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It was a sunny day in late September on which Aunt Deel and Uncle Peabody took me and my little pine chest with all my treasures in it to the village where I was to go to school and live with the family of Mr. Michael Hacket, the schoolmaster. I was proud of the chest, now equipped with iron hinges and a hasp and staple. Aunt Deel had worked hard to get me ready, sitting late at her loom to weave cloth for my new suit, which a traveling tailor had fitted and made for me. I remember that the breeches were of tow and that they scratched my legs and made me very uncomfortable, but I did not complain. My uncle used to say that nobody with tow breeches on him could ride a horse without being thrown--they pricked so.
The suit which I had grown into--"the Potsdam clothes," we called them often, but more often "the boughten clothes"--had been grown out of and left behind in a way of speaking. I had an extra good-looking pair of cowhide boots, as we all agreed, which John Wells, the cobbler, had made for me. True, I had my doubts about them, but we could afford no better.
When the chest was about full, I remember that my aunt brought something wrapped in a sheet of the St. Lawrence Republican and put it into my hands.
"There are two dozen cookies an' some dried meat," said she. "Ayes, I thought mebbe you'd like 'em--if you was hungry some time between meals. Wait a minute."
She went to her room and Uncle Peabody and I waited before we shut the hasp with a wooden peg driven into its staple.
Aunt Deel returned promptly with the Indian Book in her hands.
"There," said she, "you might as well have it--ayes!--you're old enough now. You'll enjoy readin' it sometimes in the evenin', mebbe--ayes! Please be awful careful of it, Bart, for it was a present from my mother to me--ayes it was!"
How tenderly she held and looked at the sacred heirloom so carefully stitched into its cover of faded linen. It was her sole legacy. Tears came to my eyes as I thought of her generosity--greater, far greater than that which has brought me gifts of silver and gold--although my curiosity regarding the Indian Book had abated, largely, for I had taken many a sly peek at it. Therein I had read how Captain Baynes--my great grandfather--had been killed by the Indians.
I remember the sad excitement of that ride to the village and all the words of advice and counsel spoken by my aunt.
"Don't go out after dark," said she. "I'm 'fraid some o' them rowdies'll pitch on ye."
"If they do I guess they'll be kind o' surprised," said Uncle Peabody.
"I don't want him to fight."
"If it's nec'sary, I believe in fightin' tooth an' nail," my uncle maintained.
I remember looking in vain for Sally as we passed the Dunkelbergs'. I remember my growing loneliness as the day wore on and how Aunt Deel stood silently buttoning my coat with tears rolling down her cheeks while I leaned back upon the gate in front of the Hacket house, on Ashery Lane, trying to act like a man and rather ashamed of my poor success. It reminded me of standing in the half-bushel measure and trying in vain, as I had more than once, to shoulder the big bag of corn. Uncle Peabody stood surveying the sky in silence with his back toward us. He turned and nervously blew out his breath. His lips trembled a little as he said.
"I dunno but what it's goin' to rain."
I watched them as they walked to the tavern sheds, both looking down at the ground and going rather unsteadily. Oh, the look of that beloved pair as they walked away from me!--the look of their leaning heads! Their silence and the sound of their footsteps are, somehow, a part of the picture which has hung all these years in my memory.
Suddenly I saw a man go reeling by in the middle of the road. His feet swung. They did not rise and reach forward and touch the ground according to the ancient habit of the human foot. They swung sideways and rose high and each crossed the line of his flight a little, as one might say, when it came to the ground, for the man's movements reminded me of the aimless flight of a sporting swallow. He zig-zagged from one side of the street to the other. He caught my eye just in time and saved me from breaking down. I watched him until he swung around a corner. Only once before had I seen a man drunk and walking, although I had seen certain of our neighbors riding home drunk--so drunk that I thought their horses were ashamed of them, being always steaming hot and in a great hurry.
Sally Dunkelberg and her mother came along and said that they were glad I had come to school. I could not talk to them and seeing my trouble, they went on, Sally waving her hand to me as they turned the corner below. I felt ashamed of myself. Suddenly I heard the door open behind me and the voice of Mr. Hacket:
"Bart," he called, "I've a friend here who has something to say to you. Come in."
