I HELD the gate wide open, and David, without casting a glance at me or recognizing my existence, drove the tired team into the barnyard. But father, coming close behind, took my hand in his, and with a smile that went straight to my heart, said, "Well, Robert, has thee been a good boy while I was away?"
I made no answer, for I knew that none was expected; and side by side, we walked around to the cabin door.
Mother was on the hearth, heaping some hot coals on the
oven wherein a corn pone was baking, and she knew
father's step as he entered. Trying hard to suppress
any unseemly show of emotion, she looked up and quietly
remarked, "Well, Stephen, we didn't expect thee home
"Sakes alive!" she cried, panting and making as if she would shamelessly throw her arms right around father's stalwart form, "Gracious' sake! Has thee been all the way to Larnceburg and back so quick as this?"
Father answered her with becoming dignity and reserve:
"It is quite natural for all of you to be surprised,
for we told you not to look for us till
"I hope thee didn't have no back luck," said Aunt Rachel, knocking the ashes from her pipe.
"Luck had nothing to do with it," replied father; "but circumstances made it necessary for us to hurry home a day or two sooner than the rest of the men; and so here we are. That's all."
"Well, I'd like to know!" said mother, her curiosity getting the better of her sense of propriety. "Thee certainly hain't been getting' into trouble with any of them circumstances?"
Father made no reply, but began to brush the dust from his big beaver hat, thus plainly indicating that no further information need be expected until he chose to give it.
Curious to see what they had brought from the 'Hio, no less than to learn why they had come home so hurriedly, I ran out to the barn where I found both David and Jonathan busy putting away the horses. The wagon was standing just outside the barn door, and I peeped over the tail-board to see what was in it. To my great satisfaction I saw there a huge sugar kettle reposing upside down on a large pile of straw which seemed recently to have been much disarranged. The kettle was so big that it filled all the space between the straw and the wagon cover, completely shutting out the view toward the front. In fact, from my view-point on the tail-board, there seemed to be but little room in the vehicle for anything else.
As I was looking and wondering whether I might not go round and peep under the driver's seat, I was suddenly startled by hearing David's gruff voice crying out, "Git away from there, thee Towhead, thee! If thee wants to see the marvels I fetched thee, climb up in the mow and throw down some hay for the horses."
He had not forgotten his promise of the marbles, then! So, although I didn't relish the manner of his speaking, I jumped down and ran into the barn to do his bidding; but, as I was entering the door, he called after me again more gruffly than before, "Don't thee look in the grainery when thee goes past it!"
What did he mean by that?
Filled with a new curiosity, I made no reply, but went somewhat sulkily across the barn floor to the ladder which led up into the haymow. As I passed by the little room or bin which we called the "grainery," how could I help turning my eyes in that direction? To my great surprise, I saw the door of the bin softly turning upon its hinges and closing, as though moved by some unseen hand. A shiver of cold fright ran through me, I bounded quickly past it, and in another moment was safely up the ladder and in the haymow. Trembling with excitement, I threw some hay down to the horses, as I had been bidden, and then bethought me of returning to the wagon. But there was that granary door and the mysterious thing, whatever it was, that had caused it to move on its hinges. Could I dare to pass near it again? And yet there was no other way by which I could escape from the barn.
For several minutes I tarried at the top of the ladder trying to screw my courage up to the sticking point. Then, with a great lump in my throat, and the shivers running up my back, I boldly scampered down and out of the barn as though the Old Feller was really after me; and not one glance did I dare to cast toward the mysterious granary door.
Once again in the open air, my courage revived, and I resolved not to say a word to any one about my adventure. The boys had already removed the canvas cover and the wagon bows, and were now lifting out the ponderous sugar kettle.
"It's a mighty roomy pot," remarked Jonathan.
"Yes," answered David. "It's the biggest one ever seen in the 'Hio Country. I reckon it won't hold nary pint less'n three barrel."
"It's just what we'll need at sugar makin' time to bile the sap in," said Jonathan; "and mother, she'll like it when it comes to makin' soap."
As they were setting it down on the ground I looked at the place it had occupied in the wagon and saw to my surprise that it had not been resting on the hay, as appearances indicated, but upon two cross pieces of wood which extended between the sides of the wagon bed; and in the straw immediately beneath it, there was a cavity, shaped like a hen's nest, which was fully large enough to accommodate the body of a man.
