of patience that evening, and I thought he bore down
too harshly in his rebuke of the old dog.
'You shif'less cuss,' he said to him, 'ye'd jes' dew nothin' but chase
squirrels an' let me break my back t' carry yer dinner.'
It was glooming fast in the thick timber, and Uncle Eb almost ran
with me while the way was plain. The last ringing note of the
wood thrush had died away and in a little while it was so dark I
could distinguish nothing but the looming mass of tree tranks.
He stopped suddenly and strained his eyes in the dark. Then he
whistled a sharp, sliding note, and the sound of it gave me some
hint of his trouble.
'Git down, Willie,' said he, 'an' tek my hand. I'm 'fraid we're lost
here 'n the big woods.'
We groped about for a minute, trying to find the trail.
'No use,' he said presently, 'we'll hev t' stop right here. Oughter
known berter 'n t' come through s' near sundown. Guess it was
more 'n anybody could do.'
He built a fire and began to lay out a supper for us then, while Fred
sat down by me to be relieved of his bundles. Our supper was
rather dry, for we had no water, but it was only two hours since we
left the spring, so we were not suffering yet Uncle Eb took out of
the fire a burning brand of pine and went away into the gloomy
woods, holding it above his head, while Fred and I sat by the fire.
''S lucky we didn't go no further,' he said, as he came in after a few
-minutes. 'There's a big prec'pice over yender. Dunno how deep 't
is. Guess we'd a found out purty soon.'
He cut some boughs of hemlock, growing near us, and spread them
in a little hollow. That done, we covered them with the oilcloth,
and sat down comfortably by the fire. Uncle Eb had a serious look
and was not inclined to talk or story telling. Before turning in he
asked me to kneel and say my prayer as I had done every evening
at the feet of my mother. I remember, clearly, kneeling before my
old companion and hearing the echo of my small voice there in the
dark and lonely woods.
I remember too, and even more clearly, how he bent his head and
covered his eyes in that brief moment. I had a great dread of
darkness and imagined much evil of the forest, but somehow I had
no fear if he were near me. When we had fixed the fire and lain
down for the night on the fragrant hemlock and covered ourselves
with the shawl, Uncle Eb lay on one side of me and old Fred on the
other, so I felt secure indeed. The night had many voices there in
the deep wood. Away in the distance I could hear a strange, wild
cry, and I asked what it was and Uncle Eb whispered back,' 's a
loon.' Down the side of the mountain a shrill bark rang in the
timber and that was a fox, according to my patient oracle. Anon
we heard the crash and thunder of a falling tree and a murmur that
followed in the wake of the last echo.
'Big tree fallin'!' said Uncle Eb, as he lay gaping. 'It has t' break a
way t' the ground an' it must hurt. Did ye notice how the woods
tremble? If we was up above them we could see the hole thet tree
hed made. Jes' like an open grave till the others hev filed it with
My ears had gone deaf with drowsiness when a quick stir in the
body of Uncle Eb brought me back to my senses. He was up on his
elbow listening and the firelight had sunk to a glimmer. Fred lay
shivering and growling beside me. I could hear no other sound.
'Be still,' said Uncle Eb, as he boxed the dog's ears. Then he rose
and began to stir the fire and lay on more wood. As the flame
leaped and threw its light into the tree-tops a shrill cry, like the
scream of a frightened woman, only louder and more terrible to
hear brought me to my feet, crying. I knew the source of it was
near us and ran to Uncle Eb in a fearful panic.
'Hush, boy,' said he as it died away and went echoing in the far
forest. 'I'll take care o' you. Don't be scairt. He's more 'fraid uv us
than we are o' him. He's makin' off now.'
We heard then a great crackling of dead brush on the mountain
above us. It grew fainter as we listened. In a little while the woods
'It's the ol' man o' the woods,' said Uncle Eb. 'E's out takin' a walk.'
'Will he hurt folks?' I enquired.
'Tow!' he answered, 'jest as harmless as a kitten.'
Naturally there were a good many things I wanted to know about
'the ol' man o' the woods,' but Uncle Eb would take no part in any
So I had to lie down beside him again and think out the problem as
best I could. My mind was never more acutely conscious and it
gathered many strange impressions, wandering in the kingdom of
Fear, as I looked up at the tree-tops. Uncle Eb had built a furious
fire and the warmth of it made me sleepy at last. Both he and old
Fred had been snoring a long time when I ceased to hear them.
Uncle Eb woke me at daylight, in the morning, and said we must
be off to find the trail. He left me by the fire a little while and went
looking on all sides and came back no wiser. We were both thirsty
and started off on rough footing, without stopping to eat. We
climbed and crawled for hours, it seemed to me, and everywhere
the fallen tree trunks were heaped in our way. Uncle Eb sat down
on one of them awhile to rest.
'Like the bones o' the dead,' said he, as he took a chew of tobacco
and picked at the rotten skeleton of a fallen tree. We were both
pretty well out of breath and of hope also, if I remember rightly,
when we rested again under the low hanging boughs of a basswood
for a bite of luncheon. Uncle Eb opened the little box of honey and
spread some of it on our bread and butter. In a moment I noticed
that half a dozen bees had lit in the open box.
'Lord Harry! here's honey bees,' said he, as he covered the box so as
to keep them in, and tumbled everything else into the basket.
'Make haste now, Willie, and follow me with all yer might,' he
In a minute he let out one of the bees, and started running in the
direction it flew. It went but a few feet and then rose into the
'He's goin' t' git up into the open air,' said Uncle Eb. 'But I've got
his bearins' an' I guess he knows the way all right.'
We took the direction indicated for a few minutes and then Uncle
Eb let out another prisoner. The bee flew off a little way and then
rose in a slanting course to the tree-tops. He showed us, however,
that we were looking the right way.
'Them little fellers hev got a good compass,' said Uncle Eb, as we
followed the line of the bees. 'It p'ints home ev'ry time, an' never
makes a mistake.'
We went further this time before releasing another. He showed us
that we had borne out of our course a little and as we turned to
follow there were half a dozen bees flying around the box, as if
begging for admission.
'Here they are back agin,' said Uncle Eb, 'an' they've told a lot o'
their cronies 'bout the man an' the boy with honey.'
At length one of them flew over our heads and back in the
direction we had come from.
'Ah, ha,' said Uncle Eb, 'it's a bee tree an' we've passed it, but I'm
goin' t' keep lettin' 'em in an' out. Never heard uv a swarm o' bees
goin' fur away an' so we mus' be near the clearin'.'
In a little while we let one go that took a road of its own. The
others had gone back over our heads; this one bore off to the right
in front of us, and we followed. I was riding in the basket and was
first to see the light of the open through the tree-tops. But I didn't
know what it meant until I heard the hearty 'hurrah' of Uncle Eb.
We had come to smooth footing in a grove of maples and the clean
trunks of the trees stood up as straight as a granite column.
Presently we came out upon wide fields of corn and clover, and as
we looked back upon the grove it had a rounded front and I think
of it now as the vestibule of the great forest
'It's a reg'lar big tomb,' said Uncle Eb, looking back over his
shoulder into the gloomy cavern of the woods.
We could see a log house in the clearing, and we made for it as
fast as our legs would carry us. We had amighty thirst and when
we came to a little brook in the meadow we laid down and drank
and drank until we were fairly grunting with fullness. Then we
filled our teapot and went on. Men were reaping with their cradles
in a field of grain and, as we neared the log house, a woman came
out in the dooryard and, lifting a shell to her lips, blew a blast that
rushed over the clearing and rang in the woods beyond it A loud
halloo came back from the men.
A small dog rushed out at Fred, barking, and, I suppose, with some
lack of respect, for the old dog laid hold of him in a violent temper
and sent him away yelping. We must have presented an evil aspect,
for our clothes were torn and we were both limping with fatigue.
The woman had a kindly face and, after looking at us a moment,
came and stooped before me and held my small face in her hands
turning it so she could look into my eyes.
'You poor little critter,' said she, 'where you goin'?'
Uncle Eb told her something about my father and mother being
dead and our going west Then she hugged and kissed me and made
me very miserable, I remember, wetting my face with her tears,
that were quite beyond my comprehension.