I turned and went into the house.
"Away with sadness--laddie buck!" he exclaimed as he took his violin from its case while I sat wiping my eyes. "Away with sadness! She often raps at my door, and while I try not to be rude, I always pretend to be very busy. Just a light word o' recognition by way o' common politeness! Then laugh, if ye can an' do it quickly, lad, an' she will pass on."
The last words were spoken in a whisper, with one hand on my breast.
He tuned the strings and played the Fisher's Hornpipe. What a romp of merry music filled the house! I had never heard the like and was soon smiling at him as he played. His bow and fingers flew in the wild frolic of the Devil's Dream. It led me out of my sadness into a world all new to me.
"Now, God bless your soul, boy!" he exclaimed, by and by, as he put down his instrument. "We shall have a good time together--that we will. Not a stroke o' work this day! Come, I have a guide here that will take us down to the land o' the fairies."
Then with his microscope he showed me into the wonder world of littleness of which I had had no knowledge.
"The microscope is like the art o' the teacher," he said. "I've known a good teacher to take a brain no bigger than a fly's foot an' make it visible to the naked eye."
One of the children, of which there were four in the Hacket home, called us to supper. Mrs. Hacket, a stout woman with a red and kindly face, sat at one end of the table, and between them were the children--Mary, a pretty daughter of seventeen years; Maggie, a six-year-old; Ruth, a delicate girl of seven, and John, a noisy, red-faced boy of five. The chairs were of plain wood--like the kitchen chairs of to-day. In the middle of the table was an empty one--painted green. Before he sat down Mr. Hacket put his hand on the back of this chair and said:
"A merry heart to you, Michael Henry."
I wondered at the meaning of this, but dared not to ask. The oldest daughter acted as a kind of moderator with the others.
"Mary is the constable of this house, with power to arrest and hale into court for undue haste or rebellion or impoliteness," Mr. Hacket explained.
"I believe that Sally Dunkelberg is your friend," he said to me presently.
"Yes, sir," I answered.
"A fine slip of a girl that and a born scholar. I saw you look at her as the Persian looks at the rising sun."
I blushed and Mary and her mother and the boy John looked at me and laughed.
"Puer pulcherrime!" Mr. Hacket exclaimed with a kindly smile.
Uncle Peabody would have called it a "stout snag." The schoolmaster had hauled it out of his brain very deftly and chucked it down before me in a kind of challenge.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"You shall know in a week, my son," he answered. "I shall put you into the Latin class Wednesday morning, and God help you to like it as well as you like Sally."
Again they laughed and again I blushed.
"Hold up yer head, my brave lad," he went on. "Ye've a perfect right to like Sally if ye've a heart to."
He sang a rollicking ballad of which I remember only the refrain:
A lad in his teens will never know beans if he hasn't an eye for the girls.
It was a merry supper, and when it ended Mr. Hacket rose and took the green chair from the table, exclaiming:
"Michael Henry, God bless you!"
Then he kissed his wife and said:
"Maggie, you wild rose of Erin! I've been all day in the study. I must take a walk or I shall get an exalted abdomen. One is badly beaten in the race o' life when his abdomen gets ahead of his toes. Children, keep our young friend happy here until I come back, and mind you, don't forget the good fellow in the green chair."
Mary helped her mother with the dishes, while I sat with a book by the fireside. Soon Mrs. Hacket and the children came and sat down with me.
"Let's play backgammon," Mary proposed.
"I don't want to," said John.
"Don't forget Michael Henry," she reminded.
"Who is Michael Henry?" I asked.
"Sure, he's the boy that has never been born," said Mrs. Hacket. "He was to be the biggest and noblest one o' them--kind an' helpful an' cheery hearted an' beloved o' God above all the others. We try to live up to him."
He seemed to me a very strange and wonderful creature--this invisible occupant of the green chair.
I know now what I knew not then that Michael Henry was the spirit of their home--an ideal of which the empty green chair was a constant reminder.
We played backgammon and Old Maid and Everlasting until Mr. Hacket returned.
He sat down and read aloud from the Letters of an Englishwoman in America.
"Do you want to know what sleighing is?" she wrote. "Set your chair out on the porch on a Christmas day. Put your feet in a pail-full of powdered ice. Have somebody jingle a bell in one ear and blow into the other with a bellows and you will have an exact idea of it."
