I T must have been the cow bell that woke me. I rubbed my eyes, sat up, and in a dazed bewildered way, looked around. It was broad daylight—yes, the sun was at least an hour high. Some robins were singing in the trees by the roadside; a quail was whistling his bob-white from the topmost rail of the fence; and, at no great distance, hens were cackling, roosters crowing, ducks quacking. The air was filled with the merry sounds of the morning.
There was something familiar in the appearance of the landscape; it seemed as if I had been on that very spot at some previous time; and yet there was a strangeness about everything which perplexed me not a little. At the farther end of the field there was a branch and a little "spring-house," and just beyond these there was an orchard which I felt sure I had seen before. Then, at the end of the orchard, I discerned a house—yes, two log cabins, a large one and a small one standing end to end—a so-called double house of a kind that was not uncommon in the New Settlement. The smoke was curling up from the chimney of the little cabin, and I guessed that the people inside were getting breakfast. It seemed to me that I had always known those people, and yet I could not remember their names.
"What does it matter?" said Inviz, gently pulling me back into our cozy nest of hay. "Let us rest here a little longer."
Very faint and weak, I cuddled down again and was just closing my eyes for another nap when the cow bell began to rattle more loudly than before, and I heard a shrill but not unmusical voice calling out in commanding tones:
"Hi there, Bossy! Git up, Billy. It's milkin' time. Hi! hi! hi!"
I was sure that I knew that voice, for there was not another like it in the whole world. So I raised myself up again, and looking over the low fence, I saw its owner—a red-cheeked, round-faced young woman with a little pink sunbonnet on her head and a long stick in her hand. She was barefooted, as young women generally were in that distant age, and her short linsey-woolsey dress was not cut according to any modern fashion. But I recognized her immediately as one of the neatest, busiest, kindest, happiest creatures that God had ever made.
"O Cousin Sally! Cousin Sally!" I called, waving my arms but utterly unable to rise from my resting-place.
The maiden looked around, perplexed, alarmed, unable to locate the voice she had heard; and then I called again: "Here I am, Cousin Sally—here in the hay."
She saw me and for one moment stood still in dumb surprise, her hands uplifted, her mouth open, her eyes wildly gazing. The next moment she had scaled the fence and was bending over me.
"Goodness, gracious me! Is it thee, Robbie? How in the world did thee git here?"
I had barely strength enough to stammer something about going to Old Enoch's and getting lost in the woods and lying down here to rest.
"Goodness, gracious me!" she repeated. "So thee got lost in the big woods, did thee? And how lucky thee was to git out again!"
And then, although she must have kept on talking, I heard not another word, but was dimly conscious that she was taking me gently in her arms, that she was lifting me up, that she was carrying me and running as fast as she could to the double log house at the end of the orchard. How safe, how happy I felt, with her strong chubby arms around me, and my head pillowed softly against her ample bosom!
"Mother! mother!" I heard her cry, as she finally reached the door of the smaller cabin. "See who's here! See what I found in the medder! See who's come to visit us, so early in the morning!"
Ah! I knew now whose house this was; for, from her dishwashing by the hearth, came the dearest, the best of all my numerous aunts—good old Aunt Nancy Evans, blessed be her memory!
"Oh, is it Robert?" she cried. "Is it our little Robert? How did it happen, Sally? How did it happen?"
And she took me from her daughter's arms, and carried me inside, and sat down in her big rocking chair, holding me lovingly in her lap. I heard them talking in half-whispers while Cousin Sally bustled around in the most wonderful way that could be imagined. She brought warm water and clean towels, and washed my dust-covered face and bathed my bleeding arms and legs and my bruised and wounded feet.
"And just see how his shirt's teared clean off of him," she remarked.
"He shall have another one," said Aunt Nancy. "Thee look in the bottom bureau drawer, Sally. Thee knows what's there. Thy little brother William was jist about Robert's age when he was took away from us, and that was more than thirty years ago. Ah, me! What a big man he would have been if he had lived till now!"
"Yes, mother," answered Cousin Sally. "Little William's clothes is all in the bottom drawer where thee's kept 'em—all ironed smooth, and lapped up, and sprinkled with camfire, as thee knows. Thee's been very keerful of 'em these thirty years, mother."
