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Title: Eben Holden's Last Day A-Fishing
Author: Bacheller, Irving
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A-FISHING ***



Internet Archive



EBEN HOLDEN’. LAST DAY A-FISHING

By Irving Bacheller Author Of “Eben Holden” “Silas Strong” Etc.
Etc. New York And London Harper & Brothers Publishers 1907



0006



0007



0009 A. BARTON HEPBURN FISHERMAN, HUNTER, FRIEND OF UNCLE EB, AND LOVER
OF THE LAND IN WHICH HE DWELT, I DEDICATE THIS LITTLE VOLUME



CONTENTS

EBEN HOLDEN’S LAST DAY A-FISHING

I

II

III



EBEN HOLDEN’S LAST DAY A-FISHING



I

8011

9011

NE morning in early June I was walking on a crowded thoroughfare. The
earth had rolled suddenly into summer skies. Birds chattered in the
parks, and I could hear a cock crow in a passing freight wagon. I
stopped to listen, while he seemed to hurl defiance at his captors and
all the noisy crowd, and bid them do their worst to him. His outcry put
me in

8012

mind of my own imprisonment there in the rock-bound city. As I thought
of it, I could see the green hills of the North all starred with
dandelions; I could hear the full flow of the streams that pass between
them—you know—and that evening we were on our way to Hillsborough.
Uncle Eb, then a “likely boy” of eighty-six, and Elizabeth Brower
and Lucinda Bisnette were still in the old home. We had quickly planned
a holiday to be full of surprise and delight for them.

They were in the midst of the days that are few and silent—those
adorned with the fading flowers of old happiness and thoughts which are
“the conclusion of the whole matter.” As for ourselves, we found
them full of a peace and charm I would fain impart to those who read of
them, if that

8013

were possible. I know well how feebly I shall do my task, but now, at
last, a time is come when it seems to call me, and I can begin it with
some hope and courage. I shall try not to write a book, nor a tale even,
but mainly to gather a few flowers, now full grown, in the garden
of remembrance. You that see it growing lovelier in the lengthening
distance will understand me.

Always, when our train went roaring into the quiet village, we used to
look out of the car-window down across the river and a smooth stretch of
fields into the edge of the little town. At a small, familiar opening in
the shade-trees, almost half a mile from the train, we never failed to
see the flicker of a white handkerchief. It signalled their welcome. And
then—well, I doubt

8014

if any one may have in this world better moment. Yes—that was years
ago, and there are strangers in the old home, but to this day every time
I enter Hillsborough I look for that flicker of white, away off among
the trees.

That day the signal greeted us, and was only one of many joys, for it
was a day of a thousand, warm, and full of the music of birds and
of bees’ wings and the odor of new blossoms and a great happiness.
Elizabeth Brower stood at the gate, and beyond her we could see Uncle Eb
on the veranda, sitting in his arm-chair. The dear woman put her fingers
on her lips, and we knew what it meant. Uncle Eb had fallen asleep in
the warm sunlight. We greeted her with hushed voices, and approached the
venerable man, and sat down at his feet, smiling

8015

and looking up at his fine old face. He continued to sleep, all
unconscious that we were near him. Soon we heard him call in his dreams,
just above a whisper: “Here Fred! here Fred!” It was the name of
our old dog, dead these many years. His nap must have taken him far
back—perhaps into that long, westward journey through woods and
fields. I took his hand in mine. He came out of his dreams with a start,
and looked up at me.

“What!” said he. “Wal, I declare.”

He rose and clung to our hands and looked into our faces with a full
heart.

“A merry birthday!” I exclaimed.

“See here, Bill Brower,” said he. “You’ve hearn o’ the joy
o’ Paradise?”

“Often,” I answered.

8016

“Wal, here’s the key-note o’ the song,” said Uncle Eb. “Now
look here, Liz Brower,” he went on, “you tell ‘Sindy we got
to have the best dinner ever made by human hands. I’ll bring some
water.”

Elizabeth, Uncle Eb, and that daughter of Grandma Bisnette were there.

Hope and her mother went into the sitting-room, and I followed them,
while Uncle Eb went to the well for water. She looked up at us proudly
as we stood before her, side by side.

“Turn around,” she said, “an’ let me look at ye careful.”

She surveyed the fit and material of Hope’s gown with great
satisfaction.

“Look so ye was just goin’ t’ be married,” she remarked.

We sat down presently upon the ancient hair-cloth sofa, with its knitted

8017

afghan of many colors lying folded against a curved arm. There were the
old, plain, priceless things—the carpet, the pictures, a pyramid of
plants and flowers in front of the large window, the centre-table, with
its album and reading-lamp, the secretary and the what-not filled with
books that were a part of our history.

There were the ingredients of that receipt which, as it were, had made
the intellectual cake of my boyhood: Josephus’ History of the Jews
(the flour, two heaping volumes); Ten Nights in a Bar-Room (the milk
and water, one volume); Great Expectations, Bleak House), and David
Copperfield (the sugar, three volumes); Pilgrim’s Progress (the egg,
one volume); Our Golden West (the spice, one volume); The Letters of
Lord Chesterfield

8018

(the frosting, one large table volume); Wrigglesworth’s Day of Doom
(the fire that did the baking).

