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- Eben Holden - 20/52 -
'Han'some,' said he, 'we might as well own up if she is our child.'
'If she goes away,' continued Elizabeth, 'some of us ought t' go with her.'
Then Uncle Eb and David went to their work in the fields and I to my own task That very evening they began to talk of renting the farm and going to town with the children.
I had a stent of cording wood that day and finished it before two o'clock Then I got my pole of mountain ash, made hook and line ready, dug some worms and went fishing. I cared not so much for the fishing as for the solitude of the woods. I had a bit of thing to do. In the thick timber there was a place where Tinkle brook began to hurry and break into murmurs on a pebble bar, as if its feet were tickled. A few more steps and it burst into a peal of laughter that lasted half the year as it tumbled over narrow shelves of rock into a foamy pool. Many a day I had sat fishing for hours at the little fall under a birch tree, among the brakes and moss. No ray of sunlight ever got to the dark water below me - the lair of many a big fish that had yielded to the temptation of my bait. Here I lay in the cool shade while a singular sort of heart sickness came over me. A wild partridge was beating his gong in the near woods all the afternoon. The sound of the water seemed to break in the tree-tops and fall back upon me. I had lain there thinking an hour or more when I caught the jar of approaching footsteps. Looking up I saw Jed Feary coming through the bushes, pole in hand.
'Fishin'?' he asked.
'Only thinking,' I answered.
'Couldn't be in better business,' said he as he sat down beside me.
More than once he had been my father confessor and I was glad he had come.
'In love?' he asked. 'No boy ever thinks unless he's in love.'
'In trouble,' said I.
'Same thing,' he answered, lighting his pipe. 'Love is trouble with a bit of sugar in it - the sweetest trouble a man can have. what's the matter?'
'It's a great secret,' I said, 'I have never told it. I am in love.'
'Knew it,' he said, puffing at his pipe and smiling in a kindly way. 'Now let's put in the trouble.'
'She does not love me,' I answered.
'Glad of it,' he remarked. 'I've got a secret t, tell you.'
'What's that?' I enquired.
'Wouldn't tell anybody else for the world, my boy,' he said, 'it's between you an' me.'
'Between you an' me,' I repeated.
'Well,' he said, you're a fool.'
'That's no secret,' I answered much embarrassed.
'Yes it is,' he insisted, 'you're smart enough an' ye can have most anything in this world if ye take the right road. Ye've grown t' be a great big strapping fellow but you're only - sixteen?'
'That's all,' I said mournfully.
'Ye're as big a fool to go falling in love as I'd be. Ye're too young an' I'm too old. I say to you, wait. Ye've got to go t' college.'
'College!' I exclaimed, incredulously.
'Yes! an' thet's another secret,' said he. I tol' David Brower what I thought o' your writing thet essay on bugs in pertickier - an' I tol' 'im what people were sayin' o' your work in school.'
'What d' he say?' I asked.
'Said Hope had tol' him all about it - that she was as proud o' you as she was uv her curls, an' I believe it. "Well," says I, "y' oughter sen' that boy t' college." "Goin' to," says he. "He'll go t' the 'Cademy this fall if he wants to. Then he can go t' college soon's he's ready." Threw up my hat an' shouted I was that glad.'
As he spoke the old man's face kindled with enthusiasm. In me he had one who understood him, who saw truth in his thought, music in his verse, a noble simplicity in his soul. I took his hand in mine and thanked him heartily. Then we rose and came away together.
'Remember,' he said, as we parted at the corner, 'there's a way laid out fer you. In God's time it will lead to every good thing you desire. Don't jump over the fence. Don't try t' pass any milestun 'fore ye've come to it. Don't mope. Keep yer head cool with philosophy, yer feet warm with travel an' don't worry bout yer heart. It won't turn t' stun if ye do keep it awhile. Allwus hev enough of it about ye t' do business with. Goodbye!'