'Jethro,' said she, as the men came into the yard, 'I want ye t' look
at this boy. Did ye ever see such a cunnin' little critter? Jes' look at
them bright eyes!' and then she held me to her breast and nearly
smothered me and began to hum a bit of an old song.
'Yer full o' mother love,' said her husband, as he sat down on the
grass a moment 'Lost her only baby, an' the good Lord has sent no
other. I swan, he has got putty eyes. Jes' as blue as a May flower.
Ain't ye hungry? Come right in, both o' ye, an' set down t' the table
They made room for us and we sat down between the bare elbows
of the hired men. I remember my eyes came only to the top of the
table. So the good woman brought the family Bible and sitting on
that firm foundation I ate my dinner of salt pork and potatoes and
milk gravy a diet as grateful as it was familiar to my taste.
'Orphan, eh?' said the man of the house, looking down at me.
'Orphan,' Uncle Eb answered, nodding his head.
'Best in the world,' said Uncle Eb.
Want t' bind 'im out?' the man asked.
'Couldn't spare 'im,' said Uncle Eb, decisively.
'Where ye goin'?'
Uncle Eb hesitated, groping for an answer, I suppose, that would
do no violence to our mutual understanding.
'Goin' t' heaven,' I ventured to say presently - an answer that gave
rise to conflicting emotions at the table.
'That's right,' said Uncle Eb, turning to me and patting my head.
'We're on the road t' heaven, I hope, an' ye'll see it someday, sartin
sure, if ye keep in the straight road and be a good boy.'
After dinner the good woman took off my clothes and put me in
bed while she mended them. I went asleep then and did not awake
for a long time. When I got up at last she brought a big basin of
water and washed me with such motherly tenderness in voice and
manner that I have never forgotten it. Uncle Eb lay sleeping on the
lounge and when she had finished dressing me, Fred and I went out
to play in the garden. It was supper time in a little while and then,
again, the woman winded the shell and the men came up from the
field. We sat down to eat with them, as we had done at noon, and
Uncle Eb consented to spend the night after some urging. He
helped them with the milking, and as I stood beside him shot a jet
of the warm white flood into my mouth, that tickled it so I ran
away laughing. The milking done, I sat on Uncle Eb's knee in the
door-yard with all the rest of that household, hearing many tales of
the wilderness, and of robbery and murder on Paradise Road. I got
the impression that it was a country of unexampled wickedness
and ferocity in men and animals. One man told about the ghost of
Burnt Bridge; how the bridge had burnt one afternoon and how a
certain traveller in the dark of the night driving down the hill
above it, fell to his death at the brink of the culvert.
'An' every night since then,' said the man, very positively, ye can
hear him drivin' down thet bill - jes' as plain as ye can hear me
talkin' -the rattle o' the wheels an' all. It stops sudden an' then ye
can hear 'im hit the rocks way down there at the bottom O' the
gulley an' groan an' groan. An' folks say it's a curse on the town for
leavin' thet hole open.'
'What's a ghost, Uncle Eb?' I whispered.
'Somethin' like a swift,' he answered, 'but not so powerful. We
heard a panther las' night,' he added, turning to our host. 'Hollered
like sin when he see the fire.'
'Scairt!' said the man o' the house gaping. 'That's what ailed him.
I've lived twenty year on Paradise Road an' it was all woods when I
put up the cabin. Seen deer on the doorstep an' bears in the garden,
an' panthers in the fields. But I tell ye there's no critter so terrible
as a man. All the animals know 'im - how he roars, an' spits fire an'
smoke an' lead so it goes through a body er bites off a leg, mebbe.
Guess they'd made friends with me but them I didn't kill went away
smarting with holes in 'em. An' I guess they told all their people
'bout me - the terrible critter that walked on its hind legs an' lied a
white face an' drew up an' spit 'is teeth into their vitals 'cross a
ten-acre lot. An' putty soon they concluded they didn't want t' hev
no truck with me. They thought thin clearin' was the valley o' death
an' they got very careful. But the deer they kep' peekin' in at me.
Sumthin' funny 'bout a deer - they're so cu'rus. Seem's though they
loved the look o' me an' the taste o' the tame grass. Mebbe God
meant em t' serve in the yoke some way an' be the friend o' man.
They're the outcasts o' the forest - the prey o' the other animals an'
men like 'em only when they're dead. An' they're the purtiest critter
alive an' the spryest an' the mos' graceful.'
'Men are the mos' terrible of all critters, an' the meanest,' said
Uncle Eb. 'They're the only critters that kill fer fun.'
'Bedtime,' said our host, rising presently. 'Got t' be up early 'n the
We climbed a ladder to the top floor of the cabin with the hired
men, of whom there were two. The good lady of the house had
made a bed for us on the floor and I remember Fred came up the
ladder too, and lay down beside us. Uncle Eb was up with the men
in the morning and at breakfast time my hostess came and woke
me with kisses and helped me to dress. When we were about going
she brought a little wagon out of the cellar that had been a playing
of her dead boy, and said I could have it. This wonderful wagon
was just the thing for the journey we were making. When I held
the little tongue in my hand I was half-way to heaven already. It
had four stout wheels and a beautiful red box. Her brother had sent
it all the way from New York and it had stood so long in the cellar
it was now much in need of repair. Uncle Eb took it to the tool
shop in the stable and put it in shipshape order and made a little
pair of thills to go in place of the tongue. Then he made a big flat
collar and a back-pad out of the leather in old boot-legs, and rigged
a pair of tugs out of two pieces of rope. Old Fred was quite cast
down when he stood in harness between the shafts.
He had waited patiently to have his collar fitted; he had grinned
and panted and wagged his tail with no suspicion of the serious
and humiliating career he was entering upon. Now he stood with a
sober face and his aspect was full of meditation.
'You fightin' hound!' said Uncle Eb, 'I hope this'll improve yer
Fred tried to sit down when Uncle Eb tied a leading rope to his
collar. When he heard the wheels rattle and felt the pull of the
wagon he looked back at it and growled a little and started to run.
Uncle Eb shouted 'whoa', and held him back, and then the dog got
down on his belly and trembled until we patted his head and gave
him a kind word. He seemed to understand presently and came
along with a steady stride. Our hostess met us at the gate and the
look of her face when she bade us goodbye and tucked some
cookies into my pocket, has always lingered in my memory and
put in me a mighty respect for all women. The sound of her voice,
the tears, the waving of her handkerchief, as we went away, are
among the things that have made me what I am.
We stowed our packages in the wagon box and I walked a few
miles and then got into the empty basket. Fred tipped his load over
once or twice, but got a steady gait in the way of industry after a
while and a more cheerful look. We had our dinner by the roadside
on the bank of a brook, an hour or so after midday, and came to a
little village about sundown. As we were nearing it there was some
excitement among the dogs and one of them tackled Fred. He went
into battle very promptly, the wagon jumping and rattling until it
turned bottom up. Re-enforced by Uncle Eb's cane he soon saw the
heels of his aggressor and stood growling savagely. He was like
the goal in a puzzle maze all wound and tangled in his harness and
it took some time to get his face before him and his feet free.
At a small grocery where groups of men, just out of the fields,
were sitting, their arms bare to the elbows, we bought more bread
and butter. In paying for it Uncle Eb took a package out of his
trouser pocket to get his change. It was tied in a red handkerchief
and I remember it looked to be about the size of his fist. He was
putting it back when it fell from his hand, heavily, and I could hear
the chink of coin as it struck. One of the men, who sat near, picked
it up and gave it back to him. As I remember well, his kindness
had an evil flavour, for he winked at his companions, who nudged
each other as they smiled knowingly. Uncle Eb was a bit cross,
when I climbed into the basket, and walked along in silence so
rapidly it worried the dog to keep pace. The leading rope was tied
to the stock of the rifle and Fred's walking gait was too slow for
the comfort of his neck.
'You shifless cuss! I'll put a kink in your neck fer you if ye don't
walk up,' said Uncle Eb, as he looked back at the dog, in a temper
wholly unworthy of him.
We had crossed a deep valley and were climbing a long hill in the
'Willie,' said Uncle Eb, 'your eyes are better'n mine - look back
and see if anyone's comin'.'
'Can't see anyone,' I answered.
