Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Tip Taylor was, in the main, a serious-minded man. A cross eye enhanced the natural solemnity of his countenance. He was little given to talk or laughter unless he were on a hunt, and then he only whispered his joy. He had seen a good bit of the world through the peek sight of his rifle, and there was something always in the feel of a gun that lifted him to higher moods. And yet one could reach a tender spot in him without the aid of a gun. That winter vacation I set myself to study things for declamation - specimens of the eloquence of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay and James Otis and Patrick Henry. I practiced them in the barn, often, in sight and hearing of the assembled herd and some of those fiery passages were rather too loud and threatening for the peace and comfort of my audience. The oxen seemed always to be expecting the sting of the bull whip; they stared at me timidly, tilting their ears every moment, as if to empty them of a heavy load; while the horses snorted with apprehension. This haranguing of the herd had been going on a week or more when Uncle Eb and I, returning from a distant part of the farm, heard a great uproar m the stable. Looking in at a window we saw Tip Taylor, his back toward us, extemporising a speech. He was pressing his argument with gestures and the tone of thunder. We listened a moment, while a worried look came over the face of Uncle Eb. Tip's words were meaningless save for the secret aspiration they served to advertise. My old companion thought Tip had gone crary, and immediately swung the door and stepped in. The orator fell suddenly from his lofry altitude and became a very sober looking hired man.

'What's the matter?' Uncle Eb enquired.

'Practicin',' said Tip soberly, as he turned slowly, his face damp and red with exertion.

'Fer what?' Uncle Eb enquired.

'Fer the 'sylum, I guess,' he answered, with a faint smile.

'Ye don' need no more practice,' Uncle Eb answered. 'Looks t' me as though ye was purty well prepared.'

To me there was a touch of pathos in this show of the deeper things m Tip's nature that had been kindled to eruption by my spouting. He would not come in to dinner that day, probably from an unfounded fear that we would make fun of his flight - a thing we should have been far from doing once we understood him.

It was a bitter day of one of the coldest winters we had ever known. A shrieking wind came over the hills, driving a scud of snow before it The stock in the stables, we all came in, soon after dinner, and sat comfortably by the fire with cider, checkers and old sledge. The dismal roar of the trees and the wind-wail in the chinney served only to increase our pleasure. It was growing dusk when mother, peering through the sheath of frost on a window pane, uttered an exclamation of surprise.

'Why! who is this at the door?' said she. 'Why! It's a man in a cutter.' Father was near the door and he swung it open quickly. There stood a horse and cutter, a man sitting in it, heavily muffled. The horse was shivering and the man sat motionless.

'Hello!' said David Brower in a loud voice.

He got no answer and ran bareheaded to the sleigh.

'Come, quick, Holden,' he called, 'it's Doctor Bigsby.'

We all ran out then, while David lifted the still figure in his arms.

'In here, quick!' said Elizabeth, opening the door to the parlour. 'Musn't take 'im near the stove.'

We carried him into the cold room and laid him down, and David and I tore his wraps open while the others ran quickly after snow.

I rubbed it vigorously upon his iace and ears, the others meantime applying it to his feet and arms, that had been quickly stripped. The doctor stared at us curiously and tried to speak.

'Get ap, Dobbin!' he called presently, and ducked as if urging his horse. 'Get ap, Dobbin! Man'll die 'fore ever we git there.'

We all worked upon him with might and main. The white went slowly out of his face. We lifted him to a sitting posture. Mother and Hope and Uncle Eb were rubbing his hands and feet.

'Where am I?' he enquired, his face now badly swollen.

'At David Brower's,' said I.

'Huh?' he asked, with that kindiy and familiar grunt of interrogation.

'At David Brower's,' I repeated.

'Well, I'll have t' hurry,' said he, trying feebly to rise. 'Man's dyin' over - ' he hesitated thoughtfully, 'on the Plains,' he added, looking around at us.

Grandma Bisnette brought a lamp and held itso the light frll on his face. He looked from one to another. He drew one of his hands away and stared at it.

'Somebody froze?' he asked.

'Yes,' said I.

'Hm! Too bad. How'd it happen?' he asked. 'I don't know.'

'How's the pulse?' he enquired, feeling for my.wrist.

