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Eben Holden by Irving Bacheller

Part 6 out of 6

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above the level of the other. He held the check to the lamplight.
Elizabeth stood at his elbow.

'Why, mother!'said he. 'Is this from our boy? From Nehemiah?
Why, Nehemiah is dead!'he added, looking over his spectacles at
Uncle Eb.

'Nehemiah is not dead,'said the latter.

'Nehemiah not dead!'he repeated, looking down at the draft. They
turned it in the light, reading over and over again the happy tidings
pinned to one corner of it. Then they looked into each other's eyes.

Elizabeth put her arms about David's neck and laid her head upon
his shoulder and not one of us dare trust himself to speak for a
little. Uncle Eb broke the silence.

'Got another present,'he said. 'S a good deal better 'n gold er silver
tall, bearded man came in.

'Mr Trumbull!'Hope exclaimed, rising.

'David an' Elizabeth Brower,'said Uncle Eb, 'the dead hes come if
life. I give ye back yer son - Nehemiah.

Then he swung his cap high above his head, shouting in a loud

'Merry Crissmus! Merry Crissmus!

The scene that followed I shall not try to picture. It was so full of
happiness that every day of our lives since then has been blessed
with it and with a peace that has lightened every sorrow; of it, I
can'truly say that it passeth all understanding.

'Look here, folks!'said Uncle Eb, after awhile, as he got his flute,
'my feelin's hey been teched hard. If I don't hey some jollification
I'll bust. Bill Brower, limber up yer leather a leetle bit.

Chapter 44

Nehemiah, whom I had known as John Trumbull, sat a long time
between his father and mother, holding a hand of each, and talking
in a low tone, while Hope and I were in the kitchen with Uncle Eb.
Now that father and son were side by side we saw how like they
were and wondered we bad never guessed the truth.

'Do you remember?'said Nehemiah, when we returned. 'Do you
remember when you were a little boy, coming one night to the old
log house on Bowman's Hill with Uncle Eb?

'I remember it very well,'I answered.

'That was the first time I ever saw you,'he said.

'Why'you are not the night man?'

'I was the night man,'he answered.

I stared at him with something of the old, familiar thrill that had
always come at the mention of him years agone.

'He's grown a leetle since then,'said Uncle Eb.

'I thought so the night I carried him off the field at Bull Run,'said

'Was that you?'I asked eagerly.

'It was,'he answered. 'I came over from Washington that
afternoon. Your colonel told me you had been wounded.

'Wondered who you were, but I could not get you to answer. I have
to thank you for my life.

Hope put her arms about his neck and kissed him.

'Tell us,'said she, 'how you came to be the night man. '

He folded his arms and looked down and began his story.

'Years ago I had a great misfortune. I was a mere boy at the time.
By accident I killed another boy in play. It was an old gun we were
playing with and nobody knew it was loaded. I had often
quarrelled with the other boy - that is why they thought I had done
it on purpose. There was a dance that night. I had got up in the
evening, crawled out of the window and stolen away. We were in
Rickard's stable. I remember how the people ran out with lanterns.
They would have hung me - some of them - or given me the blue
beech, if a boy friend had not hurried me away. It was a terrible
hour. I was stunned; I could say nothing. They drove me to the
'Burg, the boy's father chasing us. I got over into Canada, walked
to Montreal and there went to sea. It was foolish, I know, but I was
only a boy of fifteen. I took another name; I began a new life.
Nehemiah Brower was like one dead. In 'Frisco I saw Ben Gilman.
He had been a school mate in Faraway. He put his hand on my
shoulder and called me the old name. It was hard to deny it - the
hardest thing I ever did. I was homesick; I wanted to ask him about
my mother and father and my sister, who was a baby when I left. I
would have given my life to talk with him. But I shook my head.

'"No," I said, "my name is not Brower. You are mistaken."

'Then I walked away and Nemy Brower stayed in his grave.

'Well, two years later we were cruising from Sidney to Van
Dieman's Land. One night there came a big storm. A shipmate was
washed away in the dark. We never saw him again. They found a
letter in his box that said his real name was Nehemiah Brower, son
of David Brower, of Faraway, NY, USA. I put it there, of course,
and the captain wrote a letter to my father about the death of his
son. My old self was near done for and the man Trumbull had a
new lease of life. You see in my madness I had convicted and
executed myself.

He paused a moment. His mother put her hand upon his shoulder
with a word of gentle sympathy. Then he went on.

'Well, six years after I had gone away, one evening in midsummer,
we came into the harbour of Quebec. I had been long in the
southern seas. When I went ashore, on a day's leave, and wandered
off in the fields and got the smell of the north, I went out of my
head - went crazy for a look at the hills o'Faraway and my own
people. Nothing could stop me then. I drew my pay, packed my
things in a bag and off I went. Left the 'Burg afoot the day after;
got to Faraway in the evening. It was beautiful - the scent o'the
new hay that stood in cocks and wnrows on the hill - the noise
o'the crickets -'the smell o'the grain - the old house, just as I
remembered them; just as I had dreamed of them a thousand times.
And - when I went by the gate Bony - my old dog - came out and
barked at - me and I spoke to him and he knew me and came and
licked my hands, rubbing upon my leg. I sat down with him there
by the stone wall and - the kiss of that old dog - the first token of
love I had known for years' called back the dead and all that had
been his. I put my arms about his - neck and was near crying out
with joy.