"I wonder what was in that hole," I said innocently, half speaking to myself; but David heard me.
"Thee jist mind thy own business, thee little Towhead, thee!" he cried out with warmth. "If thee knows when thee's well off, thee won't be a-stickin' thy nose where it don't belong."
Fearing to anger him and thus postpone the gift of marbles, I held my peace and stood silently by while the unloading of the wagon was continued. A barrel of salt was lifted out and rolled across the yard to be stored in the weavin'-room. Then from under the driver's seat, Jonathan abstracted a variety of useful articles—an ox chain, a heavy ax, an iron wedge and a plowshare. Last of all, he lifted out the big green willow basket full of packages of all shapes and sizes, each wrapped with brown paper and tied with home-twisted twine.
"Let's tote this thing to the house jist as it is," said David. "Then father, he can undo the bundles like he always does and tell us whose is whose."
"All right!" answered Jonathan: "but I'd e'enamost like to undo two or three of 'em myself."
And so, each taking hold of a side, they carried the heavy basket into the cabin; and I, my curiosity whetted to the edge, followed them silently and saw it deposited in the corner by the cupboard. I wondered whether among all those packages there was not something for me, and my mind dwelt particularly upon the ginseng roots that I had sent to the 'Hio and the fabulous returns that I had taught myself to expect from them.
The table was spread for the evening meal. From the steaming pots and kettles in front of the fireplace savory odors rose that tickled the palate and roused the dormant appetite.
"Is supper ready?" queried David. "I'm e'enamost hungry enough to eat the tater pot, lid and all."
"Thee'll have to chaw thy thumb a little bit," said bustling Mandy Jane. "The sweet taters ain't quite biled enough yet; but 'twon't be long."
Father, having exchanged his meetin' clothes for the more serviceable garb of every-day wear, was sitting under the bookcase and engaged in earnest talk with mother. I wondered what it was about, and dismissing all further thoughts of the packages and of supper, I edged my way very quietly toward that part of the room and stood listening.
"It happened this way," I heard him say. "We had sold the wheat and the wool and were driving along the street toward the store, when I heard somebody call me by name. I looked around, and who does thee think it was if it wasn't Levi Coffin? He told me that he had just come down from Sin Snatty, and that there was a black man hiding in one of the stores near by who needed help. He told me that the man was a runaway from Kentucky and that his master had terribly whipped and abused him. 'We must send him on to Canada as quick as we can,' Levi said. 'If his master finds him and takes him back, I've no doubt but what he'll flog him to death!' I told Levi that I hoped he would be able to get the slave into some safe place before his master crossed the river. And then he said that to do this he must have my help and have it right away. Wouldn't I take him in our wagon and start north with him that very night? Wouldn't I see that he got as far as to Hezekiah Jones's in the Wild Cat Settlement, just as quick as he could be carried? I told him that we were not aiming to start back for at least a couple of days, and I wanted to buy a number of things to take home with me; and besides, I told him that there was a good deal of risk and danger when it comes to helping a slave to escape from his master.
"And I should think that that would have convinced him," said mother.
"Yes, but it didn't," said father. "He only insisted all the more, and he wouldn't listen to any excuses. 'Thee'll be doing the Lord a service,' he said; and he pressed me harder and harder, and quoted Scripture to me. And at last he said that he would go around to the stores with me, right away, and help me buy the things that I needed to take home. What should I have done?"
"Thee should have done as thy conscience told thee to do," answered mother decisively.
"And that is what I did do," said father. "I could not feel free to turn a deaf ear to Levi's entreaties; nor could I bear the thought of allowing the poor black man to be seized and dragged back into slavery. So we hurried with all the speed that we could and were ready to start home before daylight the next morning."
"And what did Joel Sparker and Enoch and the rest of 'em say about it?"
"We came off quietly without telling them anything at all. For it is safest not to have too much help when it comes to keeping a secret. We didn't tell any of them but Levi T.; and he promised that he would make excuses for us when the right time came."
"And what about that there black man?" inquired Cousin Mandy Jane, busily fishing the steaming potatoes from the pot.
"Oh, we had him along with us. We hid him in the straw under the big sugar kettle and hardly let him stir till we were safe out of the 'Hio Country; and every time we met anybody on the road we made the poor fellow dodge back into his hole. He's a pitiable suffering creature, with gashes all over him where the whip cut him and the dogs tore him."
