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- Eben Holden - 10/52 -
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 unerring accuracy.
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 with emphasis.
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 anxiously.
'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 decisive.
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 pace.
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 moment.
'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
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