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Chapter 18

I ought to say that I have had and shall have to chronicle herein
much that would seem to indicate a mighty conceit of myself.
Unfortunately the little word 'I' throws a big shadow in this history.
It looms up all too frequently in every page for the sign of a modest
man. But, indeed, I cannot help it, for he was the only observer of
all there is to tell. Now there is much, for example, in the very
marrow of my history - things that never would have happened,
things that never would have been said, but for my fame as a
scholar. My learning was of small account, for, it must be
remembered, I am writing of a time when any degree of
scholarship was counted remarkable among the simple folk of
Faraway.

Hope took singing lessons and sang in church every Sunday. David
or Uncle Eb came down for us often of a Saturday and brought us
back before service in the morning. One may find in that town
today many who will love to tell him of the voice and beauty and
sweetness of Hope Brower those days, and of what they expected
regarding her and me. We went out a good deal evenings to
concerts, lectures at the churches or the college, or to visit some of
the many people who invited us to their homes.

We had a recess of two weeks at the winter holidays and David
Brower came after us the day the term ended. O, the great
happiness of that day before Christmas when we came flying home
in the sleigh behind a new team of greys and felt the intoxication
of the frosty air, and drove in at dusk after the lamps were lit and
we could see mother and Uncle Eb and Grandma Bisnette looking
out of the window, and a steaming dinner on the table! I declare! it
is long since then, but I cannot ever think of that time without
wiping my glasses and taking a moment off Tip Taylor took the
horses and we all came in where the kettle was singing on the
stove and loving hands helped us out of our wraps. The supper was
a merry feast, the like of which one may find only by returning to
his boyhood. Mack! that is a long journey for some of us.

Supper over and the dishes out of the way we gathered about the
stove with cider and butternuts.

'Well,' said Hope, 'I've got some news to tell you - this boy is the
best scholar of his age in this county.'

'Thet so?' said David.

Uncle Eb stopped his hmnmer that was lifted to crack a butternut
and pulled his chair close to Hope's. Elizabeth looked at her
daughter and then at me, a smile and a protest in her face.

'True as you live,' said Hope. 'The master told me so. He's first in
everything, and in the Town Hall the other night he spelt
everybody down.'

'What! In Hillsborough?' Uncle Eb asked incredulously.

'Yes, in Hillsborough,' said Hope, 'and there were doctors and
lawyers and college students and I don't know who all in the
match.'

'Most reemarkable!' said David Brower.

'Treemenjious!' exclaimed Uncle Eb.

'I heard about it over at the mills t'day,' said Tip Taylor.

'Merd Dieu!' exclaimed Grandma Bisnette, crossing herself.

Elizabeth Brower was unable to stem this tide of enthusiasm. I had
tried to stop it, but, instantly, it had gone beyond my control. If I
could be hurt by praise the mischief had been done.

'It's very nice, indeed,' said she soberly. 'I do hope it won't make
him conceited. He should remember that people do not always
mean what they say.'

'He's too sensible for that, mother,' said David.

'Shucks!' said Uncle Eb, 'he ain' no fool if he is a good speller - not
by a dum sight!'

'Tip,' said David, 'you'll find a box in the sleigh 'at come by
express. I wish ye'd go'n git it.'

We all stood looking while Tip brought it in and pried off the top
boards with a hatchet.

'Careful, now!' Uncle Eb cautioned him. 'Might spile sumthin'.'

The top off, Uncle Eb removed a layer of pasteboard. Then he
pulled out a lot of coloured tissue paper, and under that was a
package, wrapped and tied. Something was written on it. He held it
up and tried to read the writing.

'Can't see without my spectacles,' he said, handing it to me.

'For Hope,' I read, as I passed it to her.

'Hooray!' said Uncle Eb, as he lifted another, and the last package,
from the box.

'For Mrs Brower,' were the words I read upon that one.

The strings were cut, the wrappers torn away, and two big rolls of
shiny silk loosened their coils on the table. Hope uttered a cry of
delight. A murmur of surprise and admiration passed from one to
another. Elizabeth lifted a rustling fold and held it to the lamplight
We passed our hands over the smooth sheen of the silk.