"Sakes alive!" cried Mandy Jane.
"But what did thee do with him?" inquired mother. "Where is he now?"
Father turned sharply to David, "Did thee do as I directed thee?"
"Yes, father, I put the tarnal critter in the grainery, and I told him not to peek his nose out of it till after dark."
"And we made him a bed of oats straw," added Jonathan. "He's about the miserablest-lookin' gob of a two-legged human that I ever set my eyes on."
"Pore fellow!" said mother; "and he must be hungry too."
"Why not fetch him up to the house and let him set down to supper with the rest of us?" suggested Cousin Mandy Jane.
"I don't think he would feel free to mingle with white people in that way," said father. "There might also be some danger to him in doing so; for the slave hunters may be closer to us than we are aware."
"It will be better to carry him something," said mother; "and we'll do that right now. He shall have his supper before the rest of us taste a bite."
She had already begun to fill a large wooden platter with food from the various sources at hand; boiled bacon and beans, sweet potatoes, stewed pumpkin, hot corn dodgers, and sweet roas'n'-ears; and to these she added a generous slice of white wheaten bread covered thick with fresh apple butter of her own making.
"That's more'n I've eat in a week," said Jonathan, and his pinched pale features confirmed the truth of his words.
"But that there tarnal black feller, he'll lick it all up at one settin' and then grunt for more," said David, who had already some knowledge of the gustatory powers of the fugitive.
"Supper's ready!" announced Cousin Mandy Jane.
"We must not sit down until we've given the black man his share," said father. "Our own food will taste the better if we know that his wants have been satisfied." Then, taking the well-filled platter in his hands, he turned to me and said softly, "Come, Robert, thee may fetch that pitcher of milk with thee, for him to drink."
And so, with the food and the pitcher of milk, we sallied forth to the barn to feed our humble guest; and close behind us came mother and Mandy Jane and half reluctant Jonathan. But Aunt Rachel composedly remained in the chimney corner, manifesting no curiosity. "I've seen a many of them fellers down South," she muttered, "and they don't have no attractions." And David, unable to control his appetite longer, sat himself down alone at the table and began to devour whatever food was nearest at hand.
Father pushed open the door of the granary and called out, "Samuel, is thee there? Here is a bite of something for thee to eat. Don't be afraid, for thee's among friends."
There was a rustling lumbering sound within, and presently the fugitive, covered with cobwebs, emerged from the darkness. If the black man whom I had seen at Widder Bright's was ugly, this one was truly hideous. He was a small man, hunchbacked, misshapen cowering like a much mistreated dog. The Old Feller himself could not have presented a more forbidding appearance; and yet the sight of him was pitiful, a great scar on his forehead, his left arm hanging useless, his clothes in tatters. Sympathy for his misfortunes immediately overcame the fear which his beastly appearance had engendered. We could not withhold from him the generous pity that would have been accorded to any brute in a similar state of helplessness and distress.
Mother came quickly and boldly forward and, in that gentle tone of which she was so accomplished a mistress, said, "How's thee, Samuel? I'm right glad to see thee."
The fellow looked dumbly at her and made no motion to touch the hand which she proffered. Then ducking his head—but whether for politeness or for the lack of it, I know not—he grunted, "Ugh!" and turned toward the rest of our company.
"We have brought thy supper to thee," said father.
Samuel grunted again, and snatching the platter from father's hands, he began immediately to devour the tempting food. "Good! good!" he grunted, and then paid no further heed to our presence. With strange conflicting emotions, I went timidly forward and set the pitcher of milk within his reach. I had expected to see a hero, and had found a brute.
"We hope thee will enjoy it," said mother.
"Ugh! ugh!" he answered; and his great mouth distended with food, he shuffled back into the dark privacy of his lodging-place.
"We won't disturb him any longer," said father; and with feelings of mingled disappointment, resentment and pity, we returned silently to the house and our waiting supper table.
"My sakes alive!" said Cousin Mandy Jane in a half whisper; "ain't he an ugly critter?"
"God made him," answered mother piously.
And David, having gorged himself during our absence, looked up from his empty plate and wickedly added, "And it's my 'pinion He done a mighty pore job of it."
