Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 40

Chapter 40

But now I have better things to write of'things that have some relish of good in them. I was very weak and low from loss of blood for days, and, suddenly, the tide turned. I had won recognition for distinguished gallantry they told me - that day they took me to Washington. I lay three weeks there in the hospital. As soon as they heard of my misfortune at home Uncle Eb wrote he was coming to see me. I stopped him by a telegram, assuring him that I was nearly well and would be home shortly.

My term of enlistment had expired when they let me out a fine day in mid August. I was going home for a visit as sound as any man but, in the horse talk of Faraway, I had a little 'blemish'on the left shoulder. Uncle Eb was to meet me at the jersey City depot. Before going I, with others who had been complimented for bravery, went to see the president. There were some twenty of us summoned to meet him that day. It was warm and the great Lincoln sat in his shirt-sleeves at a desk in the middle of his big office. He wore a pair of brown carpet slippers, the rolling collar and black stock now made so familiar in print. His hair was tumbled. He was writing hurriedly when we came in. He laid his pen away and turned to us without speaking. There was a careworn look upon his solemn face.

'Mr President,'said the general, who had come with us, 'here are some of the brave men of our army, whom you wished to see.

He came and shook hands with each and thanked us in the name of the republic, for the example of courage and patriotism we and many others had given to the army. He had a lean, tall, ungraceful figure and he spoke his mind without any frill or flourish. He said only a few words of good plain talk and was done with us.

'Which is Brower?'he enquired presently.

I came forward more scared than ever I had been before.

'My son,'he said, taking my hand in his, 'why didn t you run?'

'Didn't dare,'I answered. 'I knew it was more dangerous to run away than to go forward.'

'Reminds me of a story,'said he smiling. 'Years ago there was a bully in Sangamon County, Illinois, that had the reputation of running faster and fighting harder than any man there. Everybody thought he was a terrible fighter. He d always get a man on the run; then he d ketch up and give him a licking. One day he tadded a lame man. The lame man licked him in a minute.

'"Why didn't ye run?" somebody asked the victor.

'"Didn't dast," said he. "Run once when he tackled me an I've been lame ever since."

"How did ye manage to lick him?" said the other.

'"Wall," said he, "I hed to, an'I done it easy."

'That's the way it goes,'said the immortal president, 'ye do it easy if ye have to.

He reminded me in and out of Horace Greeley, although they looked no more alike than a hawk and a handsaw. But they had a like habit of forgetting themselves and of saying neither more nor less than they meant. They both had the strength of an ox and as little vanity. Mr Greeley used to say that no man could amount to anything who worried much about the fit of his trousers; neither of them ever encountered that obstacle.

Early next morning I took a train for home. I was in soldier clothes I had with me no others - and all in my car came to talk with me about the now famous battle of Bull Run.

The big platform atjersey City was crowded with many people as we got off the train. There were other returning soldiers - some with crutches, some with empty sleeves.

A band at the further end of the platform was playing and those near me were singing the familiar music,

'John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave.

Somebody shouted my name. Then there rose a cry of three cheers for Brower. It's some of the boys of the Tribune, I thought - I could see a number of them in the crowd. One brought me a basket of flowers. I thought they were trying to have fun with me.

'Thank you!'said I, 'but what is the joke?'

'No joke,'he said. 'It's to honour a hero.'

'Oh, you wish me to give it to somebody.'

I was warming with embarrassment

'We wish you to keep it,'he answered.

In accounts of the battle I had seen some notice of my leading a charge but my fame had gone farther - much farther indeed - than I knew. I stood a moment laughing - an odd sort of laugh it was that had in it the salt of tears - and waving my hand to the many who were now calling my name.