'Wall, I swan!' said Uncle Eb. 'Jes' like a kitten's ear!'

'Eggzac'ly!' said David Brower.

Elizabeth lifted the silk and let it flow to her feet Then for a little
she looked down, draping it to her skirt and moving her foot to
make the silk rustle. For the moment she was young again.

'David,' she said, still looking at the glory of glossy black that
covered her plain dress.

'Well, mother,' he answered.

'Was you fool enough t' go'n buy this stuff fer me?'

'No, mother - it come from New York City,' he said.

'From New York City?' was the exclamation of all.

Elizabeth Brower looked thoughtfullyy at her husband.

'Clear from New York City?' she repeated.

'From New York City,' said he.

'Wall, of all things!' said Uncle Eb, looking over his spectacles
from one to another.

'It's from the Livingstone boy,' said Mrs Brower. 'I've heard he's the
son of a rich man.'

''Fraid he took a great fancy t' Hope,' said David.

'Father,' said the girl, you've no right to say that. I'm sure he never
cared a straw for me.'

'I don't think we ought to keep it,' said Mrs Brower, looking up
thoughtfullyy.

'Shucks and shavin's!' said Uncle Eb. 'Ye don't know but what I had
it sent myself.'

Hope went over and put her arms around his neck.

'Did you, Uncle Eb?' she asked. 'Now you tell me the truth, Uncle
Eb.'

'Wouldn't say 't I did,' he answered, 'but I don' want 'a see ye go
sendin' uv it back. Ye dunno who sent it.'

'What'll I do with it?' Mrs Brower asked, laughing in a way that
showed a sense of absurdity. 'I'd a been tickled with it thirty years
ago, but now-folks 'ud think I was crazy.'

'Never heard such fol de rol,' said Uncle Eb. 'If ye move t' the
village it'll come handy t' go t' meetin' in.'

That seemed to be unanswerable and conclusive, at least for the
time being, and the silk was laid away. We sat talking until late
bedtime, Hope and I, telling of our studies and of the many people
we had met in Hillsborough.

We hung up our stockings just as we had always done Christmas
Eve, and were up betimes in the morning to find them filled with
many simple but delightful things, and one which I treasure to this
day - the locket and its picrure of which I had been surreptitiously
informed.

At two o'clock we had a fine dinner of roast turkey and chicken
pie, with plenty of good cider, and the mince pie, of blessed
memory, such as only a daughter of New England may dare try to
make.

Uncle Eb went upstairs after dinner and presently we heard him
descending with a slow and heavy foot I opened the stair door and
there he stood with the old bass viol that had long lain neglected in
a dusty corner of the attic. Many a night I had heard it groan as the
strings loosened, in the years it had lain on its hack, helpless and
forgotten. It was like a dreamer, snoring in his sleep, and
murmuring of that he saw in his dreams. Uncle Eb had dusted and
strung it and glued its weaker joints. He sat down with it' the
severe look of old upon his face, and set the strings roaring as he
tuned them. Then he brought the sacred treasure to me and leaned
it against my shoulder.

'There that's a Crissmus present fer ye, Willie,' said he. 'It may help
ye t' pass away the time once in a while.'

I thanked him warmly.

''S a reel firs'-class instrument,' he said. 'Been a rip snorter 'n its
day.' He took from his bosom then the old heart pin of silver that
he had always worn of a Sunday.

'Goin' t' give ye thet, too,' he said. 'Dunno's ye'll ever care to wear
it, but I want ye should hev sumthin' ye can carry'n yer pocket t'
remember me by.'

I did not dare trust myself to speak, and I sat helplessly turning that
relic of a better day in my fingers.

'It's genuwine silver,' said he proudly.

I took his old hand in mine and raised it reverently to my lips.

'Hear'n 'em tell 'bout goin' t' the village, an' I says t' myself, "Uncle
Eb," says I, "we'll hev t' be goin'. 'Tain' no place fer you in the
village."'

'Holden,' said David Brower, 'don't ye never talk like that ag'in. Yer
just the same as married t' this family, an' ye can't ever git away
from us.'

And he never did until his help was needed in other and fairer
fields, I am sure, than those of Faraway - God knows where.

Irving Bacheller