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I had a chill that night and in the weeks that followed I was nearly burned up with lung fever. Doctor Clark came from Canton to see me every other day for a time, and one evening Mr. Wright came with him and watched all night near my bedside. He gave me medicine every hour, and I remember how gently he would speak and raise my head when he came with the spoon and the draft. It grieved me to hear him say, as he raised me in his arms, that I wasn't bigger than "a cock mosquito."
I would lie and watch him as he put a stick on the fire and tiptoed to his armchair by the table, on which three lighted candles were burning. Then he would adjust his spectacles, pick up his book, and begin to read, and I would see him smile or frown or laugh until I wondered what was between the black covers of the book to move him so. In the morning he said that he could come the next Tuesday night, if we needed him, and set out right after breakfast, in the dim dawn light, to walk to Canton.
"Peabody Baynes," said my Aunt Deel as she stood looking out of the window at Mr. Wright, "that is one of the grandest, splendidest men that I ever see or heard of. He's an awful smart man, an' a day o' his time is worth more'n a month of our'n, but he comes away off here to set up with a sick young one and walks back. Does beat all--don't it?--ayes!"
"If any one needs help Sile Wright is always on hand," said Uncle Peabody.
I was soon out of bed and he came no more to sit up with me.
When I was well again Aunt Deel said one day "Peabody Baynes, I ain't heard no preachin' since Mr Pangborn died. I guess we better go down to Canton to meetin' some Sunday. If there ain't no minister Sile Wright always reads a sermon, if he's home, and the paper says he don't go 'way for a month yit. I kind o' feel the need of a good sermon--ayes!"
"All right. I'll hitch up the hosses and we'll go. We can start at eight o'clock and take a bite with us an' git back here by three."
"Could I wear my new shoes and trousers?" I asked joyfully.
"Ayes I guess ye can if you're a good boy--ayes!" said Aunt Deel.
I had told Aunt Deel what Sally had said of my personal appearance.
"Your coat is good enough for anybody--ayes!" said she. "I'll make you a pair o' breeches an' then I guess you won't have to be 'shamed no more."
She had spent several evenings making them out of an old gray flannel petticoat of hers and had put two pockets in them of which I was very proud. They came just to the tops of my shoes, which pleased me, for thereby the glory of my new shoes suffered no encroachment.
The next Sunday after they were finished we had preaching in the schoolhouse and I was eager to go and wear my wonderful trousers. Uncle Peabody said that he didn't know whether his leg would hold out or not "through a whole meetin'." His left leg was lame from a wrench and pained him if he sat long in one position. I greatly enjoyed this first public exhibition of my new trousers. I remember praying in silence, as we sat down, that Uncle Peabody's leg would hold out. Later, when the long sermon had begun to weary me, I prayed that it would not.
I decided that meetin's were not a successful form of entertainment. Indeed, Sunday was for me a lost day. It was filled with shaving and washing and reading and an overwhelming silence. Uncle Peabody always shaved after breakfast and then he would sit down to read the St. Lawrence Republican. Both occupations deprived him utterly of his usefulness as an uncle. I remember that I regarded the razor and the Republican as my worst enemies. The Republican earned my keenest dislike, for it always put my uncle to sleep and presently he would stretch out on the lounge and begin to puff and snore and then Aunt Deel always went around on her tiptoes and said sh-h-h! She spent the greater part of the forenoon in her room washing and changing her clothes and reading the Bible. How loudly the clock ticked that day! How defiantly the cock crew! It seemed as if he were making special efforts to start up the life of the farm. How shrill were the tree crickets! Often Shep and I would steal off into the back lot trying to scare up a squirrel and I would look longingly down the valley, and could dimly see the roofs of houses where there were other children. I would gladly have made friends with the Wills boy, but he would have nothing to do with me, and soon his people moved away. My uncle said that Mr. Grimshaw had foreclosed their mortgage.
The fields were so still that I wondered if the grass grew on Sunday. The laws of God and nature seemed to be in conflict, for our livers got out of order and some one of us always had a headache in the afternoon. It was apt to be Uncle Peabody, as I had reason to know, for I always begged him to go in swimmin' with me in the afternoon.
It was a beautiful summer morning as we drove down the hills and from the summit of the last high ridge we could see the smoke of a steamer looming over the St. Lawrence and the big buildings of Canton on the distant flats below us. My heart beat fast when I reflected that I should soon see Mr. Wright and the Dunkelbergs. I had lost a little of my interest in Sally. Still I felt sure that when she saw my new breeches she would conclude that I was a person not to be trifled with.