The remark was so unusual, and withal so irreverent and unnecessary, that it temporarily dispelled our enjoyment and threw me into a state of apprehension that disturbed me not a little. I felt that if the lightning should suddenly destroy our dwelling, or a flood overwhelm the entire Settlement, we should only be experiencing the just vengeance of an angry Jehovah.
"David, I am sorry that thee should be so frivolous as to speak in that manner," was father's mild reproof.
And the supper was eaten in silence.
Nevertheless, when the table was cleared, the dishes were washed, and all the family assembled by the hearth, our spirits revived and we were ourselves again. Night had fallen; but out-of-doors the moon was beaming, and indoors the fire blazed brightly, being judiciously fed with pieces of oily hickory bark that had been stored up for such occasions. The green willow basket was dragged out into the middle of the floor, and all of us, save David—impulsive David—stood round it, expectant, curious, anxious to witness the unpacking.
Father, trying very hard to be patriarchal and dignified, and illy concealing the pride and joy that would well up from his heart, sat down beside the basket and unwrapped the various packages, one by one. Of course, most of the articles were for the womenfolks; a pair of store shoes and a roll of pink calico to be made into a First-day meetin' dress for Cousin Mandy Jane; a yard of gingham for Aunt Rachel; some narrow dove-colored ribbons for mother's new bonnet (which she was making at odd spells); a paper of needles and three spools of thread; a brass thimble; a tin coffee-pot to replace our old one that was clean rusted through at the bottom. After these, came a variety of articles for table consumption and general household use. Among them were two pounds of real coffee in the grain; a bag of rice; little packages of allspice and black pepper for seasonings—and a small quantity of saleratus, all bought with eggs and cheeses that mother had sent to the market. As each package was given out, it was duly inspected by all the family, its price was noted, and comments were made in anticipation of the pleasure that it would give us; and then it was put away in its place—be that the cupboard, the table drawer, the hair trunk under Aunt Rachel's bed, or the mantel-shelf in the big-house. My vanity found encouragement in contemplating the vast amount of money that must have been required to purchase such things.
"Father, is thee sure that these are all free-labor goods?" asked mother while yet the basket was by no means empty.
"Well, I bought nothing until I had made careful inquiries," he answered cautiously. "But there are some things that are raised only in the South and are therefore produced by slave labor. While we are called upon to bear a testimony against the use of slave-labor goods, I don't think that we should deny ourselves of such necessary articles as rice and coffee just because colored men have labored to make them grow."
"Specially not the rice," interjected Aunt Rachel. "It's so nice, when company comes, to have a dishful of it, all softened with butter and cream!"
"That's so," said mother. "Rice is comfortin' to the well and healin' of the sick; and I feel free in my mind to use it without askin' who made it. But I have some doubts about the coffee."
"Yes," muttered Aunt Rachel, "I could never take a drap of it without thinkin' of the pore slaves that toiled so hard to raise it."
"Well, if thee has scruples against it, it's best for thee not to drink it," said father.
"I guess we can git along pretty well with spicewood tea and a little sassafras," said mother; and turning to Cousin Mandy Jane she bade her put the package of coffee "clean out of sight at the back of the top shelf. If we don't see it, we won't be tempted to want it."
"Thee may be right, Deborah," said father in a tone of regret, "but thee knows that we ain't so strict in this matter as our anti-slavery friends are."
"Anti friends or no anti friends," retorted mother somewhat briskly, "it's our bounden duty to bear a testimony ag'inst slavery."
Father made no reply, but turned again to the willow basket and the few packages that still remained unopened.
"Here, Aunt Rachel, here's thy goods," and he handed her a long twist of green smoking tobacco, a new clay pipe, a set of knitting needles and a spool of thread. "I think the tobacco is slave labor, for it was grown in Kentucky; but if thee feels free to use it, I have nothing to say."
"If it's good tobacker I don't keer what labor it is," she replied, taking the weed eagerly from his hands and beginning to fill the new pipe. "But I thought maybe there might be something a-comin' to me."
"There is," said father. "I sold thy stockings for five levies in cash. The tobacco cost two levies; the pipe cost a fip, and the thread and needles a levy. How much change is coming to thee?"
I knew that Aunt Rachel was not quick at figures, nor indeed very accurate, and so I prompted her by whispering, "Eighteen cents and three-quarters."