"Indeed I have," returned her mother, "and now the time has come for 'em to do some good. Little William never wore 'em but once, and they're as nice and clean and sweet as if they was new only yesterday. Thee go and git 'em, Sally, and we'll put the little shirt and the little britches on Robbie, and after a while he may have the little robin on, too."
And so, in a short time, I was divested of my own wrecked and ruined wardrobe and was clad in the beautiful, soft, brand-new shirt and breeches of Little William Evans who had been in his grave so many, many years. Then Cousin Sally carried me into the "big-house," a nice, cool, airy place, and laid me on a beautiful trundle-bed which had also been Little William's.
"Now, thee take a good little snooze," she said soothingly; "and when thee wakes up, thee may have something good to eat."
Oh, the joy of lying there between the whitest of white sheets and listening to the "tick, tock" of the old wall clock and knowing that two good women were close at hand, doing all in their power to make me comfortable and happy! I lay there very quietly, not suffering any pain and still not feeling strong enough to sit up; and soon Inviz, that rogue who always deserted me at the critical moment, came silently from nowhere and cuddled down beside me.
"I wonder what they will do at home without any fire," he said.
"Father will strike a fire with his flint and tinder," I answered. "Yes, he must have struck a fire last night—else how could they get any supper?"
"Oh, but they'll give thee a good trouncin' when thee gets home," said Inviz. "They'll all be mad 'cause thee's made so much trouble for everybody. And they'll scold 'cause thee didn't bring the fire."
"Well, Aunt Nancy and Cousin Sally, they will never scold me, I know;" and thus comforting myself, I fell asleep.
It was past noon when I awoke. Some one was moving softly near the trundle-bed, and when I opened my eyes, I saw the ruddy face of Cousin Sally bending over me like the full moon.
"Well, I guess thee's had a good nap," she said. "Thee needn't git up. I'll jist prop some pillers under thee, and then thee may have a little somethin' to eat."
She ran into the "little-house," which was the kitchen, and soon returned with the most savory dish that she knew how to prepare—the leg and breast of a fried spring chicken, with creamed gravy and a bit of buttered toast. What a breakfast that was! The very thought of it makes my mouth water to this very day. And Aunt Nancy, with her knitting in her hand, came in to see me eat it and to remark how well I looked, all dressed up in Little William's shirt and breeches. I was so hungry that I could have eaten two chickens and twice as much toast; but Cousin Sally said I must save myself for dinner, and when I had drunk a glass of new milk she persuaded me to lie down and take another nap.
The nap proved to be a short one, however, for soon I was aroused by hearing a chorus of voices outside the door. Cousin Sally was talking very fast, as was her custom when she had something to say; and several other persons seemed to be asking questions and making brief remarks and ejaculating various sorts of wonder phrases in the most excited manner. I sat up in the bed and listened. I heard a husky voice that sounded like David's, then a treble like Jonathan's, and then I distinctly recognized the shrill twang of Cousin Mandy Jane's falsetto as she uttered her favorite "Sakes alive!" There was a slight pause in the general hubbub, and a kind voice said, "Let's keep very quiet and let him sleep as long as he will."
"Mother!" I screamed; and with one bound I was out of bed and running to the door. And there, in the yard, I saw our whole family, while just outside the gate stood the big farm wagon with the plow horses hitched to it.
"Mother!" I cried again, as I leaped down the steps; and the next moment I was surrounded by the entire company.
Everybody was smiling in a most unaccountable way, and even David seemed glad to see me. Mother patted me gently on the head and looked very tenderly into my eyes. You think, of course, that she kissed me; but she didn't. Kissing was not a habit in our family; it was considered a foolish and worldly performance, an act which, if not positively wicked, was exceedingly unbecoming and improper at all times. Never in my life was it mine to experience the bliss of having my mother's lips pressed to my own.
But the gentle pat on the head was as good as a kiss; and my joy was complete when she drew me close to her and said, "O Robert, how glad I am to see thee alive again!"
Then father reached down his great hand and took hold of mine—very softly, for it was scarred and swollen—and in strange tremulous tones he said, "Thee seems to have had a narrow escape, Robert. Let us be thankful to Him that preserved and guided thee through the perils of the night."