In the uproar of cheers and waving of handkerchiefs I could not find Uncle Eb for a moment. When I saw him in the breaking crowd he was cheering lustily and waving his hat above his head. His enthusiasm increased when I stood before him. As 1 was greeting him I heard a lively rustle of skirts. Two dainty, gloved hands laid hold of mine; a sweet voice spoke my name. There, beside me, stood the tall, erect figure of Hope. Our eyes met and, before there was any thinking of propriety, I had her in my arms and was kissing her and she was kissing me.

It thrilled me to see the splendour of her beauty that day; her eyes wet with feeling as they looked up at me; to feel again the trembling touch of her lips. In a moment I turned to Uncle Eb.

'Boy,'he said, 'I thought you'' and then he stopped and began brushing his coat sleeve.

'Come on now,'he added as he took my grip away from me. 'We re goin't'hey a gran'good time. I ll take ye all to a splendid tavern somewheres. An'I ain't goin'if count the cost nuther.

He was determined to carry my grip for me. Hope had a friend with her who was going north in the morning on our boat. We crossed the ferry and took a Broadway omnibus, while query followed query.

'Makes me feel like a flapjack t'ride 'n them things,'said Unde Eb as we got out.

He hired a parlour and two bedrooms for us all at the St Nicholas.

'Purty middlin'steep!'he said to me as we left the office. 'It is, sartin! but I don't care - not a bit. When folks has if hey a good time they ve got t'hey it.

We were soon seated in our little parlour. There was a great glow of health and beauty in Hope's face. It was a bit fuller but had nobler outlines and a colouring as delicate as ever. She wore a plain grey gown admirably fitted to her plump figure. There was a new and splendid 'dignity in her carriage, her big blue eyes, her nose with its little upward slant. She was now the well groomed young woman of society in the full glory of her youth.

Uncle Eb who sat between us pinched her cheek playfully. A little spot of white showed a moment where his fingers had been. Then the pink flooded over it.

'Never see a girl git such a smack as you did,'he said laughing.

'Well,'said she, snling, 'I guess I gave as good as I got.

'Served him right,'he said. 'You kissed back good 'n hard. Gran sport!'he added turning to me.

'Best I ever had,'was my humble acknowledgement.

'Seldom ever see a girl kissed so powerful,'he said as he took Hope hand in his. 'Now if the Bible said when a body kissed ye on one cheek ye mus'turn if other I wouldn t find no fault. But ther's a heap o differ nce 'tween a whack an'a smack.

When we had come back from dinner Uncle Lb drew off his boots and sat comfortably in his stocking feet while Hope told of her travels and I of my soldiering. She had been at the Conservatory, nearly the whole period of her absence, and hastened home when she learned of the battle and of my wound. She had landed two days before.

Hope's friend and Unde Lb went away to their rooms in good season. Then I came and sat beside Hope on the sofa.

'Let's have a good talk,'I said.

There was an awkward bit of silence.

'Well,'said she, her fan upon her lips, 'tell me more about the war.

'Tired of war,'I answered; 'love is a better subject.

She rose and walked up and down the room, a troubled look in her face. I thought I had never seen a woman who could carry her head so proudly.

'I don't thinkyou are very familiar with it,'said she presently.

'I ought to be,'I answered, 'having loved you all these years.

'But you told me that - that you loved another girl,'she said, her elbow leaning on the mantel, her eyes looking down soberly.

'When? Where?'I asked.

'In Mrs Fuller's parlour.'

'Hope,'I said, 'you misunderstood me; I meant you.

She came toward me, then, looking up into my eyes. I started to embrace her but she caught my hands and held them apart and came close to me.

'Did you say that you meant me?'she asked in a whisper.

'I did.'

'Why did you not tell me that night?

'Because you would not listen to me and we were interrupted.

'Well if I loved a girl,'she said, 'I d make her listen.'

'I would have done that but Mrs Fuller saved you.'

'You might have written,'she suggested in a tone of injury.

'I did.'

'And the letter never came - just as I feared.'

She looked very sober and thoughtful then.

'You know our understanding that day in the garden,'she added. 'If you did not ask me again I was to know you - you did not love me any longer. That was long, long ago.