'Look 'way back in the road as fur as ye can see.
I did so, but I could see no one. He slackened his pace a little after
that and before we had passed the hill it was getting dark. The road
ran into woods and a river cut through them a little way from the
'Supper time, Uncle Eb,' I suggested, as we came to the bridge.
'Supper time, Uncle Eb,' he answered, turning down to the shore.
I got out of the basket then and followed him in the brush. Fred
found it hard travelling here and shortly we took off his harness
and left the wagon, transferring its load to the basket, while we
pushed on to find a camping place. Back in the thick timber a long
way from the road, we built a fire and had our supper. It was a dry
nook in the pines -'tight as a house,' Uncle Eb said - and carpeted
with the fragrant needles. When we lay on our backs in the
firelight I remember the weary, droning voice of Uncle Eb had an
impressive accompaniment of whispers. While he told stories 1
had a glowing cinder on the end of a stick and was weaving fiery
skeins in the gloom.
He had been telling me of a panther he had met in the woods, one
day, and how the creature ran away at the sight of him.
'Why's a panther 'fraid o' folks?' I enquired.
'Wall, ye see, they used t' be friendly, years 'n years ago - folks 'n
panthers - but they want eggszac'ly cal'lated t' git along t'gether
some way. An' ol' she panther gin 'em one uv her cubs, a great
while ago, jes t' make frien's. The cub he grew big 'n used t' play 'n
be very gentle. They wuz a boy he tuk to, an' both on 'em got very
friendly. The boy 'n the panther went off one day 'n the woods -
guess 'twas more 'n a hundred year ago - an' was lost. Walked all
over'n fin'ly got t' gom' round 'n round 'n a big circle 'til they was
both on 'em tired out. Come night they lay down es hungry es tew
bears. The boy he was kind o' 'fraid 'o the dark, so he got up clus t'
the panther 'n lay 'tween his paws. The boy he thought the panther
smelt funny an' the panther he didn't jes' like the smell o' the boy.
An' the boy he hed the legache 'n kicked the panther 'n the belly, so
't he kin' o' gagged 'n spit an' they want neither on 'em reel
comf'able. The sof paws o' the panther was jes' like pincushions.
He'd great hooks in 'em sharper 'n the p'int uv a needle. An' when
he was goin' t' sleep he'd run 'em out jes' like an ol' cat - kind o'
playflil - 'n purr 'n pull. All t' once the boy felt sumthin' like a lot o'
needles prickin' his back. Made him jump 'n holler like Sam Hill.
The panther he spit sassy 'n riz up 'n smelt o' the ground. Didn't
neither on 'em know what was the matter. Bime bye they lay down
ag'in. 'Twant only a little while 'fore the boy felt somethin' prickin'
uv him. He hollered 'n kicked ag'in. The panther he growled 'n spit
'n dumb a tree 'n sot on a limb 'n peeked over at thet queer little
critter. Couldn't neither on 'em understan' it. The boy c'u'd see the
eyes o' the panther 'n the dark. Shone like tew live coals eggszac'ly.
The panther 'd never sot 'n a tree when he was hungry, 'n see a boy
below him. Sumthin' tol' him t' jump. Tail went swish in the leaves
like thet. His whiskers quivered, his tongue come out. C'u'd think
o' nuthin' but his big empty belly. The boy was scairt. He up with
his gun quick es a flash. Aimed at his eyes 'n let 'er flicker. Blew a
lot o' smoke 'n bird shot 'n paper waddin' right up in t' his face. The
panther he lost his whiskers 'n one eye 'n got his hide fill' o' shot 'n
fell off the tree like a ripe apple 'n run fer his life. Thought he'd
never see nuthin' c'u'd growl 'n spits ' powerful es thet boy. Never
c'u'd bear the sight uv a man after thet. Allwus made him gag 'n
spit t' think o' the man critter. Went off tew his own folks 'n tol' o'
the boy 'at spit fire 'n smoke 'n growled so't almos' tore his ears off
An' now, whenever they hear a gun go off they allwus thank it's the
man critter growlin'. An' they gag 'n spit 'n look es if it made 'em
sick t' the stomach. An' the man folks they didn't hev no good
'pimon o' the panthers after thet. Haint never been frien's any more.
Fact is a man, he can be any kind uv a beast, but a panther he can't
be nuthin' but jest a panther.'
Then, too, as we lay there in the firelight, Uncle Eb told the
remarkable story of the gingerbread hear. He told it slowly, as if
his invention were severely taxed.
'Once they wuz a boy got lost. Was goin' cross lots t' play with
'nother boy 'n lied t' go through a strip o' woods. Went off the trail
t' chase a butterfly 'n got lost. Hed his kite 'n' cross-gun 'n' he
wandered all over 'til he was tired 'n hungry. Then he lay down t'
cry on a bed o' moss. Putty quick they was a big black bear come
'"What's the matter?" said the bear.
'"Hungry," says the boy.
'"Tell ye what I'll dew," says the bear. "If ye'll scratch my back fer
me I'll let ye cut a piece o' my tail off t' eat."
'Bear's tail, ye know, hes a lot o' meat on it - heam tell it was gran'
good fare. So the boy he scratched the bear's back an' the bear he
grinned an' made his paw go patitty-pat on the ground - it did feel
so splendid. Then the boy tuk his jack-knife 'n begun t' cut off the
bear's tail. The bear he flew mad 'n growled 'n growled so the boy
he stopped 'n didn't dast cut no more.
'"Hurts awful," says the bear. "Couldn't never stan' it. Tell ye what
I'll dew. Ye scratched my back an' now I'll scratch your'n."
'Gee whiz!' said I.
'Yessir, that's what the bear said,' Uncle Eb went on. 'The boy he
up 'n run like a nailer. The bear he laughed hearty 'n scratched the
ground like Sam Hill, 'n flung the dirt higher'n his head.
'"Look here," says he, as the boy stopped, "I jes' swallered a piece o
mutton. Run yer hand int' my throat an I'll let ye hev it."
'The bear he opened his mouth an' showed his big teeth.'
'Whew!' I whistled.
'Thet's eggszac'ly what he done,' said Uncle Eb. 'He showed 'em
plain. The boy was scairter'n a weasel. The bear he jumped up 'an
down on his hind legs 'n laughed 'n' hollered 'n' shook himself
'"Only jes' foolin," says he, when he see the boy was goin' t' run
ag'in. "What ye 'fraid uv?"
'"Can't bear t' stay here," says the boy, 'less ye'll keep yer mouth
'An the bear he shet his mouth 'n pinted to the big pocket 'n his fur
coat 'n winked 'n motioned t' the boy.
'The bear he reely did hev a pocket on the side uv his big fur coat.
The boy slid his hand in up t' the elbow. Wha' d'ye s'pose he
'Durmo,' said I.
'Sumthin' t' eat,' he continued. 'Boy liked it best uv all things.'
I guessed everything I could think of, from cookies to beefsteak,
and gave up.
'Gingerbread,' said he, soberly, at lengrh.
'Thought ye said bears couldn't talk" I objected.
'Wall, the boy 'd fell asleep an' he'd only dreamed o' the bear,' said
Uncle Eb. 'Ye see, bears can'talk when boys are dreamin' uv 'em.
Come daylight, the boy got up 'n ketched a crow. Broke his wing
with the cross-gun. Then he tied the kite swing on t' the crow's leg,
an' the crow flopped along 'n the boy followed him 'n bime bye
they come out a cornfield, where the crow'd been used t' comin' fer
'What 'come o' the boy?' said I.
'Went home,' said he, gaping, as he lay on his back and looked up
at the tree-tops. 'An' he allwus said a bear was good comp'ny if he'd
only keep his mouth shet - jes' like some folks I've hearn uv.'
'An' what 'come o' the crow?'
'Went t' the ol' crow doctor 'n got his wing fixed,' he said, drowsily.
And in a moment I heard him snoring.
We had been asleep a long time when the barking of Fred woke us.
I could just see Uncle Eb in the dim light of the fire, kneeling
beside me, the rifle in his hand.
'I'll fill ye full o' lead if ye come any nearer,' he shouted.
We listened awhile then but heard no sound in the thicket,
although Fred was growling ominously, his hair on end. As for
myself I never had a more fearful hour than that we suffered
before the light of morning came.