When we got to Canton people were flocking to the big stone Presbyterian Church. We drove our horses under the shed of the tavern and Uncle Peabody brought them water from the pump and fed them, out of our own bag under the buggy seat, before we went to the church.
It was what they called a "deacon meeting." I remember that Mr. Wright read from the Scriptures, and having explained that there was no minister in the village, read one of Mr. Edwards' sermons, in the course of which I went to sleep on the arm of my aunt. She awoke me when the service had ended, and whispered:
"Come, we're goin' down to speak to Mr. Wright."
We saw Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg in the aisle, who said that they would wait for us outside the church.
I remember that Mr. Wright kissed me and said:
"Hello! Here's my boy in a new pair o' trousers!"
"Put yer hand in there," I said proudly, as I took my own out of one of my pockets, and pointed the way.
He did not accept the invitation, but laughed heartily and gave me a little hug.
When we went out of the church there stood Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg, and Sally and some other children. It was a tragic moment for me when Sally laughed and ran behind her mother. Still worse was it when a couple of boys ran away crying, "Look at the breeches!"
I looked down at my breeches and wondered what was wrong with them. They seemed very splendid to me and yet I saw at once that they were not popular. I went close to my Aunt Deel and partly hid myself in her cloak. I heard Mrs. Dunkelberg say:
"Of course you'll come to dinner with us?"
For a second my hopes leaped high. I was hungry and visions of jelly cake and preserves rose before me. Of course there were the trousers, but perhaps Sally would get used to the trousers and ask me to play with her.
"Thank ye, but we've got a good ways to go and we fetched a bite with us--ayes!" said Aunt Deel.
Eagerly I awaited an invitation from the great Mrs. Dunkelberg that should be decisively urgent, but she only said:
"I'm very sorry you can't stay."
My hopes fell like bricks and vanished like bubbles.
The Dunkelbergs left us with pleasant words. They had asked me to shake hands with Sally, but I had clung to my aunt's cloak and firmly refused to make any advances. Slowly and without a word we walked across the park toward the tavern sheds. Hot tears were flowing down my cheeks--silent tears! for I did not wish to explain them. Furtively I brushed them away with my hand. The odor of frying beef steak came out of the open doors of the tavern. It was more than I could stand. I hadn't tasted fresh meat since Uncle Peabody had killed a deer in midsummer. He gave me a look of understanding, but said nothing for a minute. Then he proposed:
"Mebbe we better git dinner here?"
Aunt Deel hesitated at the edge of the stable yard, surrounded as she was by the aroma of the fleshpots, then:
"I guess we better go right home and save our money, Peabody--ayes!" said she. "We told Mr. and Mrs. Horace Dunkelberg that we was goin' home and they'd think we was liars."
"We orto have gone with `em," said Uncle Peabody as he unhitched the horses.
"Well, Peabody Baynes, they didn't appear to be very anxious to have us," Aunt Deel answered with a sigh.
We had started away up the South road when, to my surprise, Aunt Deel mildly attacked the Dunkelbergs.
"These here village folks like to be waited on--ayes!--an' they're awful anxious you should come to see 'em when ye can't--ayes!--but when ye git to the village they ain't nigh so anxious--no they ain't!"
Uncle Peabody made no answer, but sat looking forward thoughtfully and tapping the dashboard with his whipstock, and we rode on in a silence broken only by the creak of the evener and the sound of the horses' hoofs in the sand.
In the middle of the great cedar swamp near Little River Aunt Deel got out the lunch basket and I sat down on the buggy bottom between their legs and leaning against the dash. So disposed we ate our luncheon of fried cakes and bread and butter and maple sugar and cheese. The road was a straight alley through the evergreen forest, and its grateful shadow covered us. When we had come out into the hot sunlight by the Hale farm both my aunt and uncle complained of headache. What an efficient cure for good health were the doughnuts and cheese and sugar, especially if they were mixed with the idleness of a Sunday. I had a headache also and soon fell asleep.
The sun was low when they awoke me in our dooryard.
"Hope it'll be some time 'fore ye feel the need of another sermon," said Uncle Peabody as Aunt Deel got out of the buggy. "I ain't felt so wicked in years."
I was so sick that Aunt Deel put me to bed and said that she would feed the pigs and the chickens. Sick as he was, Uncle Peabody had to milk the cows. How relentless were the cows!
I soon discovered that the Dunkelbergs had fallen from their high estate in our home and that Silas Wright, Jr., had taken their place in the conversation of Aunt Deel.
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