'I never loved any girl but you,'I said. 'I love you now, Hope, and that is enough - I love you so there is nothing else for me. You are dearer than my life. It was the thought of you that made me brave in battle. I wish I could be as brave here. But I demand your surrender - I shall give you no quarter now.

'I wish I knew,'she said, 'whether - whether you really love me or not?

'Don't you believe me, Hope?

'Yes, I believe you,'she said, 'but - but you might not know your own heart.

'It longs for you,'I said, 'it keeps me thinking of you always. Once it was so easy to be happy; since you have been away it has seemed as if there were no longer any light in the world or any pleasure. It has made me a slave. I did not know that love was such a mighty thing.

'Love is no Cupid - he is a giant,'she said, her voice trembling with emotion as mine had trembled. 'I tried to forget and he crushed me under his feet as if to punish me.

She was near to crying now, but she shut her lips firmly and kept back the tears. God grant me I may never forget the look in her eyes that moment. She came closer to me. Our lips touched; my arms held her tightly.

'I have waited long for this,'I said - 'the happiest moment of my lif& I thought! had lost you.

'What a foolish man,'she whispered. 'I have loved you for years and years and you - you could not see it. I believe now''

She hesitated a moment, her eyes so close to my cheek I could feel the beat of their long lashes.

'That God made you for me,'she added.

'Love is God's helper,'I said. 'He made us for each other.

'I thank Him for it - I do love you so,'she whispered.

The rest is the old, old story. They that have not lived it are to be pitied.

When we sat down at length she told me what I had long suspected, that Mrs Fuller wished her to marry young Livingstone.

'But for Unde Eb,'she added, 'I think I should have done so - for I had given up all hope of you.

'Good old Uncle Eb!'I said. 'Let's go and tell him.

He was sound asleep when we entered his room but woke as I lit the gas.

'What's the matter?'he whispered, lifting his head.

'Congratulate us,'I said. 'We re engaged.

'Hey ye conquered her?'he enquired smiling.

'Love has conquered us both,'I said.

'Wall, I swan! is thet so?'he answered. 'Guess I won't fool away any more time here n bed. If you childem ll go in t'other room I ll slip into my trousers an'then ye ll hear me talk some conversation.

'Beats the world!'he continued, coming in presently, buttoning his suspenders. 'I thought mos'likely ye d hitch up t gether sometime. 'Tain't often ye can find a pair s'well matched. The same style an gaited jest about alike. When ye goin't'git married?

'She hasn t named the day,'I said.

'Sooner the better,'said JJncle Eb as he drew on his coat and sat down. 'Used if be so t'when a young couple hed set up n held each other's han's a few nights they was ready fer the minister. Wish t ye could lix it fer 'bout Crissmus time, by jingo! They's other things goin'if happen then.'s pose yer s'happy now ye can stan'a little bad news. I've got if tell ye - David's been losin'money. Hain t never wrote ye 'bout it - not a word - 'cause I didn t know how 'twas comin'out.

'How did he lose it?'I enquired.

'Wall ye know that Ow Barker - runs a hardware store in Migleyville - he sold him a patent right. Figgered an'argued night an'day fer more n three weeks. It was a new fangled wash biler. David he thought he see a chance if put out agents an'make a great deal o'money. It did look jest as easy as slidin'downhill but when we come slide - wall, we found out we was at the bottom o the hill 'stid o'the top an'it wan t reel good slidin . He paid five thousan'dollars fer the right o'ten counties. Then bym bye Barker he wanted him t'go security fer fifteen hunderd bilers thet he was hevin'made. I to!'David he hedn t better go in no deeper but Barker, he promised big things an'seemed if be sech a nice man 'at fln ly David he up 'n done it. Wall he's hed 'em t'pay fer an'the fact is it costs s'much if sell 'em it eats up all the profits.

'Looks like a swindle,'I said indignantly.