"That's right," said father, overhearing us; "and here it is," and he handed her three much-battered silver fips, each valued at six and a quarter cents.
"I'd like to know when my turn's goin' to come," remarked Jonathan, whiningly because of the fever'n'agur, and unable to control his impatience.
"Thee may have thy turn right now," answered father. "Thy share of the wood amounted to a dollar and a half; and here it is. And since thee was so good as to stay at home and take care of things, I have brought thee a present of a Barlow knife which I know thee sometimes needs."
Jonathan's face beamed with intense satisfaction as the money was laid in his open palm. "That's so much more toward the forty-acre piece," he whispered to Cousin Mandy Jane. "And the knife will come in handy in more ways than one."
"And I have something else for thee," said father. "I happened to meet a doctor in Larnceburg—his name was Doctor Bunsen—and he was asking very particularly about this Settlement, for he has some mind to come and locate in these parts. He asked if there was much sickness up this way, and I told him that about the only trouble we ever had was with the fever'n'agur. 'Oh,' he said, 'that's what we call the Wabash shakes.' And he asked if any of our family was troubled with it. I told him that we had all been down with it more or less, and that I supposed likely thee was shaking with it at that moment. 'Well,' he said, 'I have some powders here that will cure the worst case of Wabash shakes in no time. Take 'em home and give the boy one of 'em every two hours till he's took six, and I'll warrant the fever'n'agur won't touch him again for the next six months!' So here they are, Jonathan. Go and take one of them right now and then, in a couple of hours, swallow another one."
He opened a very small paper box and in it were twenty-four tiny bits of folded paper each containing about as much of the healing powder as might lie on the blade of a penknife. We looked at it curiously. It was white and glistening, reminding us of the drifted snow when the weather is at its coldest.
"The doctor called it quinine," said father. "It is to be taken in half a cup of cold water."
Cousin Mandy Jane ran for the water, and when she had brought it shook the contents of one of the packages into it. "Here, Jonathan, swaller it down," she commanded.
The unsuspecting young man obeyed, and then began a series of gyrations and contortions and expectorations which can not be described and which moved even father to irrepressible laughter.
"You needn't laugh, goll darn it!" cried Jonathan, angry and half-choking. "I'd rather have the fever'n'agur every day than swoller that tarnation stuff."
Father hastened to relieve the tension by turning again to the willow basket. There were now not more than a half a dozen parcels remaining unopened, and surely one must be mine. My impatience had risen almost to the boiling point—and yet I knew that father would not be hurried, and that whatever he did would surely be the best for everybody. And so with a trembling heart and firmly closed mouth, I waited and said nothing.
Father, understanding my disquietude, made a tantalizing motion toward a small parcel that was most certainly mine, and then pulled out a ball-like package that was beneath it.
"I have a surprise for every one of you," he said. "All the other things were necessities, but this that I am going to give you is a luxury. It ain't often that we indulge in luxuries; but this was not very costly, and I venture to say it will not do us any harm."
There was a twinkle in his eye—a twinkle of enjoyment which I had never seen but once or twice before in all my life. He held the paper-wrapped parcel in his hand and added: "Now the one that can guess what this is may unwrap it."
"I guess it's a bottle of bear's grease," said Jonathan, forgetting his late discomfiture.
"It looks like it might be a big ingern, or maybe a ball of cotton yarn," hazarded Cousin Mandy Jane.
"Thee just now said it was a luxury," said mother. "So I guess that's what it is."
"Thee's right, Deborah; and thee may undo it," answered father, trying hard to repress a smile.
Mother skillfully removed the paper wrappings and revealed to our astonished gaze a big ripe orange, the first that I had ever seen. What a wonderful specimen of fruit it was! It was passed from hand to hand in order that each might examine it, smell of it and remark upon its beauty.
"When I was a growin' gal we used to see 'em down in Carliny," said mother.
"Yes, and they worn't no rarity, nother," added Aunt Rachel.
Finally father removed the peeling from the fruit and carefully divided it into six equal portions, giving one portion to each of us.
"Where's thy sheer, father?" asked Cousin Mandy Jane.
"Oh, my share is the paying for it," he answered.
"Thee must have half of mine," said mother; and she actually thrust it into his mouth—a bold unheard-of act, savoring of unbecoming levity and unwomanly behavior. But father seemed to enjoy it all.