"Yes," said David gruffly, but eager to touch the hem of my garment, "thee's put the rest of us to a right smart sight of trouble, Towhead. The next time thee gits lost in the woods, thee needn't 'spect me to go out a-huntin' for thee."
Cousin Mandy Jane had hard work to restrain herself, and I verily believe that if no one had been looking, she would have kissed me. She threw her arms around me, much to my shame, and squeezed me most unmercifully. "Sakes alive, Bobbie," she exclaimed, "how I did worry about thee! I've wished a thousand thousand times that I'd gone after that pesky fire myself."
"Tell us all about it, Robert," said Jonathan, throwing himself down on the grass beside me.
And then in answer to numerous questions I told them the whole story of my first fright and my wild wandering through the forest. But I said nothing about the fearful creatures that had kept me in a continuous state of alarm, nor of the Old Feller lying in wait for me in dreadful places, nor yet indeed of the cheerful companionship of Inviz, without which I should indeed have been hopelessly lost. I knew that they could not understand, so why excite their ridicule?
We sat together on the long bench beside the big-house door, mother on one side of me and Cousin Mandy Jane on the other; and my heart grew big with pride when it occurred to me that I—the youngest and smallest of the household—was the cause of all this talk and all these doings. There had been an adventure, and I, Robert Dudley, was the hero. I had had a hard time of it, but now I was having my reward.
Father reckoned that I must have traveled at least ten miles in the big forest and along the lonely road before reaching Aunt Nancy's hay-field. And he told how they had gone early into the woods with lanterns and torches; how they had alarmed the neighbors, and how even the two Enochs had joined them and sought unweariedly through all the dark hours of the night. Just how they had finally learned of my whereabouts, I did not hear, but Cousin Sally told me afterward that it was she herself who carried them the news. As soon as she had seen me cozily ensconced in Little William's trundle-bed, she had mounted the gray colt, barebacked, and ridden post-haste by the nearest pathways to our place, five miles distant. Then, having delivered her message, she had flown home again like the wind, arriving in time to prepare the marvelous breakfast.
Oh, what a glorious thing it is to be a hero and have everybody talking about you! Thus my vanity was being fed at an early age.
Cousin Sally's dinner was late that day, but its quality made ample amends for its lack of timeliness. The table was spread in the little-house. The cloth was of home-made linen, snowy white. The dishes were of choice "chany ware," intermingled with pieces of yellow pottery, shining pewter plates, and necessary articles of tin. And the viands—O my dear Leonidas, my dear Leona, if you live to be as old as the megatherium you will never see anything that can be compared with the array of fried chicken and creamed gravy, of snow-white biscuits right out of the big baking skillet, of pies and cakes, of preserves and jams, of hot roasting-ears, of sassafras tea, of pitchers of new milk, of patties of yellow butter. The table fairly groaned under the weight of all these good things, and the mouths of the guests watered in anticipation.
Being the hero of the day, I was given the place of honor at the right hand of the rosy-faced hostess. I sat in a special high-chair that had been made for Little William so many long years before; I ate from Little William's pewter plate which was polished to a silvery brightness and had the letters of the alphabet stamped in relief all round its edge; and I drank from Little William's chany mug which had a picture of the foolish milkmaid on one side, and the words "Be a good boy" on the other.
When all were seated, Cousin Sally and her mother began to put things in motion.
"Now, all of you, jist help yourselves," said Aunt Nancy. "Pore folks like us can't offer you much, but you're welcome to what you see."
"Uncle Stephen, try some of the punkin pie," said Cousin Sally; "and here's some apple pie, and some custard. Take a piece of each kind."
"Help thyself to the plum jelly," said Aunt Nancy. "It's good with fried chicken—most as good as the cranberries we used to git in the 'Hio Country. Have some blackberry jam, too."
And then the requests to help one's self to this and that and the other multiplied and were continued until every plate was heaped to its utmost capacity. Oh, but that was a dinner to be remembered through the longest lifetime! And yet it was only a sample of what Cousin Sally was in the habit of setting before her visitors.
The guests ate and ate till they could eat no longer, and still they were pressed by their solicitous hostess.