Soon we found Uncle Eb with my boy David upon his knees on the veranda,
and he was telling him the tale of The Witch’s Bridle, which I had
heard in my childhood, and we stood and listened. It was a relic of old
Yankee folk-lore and immensely true.

“Once there was a young man who lived with his father an’ mother in
a little village,” the story went. “An’ there was a house in the
village where a witch lived, an’ it had a beautiful door. An’ his
mother told him that he must keep away from that house; but one night
it looked so splendid that he opened the door an’ went in, an’ the
witch spied him an’ come and

8019

looked into his face an’ he thought she was beautiful. An’ she ast
him to put on her bridle, but he said no. An’ the ol’ witch follered
behind him as careful as a cat after a bird, an’ what do ye s’pose
she done?—waited until he was sound asleep an’ put her bridle on
him—that’s what she done. Now, ye see, when a witch puts her bridle
on any one it always turns him into a hoss, an’ a witch’s hoss can
go right thro’ the side of a house without makin’ a hole in it,
an’ can jump over trees an’ hills an’ travel like the wind. She
rode him high an’ low, an’ brought him back hum jest before daylight
an’ took off the bridle an’ that changed him into a boy again. An’
when he woke up he was tired out an’ all of a tremble. An’ ev’ry
night the ol’ witch come for him an’ put on her bridle an’

8020

turned him into a hoss, an’ rode him all over the hills an’ valleys
until he was about done fer, an’ then fetched him back, an’ ev’ry
morning when he woke up he was a boy ag’in, an’ was lame an’ sore
an’ had a headache an’ was sorry that he ever see the witch. He grew
poor an’ spindlin’, an’ he’d lay awake night after night to keep
the witch away. But o’ course he had to go to sleep some time, an’
the minute he forgot himself she’d slip in an’ put on the bridle
an’ away they’d go. An’ he grew poorer an’ poorer an’ less
an’ less like a boy, an’ more an’ more like an animal. By an’
by, he got used to bein’ a hoss an’ loved to go up in the air an’
hadn’t any more heart in him than my ol’ mare.

“Wal, one night, what d’ye s’pose happened? The witch come an’
rode

8021

him away, an’ when she got back, by an’ by, an’ took off his
bridle, he never changed a hair, but stayed a hoss. Why? ‘Cause the
boy in him was all wore out an’ dead as a door-nail. Fact is, hosses
can stan’ more’n men. An’ the witch grew sick o’ him, an’ said
she wanted a better hoss, an’ give him a cut an’ turned him loose in
the sky. An’ ev’ry night fer years he galloped over the house-tops
as if he was tryin’ to find suthin, an’ when I went to bed I used
to hear him whinny way up in the dark, an’ it sounded suthin’ like
this:”

Here he whinnied like the witch’s horse, and went on:

“Keep on the ground, Dave, an’ mind yer elders, ‘cause a boy that
has his own head is apt to get it caught in the witch’s bridle. Same
way with a

8022

man, ‘less he takes advice ev’ry day from the great Father of all.
They’s witches ev’rywhere, an’ they’re always lookin’ fer a
hoss to ride.”

“See here,” said he, as soon as he discovered us, “you must all
come out an’ look at my garden.”

“They want to rest,” Elizabeth objected.

“No; we’d rather go with Uncle Eb,” said Hope, and we followed him
to the garden.

“Godfrey cordial! hear the birds!” Uncle Eb went on, as we took the
path that crossed an edge of the clover meadow. “Lot of ‘em been
gettin’ married, I guess. Don’t do a thing but sing an’ laugh
an’ holler—like a lot o’ boys an’ gals.”

His strength had failed since we saw

8023

him last. He was bent a little farther, his hands trembled, a small task
affected his breathing, but he was the same cheerful, keen-minded man.

“Gardens are all right, but the sight of a hoe makes me shudder,”
said I.

“The hoe is a good teacher,” he answered. “Man that don’t hoe
his character ev’ry few days won’t have any.”

“My wife hoes mine,” I said.

“An’ does it kind o’ careless.” He drew his hand over his mouth
and cleared his throat and went on as if nothing had happened. “These
things are a good deal like folks. Some grow up an’ some grow down. I
used to know a woman that looked like a turnip, and a gal that was like
a flower, an’ another that was like a pepper-plant, an’ a man that
was a reg’lar human onion.”

8024

“A garden always reminds me that it’s about time to get your hook
and line ready,” I suggested.

He stopped and put his hand upon my arm. He glanced up at the sky, and
seemed to note the direction of the wind.

“Say, by mighty!” he exclaimed. “You stop, or you’ll make
trouble.”

“Think of Paradise Valley,” I went on. “It will be green and
sprinkled with blossoms, and the brook will be singing as it goes by.”

“You quit!” he answered, with a little gesture of impatience.
“Say!” he suggested, with enthusiasm, after a moment, “I
wouldn’t wonder but what the fish would bite—ye take it on the
rapids there.”

We returned to the house and he sat in his chair on the small veranda.

8025

Robins were building their nest on a shelf near him, and were busy with
their fetching and weaving.

“Look at the scalawags!” he laughed. “No, there ain’t nothin’
that’s ‘fraid o’ me some way. I got a club one day an’ tried to
scare a mouse; but seems so she knew I was only foolin’. Now she’s
begun to bully me an’ fetch her children right into my bedroom, an’
I guess I’ll have to git mad an’ declare war.”