I ate my portion, having some difficulty in saving all the juice. How delicious it was, and how different from anything else I had ever tasted! Ah! if I live to the age of Noah's grandfather, I shall never see such another orange. I looked up and saw Aunt Rachel beckoning to me from the chimney corner. She was puffing valiantly through her new pipe, and the wreaths of smoke that encircled her gray head were like haloes of glory and clouds of incense. I went to her softly on tiptoe.
"Shet thy peepers and open thy teethers," she whispered.
I obeyed, and she thrust her portion of the wonderful fruit into my already pampered mouth.
"O Aunt Rachel!" I protested, half choking.
"Eat it, Robbie!" she gurgled. "I don't want it; it spiles the taste of my tobacker."
What could I do?
And now the next parcel was taken from the basket—a small parcel, cubical in shape and wrapped in blue paper.
"Here are some more luxuries, but of a different sort," said father. "They ain't to eat and they ain't to wear, but they'll be mighty handy to have around once in a while."
He removed the wrappings and displayed to our wondering gaze two bunches of very small pine sticks fastened together at one end and yellow with sulphur at the other.
"Sakes alive! Lucifer matches!" cried Cousin Mandy Jane. "Now we won't have to borry fire every time our'n goes out."
Mother was visibly pleased although she tried hard to appear otherwise. "Stephen," she said, "I'm afraid thee's inclined to be extravagant. We certainly could have got along without such expensive things."
"Well, they didn't cost much," answered father. "I paid a fip for the two bunches, and there's a hundred matches in each bunch. With proper economy, and using them only when the fire goes out, they ought to last for years."
Then he gave a single match to each of us, just so we might try it and see how it acted.
"It's Robert's turn first," said mother.
With great caution and many quakings of the heart, I knelt on the hearth and repeatedly scratched my match on the flat stone. At last, to the admiration of all and the momentary alarm of myself, it suddenly burst into a yellowish flame, emitting a fizzling sound, a spirt of grayish smoke and a stifling odor.
"There! Didn't I tell thee?" cried Cousin Mandy Jane. "No more borryin' of fire!"
Then, one by one, the others tried the pleasing experience with varying success. When it came Jonathan's turn he stood up by the chimney and tried to scratch the match on the keystone of the fireplace. He struck so hard that the match was broken in two in the middle and the sulphured end fell, unignited, into the ashes.
"The tarnal thing wasn't no good, nohow," he growled angrily; for the fever'n'agur, together with the quinine, had ruffled his good nature wonderfully.
"I'm afraid thee's no good hand at matches," said Aunt Rachel. "Thee must be keerful when thee goes to make a match with Esther."
"And now," said father, returning to the basket, "we will see what is in this last package. If I'm not mistaken it is something for Robert."
He held up the package so that all might see. Yes, it was what I had been hoping for; it was a book! I knew that from the shape of it, although it was still wrapped in two or three folds of brown paper.
"Thy ginseng roots sold well, Robert," he continued. "The first man I offered 'em to said he would give four bits for the bunch, and being in a hurry I went no farther but made a bargain at once. Then I went into a store where they sold books, and bought this one for the same money. Thee may unwrap it and see what it looks like."
With unmannerly haste I took the little parcel from his hands, untied the cord around it and removed the coverings. A pretty little book bound in blue boards looked up and smiled at me. I opened it at the title-page and read the name of it aloud: The Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; and then my eyes jumped quickly to the frontispiece, which proved to be the only picture in the volume. And what a wonderful picture it was—a picture of a strangely dressed man walking upon a sandy seashore and holding over his head the queerest-looking umbrella imaginable. The sea was calm, the wavelets were rippling on the beach, an air of mystery and loneliness pervaded the entire scene. The man was looking at some strange marks in the sand, and the expression of his face was that of surprise and alarm.
My curiosity was aroused to fever heat. I was anxious to begin the reading of a book that promised to prove so very interesting and so full of novelty. But mother quietly took it from my hands.
"Stephen," she asked, "is thee right sure that this is a good book for Robert to read?"
"Oh, yes," answered father. "I made sure of that before I bought it. The storekeeper told me that it is the best book in the world for boys. But I didn't take his word for it. I read several pages, and found Robinson's account of his adventures very instructive and truthful."
"What makes thee think it's truthful?"
"Why, the man tells what he himself saw and did; and he tells it in such a plain straightforward way that thee can't help but believe it."