"Thee ain't eatin' anything, David. I'm afraid thee don't like pore folks's cookin'. Have another leg of fried chicken. Hand thy mug for another helpin' of milk. Try a little more of the grape jam, Mandy Jane. Come, have a little more of the stewed punkin! Why, if thee don't eat more, thee'll faint before thee has a chance to git another meal."
At length the famous dinner was over. The guests arose. Father and the boys went out to get the horses ready for the return trip home. The womenfolks, in gossipy mood, set themselves to clearing the table and washing the dishes—and where four such renowned experts were engaged, this labor was performed with miraculous swiftness. Within less than an hour the interior of the little-house had resumed its usual aspect of cleanliness and quiet. The pots and skillets were again in their places, the chany cups and saucers and plates were upon their favored shelf in the corner cupboard, the great table had mysteriously disappeared, the chairs were arranged in a stiff orderly row against the wall, the broad hearth had been swept and garnished.
"The sun is getting low," cried father from the open gate; "we must be going at once, or else the night will overtake us."
There was a short consultation with Cousin Sally, supplemented by a few urgent words from Aunt Nancy, and then it was announced that mother and I would not go home with the rest—that we would have a little visit with our relatives until the end of the week.
"Robert is purty puny with all the traipsin' he done through the woods," said Cousin Sally. "It will do him a right smart lot of good to stay here and rest three or four days."
Father gave his assent—somewhat reluctantly, I thought; and the wagon went rattling down the road, carrying only Cousin Mandy Jane and the men-folks back to the dear old home at the center of the world. Mother and Aunt Nancy, with their yarn and their knitting, sat down on the long bench by the door, to enjoy the balmy evening air and recall sweet memories of former days in their old girlhood home in Carliny; and Cousin Sally, with a shining milk pail on her arm, cried cheerily to me, "Come, Robert, don't thee want to go down the lane with me to see the new calf?"
My feet were still sore, my back was stiff, my hands were swollen from the bruises and scratches they had received, and my head was heavy. I had no interest in new calves, and I felt much more like going to bed than walking down the dusty lane. But how could any one refuse so hearty an invitation?
"Come, Robbie, it ain't fur," she said; and so, somewhat merrily, somewhat wearily, we went together to the milking place; and while she sat on a stool and filled the pail with foaming milk from old Bossie's udder, she entertained me with varied remarks on many interesting themes.
"And only think, Bobbie," she said, "this is Fourth-day evening and thee is to stay with me till Seventh-day evening—three whole days! Oh, won't we have fun?"
But instead of three whole days, it proved to be three whole weeks. For, all through that night, mother heard me talking aloud to Inviz; and the next morning I had a raging fever, and when Cousin Sally came to look at me I fancied that it was Old Enoch grinning from the chimney corner, and then that it was the Old Feller going to carry me away to the bad place. After that, for I can not tell how many days, I had no consciousness of anything. Mother sat by me constantly; and father came every day with saddened face and shook his head despairingly; and the doctor came and felt my pulse and gave me bitter medicine; and David came and peeped in at the door and then went away, muttering "Poor Towhead"; and Cousin Sally and her mother went about the house on tiptoe, talking in whispers; and I, although my body lay helpless and suffering in Little William's trundle-bed, was far away in a strange land where I neither heard nor saw any of them.
At length, however, the crisis was passed, the fever left me, and I woke up—my mind alert and clear, although I had hardly strength enough to raise my hand. Then came days and days of convalescence—every morning a little better, every evening a little stronger. It was a great event when I could sit up in Little William's chair and look out of the door. It was a momentous event when I grew strong enough to walk, with mother's help, from the big-house to the little-house. And after that, things moved along rapidly.
Sometimes, on fine days, I walked with Cousin Sally as far as the spring-house. Sometimes we went a little farther, to a shallow pool where there were blue flags and cattails and yellow water-lilies. But we found our greatest pleasure under the apple trees and on the bench by the big-house door. There, while she carded wool, or shelled peas, or sewed upon some new garment, Cousin Sally would entertain me with her always vivacious chatter; and sometimes we read stories from the Bible—she listening and I reading—or we amused ourselves with conning over the bright squibs in the Farmer's Almanac.
