Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 18

Chapter 18

I ought to say that I have had and shall have to chronicle herein much that would seem to indicate a mighty conceit of myself. Unfortunately the little word 'I' throws a big shadow in this history. It looms up all too frequendy in every page for the sign of a modest man. But, indeed, I cannot help it, for he was the only observer of all there is to tell. Now there is much, for example, in the very marrow of my history - things that never would have happened, things that never would have been said, but for my fame as a scholar. My learning was of small account, for, it must be remembered, I am writing of a time when any degree of scholarship was counted remarkable among the simple folk of Faraway.

Hope took singing lessons and sang in church every Sunday. David or Uncle Eb came down for us often of a Saturday and brought us back before service m the morning. One may find in that town today many who will love to tell him of the voice and beauty and sweetness of Hope Brower those days, and of what they expected regarding her and me. We went out a good deal evenings to concerts, lectures at the churches or the college, or to visit some of the many people who invited us to their homes.

We had a recess of two weeks at the winter holidays and David Brower came after us the day the term ended. O, the great happiness of that day before Christmas when we came flying home in the sleigh behind a new team of greys and felt the intoxication of the frosty air, and drove in at dusk after the lamps were lit and we could see mother and Uncle Eb and Grandma Bisnette looking out of the window, and a steaming dinner on the table! I declare! it is long since then, but I cannot ever think of that time without wiping my glasses and taking a moment off Tip Taylor took the horses and we all came in where the kettle was singing on the stove and loving hands helped us out of our wraps. The supper was a merry feast, the like of which one may ftnd only by returning to his boyhood. Mack! that is a long journey for some of us.

Supper over and the dishes out of the way we gathered about the stove with cider and butternuts.

'Well,' said Hope, 'I've got some news to tell you - this boy is the best scholar of his age in this county.'

'Thet so?' said David.

Uncle Eb stopped his hmnmer that was lifted to crack a butternut and pulled his chair close to Hope's. Elizabeth looked at her daughter and then at me, a smile and a protest in her face.

'True as you live,' said Hope. 'The master told me so. He's first in everything, and in the Town Hall the other night he spelt everybody down.'

'What! In HilIsborough?' Uncle Eb asked incredulously.

'Yes, in Hillsborough,' said Hope, 'and there were doctors and lawyers and college students and I don't know who all in the match.'

'Most reemarkable!' said David Brower.

'Treemenjious!' exclaimed Uncle Eb.

'I heard about it over at the mllls t'day,' said Tip Taylor.

'Merd Dieu!' exclaimed Grandma Bisnette, crossing herself.

Elizabeth Brower was unable to stem this tide of enthusiasm. I had tried to stop it, but, instantly, it had gone beyond my control. If I could be hurt by praise the mischief had been done.

'It's very nice, indeed,' said she soberly. 'I do hope it won't make him conceited. He should remember that people do not always mean what they say.'

'He's too sensible for that, mother,' said David.

'Shucks!' said Uncle Eb, 'he ain' no fool if he is a good speller - not by a dum sight!'

'Tip,' said David, 'you'll find a box in the sleigh 'at come by express. I wish ye'd go'n git it.'

We all stood looking while Tip brought it in and pried off the top boards with a hatchet.

'Careful, now!' Uncle Eb cautioned him. 'Might spile sumthin'.'

The top off, Uncle Eb removed a layer of pasteboard. Then he pulled out a lot of coloured tissue paper, and under that was a package, wrapped and tied. Something was written on it. He held it up and tried to read the writing.

'Can't see without my spectacles,' he said, handing it to me.

'For Hope,' I read, as I passed it to her.

'Hooray!' said Uncle Eb, as he lifted another, and the last package, from the box.

'For Mrs Brower,' were the words I read upon that one.

The strings were cut, the wrappers torn away, and two big rolls of shiny silk loosened their coils on the table. Hope uttered a cry of delight. A murmur of surprise and admiration passed from one to another. Elizabeth lifted a rustling fold and held it to the lamplight We passed our hands over the smooth sheen of the silk.