I let him hold it in his hand.

'Will you bring me some water in a glass?' he enquired, turning to Mrs Brower, just as I had seen him do many a time in Gerald's illness. Before she came with the water his head fell forward upon his breast, while he muttered feebly. I thought then he was dead, but presently he roused himself with a mighty effort.

'David Brower!' he called loudly, and trying hard to rise, 'bring the horse! bring the horse! Mus' be goin', I tell ye. Man's dyin' over - on the Plains.'

He went limp as a rag then. I could feel his heart leap and struggle feebly.

'There's a man dyin' here,' said David Brower, in a low tone. 'Ye needn't rub no more.

'He's dead,' Elizabeth whispered, holding his hand tenderly, and looking into his half-closed eyes. Then for a moment she covered her own with her handkerchief, while David, in a low, calm tone, that showed the depth of his feeling, told us what to do.

Uncle Eb and I watched that night, while Tip Taylor drove away to town. The body lay in the parlour and we sat by the stove in the room adjoining. In a half-whisper we talked of the sad event of the day.

'Never oughter gone out a day like this,' said Uncle Eb. 'Don' take much t' freeze an ol' man.'

'Got to thinking of what happened yesterday and forgot the cold,' I said.

'Bad day t' be absent-minded,' whispered Uncle Eb, as he rose and tiptoed to the window and peered through the frosty panes. 'May o' got faint er sumthin'. Ol' hoss brought 'im right here - been here s' often with 'in'.'

He took the lantern and went out a moment. The door creaked upon its frosty hinges when he opened it.

'Thirty below zero,' he whispered as he came in. 'Win's gone down a leetle bit, mebbe.'

Uncanny noises broke in upon the stliness of the old house. Its timbers, racked in the mighty grip of the cold, creaked and settled. Sometimes there came a sbarp, breaking sound, like the crack of bones.

'If any man oughter go t' Heaven, he had,' said Uncle Eb, as he drew on his boots.

'Think he's in Heaven?' I asked.

'Hain't a doubt uv it,' said he, as he chewed a moment, preparing for expectoration.

'What kind of a place do you think it is?' I asked.

'Fer one thing,' he said, deliberately, 'nobody'll die there, 'less he'd ought to; don't believe there's goin' t' be any need o' swearin' er quarrellin'. To my way o' thinkin' it'll be a good deal like Dave Brower's flirm - nice, smooth land and no stun on it, an, hills an' valleys an' white clover aplenty, an' wheat an' corn higher'n a man's head. No bull thistles, no hard winters, no narrer contracted fools; no long faces, an' plenty o' work. Folks sayin' "How d'y do" 'stid o' "goodbye", all the while - comin' 'stid o' gain'. There's goin' t' be some kind o' ftln there. I ain' no idee what 'tis. Folks like it an' I kind o' believe 'at when God's gin a thing t', everybody he thinks purty middlin' well uv it.'

'Anyhow, it seems a hard thing to die,' I remarked.

'Seems so,' he said thoughtfully. 'Jes' like ever'thing else - them 'at knows much about it don' have a great deal t' say. Looks t' me like this: I cal'ate a man hes on the everidge ten things his heart is sot on - what is the word I want -?'

'Treasures?' I suggested.

'Thet's it,' said he. 'Ev'ry one hes about ten treasures. Some hev more - some less. Say one's his strength, one's his plan, the rest is them he loves, an' the more he loves the better 'tis fer him. Wall, they begin t' go one by one. Some die, some turn agin' him. Fin's it hard t' keep his allowance. When he's only nine he's lost eggzac'ly one-tenth uv his dread o' dyin'. Bime bye he counts up - one-two-three-four-five-an' thet's all ther is left. He figgers it up carefial. His strength is gone, his plan's a fillure, mebbe, an' this one's dead an' thet one's dead, an' t'other one better be. Then 's 'bout half-ways with him. If he lives till the ten treasures is all gone, God gives him one more - thet's death. An' he can swop thet off an' git back all he's lost. Then he begins t' think it's a purty dum good thing, after all. Purty good thing, after all,' he repeated, gaping as he spoke.

He began nodding shortly, and soon he went asleep in his chair.