I made no outcry, but clung to my old companion, trembling. He
did not stir for a few minutes, and then we crept cautiously into the
small hemlocks on one side of the opening.
'Keep still,' he whispered, 'don't move er speak.'
Presently we heard a move in the brush and then quick as a flash
Uncle Eb lifted his rifle and fired in the direction of it Before the
loud echo had gone off in the woods we heard something break
through the brush at a run.
''S a man,' said Uncle Eb, as he listened. 'He ain't a losin' no time
We sat listening as the sound grew fainter, and when it ceased
entirely Uncle Eb said he must have got to the road. After a little
the light of the morning began sifting down through the tree-tops
and was greeted with innumerable songs.
'He done noble,' said Uncle Eb, patting the old dog as he rose to
poke the fire. 'Putty good chap I call 'im! He can hev half o' my
dinner any time he wants it.'
'Who do you suppose it was?' I enquired.
'Robbers, I guess,' he answered, 'an' they'll be layin' fer us when we
go out, mebbe; but, if they are, Fred'll frnd 'em an' I've got Ol'
Trusty here 'n' I guess thet'll take care uv us.'
His rifle was always flattered with that name of Ol' Trusty when it
had done him a good turn.
Soon as the light had come clear he went out in the near woods
with dog and rifle and beat around in the brush. He returned
shortly and said he had seen where they came and went.
'I'd a killed em deader 'n a door nail,' said he, laying down the old
rifle, 'if they'd a come any nearer.'
Then we brought water from the river and had our breakfast. Fred
went on ahead of us, when we started for the road, scurrying
through the brush on both sides of the trail, as if he knew what was
expected of him. He flushed a number of partridges and Uncle Eb
killed one of them on our way to the road. We resumed our
journey without any further adventure. It was so smooth and level
under foot that Uncle Eb let me get in the wagon after Fred was
hitched to it The old dog went along soberly and without much
effort, save when we came to hills or sandy places, when I always
got out and ran on behind. Uncle Eb showed me how to brake the
wheels with a long stick going downhill. I remember how it hit the
dog's heels at the first down grade, and how he ran to keep out of
the way of it We were going like mad in half a minute, Uncle Eb
coming after us calling to the dog. Fred only looked over his
shoulder, with a wild eye, at the rattling wagon and ran the harder.
He leaped aside at the bottom and then we went all in a heap.
Fortunately no harm was done.
'I declare!' said Uncle Eb as he came up to us, puffing like a spent
horse, and picked me up unhurt and began to untangle the harness
of old Fred, 'I guess he must a thought the devil was after him.'
The dog growled a little for a moment and bit at the harness, but
coaxing reassured him and he went along all right again on the
level. At a small settlement the children came out and ran along
beside my wagon, laughing and asking me questions. Some of
them tried to pet the dog, but old Fred kept to his labour at the
heels of Uncle Eb and looked neither to right nor left. We stopped
under a tree by the side of a narrow brook for our dinner, and one
incident of that meal I think of always when I think of Uncle Eb. It
shows the manner of man he was and with what understanding and
sympathy he regarded every living thing. In rinsing his teapot he
accidentally poured a bit of water on a big bumble-bee. The poor
creature struggled to lift hill, and then another downpour caught
him and still another until his wings fell drenched. Then his breast
began heaving violently, his legs stiffened behind him and he sank,
head downward, in the grass. Uncle Eb saw the death throes of the
bee and knelt down and lifted the dead body by one of its wings.
'Jes' look at his velvet coat,' he said, 'an' his wings all wet n' stiff.
They'll never carry him another journey. It's too bad a man has t'
kill every step he takes.'
The bee's tail was moving faintly and Uncle Eb laid him out in the
warm sunlight and fanned him awhile with his hat, trying to bring
back the breath of life.
'Guilty!' he said, presently, coming back with a sober face. 'Thet's a
dead bee. No tellin' how many was dependent on him er what
plans he bed. Must a gi'n him a lot o' pleasure t' fly round in the
sunlight, workin' every fair day. 'S all over now.'
He had a gloomy face for an hour after that and many a time, in
the days that followed, I heard him speak of the murdered bee.
We lay resting awhile after dinner and watching a big city of ants.
Uncle Eb told me how they tilled the soil of the mound every year
and sowed their own kind of grain - a small white seed like rice -
and reaped their harvest in the late surnmer, storing the crop in
their dry cellars under ground. He told me also the story of the ant
lion - a big beetle that lives in the jungles of the grain and the
grass - of which I remember only an outline, more or less
Here it is in my own rewording of his tale: On a bright day one of
the little black folks went off on a long road in a great field of
barley. He was going to another city of his own people to bring
helpers for the harvest. He came shortly to a sandy place where the
barley was thin and the hot sunlight lay near to the ground. In a
little valley close by the road of the ants he saw a deep pit, in the
sand, with steep sides sloping to a point in the middle and as big
around as a biscuit. Now the ants are a curious people and go
looking for things that are new and wonderful as they walk abroad,
so they have much to tell worth hearing after a journey. The little
traveller was young and had no fear, so he left the road and went
down to the pit and peeped over the side of it.
'What in the world is the meaning of this queer place?' he asked
himself as he ran around the rim. In a moment he had stepped over
and the soft sand began to cave and slide beneath him. Ouick as a
flash the big lion-beetle rose up in the centre of the pit and began
to reach for him. Then his legs flew in the caving sand and the
young ant struck his blades in it to hold the little he could gain.
Upward he struggled, leaping and floundering in the dust. He had
got near the rim and had stopped, clinging to get his breath, when
the lion began flinging the sand at him with his long feelers. It rose
in a cloud and fell on the back of the ant and pulled at him as it
swept down. He could feel the mighty cleavers of the lion striking
near his hind legs and pulling the sand from under them. He must
go down m a moment and he knew what that meant. He had heard
the old men of the tribe tell often - how they hold one helpless and
slash him into a dozen pieces. He was letting go, in despair, when
he felt a hand on his neck. Looking up he saw one of his own
people reaching over the rim, and in a jiffy they had shut their
fangs together. He moved little by little as the other tagged at him,
and in a moment was out of the trap and could feel the honest
earth under him. When they had got home and told their adventure,
some were for going to slay the beetle.
'There is never a pit in the path o' duty,' said the wise old chief of
the little black folks. 'See that you keep in the straight road.'
'If our brother had not left the straight road,' said one who stood
near, 'he that was in danger would have gone down into the pit.'
'It matters much,' he answered, 'whether it was kindness or
curiosity that led him out of the road. But he that follows a fool
hath much need of wisdom, for if he save the fool do ye not see
that he hath encouraged folly?'
Of course I had then no proper understanding of the chiefs
counsel, nor do I pretend even to remember it from that first
telling, but the tale was told frequently in the course of my long
acquaintance with Uncle Eb.
The diary of my good old friend lies before me as I write, the
leaves turned yellow and the entries dim. I remember how stern he
grew of an evening when he took out this sacred little record of our
wanderings and began to write in it with his stub of a pencil. He
wrote slowly and read and reread each entry with great care as I
held the torch for him. 'Be still, boy - be still,' he would say when
some pressing interrogatory passed my lips, and then he would
bend to his work while the point of his pencil bored further into
my patience. Beginning here I shall quote a few entries from the
diary as they cover, with sufficient detail, an uneventful period of
AUGUST 20 Killed a partridge today. Biled it in the teapot for
dinner. Went good. 14 mild.
AUGUST 21 Seen a deer this morning. Fred fit ag'in. Come near
spilin' the wagon. Hed to stop and fix the ex. 10 mild.
AUGUST 22 Clumb a tree this morning after wild grapes. Come
near falling. Gin me a little crickin the back. Willie hes got a stun
bruze. 12 mild.
AUGUST 23 Went in swinmun. Ketched a few fish before
breaklus'. Got provisions an' two case knives an' one fork, also one
tin pie-plate. Used same to fry fish for dinner. 14 mild.
AUGUST 24 Got some spirits for Willie to rub on my back. Boots
wearing out. Terrible hot. Lay in the shade in the heat of the day.
Gypsies come an' camped by us tonight. 10 mild.