'Then I stole up to the house and looked in at a window. There sat
father, at a table, reading his paper; and a little girl was on her
knees by mother saying her prayers. He stopped a moment,
covering his eyes with his handkerchief.

'That was Hope,'I whispered.

'That was Hope,'he went on. 'All the king's oxen could not
have dragged me out of Faraway then. Late at night I went off
into the woods. The old dog followed to stay with me until he died.
If it had not been for him I should have been hopeless. I had with
me enough to eat for a time. We found a cave in a big ledge over
back of Bull Pond. Its mouth was covered with briars. It had a big
room and a stream of cold water trickling through a crevice. I
made it my home and a fine place it was - cool in summer and
warm in winter. I caught a cub panther that fall and a baby coon.
They grew up with me there and were the only friends I had after
Bony, except Uncle Eb.

'Uncle Eb!'I exclaimed.

'You know how I met him,'he continued. 'Well, he won
my confidence. I told him my history. I came into the clearing
almost every night. Met him often. He tried to persuade me to
come back to my people, but I could not do it. I was insane; I
feared something - I did not know what. Sometimes I doubted
even my own identity. Many a summer night I sat talking for
hours, with Uncle Eb, at the foot of Lone Pine. O, he was like a
father to me! God knows what I should have done without him.
Well, I stuck to my life, or rather to my death, O - there in the
woods - getting fish out of the brooks and game out of the forest,
and milk out of the cows in the pasture. Sometimes I went through
the woods to the store at Tifton for flour and pork. One night
Uncle Eb told me if I would go out among men to try my hand at
some sort of business he would start me with a thousand dollars.
Well, I did - it. I had also a hundred dollars of my own. I came
through the woods afoot. Bought fashionable clothing at Utica,
and came to the big city' you know the rest. Among men my fear
has left me, so I wonder at it. I am a debtor to love - the love of
Uncle Eb and that of a noble woman I shall soon marry. It has
made me whole and brought me back to my own people.

'And everybody knew he was innocent the day after he left,'said

'Three cheers for Uncle Eb!'I demanded.

And we gave them.

'1 declare!'said he. 'In all my born days never see sech fun. It's
tree-menjious! I tell ye. Them 'et takes care uv others ll be took
care uv - 'less they do it o'purpose.

And when the rest of us had gone to bed Uncle Eb sat awhile by
the fire with David. Late at night he came upstairs with his candle.
He came over to my bed on tiptoe to see if I were awake, holding
the candle above my head. I was worn out and did not open my
eyes. He sat down snickering.

'Tell ye one thing, Dave Brower,'he whispered to himself as he
drew off his boots, 'when some folks calls ye a fool 's a purty good
sign ye ain't.

Chapter 45

Since that day I have seen much coming and going.

We are now the old folks - Margaret and Nehemiah and Hope and
I. Those others, with their rugged strength, their simple ways, their
undying youth, are of the past. The young folks - they are a new
kind of people. It gives us comfort to think they will never have to
sing in choirs or 'pound the rock'for board money; but I know it is
the worse luck for them. They are a fine lot of young men and
women - comely and well-mannered - but they will not be the
pathfinders of the future. What with balls and dinners and clubs
and theatres, they find too great a solace in the rear rank.

Nearly twenty years after that memorable Christmas, coming from
Buffalo to New York one summer morning, my thoughts went
astray in the north country. The familiar faces, the old scenes came
trooping by and that very day I saw the sun set in Hillsborough as I
had often those late years.

Mother was living in the old home, alone, with a daughter of
Grandma Bisnette. It was her wish to live and die under that roof.
She cooked me a fine supper, with her own hands, and a great
anxiety to please me.

'Come Willie!'said she, as if I were a small boy again, 'you fill the
woodbox an'I ll git supper ready. Lucindy, you clear out,'she said
to the hired girl, good-naturedly. 'You dunno how t'cook for him.

I filled the woodbox and brought a pail of water and while she was
frying the ham and eggs read to her part of a speech I had made in
Congress. Before thousands I had never felt more elation. At last I
was sure of winning her applause. The little bent figure stood,
thoughtfully, turning the ham and eggs. She put the spider aside, to
stand near me, her hands upon her hips. There was a mighty pride
in her face when I had finished.

I rose and she went and looked out of the window.

'Grand!'she murmured, wiping her eyes with the corner of her

'Glad you like it,'I said, with great satisfaction.

'O, the speech!'she answered, her elbow resting on the windowr
sash, her hand supporting her head. 'I liked it very well - but - but I
was thinking of the sunset. How beautiful it is.

I was weary after my day of travel and went early to bed there in
my old room. I left her finishing a pair of socks she had been
knitting for me. Lying in bed, I could hear the creak of her chair
and the low sung, familiar words:

'On the other side of Jordan, In the sweet fields of Eden, Where the
tree of life is blooming, There is rest for you.

Late at rnght she came into my room with a candle. I heard her
come softly to the bed where she stood a moment leaning over me.
Then she drew the quilt about my shoulder with a gentle hand.

'Poor little orphan!'said she, in a whisper that trembled. She was
thinking of my childhood - of her own happier days.

Then she went away and I heard, in the silence, a ripple of
measureless waters.

Next morning I took flowers and strewed them on the graves of
David and Uncle Eb; there, Hope and I go often to sit for half a
summer day above those perished forms, and think of the old time
and of those last words of my venerable friend now graven on his


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