'Wall, I swan!' said Uncle Eb. 'Jes' like a kitten's ear!'

'Eggzac'ly!' said David Brower.

Elizabeth lifted the silk and let it flow to her feet Then for a little she looked down, draping it to her skirt and moving her foot to make the silk rustle. For the moment she was young again.

'David,' she said, still looking at the glory of glossy black that covered her plain dress.

'Well, mother,' he answered.

'Was you fool enough t' go'n buy this stuff fer me?'

'No, mother - it come from New York City,' he said.

'From New York City?' was the exclamation of all.

Elizabeth Brower looked thoughtfullyy at her husband.

'Clear from New York City?' she repeated.

'From New York City,' said he.

'Wall, of all things!' said Uncle Eb, looking over his spectacles from one to another.

'It's from the Livingstone boy,' said Mrs Brower. 'I've heard he's the son of a rich man.'

''Fraid he took a great fancy t' Hope,' said David.

'Father,' said the girl, you've no right to say that. I'm sure he never cared a straw for me.'

'I don't think we ought to keep it,' said Mrs Brower, looking up thoughtfullyy.

'Shucks and shavin's!' said Uncle Eb. 'Ye don't know but what I had it sent myself.'

Hope went over and put her arms around his neck.

'Did you, Uncle Eb?' she asked. 'Now you tell me the truth, Unde Eb.'

'Wouldn't say 't I did,' he answered, 'but I don' want 'a see ye go sendin' uv it back. Ye dunno who sent it.'

'What'll I do with it?' Mrs Brower asked, laughing in a way that showed a sense of absurdity. 'I'd a been tickled with it thirty years ago, but now-folks 'ud think I was crazy.'

'Never heard such fol de rol,' said Uncle Eb. 'If ye move t' the village it'll come handy t' go t' meetin'in.'

That seemed to be unanswerable and conclusive, at least for the time being, and the silk was laid away. We sat talking until late bedtime, Hope and I, telling of our studies and of the many people we had met in HilIsborough.

We hung up our stockings just as we had always done Christmas Eve, and were up betimes in the morning to find them filled with many simple but delightful things, and one which I treasure to this day - the locket and its picrure of which I had been surreptitiously informed.

At two o'clock we had a fine dinner of roast turkey and chicken pie, with plenty of good cider, and the mince pie, of blessed memory, such as only a daughter of New England may dare try to make.

Uncle Eb went upstairs after dinner and presently we heard him descending with a slow and heavy foot I opened the stair door and there he stood with the old bass viol that had long lain neglected in a dusty corner of the attic. Many a night I had heard it groan as the strings loosened, in the years it had lain on its hack, helpless and forgotten. It was like a dreamer, snoring in his sleep, and murmuring of that he saw in his dreams. Uncle Eb had dusted and strung it and glued its weaker joints. He sat down with it' the severe look of old upon his face, and set the strings roaring as he tuned them. Then he brought the sacred treasure to me and leaned it against my shoulder.

'There that's a Crissmus present fer ye, Willie,' said he. 'It may help ye t' pass away the time once in a while.'

I thanked him warmly.

''S a reel firs'-class instrument,' he said. 'Been a rip snorter 'n its day.' He took from his bosom then the old heart pin of silver that he had always worn of a Sunday.

'Goin' t' give ye thet, too,' he said. 'Dunno's ye'll ever care to wear it, but I want ye should hev sumthin' ye can carry'n yer pocket t' remember me by.'

I did not dare trust myself to speak, and I sat helplessly turning that relic of a better day in my fingers.

'It's genuwine silver,' said he proudly.

I took his old hand in mine and raised it reverently to my lips.

'Hear'n 'em tell 'bout goin' t' the village, an' I says t' myself, "Uncle Eb," says I, "we'll hev t' be goin'. 'Tain' no place fer you in the village."'

'Holden,' said David Brower, 'don't ye never talk like that ag'in. Yer just the same as married t' this family, an' ye can't ever git away from us.'

And he never did until his help was needed in other and fairer fields, I am sure, than those of Faraway - God knows where.