I remember well the coming of those gypsies. We were fishing in
sight of the road and our fire was crackling on the smooth cropped
shore. The big wagons of the gypsies - there were four of them as
red and beautiful as those of a circus caravan - halted about
sundown while the men came over a moment to scan'the field.
Presently they went back and turned their wagons into the siding
and began to unhitch. Then a lot of barefooted children, and
women under gay shawls, overran the field gathering wood and
making ready for night. Meanwhile swarthy drivers took the horses
to water and tethered them with long ropes so they could crop the
grass of the roadside.
One tall, bony man, with a face almost as black as that of an
Indian, brought a big iron pot and set it up near the water. A big
stew of beef bone, leeks and potatoes began to cook shortly, and I
remember it had such a goodly smell I was minded to ask them for
a taste of it. A little city of strange people had surrounded us of a
sudden. Uncle Eb thought of going on, but the night was coming
fast and there would be no moon and we were footsore and hungry.
Women and children came over to our fire, after supper, and made
more of me than I liked. I remember taking refuge between the
knees of Uncle Eb, and Fred sat close in front of us growling
fiercely when they came too near. They stood about, looking down
at us and whispered together, and one young miss of the tribe came
up and tried to kiss me in spite of Fred's warnings: She had
flashing black eyes and hair as dark as the night, that fell in a
curling mass upon her shoulders; but, somehow, I had a mighty
fear of her and fought with desperation to keep my face from the
touch of her red lips. Uncle Eb laughed and held Fred by the
collar, and I began to cry out in terror, presently, when, to my great
relief, she let go and ran away to her own people. They all went
away to their wagons, save one young man, who was tall with light
hair and a fair skin, and who looked like none of the other gypsies.
'Take care of yourself,' he whispered, as soon as the rest had gone.
'These are bad people. You'd better be off'
The young man left us and Uncle Eb began to pack up at once.
They were going to bed in their wagons when we came away. I
stood in the basket and Fred drew the wagon that had in it only a
few bundles. A mile or more finther on we came to a lonely,
deserted cabin close to the road. It had began to thunder in the
distance and the wind was blowing damp.
'Guess nobody lives here,' said Uncle Eb as he turned in at the
sagging gate and began to cross the little patch of weeds and
hollyhocks behind it 'Door's half down, but I guess it'll de beeter'n
no house. Goin' t' rain sartin.'
I was nodding a little about then, I remember; but I was wide
awake when he took me out of the basket The old house stood on a
high hill, and we could see the stars of heaven through the ruined
door and one of the back windows. Uncle Eb lifted the leaning
door a little and shoved it aside. We heard then a quick stir in the
old house - a loud and ghostly rattle it seems now as I think of it -
like that made by linen shaking on the line. Uncle Eb took a step
backward as if it had startled him.
'Guess it's nuthin' to be 'fraid of;' he said, feeling in the pet of his
coat He had struck a match in a moment. By its flickering light I
could see only a bit of rubbish on the floor.
'Full o' white owls,' said he, stepping inside, where the rustling was
now continuous. 'They'll do us no harm.'
I could see them now flying about under the low ceiling. Uncle Eb
gathered an gathered an armful of grass and clover, in the near
field, and spread it in a corner well away from the ruined door and
windows. Covered with our blanket it made a fairly comfortable
bed. Soon as we had lain down, the rain began to rattle on the
shaky roof and flashes of lightning lit every comer of the old room.
I have had, ever, a curious love of storms, and, from the time when
memory began its record in my brain, it has delighted me to hear at
night the roar of thunder and see the swift play of the lightning. I
lay between Uncle Eb and the old dog, who both went asleep
shortly. Less wearied I presume than either of them, for I had done
none of the carrying, and had slept along time that day in the shade
of a tree, I was awake an hour or more after they were snoring.
Every flash lit the old room like the full glare of the noonday sun. I
remember it showed me an old cradle, piled full of rubbish, a rusty
scythe hung in the rotting sash of a window, a few lengths of
stove-pipe and a plough in one comer, and three staring white owls
that sat on a beam above the doorway. The rain roared on the old
roof shortly, and came dripping down through the bare boards
above us. A big drop struck in my face and I moved a little. Then I
saw what made me hold my breath a moment and cover my head
with the shawl. A flash of lightning revealed a tall, ragged man
looking in at the doorway. I lay close to Uncle Eb imagining much
evil of that vision but made no outcry.
Snugged in between my two companions I felt reasonably secure
and soon fell asleep. The sun, streaming in at the open door,
roused me in the morning. At the beginning of each day of our
journey I woke to find Uncle Eb cooking at the fire. He was lying
beside me, this morning, his eyes open.
'Fraid I'm hard sick,' he said as I kissed him.
'What's the matter?' I enquired.
He struggled to a sitting posture, groaning soit went to my heart.
'Rheumatiz,' he answered presently.
He got to his feet, little by little, and every move he made gave
him great pain. With one hand on his cane and the other on my
shoulder he made his way slowly to the broken gate. Even now I
can see clearly the fair prospect of that high place - a valley
reaching to distant hills and a river winding through it, glimmering
in the sunlight; a long wooded ledge breaking into naked, grassy
slopes on one side of the valley and on the other a deep forest
rolling to the far horizon; between them big patches of yellow
grain and white buckwheat and green pasture land and greener
meadows and the straight road, with white houses on either side of
it, glorious in a double fringe of golden rod and purple aster and
yellow John's-wort and the deep blue of the Jacob's ladder.
'Looks a good deal like the promised land,' said Uncle Eb. 'Hain't
got much further t' go.'
He sat on the rotting threshold while I pulled some of the weeds in
front of the doorstep and brought kindlings out of the house and
built a fire. While we were eating I told Uncle Eb of the man that I
had seen in the night.
'Guess you was dreamin',' he said, and, while I stood firm for the
reality of that I had seen, it held our thought only for a brief
moment. My companion was unable to walk that day so we lay by,
in the shelter of the old house, eating as little of our scanty store as
we could do with. I went to a spring near by for water and picked a
good mess of blackberries that I hid away until supper time, so as
to surprise Uncle Eb. A longer day than that we spent in the old
house, after our coming, I have never known. I made the room a
bit tidier and gathered more grass for bedding. Uncle Eb felt better
as the day grew warm. I had a busy time of it that morning bathing
his back in the spirits and rubbing until my small arms ached. I
have heard him tell often how vigorously I worked that day and
how I would say: 'I'll take care o' you, Uncle Eb -won't I, Uncle
Eb?' as my little hands flew with redoubled energy on his bare
skin. That finished we lay down sleeping until the sun was low,
when I made ready the supper that took the last of everything we
had to eat. Uncle Eb was more like himself that evening and,
sitting up in the corner, as the darkness came, told me the story of
Squirreltown and Frog Ferry, which came to be so great a standby
in those days that, even now, I can recall much of the language in
which he told it
'Once,' he said, 'there was a boy thet hed two grey squirrels in a
cage. They kep' thinkin' o' the time they used t' scamper in the
tree-tops an' make nests an' eat all the nuts they wanted an' play I
spy in the thick leaves. An they grew poor an' looked kind o'
ragged an' sickly an' downhearted. When he brought 'em outdoors
they used t' look up in the trees an' run in the wire wheel as if they
thought they could get there sometime if they kep' goin'. As the
boy grew older he see it was cruel to keep 'em shet in a cage, but
he'd hed em a long time an' couldn't bear t' give 'em up.
'One day he was out in the woods a little back o' the clearin'. All t'
once he heard a swift holler. 'Twas nearby an' echoed so he
couldn't tell which way it come from. He run fer home but the
critter ketched 'im before he got out o' the woods an' took 'im into a
cave, an' give 'im t' the little swifis t' play with. The boy cried
terrible. The swifts they laughed an' nudged each other.
'"O ain't he cute!" says one. "He's a beauty!" says another. "Cur'us
how he can git along without any fur," says the mother swift, as
she run er nose over 'is bare foot. He thought of 'is folks waitin' fer
him an' he begged em t' let 'im go. Then they come an' smelt 'im
'"Yer sech a cunin' critter," says the mother swift, "we couldn't
'"Want to see my mother," says the boy sobbing.
