Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 45

Chapter 45

Since that day I have seen much coming and going.

We are now the old folks - Margaret and Nehemiah and Hope and I. Those others, with their rugged strength, their simple ways, their undying youth, are of the past. The young folks - they are a new kind of people. It gives us comfort to think they will never have to sing in choirs or 'pound the rock'for board money; but I know it is the worse luck for them. They are a fine lot of young men and women - comely and well-mannered - but they will not be the pathfinders of the future. What with balls and dinners and clubs and theatres, they find too great a solace in the rear rank.

Nearly twenty years after that memorable Christmas, coming from Buffalo to New York one summer morning, my thoughts went astray in the north country. The familiar faces, the old scenes came trooping by and that very day I saw the sun set in Hillsborough as I had often those late years.

Mother was living in the old home, alone, with a daughter of Grandma Bisnette. It was her wish to live and die under that roof. She cooked me a fine supper, with her own hands, and a great anxiety to please me.

'Come Willie!'said she, as if I were a small boy again, 'you fill the woodbox an'I ll git supper ready. Lucindy, you clear out,'she said to the hired girl, good-naturedly. 'You dunno how t'cook for him.

I filled the woodbox and brought a pail of water and while she was frying the ham and eggs read to her part of a speech I had made in Congress. Before thousands I had never felt more elation. At last I was sure of winning her applause. The little bent figure stood, thoughtfully, turning the ham and eggs. She put the spider aside, to stand near me, her hands upon her hips. There was a mighty pride in her face when I had finished.

I rose and she went and looked out of the window.

'Grand!'she murmured, wiping her eyes with the corner of her handkerchief.

'Glad you like it,'I said, with great satisfaction.

'O, the speech!'she answered, her elbow resting on the windowr sash, her hand supporting her head. 'I liked it very well - but - but I was thinking of the sunset. How beautiful it is.

I was weary after my day of travel and went early to bed there in my old room. I left her finishing a pair of socks she had been knitting for me. Lying in bed, I could hear the creak of her chair and the low sung, familiar words:

'On the other side of Jordan, In the sweet fields of Eden, Where the tree of life is blooming, There is rest for you.

Late at rnght she came into my room with a candle. I heard her come softly to the bed where she stood a moment leaning over me. Then she drew the quilt about my shoulder with a gentle hand.

'Poor little orphan!'said she, in a whisper that trembled. She was thinking of my childhood - of her own happier days.

Then she went away and I heard, in the silence, a ripple of measureless waters.

Next morning I took flowers and strewed them on the graves of David and Uncle Eb; there, Hope and I go often to sit for half a summer day above those perished forms, and think of the old time and of those last words of my venerable friend now graven on his tombstone:

I AIN'T AFRAID. 'SHAMED O'NUTHIN'I EVER DONE. ALWUSS KEP'MY TUGS TIGHT, NEVER SWORE 'LESS 'TWAS NECESSARY, NEVER KETCHED A FISH BIGGER 'N 'TWAS ER LIED 'N A HOSS TRADE ER SHED A TEAR I DIDN'T HEV TO. NEVER CHEATED ANYBODY BUT EBEN HOLDEN. GOIN'OFF SOMEWHERES, BILL DUNNO THE WAY NUTHER DUNNO 'F IT'S EAST ER WEST ER NORTH ER SOUTH, ER ROAD ER TRAIL; BUT I AIN'T AFRAID.