When she told of a lady who had been horned by a large insect known as a snapdragon, he laughed loudly and closed the book and said:
"They have found a new peril of American life. It is the gory horn of the snapdragon. Added to our genius for boastfulness and impiety, it is a crowning defect. Ye would think that our chief aim was the cuspidor. Showers of expectoration and thunder claps o' profanity and braggart gales o' Yankee dialect!--that's the moral weather report that she sends back to England. We have faults enough, God knows, but we have something else away beneath them an' none o' these writers has discovered it."
The sealed envelope which Mr. Wright had left at our home, a long time before that day, was in my pocket. At last the hour had come when. I could open it and read the message of which I had thought much and with a growing interest.
I rose and said that I should like to go to my room. Mr. Hacket lighted a candle and took me up-stairs to a little room where my chest had been deposited. There were, in the room, a bed, a chair, a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte and a small table on which were a dictionary, a Bible and a number of school books.
"These were Mary's books," said Mr. Hacket. "I told yer uncle that ye could use them an' welcome. There's another book here which ye may study if ye think it worth the bother. It's a worn an' tiresome book, my lad, but I pray God ye may find no harm in it. Use it as often as ye will. It is the book o' my heart. Ye will find in it some kind o' answer to every query in the endless flight o' them that's coming on, an' may the good God help us to the truth."
He turned and bade me good night and went away and closed the door.
I sat down and opened the sealed envelope with trembling hands, and found in it this brief note:
"DEAR PARTNER: I want you to ask the wisest man you know to explain these words to you. I suggest that you commit them to memory and think often of their meaning. They are from Job:
"'His bones are full of the sin of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust.'
"I believe that they are the most impressive in all the literature I have read.
SILAS WRIGHT, JR."
I read the words over and over again, but knew not their meaning. Sadly and slowly I got ready for bed. I missed the shingles and the familiar rustle of the popple leaves above my head and the brooding silence of the hills. The noises of the village challenged my ear after I had put out my candle. There were many barking dogs. Some horsemen passed, with a creaking of saddle leather, followed by a wagon. Soon I heard running feet and eager voices. I rose and looked out of the open window. Men were hurrying down the street with lanterns.
"He's the son o' Ben Grimshaw," I heard one of them saying. "They caught him back in the south woods yesterday. The sheriff said that he tried to run away when he saw 'em coming."
What was the meaning of this? What had Amos Grimshaw been doing? I trembled as I got back into bed--I can not even now explain why, but long ago I gave up trying to fathom the depths of the human spirit with an infinite sea beneath it crossed by subtle tides and currents. We see only the straws on the surface.
I was up at daylight and Mr. Hacket came to my door while I was dressing.
"A merry day to you!" he exclaimed. "I'll await you below and introduce you to the humble herds and flocks of a schoolmaster."
I went with him while he fed his chickens and two small shoats. I milked the cow for him, and together we drove her back to the pasture. Then we split some wood and filled the boxes by the fireplace and the kitchen stove and raked up the leaves in the dooryard and wheeled them away.
"Now you know the duties o' your office," said the schoolmaster as we went in to breakfast.
We sat down at the table with the family and I drew out my letter from the Senator and gave it to Mr. Hacket to read.
"The Senator! God prosper him! I hear that he came on the Plattsburg stage last night," he said as he began the reading--an announcement which caused me and the children to clap our hands with joy.
Mr. Hacket thoughtfully repeated the words from Job with a most impressive intonation.
He passed the letter back to me and said:
"All true! I have seen it sinking into the bones o' the young and I have seen it lying down with the aged in the dust o' their graves. It is a big book--the one we are now opening. God help us! It has more pages than all the days o' your life. Just think o' your body, O brave and tender youth! It is like a sponge. How it takes things in an' holds 'em an' feeds upon 'em! A part o' every apple ye eat sinks down into yer blood an' bones. Ye can't get it out. It's the same way with the books ye read an' the thoughts ye enjoy. They go down into yer bones an' ye can't get 'em out. That's why I like to think o' Michael Henry. His food is good thoughts and his wine is laughter. I had a long visit with M.H. last night when ye were all abed. His face was a chunk o' laughter. Oh, what a limb he is! I wish I could tell ye all the good things he said."
