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- Eben Holden - 4/52 -


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 were silent.

'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.'

Chapter 3

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 further conversation.

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 added.

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 tree-top.

'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 with us.'

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.

'God-fearin' folks?'

'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.


Eben Holden - 4/52

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