"There's another book in the loft somewhere," she said one day. "It's full of funny pieces about animals and boys and kings and all sorts of things. Thee'd be tickled to death to read some of 'em, I know."
"I wish thee'd find it for me," I said eagerly. "What's the name of it?"
"I don't exactly know its name," she answered, "but it's some kind of reader. I'll go right now, and see if I can lay hold of it."
So she dropped her sewing upon the bench and climbed the ladder into the loft of the big-house. It was very dark up there, and I could hear her moving carefully about, lifting boards and boxes, and turning things over in quite a general way. By and by, she came down—a ludicrous object covered with dust and cobwebs, her dress torn, her hair in tangled masses down her back.
"I reckon I got it, anyhow," she said triumphantly; and she showed me a chubby little volume so thickly coated with grime that neither its title nor the color of its binding could be distinguished. "Don't tetch it. Jist wait a minute."
She ran into the little-house where I soon heard her brushing and rubbing, and talking excitedly to herself, or to another Inviz of her own acquaintance. Presently she returned, very much improved in appearance, and put the book in my hands. She had brushed it quite clean, and its bright blue cover, but slightly discolored with age, gave it an attractive appearance. I read the title: "The Little Reader or The Child's First Book, by J. Olney, A.M."
I opened it and began to read. As I turned page after page my pleasure grew. Here were stories of a kind I had never seen before, delightful little pieces, some very amusing, some instructive and all very easy for a lad who had already wrestled with George Fox's Journal. Cousin Sally listened with rapt attention and now and then she exclaimed with emphasis:
"Goodness, gracious me! I never knowed any book was as funny as that!"
Somewhere near the middle of the book I came to a poem which amused us both so much that I read it over and over with increasing relish until we knew it by heart. It was entitled, if I remember rightly, The Great Black Crow; and for days afterward, whenever we saw one of those sable birds, we found intense delight in calling to him and repeating in concert this verse:
"The crow, the crow, the great black crow!
He never gets drunk on rain or snow—
He never gets drunk, but he never says, No!
If you ask him to tipple ever so,—
So, so, you great black crow,
It's an honor to drink like a great black crow!"
"I wish I could borrow this book when I go home," I said.
"Borry it!" exclaimed Cousin Sally. "No, I reckon thee cain't, for I won't lend it to nobody. But I'll give it to thee for thy very own, to keep and to hold till thee is grown!"
And thus the fifth volume was added to my little library.
At length I progressed so well and grew so strong that mother said it was foolish for us to stay longer at Aunt Nancy's. And so, when father came over in the big wagon, it was decided that we should return home with him; the long rough journey would not harm me, they said, and mother was anxious to be at her weaving and her housekeeping again. There was a great hurrying and bustling, especially on the part of Cousin Sally; and many tears of downright sorrow were shed. But in the midst of the grieving I felt a secret joy that I should soon be home again among my books and my little friends of the fields and woods.
And now, my dear Leonidas, my dear Leona, if you have any doubts of the truth of this narrative, open the bottom drawer of my bureau and look in the pasteboard box which you will find in the left-hand corner. There you will see, all wrapped in tissue-paper, a funny little vest of figured calico, worn threadbare in places, and yellow with age. That was once Little William's vest, and it belonged to the suit in which I was arrayed on that eventful day.
"Thee may have Little William's clothes for thy own," said dear Aunt Nancy. "It's no use for me to keep 'em, for he won't need 'em any more, and they'll be so nice for thee. Thee must take good care of 'em, and save 'em to wear to meetin'—and they'll last thee a long, long time."
It was, indeed, a wonderful suit, and I swelled with vanity as I contemplated myself, transformed, as many others have been through theirs, by my clothing; and when Cousin Sally whispered in my ear, "Thee looks tur'ble fine," I was ready to burst with self-importance. The breeches were of blue "flannen," home-made and home-dyed, and they were cut large and long; the robin, or short jacket, was of the same material with a row of horn buttons down the front; the shirt was of linen, made from flax grown by Little William's father and spun and woven by his mother; and the little figured vest of precious calico was the climax, the ne plus ultra, the crown of excellence which gave dignity and completeness to the whole.
