Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 44
Nehemiah, whom I had known as John Trumbull, sat a long time between his father and mother, holding a hand of each, and talking in a low tone, while Hope and I were in the kitchen with Uncle Eb. Now that father and son were side by side we saw how like they were and wondered we bad never guessed the truth.
'Do you remember?'said Nehemiah, when we returned. 'Do you remember when you were a little boy, coming one night to the old log house on Bowman's Hill with Uncle Eb?
'I remember it very well,'I answered.
'That was the first time I ever saw you,'he said.
'Why'you are not the night man?'
'I was the night man,'he answered.
I stared at him with something of the old, familiar thrill that had always come at the mention of him years agone.
'He's grown a leetle since then,'said Uncle Eb.
'I thought so the night I carried him off the field at Bull Run,'said Nehemiah.
'Was that you?'I asked eagerly.
'It was,'he answered. 'I came over from Washington that afternoon. Your colonel told me you had been wounded.
'Wondered who you were, but I could not get you to answer. I have to thank you for my life.
Hope put her arms about his neck and kissed him.
'Tell us,'said she, 'how you came to be the night man. '
He folded his arms and looked down and began his story.
'Years ago I had a great misfortune. I was a mere boy at the time. By accident I killed another boy in play. It was an old gun we were playing with and nobody knew it was loaded. I had often quarrelled with the other boy - that is why they thought I had done it on purpose. There was a dance that night. I had got up in the evening, crawled out of the window and stolen away. We were in Rickard's stable. I remember how the people ran out with lanterns. They would have hung me - some of them - or given me the blue beech, if a boy friend had not hurried me away. It was a terrible hour. I was stunned; I could say nothing. They drove me to the 'Burg, the boy's father chasing us. I got over into Canada, walked to Montreal and there went to sea. It was foolish, I know, but I was only a boy of fifteen. I took another name; I began a new life. Nehemiah Brower was like one dead. In 'Frisco I saw Ben Gilman. He had been a school mate in Faraway. He put his hand on my shoulder and called me the old name. It was hard to deny it - the hardest thing I ever did. I was homesick; I wanted to ask him about my mother and father and my sister, who was a baby when I left. I would have given my life to talk with him. But I shook my head.
'"No," I said, "my name is not Brower. You are mistaken."
'Then I walked away and Nemy Brower stayed in his grave.
'Well, two years later we were cruising from Sidney to Van Dieman's Land. One night there came a big storm. A shipmate was washed away in the dark. We never saw him again. They found a letter in his box that said his real name was Nehemiah Brower, son of David Brower, of Faraway, NY, USA. I put it there, of course, and the captain wrote a letter to my father about the death of his son. My old self was near done for and the man Trumbull had a new lease of life. You see in my madness I had convicted and executed myself.
He paused a moment. His mother put her hand upon his shoulder with a word of gentle sympathy. Then he went on.
'Well, six years after I had gone away, one evening in midsummer, we came into the harbour of Quebec. I had been long in the southern seas. When I went ashore, on a day's leave, and wandered off in the fields and got the smell of the north, I went out of my head - went crazy for a look at the hills o'Faraway and my own people. Nothing could stop me then. I drew my pay, packed my things in a bag and off I went. Left the 'Burg afoot the day after; got to Faraway in the evening. It was beautiful - the scent o'the new hay that stood in cocks and wnrows on the hill - the noise o'the crickets -'the smell o'the grain - the old house, just as I remembered them; just as I had dreamed of them a thousand times. And - when I went by the gate Bony - my old dog - came out and barked at - me and I spoke to him and he knew me and came and licked my hands, rubbing upon my leg. I sat down with him there by the stone wall and - the kiss of that old dog - the first token of love I had known for years' called back the dead and all that had been his. I put my arms about his - neck and was near crying out with joy.
'Then I stole up to the house and looked in at a window. There sat father, at a table, reading his paper; and a little girl was on her knees by mother saying her prayers. He stopped a moment, covering his eyes with his handkerchief.
'That was Hope,'I whispered.
'That was Hope,'he went on. 'All the king's oxen could not have dragged me out of Faraway then. Late at night I went off into the woods. The old dog followed to stay with me until he died. If it had not been for him I should have been hopeless. I had with me enough to eat for a time. We found a cave in a big ledge over back of Bull Pond. Its mouth was covered with briars. It had a big room and a stream of cold water trickling through a crevice. I made it my home and a fine place it was - cool in summer and warm in winter. I caught a cub panther that fall and a baby coon. They grew up with me there and were the only friends I had after Bony, except Uncle Eb.
'Uncle Eb!'I exclaimed.
'You know how I met him,'he continued. 'Well, he won my confidence. I told him my history. I came into the clearing almost every night. Met him often. He tried to persuade me to come back to my people, but I could not do it. I was insane; I feared something - I did not know what. Sometimes I doubted even my own identity. Many a summer night I sat talking for hours, with Uncle Eb, at the foot of Lone Pine. O, he was like a father to me! God knows what I should have done without him. Well, I stuck to my life, or rather to my death, O - there in the woods - getting fish out of the brooks and game out of the forest, and milk out of the cows in the pasture. Sometimes I went through the woods to the store at Tifton for flour and pork. One night Uncle Eb told me if I would go out among men to try my hand at some sort of business he would start me with a thousand dollars. Well, I did - it. I had also a hundred dollars of my own. I came through the woods afoot. Bought fashionable clothing at Utica, and came to the big city' you know the rest. Among men my fear has left me, so I wonder at it. I am a debtor to love - the love of Uncle Eb and that of a noble woman I shall soon marry. It has made me whole and brought me back to my own people.
'And everybody knew he was innocent the day after he left,'said David.
'Three cheers for Uncle Eb!'I demanded.
And we gave them.
'1 declare!'said he. 'In all my born days never see sech fun. It's tree-menjious! I tell ye. Them 'et takes care uv others ll be took care uv - 'less they do it o'purpose.
And when the rest of us had gone to bed Uncle Eb sat awhile by the fire with David. Late at night he came upstairs with his candle. He came over to my bed on tiptoe to see if I were awake, holding the candle above my head. I was worn out and did not open my eyes. He sat down snickering.
'Tell ye one thing, Dave Brower,'he whispered to himself as he drew off his boots, 'when some folks calls ye a fool 's a purty good sign ye ain't.