Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 05
Here I shall quote you again from the diary of Uncle Eb. 'It was so dark I couldn't see a han' before me. "Don't p'int yer gun at me," the man whispered. Thought 'twas fimny he could see me when I couldn't see him. Said 'twas his home an' we'd better leave. Tol him I was sick (rumatiz) an' couldn't stir. Said he was sorry an' come over near us. Tol' him I was an' ol' man goin' west with a small boy. Stopped in the rain. Got sick. Out o' purvisions. 'Bout ready t' die. Did'n know what t' do. Started t' stike a match an' the man said don't make no light cos I don't want to hev ye see my face. Never let nobody see my face. Said he never went out 'less 'twas a dark night until folks was abed. Said we looked like good folks. Scairt me a little cos we couldn't see a thing. Also he said don't be 'fraid of me. Do what I can fer ye.'
I remember the man crossed the creaking floor and sat down near us after he had parleyed with Uncle Eb awhile in whispers. Young as I was I keep a vivid impression of that night and, aided by the diary of Uncle Eb, I have made a record of what was said that is, in the main, accurate.
'Do you know where you are?' he enquired presently, whispering as he had done before.
'I've no idee,' said Uncle Eb.
'Well, down the hill is Paradise Valley in the township o' Faraway,' he continued. 'It's the end o' Paradise Road an' a purty country. Been settled a long time an' the farms are big an' prosperous - kind uv a land o' plenty. That big house at the foot o' the hill is Dave Brower's. He's the richest man in the valley.'
'How do you happen t' be livin' here? - if ye don't min' tellin' me,' Uncle Eb asked.
'Crazy,' said he; ''fraid uv everybody an' everybody's 'fraid o' me. Lived a good long time in this way. Winters I go into the big woods. Got a camp in a big cave an' when I'm there I see a little daylight. Here 'n the clearin' I'm only up in the night-time. Thet's how I've come to see so well in the dark. It's give me cat's eyes.'
'Don't ye git lonesome?' Uncle Eb asked.
'Awful - sometimes,' he answered with a sad sigh, 'an' it seems good t' talk with somebody besides myself. I get enough to eat generally. There are deer in the woods an' cows in the fields, ye know, an' potatoes an' corn an' berries an' apples, an' all thet kind o' thing. Then I've got my traps in the woods where I ketch partridges, an' squirrels an' coons an' all the meat I need. I've got a place in the thick timber t' do my cookin' - all I want t' do - in the middle of the night Sometimes I come here an' spend a day in the garret if I'm caught in a storm or if I happen to stay a little too late in the valley. Once in a great while I meet a man somewhere in the open but he always gits away quick as he can. Guess they think I'm a ghost - dunno what I think o' them.'
Our host went on talking as if he were glad to tell the secrets of his heart to some creature of his own kind. I have often wondered at his frankness; but there was a fatherly tenderness, I remember in the voice of Uncle Eb, and I judge it tempted his confidence. Probably the love of companionship can never be so dead in a man but that the voice of kindness may call it back to life again.
'I'll bring you a bite t' eat before morning,' he said, presently, as he rose to go. 'leet me feel o' your han', mister.'
Uncle Eb gave him his hand and thanked him.
'Feels good. First I've hed hold of in a long time,' he whispered.
'What's the day o' the month?'
'I must remember. Where did you come from?'
Uncle Eb told him, briefly, the story of our going west
'Guess you'd never do me no harm - would ye?' the man asked. 'Not a bit,' Uncle Eb answered.
Then he bade us goodbye, crossed the creaking floor and went away in the darkness.
'Sing'lar character!' Uncle Eb muttered.
I was getting drowsy and that was the last I heard. In the morning we found a small pail of milk sitting near us, a roasted partridge, two fried fish and some boiled potatoes. It was more than enough to carry us through the day with a fair allowance for Fred. Uncle Eb was a bit better but very lame at that and kept to his bed the greater part of the day. The time went slow with me I remember. Uncle Eb was not cheerful and told me but one story and that had no life in it. At dusk he let me go out in the road to play awhile with Fred and the wagon, but came to the door and called us in shortly. I went to bed in a rather unhappy flame of mind. The dog roused me by barking in the middle of the right and I heard again the familiar whisper of the stranger.
'Sh-h-h! be still, dog,' he whispered; but I was up to my ears in sleep and went under shortly, so I have no knowledge of what passed that night. Uncle Eb tells in his diary that he had a talk with him lasting more than an hour, but goes no further and never seemed willing to talk much about that interview or others that followed it.
I only know the man had brought more milk and fish and fowl for us. We stayed another day in the old house, that went like the last, and the night man came again to see Uncle Eb. The next morning my companion was able to walk more freely, but Fred and I had to stop and wait for him very often going down the big hill. I was mighty glad when we were leaving the musty old house for good and had the dog hitched with all our traps in the wagon. It was a bright morning and the sunlight glimmered on the dew in the broad valley. The men were just coming from breakfast when we turned in at David Brower's. A barefooted little girl a bit older than I, with red cheeks and blue eyes and long curly hair, that shone like gold in the sunlight, came running out to meet us and led me up to the doorstep, highly amused at the sight of Fred and the wagon. I regarded her with curiosity and suspicion at first, while Uncle Eb was talking with the men. I shall never forget that moment when David Brower came and lifted me by the shoulders, high above his head, and shook me as if to test my mettle. He led me into the house then where his wife was working.
'What do you think of this small bit of a boy?' he asked.
She had already knelt on the floor and put her arms about my neck and kissed me.
'Am' no home,' said he. 'Come all the way from Vermont with an ol' man. They're worn out both uv 'em. Guess we'd better take 'em in awhile.'
'O yes, mother - please, mother,' put in the little girl who was holding my hand. 'He can sleep with me, mother. Please let him stay.'
She knelt beside me and put her arms around my little shoulders and drew me to her breast and spoke to me very tenderly.
'Please let him stay,' the girl pleaded again.
'David,' said the woman, 'I couldn't turn the little thing away. Won't ye hand me those cookies.'
And so our life began in Paradise Valley. Ten minutes later I was playing my first game of 'I spy' with little Hope Brower, among the fragrant stooks of wheat in the field back of the garden.