Part 8 out of 8
gradually becoming a steady humming roar. A few moments later and
a belated hydro-aeroplane passed across the face of the moon, a
dragon-fly silhouette against the shining disk.
"That bumble-bee's gettin' home late," observed Jed. "The rest of
the hive up there at East Harniss have gone to roost two or three
hours ago. Wonder what kept him out this scandalous hour. Had
tire trouble, think?"
"You're joking again, Uncle Jed," she said. "That kind of
aeroplane couldn't have any tire trouble, 'cause it hasn't got any
Mr. Winslow appeared to reflect. "That's so," he admitted, "but I
don't know as we'd ought to count too much on that. I remember
when Gabe Bearse had brain fever."
This was a little deep for Babbie, whose laugh was somewhat
uncertain. She changed the subject.
"Oh!" she cried, with a wiggle, "there's a caterpillar right here
on this bench with us, Uncle Jed. He's a fuzzy one, too; I can see
the fuzz; the moon makes it shiny."
Jed bent over to look. "That?" he said. "That little, tiny one?
Land sakes, he ain't big enough to be more than a kitten-pillar.
You ain't afraid of him, are you?"
"No-o. No, I guess I'm not. But I shouldn't like to have him walk
on me. He'd be so--so ticklesome."
Jed brushed the caterpillar off into the grass.
"There he goes," he said. "I've got to live up to my job as
guardian, I expect. Last letter I had from your pa he said he
counted on my lookin' out for you and your mamma. If he thought I
let ticklesome kitten-pillars come walkin' on you he wouldn't
cal'late I amounted to much."
For this was the "trust" to which Major Grover had referred in his
conversation with Jed. Later he explained his meaning. He was
expecting soon to be called to active service "over there." Before
he went he and Ruth were to be married.
"My wife and Barbara will stay here in the old house, Jed," he
said, "if you are willing. And I shall leave them in your charge.
It's a big trust, for they're pretty precious articles, but they'll
be safe with you."
Jed looked at him aghast. "Good land of love!" he cried. "You
don't mean it?"
"Of course I mean it. Don't look so frightened, man. It's just
what you've been doing ever since they came here, that's all. Ruth
says she has been going to you for advice since the beginning. I
just want her to keep on doing it."
"But--but, my soul, I--I ain't fit to be anybody's guardian. . . .
I--I ought to have somebody guardin' me. Anybody'll tell you
that. . . . Besides, I--I don't think--"
"Yes, you do; and you generally think right. Oh, come, don't talk
any more about it. It's a bargain, of course. And if there's
anything I can do for you on the other side, I'll be only too happy
Jed rubbed his chin. "W-e-e-ll," he drawled, "there's one triflin'
thing I've been hankerin' to do myself, but I can't, I'm afraid.
Maybe you can do it for me."
"All right, what is the trifling thing?"
"Eh? . . . Oh, that--er---Crown Prince thing. Do him brown, if
you get a chance, will you?"
Of course, the guardianship was, in a sense, a joke, but in another
it was not. Jed knew that Leonard Grover's leaving his wife and
Babbie in his charge was, to a certain extent, a serious trust.
And he accepted it as such.
"Has your mamma had any letters from the major the last day or so?"
Babbie shook her head. "No," she said, "but she's expecting one
every day. And Petunia and I expect one, too, and we're just as
excited about it as we can be. A letter like that is most par-
particklesome exciting. . . . No, I don't mean particklesome--it
was the caterpillar made me think of that. I mean partickle-ar
exciting. Don't you think it is, Uncle Jed?"
Captain Sam Hunniwell came strolling around the corner of the shop.
Jed greeted him warmly and urged him to sit down. The captain
"Can't stop," he declared. "There's a letter for Maud from Charlie
in to-night's mail and I want to take it home to her. Letters like
that can't be held up on the way, you know."
Charlie Phillips, too, was in France with his regiment.
"I presume likely you've heard the news from Leander Babbitt, Jed?"
asked Captain Sam.
"About his bein' wounded? Yes, Gab flapped in at the shop this
afternoon to caw over it. Said the telegram had just come to
Phineas. I was hopin' 'twasn't so, but Eri Hedge said he heard it,
too. . . . Serious, is it, Sam?"
"They don't say, but I shouldn't wonder. The boy was hit by a
shell splinter while doin' his duty with exceptional bravery, so
the telegram said. 'Twas from Washin'ton, of course. And there
was somethin' in it about his bein' recommended for one of those
Jed sat up straight on the bench. "You don't mean it!" he cried.
"Well, well, well! Ain't that splendid! I knew he'd do it, too.
'Twas in him. Sam," he added, solemnly, "did I tell you I got a
letter from him last week?"
"Yes. . . . And before I got it he must have been wounded. . . .
Yes, sir, before I got his letter. . . . 'Twas a good letter, Sam,
a mighty good letter. Some time I'll read it to you. Not a
complaint in it, just cheerfulness, you know, and--and grit and
confidence, but no brag."
"I see. Well, Charlie writes the same way."
"Ye-es. They all do, pretty much. Well, how about Phineas? How
does the old feller take the news? Have you heard?"