I hailed a boy in the street, and sent him for a team, to be brought
immediately after dinner.

When we sat down to eat, Uncle Eb put the same old question:

“Wal, how’s ev’rything down there in the city?”

“About as usual.”

“Too many folks there,” he said,

8026

“an’ they all look a leetle cross. I like t’ pass the time o’
day with ev’ry man I meet, but mighty Dinah! they’s so many of
‘em!—there ain’t no use tryin’ t’ be pleasant. I got t’
showin’ the whites o’ my eyes as bad as any of ‘em.” He spoke,
laughingly, of a symphony concert to which we had taken him.

“I’ll never fergit the man with a p’inter,” he said, his head
noddin with amusement. “How he could toss the music! It was like
spreadin’ hay.” Again his cheery voice, after a moment of silence:
“No more meat! Hope Brower, if you don’t eat yer dinner, you’ll be
put to bed.”

After dinner I gathered up my tackle.

“I dunno,” Uncle Eb remarked.

“Great day for fishing,” I insisted.

The team arrived, a lively pair of Morgan mares. Uncle Eb came out

8027

of the house in rubber boots, with his overcoat upon his arm.

“I’m ‘fraid you better not go,” said Elizabeth Brower from the
door-step, with a look of anxiety, and now the trembling of his hands
made me almost regret that I had tempted him.

“See here,” said Uncle Eb, firmly, as he turned to my mother.
“He’s picked on me ‘til I can’t stan’ it any longer. Ye
couldn’t keep me out o’ that buggy with a gun.”

I helped him in and took my place at his side, and away we went a pace
of twelve miles to the hour, through town, across the flat, and up the
stairway of the hills. We passed the old Hosper homestead.

“What’s become of the deacon?” I asked.

“Dead; got sick o’ life. Wouldn’t

8028

eat or take any medicine; kind o’ pined away.”

“What was the trouble?”

“Wal, ye know, he had to live with himself,” said Uncle Eb, “an’
he wa’n’. what ye might call good comp’ny. He couldn’t help it,
an’ I always felt kind o’ sorry fer Hosper. They got him so scairt
over there at the white church that he was ‘fraid to live an’
‘fraid to die, an’ fer a long time he didn’t do either. He thought
it was his duty to suffer. God had cursed the world, an’ that was the
reason why men had to sweat an’ toil. Think o’ his days—full o’
fear an’ repentence an’ atonement an’ hell an’ ancient history.
He kind o’ straddled his span o’ life. One foot was in the future
an’ the other in the past. No wonder he had the rheumatiz. Nobody
liked him. He got to

8029

be a lonesome, sickly ol’ man, I went to see him one day. Says I:

“‘Deacon, I wouldn’t wonder if the fish ‘u’d bite.’

“‘Fish!’ says he, ‘my mind ain’t on fish. I’m thinkin’
o’ my immortal soul.’

“‘Man’s soul is like his stummick,’ says I. ‘It ain’t
healthy ‘less he can fergit it. Come an’ have some fun.’.rdquo; We
rode in silence until Uncle Eb went on:

“He seemed to think that God was a kind of a bully, an’ that he
loved to make men cowards. It don’t seem likely to me. I don’t
b’lieve He meant toil fer a curse nuther. I couldn’t be happy
‘less I had suthin’ to do. Seems ‘s ‘o’ them who wrote down
the plans o’ the Almighty made a mistake now an’ then, an’ it
ain’t no wonder if they

8030

did. No man can be perfect, specially when he takes holt o’ so big a
job. Prob’ly it was purty hot where they lived, an’ work didn’t
agree with ‘em. Now it looks to me as if that fust family couldn’t
‘a’ been very happy without a thing to do. I don’t wonder that
Cain an’ Abel quarrelled. God must ‘a’ seen that the world lacked
suthin’ very important. So He blessed it with toil. I don’t believe
He ever intended to curse it, ‘cause, if He did, ye got to own up that
He ain’t succeeded fust-rate.”

We came to the top of Bowman’s Hill and looked down into the little
valley, and were both silent.

“Time flies!” I remarked, presently.

“Beats all,” Uncle Eb answered.

The Brower farm had run down, as they say in the back country. The

8031

house and stable were in ill repair. Evil days had come to the neat and
cleanly fireside, where in the old time Santa Claus had blessed us, and
I had heard the cry of the swift and felt the touch of love and sorrow.

The tenant, a man who showed the wear of hard times, put our team in the
stable.

“If you’d stayed here,” said he, with a glance at me, “this farm
wouldn’t ‘a’ looked as it does now.

Uncle Eb smiled.

“No,” said he; “the farm would ‘a’ looked better, but he’d
‘a’ looked a dum sight wuss.”

He cleared his throat, and spoke of the weather as if to soften the blow
a little.

I got my tackle ready while the man dug worms for Uncle Eb—an angler

8032

of the bait-and-sinker type. Soon we made our way slowly through the
same old cow-path that wavered across the green slope now starred with
soft, golden blossoms. It is curious, that conservatism of the cloven
hoof, which, like water, follows its old path, having found the way of
least resistance. In a few minutes we came near the rotted stump of Lone
Pine.

“Hats off!” said Uncle Eb, as he uncovered.

