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Chapter 43

The north country lay buried in the snow that Christmastime. Here
and there the steam plough had thrown its furrows, on either side
of the railroad, high above the window line. The fences were
muffled in long ridges of snow, their stakes showing like pins in a
cushion of white velvet. Some of the small trees on the edge of the
big timber stood overdrifted to their boughs. I have never seen
such a glory of the morning as when the sun came up, that day we
were nearing home, and lit the splendour of the hills, there in the
land I love. The frosty nap of the snow glowed far and near with
pulsing glints of pale sapphire.

We came into Hillsborough at noon the day before Christmas.
Father and Uncle Eb met us at the depot and mother stood waving
her handkerchief at the door as we drove up. And when we were
done with our greetings and were standing, damp eyed, to warm
ourselves at the fire, Uncle Eb brought his palms together with a
loud whack and said:

'Look here, Liz beth Brower! I want if hev ye tell me if ye ever see
a likelier pair o' colts.

She laughed as she looked at us. In a moment she ran her hand
down the side of Hope's gown. Then she lifted a fold of the cloth
and felt of it thoughtfully.

'How much was that a yard?' she asked a dreamy look in her eyes.
'Wy! w'y!' she continued as Hope told her the sum. 'Terrible steep!
but it does fit splendid! Oughter wear well too! Wish ye'd put that
on if ye go t' church nex' Sunday.

'O mother!' said Hope, laughing, 'I'll wear my blue silk.

'Come boys 'n girls,' said Elizabeth suddenly, 'dinner's all ready in
the other room.

'Beats the world!' said Uncle Eb, as we sat down at the table. 'Ye
do look gran' if me - ree-markable gran', both uv ye. Tek a
premium at any fair - ye would sartin.'

'Has he won yer affections?' said David laughing as he looked over
at Hope.

'He has,' said she solemnly.

'Affections are a sing'lar kind o' prop'ty,' said Uncle Eb. 'Hain't
good fer nuthin till ye've gin em away. Then, like as not, they git
very valyble.

'Good deal that way with money too,' said Elizabeth Brower.

'I recollec' when Hope was a leetle bit uv a girl' said Uncle Eb, 'she
used if say 'et when she got married she was goin' if hev her
husban' rub my back fer me when it was lame.

'I haven't forgotten it,' said Hope, 'and if you will all come you will
make us happier.

'Good many mouths if feed!' Uncle Ebb remarked.

'I could take in sewing and help some,' said Elizabeth Brower, as
she sipped her tea.

There was a little quiver in David's under lip as he looked over at
her. 'You ain't able t' do hard work any more, mother,' said he.
'She won't never hev to nuther,' said Uncle Eb. 'Don't never pay if
go bookin' fer trouble - it stew easy if find. There ain' no sech
thing 's trouble 'n this world 'less ye look for it. Happiness won't
hey nuthin if dew with a man thet likes trouble. Minnit a man stops
lookin' fer trouble happiness 'II look fer him. Things came puny
nigh's ye like 'em here 'n this world - hot er cold er only middlin'.
Ye can either laugh er cry er fight er fish er go if meetin'. If ye
don't like erry one you can fin fault. I'm on the lookout fer
happiness - suits me best, someway, an don't hurt my feelin's a bit.

'Ev'ry day's a kind uv a circus day with you, Holden,' said David
Brower. 'Alwuss hevin' a good time. Ye can hev more fun with
yerseif 'n any man I ever see.'

'If I hev as much hereafter es I've hed here, I ain't a goin'if fin' no
fault,' said Uncle Eb. ''S a reel, splendid world. God's fixed it up so
ev'ry body can hev a good time if they'll only hev it. Once I heard
uv a poor man 'at hed a bushel o' corn give tew him. He looked up
kind o' sad an' ast if they wouldn't please shell it. Then they tuk it
away. God's gin us happiness in the ear, but He ain't a goin' t' shell
it fer us. You n 'Lizabeth oughter be very happy. Look a' them tew
childern!

There came a rap at the door then. David put on his cap and went
out with Uncle Eb.

'It's somebody for more money,' Elizabeth whispered, her eyes
filling. 'I know 'tis, or he would have asked him in. We're goin't
lose our home.

Her lips quivered; she covered her eyes a moment.

'David ain't well,' she continued. 'Worries night 'n day over money
matters. Don't say much, but I can see it's alwuss on his mind.
Woke up in the middle o' the night awhile ago. Found him sittin'
by the stove. "Mother," he said, "we can't never go back to farmin'.
I've ploughed furrows enough if go 'round the world. Couldn't
never go through it ag'in." "Well," said I, "if you think best we
could start over see how we git along. I'm willin' if try it." "No, we
re too old," he says. "Thet's out o' the question. I've been
thinkin' what'll we do there with Bill 'n Hope if we go t'live with
'em? Don't suppose they'll hev any hosses if take care uv er any
wood if chop. What we'll hev if do is more'n I can make out. We
can't do nuthin; we've never learnt how."

'We've thought that all over,' I said. 'We may have a place in the
country with a big garden.

'Well,' said she, 'I'm very well if I am over sixty. I can cook an
wash an' mend an' iron just as well as I ever could.'

Uncle Eb came to the door then.

'Bill,' he said, 'I want you 'n Hope if come out here 'n look at this
young colt o' mine. He's playful 's a kitten.

We put on our wraps and went to the stable. Uncle Eb was there
alone.

'If ye brought any Cnssmus presents,' he whispered, 'slip 'em into
my hands. I'm goin' if run the cirkis t'morrow an' if we don't hev
fun a plenty I'll miss my guess.