"Why, yes, I've heard. Of course I haven't talked with him. He'd
no more speak to me than he would to the Evil One."
Jed's lip twitched. "Why, probably not quite so quick, Sam," he
drawled. "Phin ought to be on pretty good terms with the Old
Scratch. I've heard him recommend a good many folks to go to him."
"Ho, ho! Yes, that's so. Well, Jim Bailey told me that when Phin
had read the telegram he never said a word. Just got up and walked
into his back shop. But Jerry Burgess said that, later on, at the
post-office somebody said somethin' about how Leander must be a
mighty good fighter to be recommended for that cross, and Phineas
was openin' his mail box and heard 'em. Jerry says old Phin turned
and snapped out over his shoulder: 'Why not? He's my son, ain't
he?' So there you are. Maybe that's pride, or cussedness, or
both. Anyhow, it's Phin Babbitt."
As the captain was turning to go he asked his friend a question.
"Jed," he asked, "what in the world have you taken your front gate
off the hinges for?"
Jed, who had been gazing dreamily out to sea for the past few
minutes, started and came to life.
"Eh?" he queried. "Did--did you speak, Sam?"
"Yes, but you haven't yet. I asked you what you took your front
gate off the hinges for."
"Oh, I didn't. I took the hinges off the gate."
"Well, it amounts to the same thing. The gate's standin' up
alongside the fence. What did you do it for?"
Jed sighed. "It squeaked like time," he drawled, "and I had to
"So you took the hinges off? Gracious king! Why didn't you ile
'em so they wouldn't squeak?"
"Eh? . . . Oh, I did set out to, but I couldn't find the ile can.
The only thing I could find was the screwdriver and at last I came
to the conclusion the Almighty must have meant me to use it; so I
did. Anyhow, it stopped the squeakin'."
Captain Sam roared delightedly. "That's fine," he declared. "It
does me good to have you act that way. You haven't done anything
so crazy as that for the last six months. I believe the old Jed
Winslow's come back again. That's fine."
Jed smiled his slow smile. "I'm stickin' to my job, Sam," he said.
"And grinnin'. Don't forget to grin, Jed."
"W-e-e-ll, when I stick to MY job, Sam, 'most everybody grins."
Babbie accompanied the captain to the place where the gate had
been. Jed, left alone, hummed a hymn. The door of the little
house next door opened and Ruth came out into the yard.
"Where is Babbie?" she asked.
"She's just gone as far as the sidewalk with Cap'n Sam Hunniwell,"
was Jed's reply. "She's all right. Don't worry about her."
Ruth laughed lightly. "I don't," she said. "I know she is all
right when she is with you, Jed."
Babbie came dancing back. Somewhere in a distant part of the
village a dog was howling dismally.
"What makes that dog bark that way, Uncle Jed?" asked Babbie.
Jed was watching Ruth, who had walked to the edge of the bluff and
was looking off over the water, her delicate face and slender
figure silver-edged by the moonlight.
"Eh? . . . That dog?" he repeated. "Oh, he's barkin' at the moon,
I shouldn't wonder."
"At the moon? Why does he bark at the moon?"
"Oh, he thinks he wants it, I cal'late. Wants it to eat or play
with or somethin'. Dogs get funny notions, sometimes."
Babbie laughed. "I, think he's awf'ly silly," she said. "He
couldn't have the moon, you know, could he? The moon wasn't made
for a dog."
Jed, still gazing at Ruth, drew a long breath.
"That's right," he admitted.
The child listened to the lugubrious canine wails for a moment;
then she said thoughtfully: "I feel kind of sorry for this poor
dog, though. He sounds as if he wanted the moon just dreadf'ly."
"Um . . . yes . . . I presume likely he thinks he does. But he'll
feel better about it by and by. He'll realize that, same as you
say, the moon wasn't made for a dog. Just as soon as he comes to
that conclusion, he'll be a whole lot better dog. . . . Yes, and a
happier one, too," he added, slowly.
Barbara did not speak at once and Jed began to whistle a doleful
melody. Then the former declared, with emphasis: "I think SOME
dogs are awf'ly nice."
"Um? . . . What? . . . Oh, you do, eh?"
She snuggled close to him on the bench.
"I think you're awf'ly nice, too, Uncle Jed," she confided.
Jed looked down at her over his spectacles.
"Sho! . . . Bow, wow!" he observed.
Babbie burst out laughing. Ruth turned and came toward them over
the dew-sprinkled grass.
"What are you laughing at, dear?" she asked.
"Oh, Uncle Jed was so funny. He was barking like a dog."
Ruth smiled. "Perhaps he feels as if he were our watchdog,
Babbie," she said. "He guards us as if he were."
Babbie hugged her back-step-uncle's coat sleeve.
"He's a great, big, nice old watchdog," she declared. "We love
him, don't we, Mamma?"
Jed turned his head to listen.
"Hum . . ." he drawled. "That dog up town has stopped his howlin'.
Perhaps he's beginnin' to realize what a lucky critter he is."
As usual, Babbie was ready with a question.
"Why is he lucky, Uncle Jed?" she asked.
"Why? Oh, well, he . . . he can LOOK at the moon, and that's
enough to make any dog thankful."