In a second my hat was in my hand; or there, between our feet, was a
lonely, half-forgotten grave—that of old Fred. Slowly, silently, we
resumed our walk. My venerable friend was breathing hard. I supported
him with my arm, and soon we sat down to rest upon a rock. The air was
clear and still. There was not a cloud in the sky. A

8033

hawk flew across the flat near us, his white butcher’s apron stained
with blood. He was flying low, with some small creature in his talons.
It made me break the silence, and I said:

“There’s a thing that puzzles me—the cruelty that is in all
God’s creation. It’s a great slaughter-house, and everything that
lives has the stain of blood upon it.”

“It all teaches us that death ain’t o’ much account,” said Uncle
Eb. “It looks like cruelty, an’ most of us think it a curse. Death
is a wonderful blessin’—that’s the way it looks to me. Why, Bill
Brower, ye’ve died twice already. Fust the child, then the boy, an’
each time ye wove a new body. Bym by yer loom is wore out. Got t’ go
git a new one. Ye’ll begin t’ feel as if yer body was a kind of a
bad fit.

8034

It’ll be too small an’ shabby an’ un-comf’table.

“I ‘member a boy over’n Vermont by the name o’ Lem Barker. Grew
so fast that the fust he knew his clo’s begun to pinch him, an’ the
bottoms of his pants wouldn’t ‘sociate with his shoe-leather, an’
his hands was way down below his coat sleeves, an’ the old suit was
wore so thin he didn’t dast run er rassle fer fear it would bust an’
drop off him. All he could do was to set an’ think an’ talk
an’ chaw ter-baccer an’ walk as careful as a hen lookin’ fer
grasshoppers. He hadn’t any confidence in that old suit, an’
was kind o’ ‘fraid of it. One day he see a bear, an’ it come
nec’sary fer him to move quick, an’ he split his clo’s, an’ hed
to go hum in a rain-barrel. At fust he thought it was bad luck, but when
his

8035

father got him a new suit he see that he was mistaken. We old folks are
a good deal like poor Lem. We toddle around in our old clo’s an’ are
a leetle bit afraid of ‘em. It would be lucky for us if we could meet
a bear. I’d like to go down to the brook there on the run jest as
I used to. But I wouldn’t dast try it. My body don’t fit my
spirit—that’s what’s the matter. Got to go an’ have my measure
took, an’ throw ‘way the old suit. An’ I’ll tell ye, Bill, I
need a better outfit than what I’ve ever had—suthin’ stouter-wove
an’ han’somer an’ more durable—suthin’ fit fer a man. I’m
goin’ to hev it—call that a curse?”

He looked at his bony, trembling hands, and went on:

“It’s all faded an’ kind o’ cold an’ threadbare. My back
couldn’t carry

8036

one small boy in a basket these days, but I’d like t’ carry all
the boys in the county, an’ mebbe some time I’ll have a back broad
‘nough. That’ll be when school’s dismissed, an’ I go off t’
seek my fortune, good deal as you did. I ‘member how you went an’
got some new clo’s there ‘n New York fust thing. An’ they was
splendid—better ‘n any ye could git in Hillsborough.”

We heard footsteps in a moment, and I turned and saw Jed Feary
approaching us. He was past eighty years of age, and his hair and beard
were white, and he walked slowly with a cane. He stopped near us, and
began to laugh as we greeted him.

“Heard you was here,” he said, “an’ Rans Walker druv me down the
road.”

“Stump ye t’ rassle with me,” said Uncle Eb, with a smile.

8037

“Wait ‘til I’ve throwed the rheumatiz, an’ then I’ll tackle
you,” said the poet.

“How are you, Uncle Jed?” was my query.

“As you see—the trembling hand an’ slippered pantaloon.”

“All the world’s a stage,” I quoted.

“It used to be in the time o’ Shakespeare,” said the poet.
“Life was a pretty play those days, but since then we’ve got down to
business. Now


“All the world’s a school,

And all the men and women merely scholars.

It has its teachers, grades, and many classes;

Its trustees, honors, torts, and punishments.

Its books are three: Nature, history,

And revelation teaching holy truth:

That men are brothers and must learn to

love.”


“And you are one of its teachers,” said Uncle Eb.

8038

“I’m only a humble student,” said the poet. “Think what we’ve
learnt in a hundred years. That little Devil, who rode across Europe
killing an’ burning an’ spreading terror until they stopped him at
Waterloo, he taught us a great lesson. He made us hate war, and that was
the beginning o’ the end of it. There were to be other wars, but they
have been steps only in the conquest of Peace.”

“And there will be no more war?” I queried.

“Yes; but the learned races will put an end to it by and by,” he
went on. “The upper classes have all learnt their lesson—they know
too much. We know suthin’ ‘bout war here in Faraway. Let me tell ye
a story.”

The old poet sat on a rock near, and began this little epic of the
countryside:

8039

“So ye’re runnin’ fer Congress, mister? Le’

me tell ye ‘bout my son,

Might make you fellers carefuller down

there in Washington:

He clings to his rifle an’ uniform—folks

call him Whisperin’ Bill,

An’ I tell ye the war ain’t over yit up here

on Bowman’s Hill.


“This dooryard is his battle-field—le’s see,

he was nigh sixteen

When Sumter fell, an’ as likely a boy as

ever this world has seen,

An’ what with the news o’ battle lost, the

speeches, an’ all the noise,

I guess ev’ry farm in the neighborhood

lost a part of its crop o’ boys.