Gerald Brower, who was a baby when I came to live at Faraway, and was now eleven, had caught a cold in seed time, and he had never quite recovered. His coughing had begun to keep him awake, and one night it brought alarm to the whole household. Elizabeth Brower was up early in the morning and called Uncle Eb, who went away for the doctor as soon as light came. We ate our breakfast in silence. Father and mother and Grandma Bisnette spoke only in low tones and somehow the anxiety in their faces went to my heart. Uncle Eb returned about eight o'clock and said the doctor was coming. Old Doctor Bigsby was a very great man in that country. Other physicians called him far and wide for consultation. I had always regarded him with a kind of awe intensified by the aroma of his drugs and the gleam of his lancet. Once I had been his patient and then I had trembled at his approach. when he took my little wrist in his big hand, I remember with what reluctance I stuck out my quivering tongue, black, as I feared with evidences of prevarication.
He was a picture for a painter man as he came that morning erect in his gig. who could forget the hoary majesty of his head - his 'stovepipe' tilted back, his white locks flying about his ears? He had a long nose, a smooth-shaven face and a left eye that was a trifle turned. His thoughts were generally one day behind the calendar. Today he seemed to be digesting the affairs of yesterday. He was, therefore, absentminded, to a degree that made no end of gossip. If he came out one day with shoe-strings flying, in his remorse the next he would forget his collar; if one told him a good joke today, he might not seem to hear it, but tomorrow he would take it up in its turn and shake with laughter.
I remember how, that morning after noting the symptoms of his patient, he sat a little in silent reflection. He knew that colour in the cheek, that look in the eye - he had seen so much of it. His legs were crossed and one elbow thrown carelessly over the back of his chair. We all sat looking at him anxiously. In a moment he began chewing hard on his quid of tobacco. Uncle Eb pushed the cuspidor a bit nearer. The doctor expectorated freely and resumed his attitude of reflection. The clock ticked loudly, the patient sighed, our anxiety increased. Uncle Eb spoke to father, in a low tone, whereupon the doctor turned suddenly, with a little grunt of enquiry, and seeing he was not addressed, sank again into thoughtful repose. I had begun to fear the worst when suddenly the hand of the doctor swept the bald peak of benevolence at the top of his head. Then a smile began to spread over his face. It was as if some feather of thought had begun to tickle him. In a moment his head was nodding with laughter that brought a great sense of relief to all of us. In a slow, deliberate tone he began to speak:
'I was over t' Rat Tupper's t'other day,' said he, 'Rat was sitting with me in the door yard. Purty soon a young chap came in, with a scythe, and asked if he might use the grindstun. He was a new hired man from somewhere near. He didn't know Rat, an' Rat didn't know him. So Rat o' course had t' crack one o' his jokes.
'"May I use yer grindstun?" said the young feller.
'"Dunno," said Rat, "I'm only the hired man here. Go an' ask Mis' Tupper."
'The ol' lady had overheard him an' so she says t' the young feller, "Yes - ye can use the grindstun. The hired man out there'll turn it fer ye."
'Rat see he was trapped, an' so he went out under the plum tree, where the stun was, an' begun t' turn. The scythe was dull an' the young feller bore on harder'n wuz reely decent fer a long time. Rat begun t' git very sober lookin'.
'"Ain't ye 'bout done," said he.
'"Putty nigh," said the young feller bearin' down a leetle harder all the time.
'Rat made the stun go faster. putty soon he asked agin, "Ain't ye done yit?"
'"putty nigh!" says the other feeling o' the edge.
'"I'm done," said Rat, an' he let go o' the handle. "I dunno 'bout the scythe but I'm a good deal sharper'n I wuz."
'"You're the hired man here ain't ye?" said the young feller.
'"No, I ain't," said Rat. "'D rather own up t' bein' a liar than turn that stun another minnit."
As soon as he was fairly started with this droll narrative the strain of the situation was relieved. We were all laughing as much at his deliberate way of narration as at the story itself.
Suddenly he turned to Elizabeth Brower and said, very soberly, 'Will you bring me some water in a glass?'
Then he opened his chest of medicine, made some powders and told us how to give them.
'In a few days I would take him into the big woods for a while,' he
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