'No,'said Uncle El, "tain't no swindle. Barker thought he hed a gran'good thing. He got fooled an'the fool complaint is very ketchin . Got it myself years ago an'I've been doctorin'fer it ever sence.

The story of David's undoing hurt us sorely. He had gone the way of most men who left the farm late in life with unsatisfied ambition.

'They shall never want for anything, so long as I have my health,'I said.

'I have four hundred dollars in the bank,'said Hope, 'and shall give them every cent of it.

'Tam'nuthin'if worry over,'said Uncle Eb. 'If I don'never lose more n a little money I shan t feel terrible bad. We re all young yit. Got more n a million dollars wuth o'good health right here 'n this room. So well, I m 'shamed uv it! Man's more decent if he's a leetle bit sickly. An'thet there girl Bill's agreed t'marry ye! Why! 'Druther hey her 'n this hull cityo'New York.

'So had I,'was my answer.

'Wall, you am'no luckier 'n she is - not a bit,'he added. 'A good man's better 'n a gol'mine ev ry time.

'Who knows,'said Hope. 'He may be president someday.

'Ther's one thing I hate,'Uncle El continued. 'That's the idee o hevin'the woodshed an'barn an'garret full o'them infernal wash bilers. Ye can't take no decent care uv a hoss there 'n the stable' they re so piled up. One uv 'em tumbled down top o'me t other day. 'Druther 'twould a been a panther. Made me s'mad I took a club an'knocked that biler into a cocked hat. 'Tain't right! I m sick o'the sight uv 'em.

'They ll make a good bonfire someday,'said Hope.

'Don't believe they d burn,'he answered sorrowfully, 'they re tin.

'Couldn't we bury 'em?'I suggested.

'Be a purty costly funeral,'he answered thoughtfully. 'Ye d hey if dig a hole deeper n Tupper's dingle.

'Couldn't you give them away?'I enquired.

'Wall,'said he, helping himself to a chew of tobacco, 'we ve tried thet. Gin 'em t'everybody we know but there ain't folks enough' there's such a slew o'them bilers. We could give one if ev ry man, woman an'child in Faraway an'hex enough left t'fill an acre lot. Dan Perry druv in t other day with a double buggy. We gin him one fer his own fam ly. It was heavy t'carry an'he didn t seem t like the looks uv it someway. Then I asked him if he wouldn t like one fer his girl. "She ain't married," says he. "She will be some time," says I, "take it along," so he put in another. "You ve got a sister over on the turnpike hain't ye?" says I. "Yes," says he. "Wall," I says, "don'want a hex her feel slighted." "She won't know 'bout my hevin''em," says he, lookin''s if he d hed enough. "Yis she will," I says, 'she ll hear uv it an'mebbe make a fuss." Then we piled in another. "Look here," I says after that, "there s yer brother Bill up there 'bove you. Take one along fer him." "No," says he, "I don'tell ev ry body, but Bill an'I ain't on good terms. We ain't spoke fer more n a year."

'Knew he was lyin ,'Uncle Eb added with a laugh, 'I d seen him talkin'with Bill a day er two before.

'Whew!'he whistled as he looked at his big silver watch. 'I declare it's mos'one o clock They's jes'one other piece o'business if come before this meetin . Double or single, want ye if both promise me t'be. hum Crissmus.

We promised.

'Now childern,'said he.''S time if go if bed. B lieve ye d stan there swappin'kisses 'till ye was knee sprung if I didn t tell yet quit.

Hope came and put her arms about his neck, fondly, and kissed him good-night.

'Did Bill prance right up like a man?'he asked, his hand upon her shoulder.

'Did very well,'said she, smiling, 'for a man with a wooden leg.

Unde Eb sank into a chair, laughing heartily, and pounding his knee. It seemed he had told her that I was coming home with a wooden leg! 'That is the reason I held your arm,'she said. 'I was expecting to hear it squeak every moment as we left the depot. But when I saw that you walked so naturally I knew Uncle Eb had been trying to fool me.