“‘Twas harvest time when Bill left home,

ev’ry stalk in the fields o’ rye

Seemed t’ stan’ tip-toe t’ see him off an’

wave a fond good-bye.


His sweetheart was here with some other

gals—the sassy little miss—

An’ pertendin’ she wanted t’ whisper ‘n

his ear, she give him a rousin’ kiss.



8040

“Oh, he was a han’some feller! an* tender

an’ brave an’ smart,

An’ though he was bigger ‘n I was, the boy

had a woman’s heart.

I couldn’t control my feelin’s, but I tried

with all my might,

An’ his mother an’ me stood a-cryin’ till

Bill was out o’ sight.


“His mother she often tol’ him, when she

knew he was goin’ away,

That God would take care o’ him, maybe,

if he didn’t fergit to pray;

An’ on the bloodiest battle-fields, when

bullets whizzed in the air,

An’ Bill was a fightin’ desperit, he used to

whisper a prayer.


‘Oh, his comrades has often told me that

Bill never flinched a bit

When ev’ry second a gap in the ranks tol’

where a ball had hit.


An’ one night when the field was covered

with the awful harvest o’ war,

They found my boy ‘mongst the martyrs

o’ the cause he was fightin’ for.



8041

“His fingers was clutched in the dewy grass

—oh, no sir, he wasn’t dead,

But he lay kind o’ helpless an’ crazy with

a rifle-ball in his head;

An’ he trembled with the battle-fear a-lay-

in’ in the dew,

An’ he whispered, as he tried to rise: ‘God

‘ll take care o’ you.’


‘An officer wrote an’ tol’ us how the boy

had been hurt in the fight,

But he said the doctors reckoned they

could bring him around all right,

An’ then we heard from a neighbor, dis-

abled at Malvern Hill,

That he thought in the course of a week

or so he’d be cornin’ home with Bill.


‘We was that anxious t’ see him we’d set

up an’ talk o’ nights

Till the break o’ day had dimmed the

stars an’ put out the Northern Lights;

We waited an’ watched fer a month or

more, an’ the summer was nearly past,

When a letter come one day that said

they’d started fer hum at last.


8042

“I’ll never fergit the day Bill come—’twas

harvest time again—

An’ the air blown over the yellow fields was

sweet with the scent o’ the grain.

The dooryard was full o’ the neighbors,

who had come to share our joy,

An’ all of us sent up a mighty cheer at

the sight o’ that soldier boy.


“An’ all of a sudden somebody said: ‘My

God! don’t the boy know his mother?’

An’ Bill stood a-whisperin’, fearful like,

an’ a starin’ from one to another;

‘Have courage, Bill,’ says he to himself,

as he stood in his coat o’ blue,

‘Why, God ‘ll take care o’ you, my boy,

God ‘ll take care o’ you.’


“He seemed to be loadin’ an’ firin’ a gun,

an’t’ act like a man who hears

The awful roar o’ the battle-field a-sound-



in’ in his ears;

Ten thousan’ ghosts o’ that bloody day

was marchin’ through his brain,

An’ his feet they kind o’ picked their way

as if they felt the slain.


8043

An’ I grabbed his hand, an’ says I to Bill,

‘Don’t ye ‘member me?

I’m yer father—don’t ye know me? How

frightened ye seem to be.’

But the boy kep’ a-whisperin’ to himself,

as if ‘t was all he knew,

‘God ‘ll take care o’ you, Bill, God ‘ll take

care o’ you.’


He’s never known us since that day, nor

his sweetheart, an’ never will;

Father an’ mother an’ sweetheart are all

the same to Bill.

An’ he groans like a wounded soldier,

sometimes, the whole night through,

An’ we smooth his head, an’ say: ‘Yes,

Bill, He’ll surely take care o’ you.’


‘Ye can stop a war in a minute, but when

can ye stop the groans?

Fer ye’ve broke our hearts an’ sapped our

strength an’ plucked away our bones.

An’ ye’ve filled our souls with bitterness

that goes from sire to son,

So ye best be kind o’ careful down there

in Washington.”


8044

Before us lay the peaceful valley, and on a far hill we could see the
door-yard bordered with small trees and haunted by the ghosts of the
battlefield.

“We’ve had our lesson,” said Uncle Eb, “but there’s some that
havint. You ‘member Lon Tracy—he was one o’ the most peaceable men
that ever lived. One day he went to the village, an’ some mis’rable,
drunken cuss pitched on him an’ Lon set to an’ thrashed him proper.

“‘I’m surprised,’ said the Justice o’ the Peace, when Lon come
before him.

“‘So’m I,’ said Lon.

“‘S’pose ye knew ‘nough t’ keep out o’ trouble.’

“‘So did I,’ says Lon.

“‘I didn’t think you were a fighting man.’

8045

“‘I didn’t nuther,’ says Lon.

“‘How did it happen?’

“‘Very easy—he rapped me an’ I rapped back,’ says Lon.

“‘An’ you rapped the hardest.’

“‘Wal, when ye pay a debt o’ that kind,’ says Lon, ‘ye ain’t
no way petic’lar how much int’rest ye allow.’

“Now that’s what’s the matter,” said Uncle Eb. “They’s some
that ‘ain’t learnt any better than to fight an’ quarrel, an’
when they git rapped they’re goin’ t’ rap back, an’ be a leetle
too liberal with the pay.”