'I'll lay them out in my room,' said Hope.

'Be sure 'n put the names on 'em,' Uncle Eb whispered, as Hope
went away.

'What have ye done with the "bilers"?' I enquired.

'Sold 'em,' said he, laughing. 'Barker never kep' his promise. Heard
they'd gone over t' the 'Burg an' was tryin' t' sell more territory. I
says if Dave, "You let me manage 'em an' I'll put 'em out o
business here 'n this part o' the country." So I writ out an
advertisement fer the paper. Read about this way: "Fer sale.
Twelve hunderd patented suction Wash Bilers. Anyone at can't
stan' prosperity an' is learnin' if swear 'll find 'em a great help.
If he don't he's a bigger fool 'n I am. Nuthin' in 'em but tin -
that's wuth somethin'. Warranted t' hold water."

'Wall ye know how that editor talks? 'Twant a day 'fore the head
man o' the biler business come 'n bought 'em. An' the
advertisement was never put in. Guess he wan't hankerin' if hev
his business spilt.

Uncle Eb was not at the supper table that evening.

'Where's Holden?' said Elizabeth Brower.

'Dunno,' said David. 'Goin' after Santa Claus he tol' me.

'Never see the beat o' that man!' was the remark of Elizabeth, as
she poured the tea. 'Jes' like a boy ev'ry Crissmus time. Been so
excited fer a week couldn't hardly contain himself.'

'Ketched him out 'n the barn if other day laffin' like a fool,' said
David. 'Thought he was crazy.'

We sat by the fire after the supper dishes were put away, talking of
all the Christmas Days we could remember. Hope and I thought
our last in Faraway best of all and no wonder, for we had got then
the first promise of the great gift that now made us happy.
Elizabeth, sitting in her easy-chair, told of Christmas in the olden
time when her father had gone to the war with the British.

David sat near me, his face in the firelight - the broad brow
wrinkled into furrows and framed in locks of iron-grey. He was
looking thoughtfully at the fire. Uncle Eb came soon, stamping
and shaking the snow out of his great fur coat.

'Col'night,' he said, warming his hands.

Then he carried his coat and cap away, returning shortly, with a
little box in his hand.

'Jes' thought I'd buy this fer fun,' said he, holding it down to the
firelight. 'Dummed if I ever see the like uv it. Whoa!' he shouted,
as the cover flew open, releasing a jumping-jack. 'Quicker n a
grasshopper! D'ye ever see sech a sassy little critter?

Then he handed it to Elizabeth.

'Wish ye Merry Christmas, Dave Brower!' said he.

'Ain't as merry as I might be,' said David.

'Know what's the matter with ye,' said Uncle Eb. 'Searchin' after
trouble - thet's what ye're doin'. Findin' lots uv it right there 'n the
fire. Trouble 's goiti' t' git mighty scurce 'round here this very
selfsame night. Ain't goin' t' be nobody lookin' fer it - thet's why.
Fer years ye ve been takin' care o' somebody et I'll take care 'o you,
long's ye live - sartin sure. Folks they said ye was fools when ye
took 'em in. Man said I was a fool once. Alwuss hed a purty fair
idee o'myself sence then. When some folks call ye a fool 's a
ruther good sign ye ain't. Ye've waited a long time fer yer pay -
ain't much longer if wait now.'

There was a little quaver in his voice, We all looked at him in
silence. Uncle Eb drew out his wallet with trembling hands, his
fine old face lit with a deep emotion. David looked up at him as
he wondered what joke was coming, until he saw his excitement.

'Here's twenty thousan' dollars,' said Uncle Eb, 'a reel, genuwine
bank check! Jist as good as gold. Here 'tis! A Crissmus present fer
you 'n Elizabeth. An' may God bless ye both!'

David looked up incredulously. Then he took the bit of paper. A
big tear rolled down his cheek.

'Why, Holden! What does this mean?' he asked.

''At the Lord pays His debts,' said Uncle Eb. 'Read it.'

Hope had lighted the lamp.

David rose and put on his spectacles. One eyebrow had lifted
above the level of the other. He held the check to the lamplight.
Elizabeth stood at his elbow.

'Why, mother!' said he. 'Is this from our boy? From Nehemiah?
Why, Nehemiah is dead!' he added, looking over his spectacles at
Uncle Eb.

'Nehemiah is not dead,' said the latter.

'Nehemiah not dead!' he repeated, looking down at the draft. They
turned it in the light, reading over and over again the happy tidings
pinned to one corner of it. Then they looked into each other's eyes.

Elizabeth put her arms about David's neck and laid her head upon
his shoulder and not one of us dare trust himself to speak for a
little. Uncle Eb broke the silence.

'Got another present,' he said. 'S a good deal better 'n gold er silver.'
A tall, bearded man came in.

'Mr Trumbull!' Hope exclaimed, rising.

'David an' Elizabeth Brower,' said Uncle Eb, 'the dead hes come if
life. I give ye back yer son - Nehemiah.'

Then he swung his cap high above his head, shouting in a loud
voice:

'Merry Crissmus! Merry Crissmus!'

The scene that followed I shall not try to picture. It was so full of
happiness that every day of our lives since then has been blessed
with it and with a peace that has lightened every sorrow; of it, I
can truly say that it passeth all understanding.

'Look here, folks!' said Uncle Eb, after awhile, as he got his flute,
'my feelin's hev been teched hard. If I don't hev some jollification
I'll bust. Bill Brower, limber up yer leather a leetle bit.'

Irving Bacheller