'Purty good sort uv a lover, ain't he?'said he after we were done laughing.

'He wouldn t take no for an answer,'she answered.

'He was aiwuss a gritty cuss,'said Uncle Eb, wiping his eyes with a big red handkerchief as he rose to go. 'Ye d oughter be mighty happy an'ye will, too - their am'no doubt uv it - not a bit. Trouble with most young folks is they wan'if fly tew high, these days. If they d only fly clus enough t'the ground so the could aiwuss touch one foot, they d be all right. Glad ye ain't thet kind.

We were off early on the boat - as fine a summer morning as ever dawned. What with the grandeur of the scenery and the sublimity of our happiness it was a delightful journey we had that day. I felt the peace and beauty of the fields, the majesty of the mirrored cliffs and mountains, but the fair face of her I loved was enough for me. Most of the day Uncle Eb sat near us and I remember a woman evangelist came and took a seat beside him, awhile, talking volubly of the scene.

'My friend,'said she presently, 'are you a Christian?

''Fore I answer I ll hex if tell ye a story,'said Uncle Eb. 'I recollec a man by the name o'Ranney over n Vermont - he was a pious man. Got into an argyment an'a feller slapped him in the face. Ranney turned t other side an'then t other an'the feller kep'a slappin'hot 'n heavy. It was jes'like strappin'a razor fer haifa minnit. Then Ranney sailed in - gin him the wust lickin'he ever hed.

'"I declare," says another man, after 'twas all over, "I thought you was a Christian."

"Am up to a cert in p int," says he. "Can't go tew fur not 'n these parts - men are tew powerful. 'Twon't do 'less ye wan'if die sudden. When he begun poundin'uv me I see I wan t eggzac ly prepared."

''Fraid 's a good deal thet way with most uv us. We re Christians up to a cert in p int. Fer one thing, I think if a rnan ll stan'still an'see himself knocked into the nex'world he's a leetle tew good fer this.

The good lady began to preach and argue. For an hour Uncle Eb sat listening unable to get in a word. When, at last, she left him he came to us a look of relief in his face.

'I b'lieve,'said he, 'if Balaam's ass hed been rode by a woman he never 'd hey spoke.

'Why not?'I enquired.

'Never'd hey hed a chance,'Unde Eb added.

We were two weeks at home with mother and father and Uncle Eb. It was a delightful season of rest in which Hope and I went over the sloping roads of Faraway and walked in the fields and saw the harvesting. She had appointed Christmas Day for our wedding and I was not to go again to the war, for now my first duty was to my own people. If God prospered me they were all to come to live with us in town and, though slow to promise, I could see it gave them comfort to know we were to be for them ever a staff and refuge.

And the evening before we came back to townJed Feary was with us and Uncle Eb played his flute and sang the songs that had been the delight of our childhood.

The old poet read these lines written in memory of old times in Faraway and of Hope's girlhood.

'The red was in the clover an'the blue was in the sky: There was music in the meadow, there was dancing in the rye; An'I heard a voice a calling to the flocks o'Faraway An'its echo in the wooded hills - Co'day! Go'day! Go'day!

O fair was she - my lady love - an'lithe as the willow tree, An'aye my heart remembers well her parting words t'me. An'I was sad as a beggar-man but she was blithe an'gay An'I think o'her as I call the flocks Go'day! Go'day! Go'day!

Her cheeks they stole the dover's red, her lips the odoured air, An'the glow o'the morning sunlight she took away in her hair; Her voice had the meadow music, her form an'her laughing eye Have taken the blue o'the heavens an'the grace o'the bending rye.

My love has robbed the summer day - the field, the sky, the dell, She has taken their treasures with her, she has taken my heart as well; An'if ever, in the further fields, her feet should go astray May she hear the good God calling her Co'day! Go'day! Go'day!