“But the great school ain’t goin’ t’ be ruled much longer by its
primer class,” said the poet. “An’ the Principal an’ trustees
will put an end to fightin’ between classes. They find it interferes
with the work o’ the school, whose great aim is given in three

8046

words: Peace, Happiness, Brotherhood.”

“Wal, I’m goin’ t’ play truant an’ go fishin’,” said Uncle
Eb.

“School’s dismissed fer the day,” said Feary, as he rose to
leave us. “Eb Holden, we’re both likely to be promoted before long.
We’re like two boys who’ve been away to school. When we get home
they’re goin’ to be glad to see us. Good-bye!”

“Good-bye!”

So the old man left us, and we sat watching him as he crossed the brook
and slowly mounted the green uplands.

“Purty good fishin’ when Jed Feary’s around,” said Uncle Eb,
as we slowly made our way to the edge of the woods. “Growin’ old,
ain’t he?—say, if his body fitted his soul what do ye s’pose
we’d think o’ him? I dunno but we’d

8047

feel like gittin’ on our knees when he come around. It wouldn’t do.
This world’s no place fer angels, after all. Wal, come on, le’s quit
thinkin’ an’ have some fun.”



II

9048

8048

S we entered the cool woods and came where we could hear the song of the
brook, Uncle Eb cautioned me in a whisper, just as he used to do: “Now
go careful.”

I found a rock at the head of a likely stretch of rapids on which he
could sit comfortably as he fished. I prepared his tackle and baited
his hook for him, and stood by as it went plunking into smooth water.
Sitting there, he seemed to forget his feebleness, and his voice and
figure were full of animation. His hair, as white as snow, was

8049

like the crown of glory of which David sings.

He kept hauling and giving out. Now and then, as he felt a nibble, he
addressed the fish:

“How d’ do? Come ag’in,” he said, as he continued to work his
line. “Tut, tut! you’re another!” he exclaimed, with a sharp
twitch.

The trout was a large one, and Uncle Eb, with a six-ounce rod, had not
been able to lift and swing him ashore in the old fashion. He held on
with jiggling hands and a look of great animation as the fish took line
in half a dozen quick rushes.

“You’re tryin’ to jerk me out o’ my boots”—the words were
emphasized and broken here and there by the struggle. The rod’s
vibration had got into his voice and all the upper part

8050

of his body. “Stop that, ye scalawag!” he went on. “Consarn ye,
come here to me!”

He seized the line, flung his rod on the shore, and began to haul
vigorously hand over hand. When the splendid fish lay gasping at his
feet, Uncle Eb turned to me and shook his head. He sat breathing hard,
as if the exertion had wearied him. Soon he took out his jack-knife, a
serious look on his face.

“You go cut me an alder pole,” said he, with decision. “That thing
ain’t no better’n a spear o’ grass.”

I ran up the shore, glad of the chance he had given me to conceal my
laughter. I cut a long, stout pole among the bushes, and returned,
trimming it as I ran.

“Willie, hurry up!” said he, with an eager look on his face, as if
it were one

8051

again.

“There,” said he, trying the pole, “that’s a reg’lar
stun-lifter. I can sass ‘em back now. Put on the hook an’ line.”

In a moment he gave his bait a fling, and assumed that alert and eager
attitude so familiar to me.

“Tut, tut!” said he, with a lively twitch. “I dare ye to do it
ag’in.”

Soon the rod sprang upward, and a wriggling trout rose in the air, swung
above the head of Uncle Eb, and fell to the earth behind him.

“There, by gravy! that’s what I call fun,” said he. “No, I
don’t want to torment ‘em there ‘n the water; ‘taint fair. I’d
ruther fetch ‘em right out.”

I unhooked the fish for him.

“Look here, you go on ‘bout yer

8052

business,” he added. “I can bait my own hook.”

I left him and began to whip my way down the brook. It was good fishing,
but the scene was by far the best part of it. What was there in those
lovely and familiar shores to keep my heart so busy? The crows, hurrying
like boys let out of school, seemed to denounce me as an alien. A crane
flew over my head, crunkling a fierce complaint of me, and the startled
kingfisher was most inhospitable.

A small, bare-footed boy passed me, fishing on the farther bank. He had
a happy face, and mine—well, I turned away for very shame of it. The
boy looked at me critically, as if I were a trespasser, and I remembered
how I felt years ago, when I saw a stranger on the brook.

8053

I remembered how, as a boy, I used to long for a watch-chain, and
how once Uncle Eb hung his upon my coat, and said I could “call it
mine.” So it goes all through life. We are the veriest children, and
there is nothing one may really own. He may call it his for a little
while, just to satisfy him. The whole matter of deeds and titles had
become now a kind of baby’s play. You may think you own the land,
and you pass on; but there it is, while others, full of the same old
illusion, take your place.

I followed the brook to where it idled on, bordered with buttercups, in
a great meadow. The music and the color halted me, and I lay on my
back in the tall grass for a little while, and looked up at the sky and
listened. There under the clover tops I could

8054

hear the low, sweet music of many wings—the continuous treble of the
honey-bee in chord with flashes of deep bass from the wings of that big,
wild, improvident cousin of his.