'"Couldn't afford t' let ye go - yer so cute" says the swift. "Bring the
poor critter a bone an' a bit o' snake meat"
'The boy couldn't eat. They fixed a bed fer him, but 'twant clean.
The feel uv it made his back ache an' the smell uv it made him sick
to his stomach.
'"When the swifts hed comp'ny they 'd bring 'em overt' look at him
there 'n his dark comer. "'S a boy," said the mother swift pokin' him
with a long stick "Wouldn't ye like t' see 'im run?" Then she
punched him until he got up an' run 'round the cave fer his life.
Happened one day et a very benevolent swift come int' the cave.
'"'S a pity t' keep the boy here," said he; "he looks bad."
'"But he makes fun fer the children," said the swift.
"Fun that makes misery is only fit fer a fool," said the visitor.
'They let him go thet day. Soon as he got hum he thought o' the
squirrels an' was tickled t' find 'em alive. He tak 'em off to an
island, in the middle of a big lake, thet very day, an' set the cage on
the shore n' opened it He thought he would come back sometime
an' see how they was ginin' along. The cage was made of light wire
an' hed a tin bottom fastened to a big piece o' plank. At fust they
was 'fraid t' leave it an' peeked out o' the door an' scratched their
heads's if they thought it a resky business. After awhile one
stepped out careful an' then the other followed. They tried t' climb
a tree, but their nails was wore off an' they kep' fallin' back. Then
they went off 'n the brush t' find some nuts. There was only pines
an' poppies an' white birch an' a few berry bushes on the island.
They went t' the water's edge on every side, but there was nuthin
there a squirrel ud give a flirt uv his tail fer. 'Twas near dark when
they come back t' the cage hungry as tew bears. They found a few
crumbs o' bread in the cup an' divided 'em even. Then they went t'
bed 'n their ol' nest.
'It hed been rainin' a week in the mount'ins. Thet night the lake
rose a foot er more an' 'fore mornin' the cage begun t' rock a teenty
bit as the water lifted the plank. They slep' all the better fer thet an'
they dreamed they was up in a tree at the end uv a big bough. The
cage begun t' sway sideways and then it let go o' the shore an' spun
'round once er twice an' sailed out 'n the deep water. There was a
light breeze blowin' offshore an' purty soon it was pitchin' like a
ship in the sea. But the two squirrels was very tired an' never woke
up 'til sunrise. They got a terrible scare when they see the water
'round 'em an' felt the motion o' the ship. Both on 'em ran into the
wire wheel an' that bore down the stern o' the ship so the under
wires touched the water. They made it spin like a buzz saw an' got
their clothes all wet. The ship went faster when they worked the
wheel, an' bime bye they got tired an' come out on the main deck.
The water washed over it a little so they clim up the roof thet was
a kin' uv a hurricane deck. It made the ship sway an' rock fearful
but they hung on 'midships, an' clung t' the handle that stuck up
like a top mast. Their big tails was spreadover their shoulders, an'
the wind rose an' the ship went faster 'n faster. They could see the
main shore where the big woods come down t' the water 'n' all the
while it kep' a comin' nearer 'n' nearer. But they was so hungry
didn't seem possible they could live to git there.
'Ye know squirrels are a savin' people. In the day o' plenty they
think o' the day o' poverty an' lay by fer it. All at once one uv 'em
thought uv a few kernels o' corn, he hed pushed through a little
crack in the tin floor one day a long time ago. It happened there
was quite a hole under the crack an' each uv 'em bad stored some
kernels unbeknown t' the other. So they hed a good supper 'n' some
left fer a bite 'n the mornin'. 'Fore daylight the ship made her pott
'n' lay to, 'side liv a log in a little cove. The bullfrogs jumped on
her main deck an' begun t' holler soon as she hove to: "all ashore!
all ashore! all ashore!" The two squirrels woke up but lay quiet 'til
the sun rose. Then they come out on the log 'et looked like a long
dock an' run ashore 'n' foun' some o' their own folks in the bush.
An' when they bed tol' their story the ol' father o' the tribe got up 'n
a tree an' hollered himself hoarse preachin' 'bout how 't paid t' be
'"An' we should learn t' save our wisdom es well es our nuts," said
a sassy brother; "fer each needs his own wisdom fer his own
'An the little ship went back 'n' forth 'cross the cove as the win'
blew. The squirrels hed many a fine ride in her an' the frogs were
the ferrymen. An' all 'long thet shore 'twas known es Frog Ferry
'mong the squirrel folks.'
It was very dark when he finished the tale an' as we lay gaping a
few minutes after my last query about those funny people of the
lake margin I could hear nothing but the chirping of the crickets. I
was feeling a bit sleepy when I heard the boards creak above our
heads. Uncle Eli raised himself and lay braced upon his elbow
listening. In a few moments we heard a sound as of someone
coming softly down the ladder at the other end of the room. It was
so dark I could see nothing.
'Who's there?' Uncle Eb demanded.
'Don't p'int thet gun at me,' somebody whispered. 'This is my home
and I warn ye t' leave it er I'll do ye harm.'
Here I shall quote you again from the diary of Uncle Eb. 'It was so
dark I couldn't see a han' before me. "Don't p'int yer gun at me," the
man whispered. Thought 'twas fimny he could see me when I
couldn't see him. Said 'twas his home an' we'd better leave. Tol
him I was sick (rumatiz) an' couldn't stir. Said he was sorry an'
come over near us. Tol' him I was an' ol' man goin' west with a
small boy. Stopped in the rain. Got sick. Out o' purvisions. 'Bout
ready t' die. Did'n know what t' do. Started t' stike a match an' the
man said don't make no light cos I don't want to hev ye see my
face. Never let nobody see my face. Said he never went out 'less
'twas a dark night until folks was abed. Said we looked like good
folks. Scairt me a little cos we couldn't see a thing. Also he said
don't be 'fraid of me. Do what I can fer ye.'
I remember the man crossed the creaking floor and sat down near
us after he had parleyed with Uncle Eb awhile in whispers. Young
as I was I keep a vivid impression of that night and, aided by the
diary of Uncle Eb, I have made a record of what was said that is, in
the main, accurate.
'Do you know where you are?' he enquired presently, whispering as
he had done before.
'I've no idee,' said Uncle Eb.
'Well, down the hill is Paradise Valley in the township o' Faraway,'
he continued. 'It's the end o' Paradise Road an' a purty country.
Been settled a long time an' the farms are big an' prosperous - kind
uv a land o' plenty. That big house at the foot o' the hill is Dave
Brower's. He's the richest man in the valley.'
'How do you happen t' be livin' here? - if ye don't min' tellin' me,'
Uncle Eb asked.
'Crazy,' said he; ''fraid uv everybody an' everybody's 'fraid o' me.
Lived a good long time in this way. Winters I go into the big
woods. Got a camp in a big cave an' when I'm there I see a little
daylight. Here 'n the clearin' I'm only up in the night-time. Thet's
how I've come to see so well in the dark. It's give me cat's eyes.'
'Don't ye git lonesome?' Uncle Eb asked.
'Awful - sometimes,' he answered with a sad sigh, 'an' it seems
good t' talk with somebody besides myself. I get enough to eat
generally. There are deer in the woods an' cows in the fields, ye
know, an' potatoes an' corn an' berries an' apples, an' all thet kind o'
thing. Then I've got my traps in the woods where I ketch
partridges, an' squirrels an' coons an' all the meat I need. I've got a
place in the thick timber t' do my cookin' - all I want t' do - in the
middle of the night Sometimes I come here an' spend a day in the
garret if I'm caught in a storm or if I happen to stay a little too late
in the valley. Once in a great while I meet a man somewhere in the
open but he always gits away quick as he can. Guess they think I'm
a ghost - dunno what I think o' them.'
Our host went on talking as if he were glad to tell the secrets of his
heart to some creature of his own kind. I have often wondered at
his frankness; but there was a fatherly tenderness, I remember in
the voice of Uncle Eb, and I judge it tempted his confidence.
Probably the love of companionship can never be so dead in a man
but that the voice of kindness may call it back to life again.
'I'll bring you a bite t' eat before morning,' he said, presently, as he
rose to go. 'leet me feel o' your han', mister.'
Uncle Eb gave him his hand and thanked him.