"There comes Colonel Hand," said Mrs. Hacket as she looked out of the window. "The poor lonely Whig! He has nothing to do these days but sit around the tavern."
"Ye might as well pity a goose for going bare-footed," the schoolmaster remarked.
In the midst of our laughter Colonel Hand rapped at the door and Mr. Hacket admitted him.
"I tell you the country is going to the dogs," I heard the Colonel saying as he came into the house.
"You inhuman Hand!" said the schoolmaster. "I should think you would be tired of trying to crush that old indestructible worm."
Colonel Hand was a surly looking man beyond middle age with large eyes that showed signs of dissipation. He had a small dark tuft beneath his lower lip and thin, black, untidy hair.
"What do ye think has happened?" he asked as he looked down upon us with a majestic movement of his hand.
He stood with a stern face, like an orator, and seemed to enjoy our suspense.
"What do you think has happened?" he repeated.
"God knows! It may be that Bill Harriman has swapped horses again or that somebody has been talked to death by old Granny Barnes--which is it?" asked the schoolmaster.
"It is neither, sir," Colonel Hand answered sternly. "The son o' that old Buck-tail, Ben Grimshaw, has been arrested and brought to jail for murder."
"For murder?" asked Mr. and Mrs. Hacket in one breath.
"For bloody murder, sir," the Colonel went on. "It was the shooting of that man in the town o' Ballybeen a few weeks ago. Things have come to a pretty pass in this country, I should say. Talk about law and order, we don't know what it means here and why should we? The party in power is avowedly opposed to it--yes, sir. It has fattened upon bribery and corruption. Do you think that the son o' Ben Grimshaw will receive his punishment even if he is proved guilty? Not at all. He will be protected--you mark my words."
He bowed and left us. When the door had closed behind him Mr. Hacket said:
"Another victim horned by the Snapdragon! If a man were to be slain by a bear back in the woods Colonel Hand would look for guilt in the Democratic party. He will have a busy day and people will receive him as the ghost of Creusa received the embraces of Aeneas--unheeding. Michael Henry, whatever the truth may be regarding the poor boy in jail, we are in no way responsible. Away with sadness! What is that?"
Mr. Hacket inclined his ear and then added: "Michael Henry says that he may be innocent and that we had better go and see if we can help him. Now I hadn't thought o' that. Had you, Mary?"
"No," the girl answered.
"We mustn't be letting Mike get ahead of us always," said her father.
The news brought by the Colonel had shocked me and my thoughts had been very busy since his announcement. I had thought of the book which I had seen Amos reading in the haymow. Had its contents sunk into his bones?--for I couldn't help thinking of all that Mr. Hacket had just said about books and thoughts. My brain had gone back over the events of that tragic moment--the fall, the swift dream, the look of the robber in the dim light, the hurling of the stone. The man who fled was about the size of Amos, but I had never thought of the latter as the guilty man.
"You saw the crime, I believe," said Mr. Hacket as he turned to me.
I told them all that I knew of it.
"Upon my word, I like you, my brave lad," said the schoolmaster. "I heard of all this and decided that you would be a help to Michael Henry and a creditable student. Come, let us go and pay our compliments to the Senator. He rises betimes. If he stayed at the tavern he will be out and up at his house by now."
The schoolmaster and I went over to Mr. Wright's house--a white, frame building which had often been pointed out to me.
Mrs. Wright, a fine-looking lady who met us at the door, said that the Senator had gone over to the mill with his wheelbarrow.
Mr. Hacket asked for the time and she answered:
"It wants one minute of seven."
I quote her words to show how early the day began with us back in those times.
"We've plenty of time and we'll wait for him," said the schoolmaster.
"I see him!" said little John as he and Ruth ran to the gate and down the rough plank walk to meet him.
We saw him coming a little way down the street in his shirt-sleeves with his barrow in front of him. He stopped and lifted little John in his arms, and after a moment put him down and embraced Ruth.
"Well, I see ye still love the tender embrace o' the wheelbarrow," said Mr. Hacket as we approached the Senator.