Above this lower heaven I could hear a tournament of bobolinks. They
flew over me, and clung in the grass tops and sang—their notes
bursting out like those of a plucked string. What a pressure of delight
was behind them! Hope and I used to go there for berries when we were
children, and later—when youth had come, and the colors of the wild
rose and the tiger-lily were in our faces—we found a secret joy in
being alone together. Those days there was something beautiful in that
hidden fear we had of each other—was it not the native, imperial
majesty of innocence? The look of

8055

her eyes seemed to lift me up and prepare me for any sacrifice. That
orchestra of the meadow spoke our thoughts for us—youth, delight and
love were in its music.

Soon I heard a merry laugh and the sound of feet approaching, and then
the voice of a young man.

“Mary, I love you,” it said, “and I would die for your sake.”

The same old story, and I knew that he meant every word of it. What Mary
may have said to him I know well enough, too, although it came not to my
ears; for when I rose, by and by, and crossed the woodland and saw them
walking up the slopes, she all in white and crowned with meadow flowers,
I observed that his arm supported her in the right way.

I took down my rod and hurried up

8056

stream, and came soon where I could see Uncle Eb sitting motionless
and leaning on a tree trunk. I approached him silently. His head leaned
forward; the “pole” lay upon his knees. Like a child, weary of play,
he had fallen asleep. His trout lay in a row beside him; there were
at least a dozen. That old body was now, indeed, a very bad fit, and
more—it was too shabby for a spirit so noble and brave. I knew, as I
looked down upon him, that Uncle Eb would fish no more after that day.
In a moment there came a twitch on the line. He woke suddenly, tightened
his grasp, and flung another fish into the air. It broke free and fell
upon the ripples.

“Huh! ketched me nappin’,” said he. “I declare, Bill, I’m kind
o’ shamed.”

8057

I could see that he felt the pathos of that moment.

“I guess we’ve fished enough,” he said to himself, as he broke off
the end of the pole and began to wind his line upon it. “When the fish
hev t’ wake ye up to be hauled in its redic’lous. The next time I go
fishin’ with you I’m goin’ t’ be rigged proper.”

In a moment he went on: “Fishin’ ain’t what it used t’ be.
I’ve grown old and lazy, an’ so has the brook. They’ve cut the
timber an’ dried the springs, an’ by an’ by the live water will
go down to the big sea, an’ the dead water will sink into the ground,
an’ you won’t see any brook there.”

We began our walk up one of the cowpaths.

“One more look,” said he, facing about, and gazing up and down the

8058

familiar valley. “We’ve had a lot o’ fun here—’bout as much as
we’re entitled to, I guess—let ‘em have it.”

So, in a way, he deeded Tinkle Brook and its valley to future
generations.

We proceeded in silence for a moment, and soon he added: “That little
brook has done a lot fer us. It took our thoughts off the hard work, and
helped us fergit the mortgage, an’ taught us to laugh like the rapid
water. It never owed us anything after the day Mose Tupper lost his
pole. Put it all together, I guess I’ve laughed a year over that.
‘Bout the best payin’ job we ever done. Mose thought he had a whale,
an’ I don’t blame him. Fact is, a lost fish is an awful liar. A
trout would deceive the devil when he’s way down out o’ sight in the

8059

water, an’ his weight is telegraphed through twenty feet o’ line.
When ye fetch him up an’ look him square in the eye he tells a
different story. I blame the fish more’n I do the folks.

“That ‘swallered pole’ was a kind of a magic wand round here in
Faraway. Ye could allwus fetch a laugh with it. Sometimes I think they
must ‘a’ lost one commandment, an’ that is: Be happy. Ye can’t
be happy an’ be bad. I never see a bad man in my life that was
hevin’ fun. Let me hear a man laugh an’ I’ll tell ye what kind
o’ metal there is in him. There ain’t any sech devilish sound in the
world as the laugh of a wicked man. It’s like the cry o’ the swift,
an’ you ‘member what that was.”

Uncle Eb shook with laughter as I

8060

tried the cry of that deadly bugbear of my youth.

We got into the wagon presently and drove away. The sun was down as I
drew up at the old school-house.

“Run in fer a minute an’ set down in yer old seat an’ see how it
seems,” said Uncle Eb. “They’re goin’ to tear it down, an’
tain’t likely you’ll see it ag’in.”

I went to the door and lifted its clanking latch and walked in. My
footsteps filled the silent room with echoes, and how small it
looked! There was the same indescribable odor of the old time country
school—that of pine timber and seasoning fire-wood. I sat down in the
familiar seat carved by jack-knives. There was my name surrounded by
others cut in the rough wood.

8061

Ghosts began to file into the dusky room, and above a plaintive hum of
insects it seemed as if I could hear the voices of children and bits of
the old lessons—that loud, triumphant sound of tender intelligence as
it began to seize the alphabet; those parrot-like answers: “Round like
a ball,”

“Three-fourths water and one-fourth land,” and others like them.

“William Brower, stop whispering!” I seemed to hear the teacher say.
What was the writing on the blackboard? I rose and walked to it as I had
been wont to do when the teacher gave his command. There in the silence
of the closing day I learned my last lesson in the old school-house.
These lines in the large, familiar script of Feary, who it seems had
been a

8062

visitor at the last day of school, were written on the board: SCHOOL
‘S OUT

Attention all—the old school’s end is near.