'Feels good. First I've hed hold of in a long time,' he whispered.
'What's the day o' the month?'
'I must remember. Where did you come from?'
Uncle Eb told him, briefly, the story of our going west
'Guess you'd never do me no harm - would ye?' the man asked. 'Not
a bit,' Uncle Eb answered.
Then he bade us goodbye, crossed the creaking floor and went
away in the darkness.
'Sing'lar character!' Uncle Eb muttered.
I was getting drowsy and that was the last I heard. In the morning
we found a small pail of milk sitting near us, a roasted partridge,
two fried fish and some boiled potatoes. It was more than enough
to carry us through the day with a fair allowance for Fred. Uncle
Eb was a bit better but very lame at that and kept to his bed the
greater part of the day. The time went slow with me I remember.
Uncle Eb was not cheerful and told me but one story and that had
no life in it. At dusk he let me go out in the road to play awhile
with Fred and the wagon, but came to the door and called us in
shortly. I went to bed in a rather unhappy flame of mind. The dog
roused me by barking in the middle of the right and I heard again
the familiar whisper of the stranger.
'Sh-h-h! be still, dog,' he whispered; but I was up to my ears in
sleep and went under shortly, so I have no knowledge of what
passed that night. Uncle Eb tells in his diary that he had a talk with
him lasting more than an hour, but goes no further and never
seemed willing to talk much about that interview or others that
I only know the man had brought more milk and fish and fowl for
us. We stayed another day in the old house, that went like the last,
and the night man came again to see Uncle Eb. The next morning
my companion was able to walk more freely, but Fred and I had to
stop and wait for him very often going down the big hill. I was
mighty glad when we were leaving the musty old house for good
and had the dog hitched with all our traps in the wagon. It was a
bright morning and the sunlight glimmered on the dew in the
broad valley. The men were just coming from breakfast when we
turned in at David Brower's. A barefooted little girl a bit older than
I, with red cheeks and blue eyes and long curly hair, that shone
like gold in the sunlight, came running out to meet us and led me
up to the doorstep, highly amused at the sight of Fred and the
wagon. I regarded her with curiosity and suspicion at first, while
Uncle Eb was talking with the men. I shall never forget that
moment when David Brower came and lifted me by the shoulders,
high above his head, and shook me as if to test my mettle. He led
me into the house then where his wife was working.
'What do you think of this small bit of a boy?' he asked.
She had already knelt on the floor and put her arms about my neck
and kissed me.
'Am' no home,' said he. 'Come all the way from Vermont with an
ol' man. They're worn out both uv 'em. Guess we'd better take 'em
'O yes, mother - please, mother,' put in the little girl who was
holding my hand. 'He can sleep with me, mother. Please let him
She knelt beside me and put her arms around my little shoulders
and drew me to her breast and spoke to me very tenderly.
'Please let him stay,' the girl pleaded again.
'David,' said the woman, 'I couldn't turn the little thing away. Won't
ye hand me those cookies.'
And so our life began in Paradise Valley. Ten minutes later I was
playing my first game of 'I spy' with little Hope Brower, among the
fragrant stooks of wheat in the field back of the garden.
The lone pine stood in Brower's pasture, just clear of the woods.
When the sun rose, one could see its taper shadow stretching away
to the foot of Woody Ledge, and at sunset it lay like a fallen mast
athwart the cow-paths, its long top arm a flying pennant on the
side of Bowman's Hill. In summer this bar of shadow moved like a
clock-hand on the green dial of the pasture, and the help could tell
the time by the slant of it. Lone Pine had a mighty girth at the
bottom, and its bare body tapered into the sky as straight as an
arrow. Uncle Eb used to say that its one long, naked branch that
swung and creaked near the top of it, like a sign of hospitality on
the highway of the birds, was two hundred feet above ground.
There were a few stubs here and there upon its shaft -the roost of
crows and owls and hen-hawks. It must have passed for a low
resort in the feathered kingdom because it was only the robbers of
the sky that halted on Lone Pine.
This towering shaft of dead timber commemorated the ancient
forest through which the northern Yankees cut their trails in the
beginning of the century. They were a tall, big fisted, brawny lot of
men who came across the Adirondacks from Vermont, and began
to break the green canopy that for ages had covered the valley of
the St Lawrence. Generally they drove a cow with them, and such
game as they could kill on the journey supplemented their diet of
'pudding and milk'. Some settled where the wagon broke or where
they had buried a member of the family, and there they cleared the
forests that once covered the smooth acres of today. Gradually the
rough surface of the trail grew smoother until it became Paradise
Road - the well-worn thoroughfare of the stagecoach with its 'inns
and outs', as the drivers used to say - the inns where the 'men folks'
sat in the firelight of the blating logs after supper and told tales of
adventure until bedtime, while the women sat with their knitting in
the parlour, and the young men wrestled in the stableyard. The
men of middle age had stooped and massive shoulders, and
deep-furrowed brows: Tell one of them he was growing old and he
might answer you by holding his whip in front of him and leaping
over it between his hands.
There was a little clearing around that big pine tree when David
Brower settled in the valley. Its shadows shifting in the light of sun
and moon, like the arm of a compass, swept the spreading acres of
his farm, and he built his house some forty rods from the foot of it
on higher ground. David was the oldest of thirteen children. His
father had died the year before he came to St Lawrence county,
leaving him nothing but heavy responsibilities. Fortunately, his
great strength and his kindly nature were equal to the burden.
Mother and children were landed safely in their new home on
Bowman's Hill the day that David was eighteen. I have heard the
old folks of that country tell what a splendid figure of a man he
was those days - six feet one in his stockings and broad at the
shoulder. His eyes were grey and set under heavy brows. I have
never forgotten the big man that laid hold of me and the broad
clean-shaven serious face, that looked into mine the day I came to
Paradise Valley. As I write I can see plainly his dimpled chin, his
large nose, his firm mouth that was the key to his character. 'Open
or shet,' I have heard the old folks say, 'it showed he was no fool.'
After two years David took a wife and settled in Paradise Valley.
He prospered in a small way considered handsome thereabouts. In
a few years he had cleared the rich acres of his farm to the sugar
bush that was the north vestibule of the big forest; he had seen the
clearing widen until he could discern the bare summits of the
distant hills, and, far as he could see, were the neat white houses of
the settlers. Children had come, three of them - the eldest a son
who had left home and died in a far country long before we came
to Paradise Valley - the youngest a baby.
I could not have enjoyed my new home more if I had been born in
it. I had much need of a mother's tenderness, no doubt, for I
remember with what a sense of peace and comfort I lay on the lap
of Elizabeth Brower, that first evening, and heard her singing as
she rocked. The little daughter stood at her knees, looking down at
me and patting my bare toes or reaching over to feel my face.
'God sent him to us - didn't he, mother?' said she.
'Maybe,' Mrs Brower answered, 'we'll be good to him, anyway.'
Then that old query came into my mind. I asked them if it was
heaven where we were.
'No,' they answered.
''Tain't anywhere near here, is it?' I went on.
Then she told me about the gate of death, and began sowing in me
the seed of God's truth - as I know now the seed of many harvests.
I slept with Uncle Eb in the garret, that night, and for long after we
came to the Brower's. He continued to get better, and was shortly
able to give his hand to the work of the farm.
There was room for all of us in that ample wilderness of his
imagination, and the cry of the swift woke its echoes every
evening for a time. Bears and panthers prowled in the deep
thickets, but the swifts took a firmer grip on us, being bolder and
more terrible. Uncle Eb became a great favourite in the family, and
David Brower came to know soon that he was 'a good man to
work' and could be trusted 'to look after things'. We had not been
there long when I heard Elizabeth speak of Nehemiah - her lost
son - and his name was often on the lips of others. He was a boy of
sixteen when he went away, and I learned no more of him until
A month or more after we came to Faraway, I remember we went
'cross lots in a big box wagon to the orchard on the hill and
gathered apples that fell in a shower when Uncle Eb went up to
shake them down. Then cane the raw days of late October, when
the crows went flying southward before the wind - a noisy pirate
fleet that filled the sky at times - and when we all put on our
mittens and went down the winding cow-paths to the grove of
butternuts in the pasture. The great roof of the wilderness had
turned red and faded into yellow. Soon its rafters began to show
through, and then, in a day or two, they were all bare but for some
patches of evergreen. Great, golden drifts of foliage lay higher than
a man's head in the timber land about the clearing. We had our
best fun then, playing 'I spy' in the groves.