"My embrace is the tenderer of the two," the latter laughed with a look at his hands.
He recognized me and seized my two hands and shook them as he said:
"Upon my word, here is my friend Bart. I was not looking for you here."
He put his hand on my head, now higher than his shoulder, and said: "I was not looking for you here."
He moved his hand down some inches and added: "I was looking for you down there. You can't tell where you'll find these youngsters if you leave them a while."
"We are all forever moving," said the schoolmaster. "No man is ever two days in the same altitude unless he's a Whig."
"Or a born fool," the Senator laughed with a subtlety which I did not then appreciate.
He asked about my aunt and uncle and expressed joy at learning that I was now under Mr. Hacket.
"I shall be here for a number of weeks," he said, "and I shall want to see you often. Maybe we'll go hunting some Saturday."
We bade him good morning and he went on with his wheelbarrow, which was loaded, I remember, with stout sacks of meal and flour.
We went to the school at half past eight. What a thrilling place it was with its seventy-eight children and its three rooms. How noisy they were as they waited in the school yard for the bell to ring! I stood by the door-side looking very foolish, I dare say, for I knew not what to do with myself. My legs encased in the tow breeches felt as if they were on fire. My timidity was increased by the fact that many were observing me and that my appearance seemed to inspire sundry, sly remarks. I saw that most of the village boys wore boughten clothes and fine boots. I looked down at my own leather and was a tower of shame on a foundation of greased cowhide. Sally Dunkelberg came in with some other girls and pretended not to see me. That was the hardest blow I suffered.
Among the handsome, well-dressed boys of the village was Henry Wills--the boy who had stolen my watermelon. I had never forgiven him for that or for the killing of my little hen. The bell rang and we marched into the big room, while a fat girl with crinkly hair played on a melodeon. Henry and another boy tried to shove me out of line and a big paper wad struck the side of my head as we were marching in and after we were seated a cross-eyed, freckled girl in a red dress made a face at me.
It was, on the whole, the unhappiest day of my life. It reminded me of Captain Cook's account of his first day with a barbaric tribe on one of the South Sea islands. During recess I slapped a boy's face for calling me a rabbit and the two others who came to help him went away full of fear and astonishment, for I had the strength of a young moose in me those days. After that they began to make friends with me.
In the noon hour a man came to me in the school yard with a subpoena for the examination of Amos Grimshaw and explained its meaning. He also said that Bishop Perkins, the district attorney, would call to see me that evening.
While I was talking with this man Sally passed me walking with another girl and said:
I observed that Henry Wills joined them and walked down the street at the side of Sally. I got my first pang of jealousy then.
When school was out that afternoon Mr. Hacket said I could have an hour to see the sights of the village, so I set out, feeling much depressed. My self-confidence had vanished. I was homesick and felt terribly alone. I passed the jail and stopped and looked at its grated windows and thought of Amos and wondered if he were really a murderer.
I walked toward the house of Mr. Wright and saw him digging potatoes in the garden and went in. I knew that he was my friend.
"Well, Bart, how do you like school?" he asked.
"Not very well," I answered.
"Of course not! It's new to you now, and you miss your aunt and uncle. Stick to it. You'll make friends and get interested before long."
"I want to go home," I declared.
"Now let's look at the compass," he suggested. "You're lost for a minute and, like all lost people, you're heading the wrong way. Don't be misled by selfishness. Forget what you want to do and think of what we want you to do. We want you to make a man of yourself. You must do it for the sake of those dear people who have done so much for you. The needle points toward the schoolhouse yonder."
He went on with his work, and, as I walked away, I understood that the needle he referred to was my conscience.
As I neared the schoolmaster's the same drunken man that I had seen before went zigzagging up the road.
Mr. Hacket stood in his dooryard.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"Nick Tubbs--the village drunkard and sign o' the times," he answered. "Does chores at the tavern all day and goes home at night filled with his earnings an' a great sense o' proprietorship. He is the top flower on the bush."
I went about my chores. There was to be no more wavering in my conduct. At the supper table Mr. Hacket kept us laughing with songs and jests and stories. The boy John, having been reproved for rapid eating, hurled his spoon upon the floor.
"Those in favor of his punishment will please say aye?" said the schoolmaster.