Behold the sum of all its lessons here:

If e’er by loss of friends your heart is bowed!

Straightway go find ye others in the crowd.

Let Love’s discoveries console its pain

And each year’s loss be smaller than its gain.

God’s love is in them—count the friends ye

get

The only wealth, and foes the only debt.

In life and Nature read the simple plan:

Be kind, be just, and fear not God or man.

School’s out.


I passed through the door—not eagerly, as when I had been a boy,
but with feet paced by sober thought—and I felt like one who had
“improved his time,” as they used to say.

8063

We rode in silence on our way to Hillsborough, as the dusk fell.

“The end o’ good things is better’n the beginning,” said Uncle
Eb, as we got out of the carriage.



III

8064

9064

NE more scene from that last year, and I am done with it. There is much
comes crowding out of my memory, but only one thing which I could wish
were now a part of the record. Yet I have withheld it, and well might
keep it to myself, for need of better words than any which have come to
me in all my life.

Christmas! And we were back in the old home again. We had brought the
children with us. Somehow they seemed to know our needs and perils. They
rallied to our defence, marching

8065

up and down with fife and drum, and waving banners, and shouts of
victory—a battalion as brave as any in the great army of happiness.
They saved the day which else had been overrun with thoughts and fears
from the camp of the enemy. Well, we had a cheerful time of it, and not
an eye closed until after the stroke of ten that night.

Slowly, silence fell in the little house. Below-stairs the lights were
out, and Hope and I were sitting alone before the fire. We were talking
of old times in the dim firelight. Soon there came a gentle rap at our
door. It was Uncle Eb with a candle in his hand.

“I jes’ thought I’d come in an’ talk a leetle conversation,”
said he, and sat down, laughing with good humor.

“‘Member the ol’ hair trunk?” he asked, and when I assured him
that we

8066

could not ever forget it, he put his hand over his face and shook with
silent and almost sorrowful laughter.

“I ‘member years ago, you use’ to think my watch was a gran’
thing, an’ when ye left hum ye wanted t’ take it with ye, but we
didn’t think it was best then.”

“Yes, I remember that.”

“I don’t s’pose”—he hesitated as a little
embarrassed—“you’ve got so. many splendid things now, I—I
don’t s’pose—”

“Oh, Uncle Eb, I’d prize it above all things,” I assured him.

“Would ye? Here ‘t is,” said he, with a smile, as he took it
out of his pocket and put it in my hand. “It’s been a gran’ good
watch.”

“But you—you’ll need it.”

“No,” he answered. “The clock

8067

‘ll do fer me—I’m goin’ to move soon.”

“Move!” we both exclaimed. “Goin’ out in the fields to work
ag’in,” he added, cheerfully.

After a glance at our faces, he added: “I ain’t afraid. It’s all
goin’ t’ be fair an’ square. If we couldn’t meet them we loved,
an’ do fer ‘em, it wouldn’t be honest. We’d all feel as if
we’d been kind o’ cheated. Suthin’ has always said to me: ‘Eb
Holden, when ye git through here yer goin’ t’ meet them ye love.’
Who do ye s’pose it was that spoke t’ me? I couldn’t tell ye, but
somebody said it, an’ whoever ‘tis He says the same thing to most
ev’ry one in the world.”

“It was the voice of Nature,” I suggested.

“Call it God er Natur’ er what ye

8068

please—fact is it’s built into us an’ is a part of us jest as the
beams are a part o’ this house. I don’t b’lieve it was put there
fer nuthin. An’ it wa’n’. put there t’ make fools of us nuther.
I tell ye, Bill, this givin’ life fer death ain’t no hoss-trade. If
ye give good value, ye’re goin’ to git good value, an’ what folks
hev been led to hope an’ pray fer since Love come into the world,
they’re goin’ to have—sure.”

He went to Hope and put a tiny locket in her hand. Beneath its panel lay
a ringlet of hair, golden-brown.

“It was give to me,” he said, as he stood looking down at her.
“Them little threads o’ gold is kind o’ wove all into my life.
Sixty year ago I begun to spin my hope with ‘em. It’s grow-in’
stronger an’ stronger. It ain’t

8069

possible that Natur’ has been a foolin’ me all this time.”

After a little silence, he said to Hope: “I want you to have it.”

Her pleasure delighted him, and his face glowed with tender feeling.

Slowly he left us. The candle trembled in his hand, and flickering
shadows fell upon us. He stopped in the open door. We knew well what
thought was in his mind as he whispered back to us:

“Merry Chris’mas—ev’ry year.” Soon I went to his room. The
door was open. He had drawn off his boots and was sitting on the side of
his bed. I did not enter or speak to him, as I had planned to do; for I
saw him leaning forward on his elbows and wiping his eyes, and I heard
him saying to himself:

8070

“Eb Holden, you oughter be ‘shamed, I declare. Merry Chris’mas! I
tell ye. Hold up yer head.”

I returned to Hope, and we sat long looking into the firelight. Youth
and its grace and color were gone from us, yet I saw in her that beauty
“which maketh the face to shine.”

Our love lay as a road before and behind us. Long ago it had left the
enchanted gardens and had led us far, and was now entering the City of
Faith and we could see its splendor against the cloud of mystery beyond.
Our souls sought each other in the silence and were filled with awe as
they looked ahead of them and, at last, I understood the love of a man
for a woman.


THE END





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