"What was the man's name?"
"That's an uncommon name. There's a plenty of Robinsons in Wayne, and I knowed two or three families of that name in old Carliny. But I never heard of anybody of the name of Crusoe."
"Was Robinson a Friend?" asked Aunt Rachel.
"No, I think not," answered father; "for I noticed that he never used the plain language, even at times when he must have feared that his end was at hand. But there have been many worldly men who have written books of great worth, and I feel sure that Robinson Crusoe has done just that thing."
"Well," remarked mother resignedly, "if thee believes that this is really a good and safe book, I am glad thee bought it; for thee knows Robert's queer way. But I do hope that he will never get to readin' silly story books that have no truth nor sense in 'em. It would be a waste of time, besides fillin' his head with foolishness."
"Thee is right," said father. "And, after all, what is a story book or a novel but the vain imaginings of some untruthful person?"
The conversation was ended, and mother handed the precious volume back to me with the admonition that I must not spend so much time in reading it that my other duties would be neglected.
I hastened to throw some fresh bits of hickory bark on the smoldering fire, and the flames soon springing up, the light was so bright as to enable me to read the small print in the volume quite easily. I threw myself down on the floor beside the hearth and immediately became absorbed in Robinson's account of his wayward boyhood and his first experience as a sailor. And as I read, dear Inviz came up stealthily and put his arms around my neck and looked over my shoulder and became as deeply absorbed in the story as I myself.
"Don't thee wish thee could be a sailor?" he asked.
"Yes," I answered. "I should like to sail on the great sea and visit the strange lands on the other side of the world."
"Well, just wait till thee is grown, and then maybe thee can run away and do as Robinson did," whispered the tempter.
Suddenly I was aroused from my reverie by a command from father; "Robert, thee's read enough for tonight. Put thy Robinson Crusoe away in the bookcase, and fetch me the Book of books. Does thee hear?"
Startled by his stern way of speaking, I hastened to obey, and as I did so I observed that the family had assembled and were already seated in their respective places to listen to the reading of the chapter. And there, too, sitting between David and Jonathan, was the fugitive Samuel! He had come, at father's urgent invitation, to join us in this last and most impressive duty of the day. He seemed scarcely the same being that I had seen a few hours before, crouching like a beast of prey, munching and crunching his food, and grunting out his satisfaction like a senseless brute. He had washed himself at the spring, brushed the cobwebs and dust from ragged clothing, and put on a cheerier appearance every way. And my heart went out to him in pity.
"He ain't nigh as ugly as he was when we seen him in the barn," whispered Cousin Mandy Jane.
"And he's very nice behavin', too, for one of his color," remarked her grandmother.
I remember that father was a long time in finding the place in the Book that night; and the only portion of the reading that attracted my attention was this meaningful declaration: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
At the close of the reading, the black man withdrew
with an awkward bow, and shuffled down the pathway
toward his lodging-place in the barn. As he was
opening the barnyard gate, father called to him:
"Samuel, I hope thee will rest well. Thee must keep
quite close all day
"All right, sah," was the response. "Good night, sah! I's 'bleeged."
And he disappeared in the shadows.
It would have been a great comfort had I been permitted to resume the reading of my new book and the fascinating story that I had scarcely begun. But all the rules and traditions of our household forbade it; the "chapter" had been read, the day's labors and recreations were finished, and nothing more was allowable save to cover the fire, wind the clock and retire to rest.
With lagging feet, therefore, I went back into the shadows, drew my trundle-bed out to its place and began to disrobe for the night. As I leapt into bed, I was surprised to find several little round, hard objects lying in my way between the straw tick and the covering blanket. I was about to cry out to mother when I heard a suppressed whisper in the darkness above me which sent a thrill of satisfaction through my tingling veins. I knew by the sound that it was David lying flat on the floor of the loft with his mouth at a familiar knot-hole.
"Did thee find the marvels, Towhead? Count 'em. I fetched thee nine instid of two. 'Nuff to play pardners!"
Nine brand-new marbles! Oh, happiness! I huddled them all together in a little heap under my two hands, and as I was counting them over and over with my fingers, Inviz crept softly into the bed beside me and shared my joy.
"Well, thee has some real boughten playthings, now," he whispered. "Thee is a lucky boy."
And I dropped to sleep.