Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 11

Chapter 11

The fifth summer was passing since we came down Paradise Road - the dog, Uncle Eb and I. Times innumerable I had heard my good old friend tell the story of our coming west until its every incident was familiar to me as the alphabet. Else I fear my youthful memory would have served me poorly for a chronicle of my childhood so exact and so extended as this I have written. Uncle Eb's hair was white now and the voices of the swift and the panther had grown mild and tremulous and unsatisfactory and even absurd. Time had tamed the monsters of that imaginary wilderness and I had begun to lose my respect for them. But one fear had remained with me as I grew older - the fear of the night man. Every boy and girl in the valley trembled at the mention of him. Many a time I had held awake in the late evening to hear the men talk of him before they went asleep - Uncle Eb and Tip Taylor. I remember a night when Tip said, in a low awesome tone, that he was a ghost. The word carried into my soul the first thought of its great and fearful mystery.

'Years and years ago,' said he, 'there was a boy by the name of Nehemiah Brower. An' he killed another boy, once, by accident an' run away an' was drownded.'

'Drownded!' said Uncle Eb. 'How?'

'In the ocean,' the first answered gaping. 'Went away off 'round the world an' they got a letter that said he was drownded on his way to Van Dieman's Land.'

'To Van Dieman's Land!'

'Yes, an some say the night man is the ghost o' the one he killed.'

I remember waking that night and hearing excited whispers at the window near my bed. It was very dark in the room and at first I could not tell who was there.

'Don't you see him?' Tip whispered.

'Where?' I heard Uncle Be ask

'Under the pine trees - see him move.'

At that I was up at the window myself and could plainly see the dark figure of a man standing under the little pine below us.

'The night man, I guess,' said Uncle Be, 'but he won't do no harm. Let him alone; he's going' away now.'

We saw him disappear behind the trees and then we got back into our beds again. I covered my head with the bedclothes and said a small prayer for the poor night man.

And in this atmosphere of mystery and adventure, among the plain folk of Faraway, whose care of me when I was in great need, and whose love of me always, I count among the priceless treasures of God's providence, my childhood passed. And the day came near when I was to begin to play my poor part in the world.