In that fragrant deep of leaves one might lie undiscovered a long
time. He could hear roaring like that of water at every move of the
finder, wallowing nearer and nearer possibly, in his search. Old
Fred came generally rooting his way to us in the deep drift with
And shortly winter came out of the north and, of a night, after
rapping at the windows and howling in the chimney and roaring in
the big woods, took possession of the earth. That was a time when
hard cider flowed freely and recollection found a ready tongue
among the older folk, and the young enjoyed many diversions,
including measles and whooping cough.
I had a lot of fun that first winter, but none that I can remember
more gratefully than our trip in the sledgehouse - a tight little
house fitted and fastened to a big sledge. Uncle Eb had to go to
mill at Hillsborough, some twelve miles away, and Hope and I,
after much coaxing and many family counsels, got leave to go with
him. The sky was cloudless, and the frosty air was all aglow in the
sunlight that morning we started. There was a little sheet iron
stove in one comer of the sledgehouse, walled in with zinc and
anchored with wires; a layer of hay covered the floor and over that
we spread our furs and blankets. The house had an open front, and
Uncle Eb sat on the doorstep, as it were, to drive, while we sat
behind him on the blankets.
'I love you very much,' said Hope, embracing me, after we were
seated. Her affection embarrassed me, I remember. It seemed
unmanly to be petted like a doll.
'I hate to be kissed,' I said, pulling away from her, at which Uncle
Eb laughed heartily.
The day came when I would have given half my life for the words
I held so cheaply then.
'You'd better be good t' me,' she answered, 'for when mother dies
I'm goin' t' take care o' you. Uncle Eb and Gran'ma Bisnette an' you
an' everybody I love is goin' t' come an' live with me in a big, big
house. An' I'm goin' t' put you t' bed nights an' hear ye say yer
prayers an everything.'
'Who'll do the spankin?' Uncle Eb asked.
'My husban',' she answered, with a sigh at the thought of all the
trouble that lay before her.
'An' I'll make him rub your back, too, Uncle Eb,' she added.
'Wall, I rather guess he'll object to that,' said he.
'Then you can give 'ins five cents, an' I guess he'll be glad t' do it,'
she answered promptly.
'Poor man! He won't know whether he's runnin' a poorhouse er a
hospital, will he?' said Uncle Eb. 'Look here, children,' he added,
taking out his old leather wallet, as he held the reins between his
knees. 'Here's tew shillin' apiece for ye, an' I want ye t' spend it jest
eggsackly as ye please.' The last words were spoken slowly and
We took the two silver pieces that he handed to us and looked
them all over and compared them.
'I know what I'll do,' said she, suddenly. 'I'm goin' t' buy my mother
a new dress, or mebbe a beautiful ring,' she added thoughtfully.
For my own part I did not know what I should buy. I wanted a real
gun most of all and my inclination oscillated between that and a
red rocking horse. My mind was very busy while I sat in silence.
Presently I rose and went to Uncle Eb and whispered in his ear.
'Do you think I could get a real rifle with two shilin'?' I enquired
'No,' he answered in a low tone that seemed to respect my
confidence. 'Bime by, when you're older, I'll buy ye a rifle - a real
rip snorter, too, with a shiny barrel 'n a silver lock. When ye get
down t, the village ye'll see lots o' things y'd rather hev, prob'ly. If I
was you, children,' he added, in a louder tone, 'I wouldn't buy a
thing but nuts 'n' raisins.'
'Nuts 'n' raisins!' Hope exclaimed, scornfully.
'Nuts 'n' raisins,' he repeated. 'They're cheap 'n' satisfyin'. If ye eat
enough uv 'em you'll never want anything else in this world.'
I failed to see the irony in Uncle Eb's remark and the suggestion
seemed to have a good deal of merit, the more I thought it over.
''T any rate,' said Uncle Eb, 'I'd git somethin' fer my own selves.'
'Well,' said Hope, 'You tell us a lot o' things we could buy.'
'Less see!' said Uncle Eb, looking very serious. 'There's bootjacks
an' there's warmin' pans 'n' mustard plasters 'n' liver pads 'n' all
them kind o' things.'
We both shook our heads very doubtfully.
'Then,' he added, 'there are jimmyjacks 'n' silver no nuthin's.'
There were many other suggestions but none of them were
The snow lay deep on either side of the way and there was a
glimmer on every white hillside where Jack Frost had sown his
diamonds. Here and there a fox track crossed the smooth level of
the valley and dwindled on the distant hills like a seam in a great
white robe. It grew warmer as the sun rose, and we were a jolly
company behind the merry jingle of the sleigh bells. We had had a
long spell of quiet weather and the road lay in two furrows worn as
smooth as ice at the bottom.
'Consarn it!' said Uncle Eb looking up at the sky, after we had been
on the road an hour or so. 'There's a sun dog. Wouldn't wonder if
we got a snowstorm' fore night.
I was running behind the sledge and standing on the brake hooks
going downhill. He made me get in when he saw the sun dog, and
let our horse - a rat-tailed bay known as Old Doctor - go at a merry
We were awed to silence when we came in sight of Hillsborough,
with spires looming far into the sky, as it seemed to me then, and
buildings that bullied me with their big bulk, so that I had no heart
for the spending of the two shillings Uncle Eb had given me. Such
sublimity of proportion I have never seen since; and yet it was all
very small indeed. The stores had a smell about them that was like
chloroform in its effect upon me; for, once in them, I fell into a
kind of trance and had scarce sense enough to know my own mind.
The smart clerks, who generally came and asked, 'Well, young
man, what can I do for you?' I regarded with fear and suspicion. I
clung the tighter to my coin always, and said nothing, although I
saw many a trinket whose glitter went to my soul with a mighty
fascination. We both stood staring silently at the show cases, our
tongues helpless with awe and wonder. Finally, after a whispered
conference, Hope asked for a 'silver no nothing', and provoked so
much laughter that we both fled to the sidewalk. Uncle Eb had to
do our buying for us in the end.
'Wall, what'll ye hev?' he said to me at length.
I tried to think-it was no easy thing to do after all I had seen.
'Guess I'll take a jacknife,' I whispered.
'Give this boy a knife,' he demanded. 'Wants t' be good 'n sharp.
Might hev t' skin a swift with it sometime.'
'What ye want?' he asked, then turning to Hope.
'A doll,' she whispered.
'White or black?' said he.
'White,' said she, 'with dark eyes and hair.'
'Want a reel, splendid, firs'-class doll,' he said to the clerk. 'Thet
one'll do, there, with the sky-blue dress 'n the pink apron.'
We were worn out with excitement when we left for home under
lowering skies. We children lay side by side under the robes, the
doll between us, and were soon asleep. It was growing dark when
Uncle Eb woke us, and the snow was driving in at the doorway.
The air was full of snow, I remember, and Old Doctor was wading
to his knees in a drift. We were up in the hills and the wind
whistled in our little chimney. Uncle Eb had a serious look in his
face. The snow grew deeper and Old Doctor went slower every
'Six mild from home,' Uncle Eb muttered, as he held up to rest a
moment. 'Six mild from home. 'Fraid we're in fer a night uv it.'
We got to the top of Fadden's Hill about dark, and the snow lay so
deep in the cut we all got out for fear the house would tip over.
Old Doctor floundered along a bit further until he went down in
the drift and lay between the shafts half buried. We had a shovel
that always hung beside a small hatchet in the sledgehouse - for
one might need much beside the grace of God of a winter's day in
that country - and with it Uncle Eb began to uncover the horse. We
children stood in the sledgehouse door watching him and holding
the lantern. Old Doctor was on his feet in a few minutes.
''Tain' no use tryin',' said Uncle Eb, as he began to unhitch. 'Can't
go no further t'night'
Then he dug away the snow beside the sledgehouse, and hitched
Old Doctor to the horseshoe that was nailed to the rear end of it.
That done, he clambered up the side of the cut and took some rails
off the fence and shoved them over on the roof of the house, so