I remember that we had a divided house on that important question.
The schoolmaster said: "Michael Henry wishes him to be forgiven on promise of better conduct, but for the next offense he shall ride the badger."
This meant lying for a painful moment across his father's knee.
The promise was given and our merry-making resumed. The district attorney, whom I had met before, came to see me after supper and asked more questions and advised me to talk with no one about the shooting without his consent. Soon he went away, and after I had learned my lessons Mr. Hacket said:
"Let us walk up to the jail and spend a few minutes with Amos."
We hurried to the jail. The sheriff, a stout-built, stern-faced man, admitted us.
"Can we see the Grimshaw boy?" Mr. Hacket inquired.
"I guess so," he answered as he lazily rose from his chair and took down a bunch of large keys which had been hanging on the wall. "His father has just left."
He spoke in a low, solemn tone which impressed me deeply as he put a lighted candle in the hand of the schoolmaster. He led us through a door into a narrow corridor. He thrust a big key into the lock of a heavy iron grating and threw it open and bade us step in. We entered an ill-smelling, stone-floored room with a number of cells against its rear wall. He locked the door behind us. I saw a face and figure in the dim candle-light, behind the grated door of one of these cells. How lonely and dejected and helpless was the expression of that figure! The sheriff went to the door and unlocked it.
"Hello, Grimshaw," he said sternly. "Step out here."
It all went to my heart--the manners of the sheriff so like the cold iron of his keys and doors--the dim candle-light, the pale, frightened youth who walked toward us. We shook his hand and he said that he was glad to see us. I saw the scar under his left ear and reaching out upon his cheek which my stone had made and knew that he bore the mark of Cain.
He asked if he could see me alone and the sheriff shook his head and said sternly:
"Against the rules."
"Amos, I've a boy o' my own an' I feel for ye," said the schoolmaster. "I'm going to come here, now and then, to cheer ye up and bring ye some books to read. If there's any word of advice I can give ye--let me know. Have ye a lawyer?"
"There's one coming to-morrow."
"Don't say a word about the case, boy, to any one but your lawyer--mind that."
We left him and went to our home and beds. I to spend half the night thinking of my discovery, since which, for some reason, I had no doubt of the guilt of Amos, but I spoke not of it to any one and the secret worried me.
Next morning on my way to school I passed a scene more strange and memorable than any in my long experience. I saw the shabby figure of old Benjamin Grimshaw walking in the side path. His hands were in his pockets, his eyes bent upon the ground, his lips moving as if he were in deep thought. Roving Kate, the ragged, silent woman who, for the fortune of Amos, had drawn a gibbet, the shadow of which was now upon him, walked slowly behind the money-lender pointing at him with her bony forefinger. Her stern eyes watched him as the cat watches when its prey is near it. She did not notice me. Silently, her feet wrapped in rags, she walked behind the man, always pointing at him. When he stopped she stopped. When he resumed his slow progress she followed. It thrilled me, partly because I had begun to believe in the weird, mysterious power of the Silent Woman. I had twenty minutes to spare and so I turned into the main street, behind and close by them. I saw him stop and buy some crackers and an apple and a piece of cheese. Meanwhile she stood pointing at him. He saw, but gave no heed to her. He walked along the street in front of the stores, she following as before. How patiently she followed!
"Why does she follow him that way?" I asked the storekeeper when they were gone.
"Oh, I dunno, boy!" he answered. "She's crazy an' I guess she dunno what she's doin'."
The explanation did not satisfy me. I knew, or thought I knew, better than he the meaning of that look in her eyes. I had seen it before.
I started for the big schoolhouse and a number of boys joined me with pleasant words.
"I saw you lookin' at ol' Kate," one of them said to me. "Don't ye ever make fun o' her. She's got the evil eye an' if she puts it on ye, why ye'll git drownded er fall off a high place er somethin'."
The boys were of one accord about that.
Sally ran past us with that low-lived Wills boy, who carried her books for her. His father had gone into the grocery business and Henry wore boughten clothes. I couldn't tell Sally how mean he was. I was angry and decided not to speak to her until she spoke to me. I got along better in school, although there was some tittering when I recited, probably because I had a broader dialect and bigger boots than the boys of the village.
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