"I declare! thee looks just like Little William did, the first and only time that he ever wore 'em," said Aunt Nancy; and mother tremblingly expressed the same opinion.
And then came the time for farewells.
"Farewell, Robert! Thee must come soon and see they pore kin again," said the aunt.
And Cousin Sally put her fat arms around me with such fervency that I blushed for shame. "Farewell, Robbie! I'll be over to see thee at quart'ly meetin' time."
Then I climbed into the wagon and cuddled down in the bed of soft straw that had been prepared for me. Father and mother took their places on the driver's seat; there were more farewells and more tears and more invitations to come and see our pore kin; and then the commanding word was given, and we were off. Looking back, I could see a fat arm and a chubby red hand waving a pink sunbonnet, in much the same frantic manner that genteeler hands, nowadays, flaunt their costly lace handkerchiefs in the breeze at the outgoing of every Atlantic steamer. And far down the road, I fancied I heard the echoing cry: "Farewell, Robert! Be a good boy. . . . Farewell, Robert . . . Robert—bert—bert!"
My invisible playmate had not been with me once since my illness; but now as we were driving through the woods, he leaped suddenly into the wagon and lay down on the straw beside me.
"I'm glad thee is going home," he said; "for now we shall have great fun in the fields and clearings, just as we did before the fire went out."
"But it was very nice at Aunt Nancy's," I answered. "I mean that it would have been nice if I had not been sick. And aunt and cousin were both so good!"
"Just think of the books—how long thee has been away from them," said Inviz. "They'll be glad to see thee."
"Yes, and I have another one to put with them. He is a funny fellow, and I think that even George Fox will laugh at him;" and I put my hand in my pocket to make sure that the Little Reader was still there.
And thus, lying side by side in the comforting straw, we talked and made plans for the future and consoled each other until I fell asleep. And when I awoke we were at home.
No sentiment was wasted because of my happy return. There was a tacit rule in our household that no one should ever make a show of his emotions; and so, when I resumed my place and occupation, it was as though I had been absent only an hour or two. There were no words of greeting, no expressions of pleasure, no glad welcomes at the door. And yet, before the end of the evening, each member of the family had contrived in some way to manifest the kindly love that had been stirred by my adventures and long absence.
As I was standing on a chair and putting my new book on the shelf with the older ones, Cousin Mandy Jane came shyly to my side and dropped a hot doughnut into my pocket.
"It's thine, Robbie," she said. "I cooked it a-purpose for thee. Don't let anybody see thee eat it."
And presently Jonathan, coming to the door, beckoned me to follow him to the small outbuilding which we called "the shop," and in which father worked often at night, making chairs and tables and the like. I went, wondering what he wished to show me.
He closed the door behind us and then from a shelf above the work bench he took something that looked like a small wooden cross, except that all the four parts were of the same length.
"Towhead, does thee see this?" he said. "It's a windmill. I whittled it out with my knife, and father showed me how to put it together. Jist look how it runs when I blow on it." Then he puffed against it with all the breath he could summon, and it actually began to turn on its axis.
"And thee ought to see how it whizzes round in the wind when thee holds it right," he continued. "To-morrow thee can see."
I looked at it admiringly. It was not more than five inches in diameter, and it was clumsily made; but I had never seen anything like it, and it pleased me greatly.
"What is thee goin' to do with it, Jonathan?" I asked.
"Why, it's thine," he said. "I made it for thee. Put it in thy pocket, and to-morrow thee can play with it."
When, at length, the evening's work was finished, we all gathered around the hearth, as usual, to listen to the chapter. Mother lighted a new candle and set it upon the candlestand; Cousin Mandy Jane looked at me with an odd wink, as though she would caution me about that doughnut; and there was a grin on David's fuzzy face which I was puzzled to understand.
Then, all being seated, father in his gentlest tones said: "Robert, thee is big enough now to take David's place. Thee may fetch me the Book."
Oh, what an honor I felt that to be! In the short space of a minute, my stature was visibly increased. I rose, trembling with excitement, tripped lightly across the floor, and placed the candlestand, with its candle and the precious volume, in its usual position between father's knees. Then, abashed but triumphant, I sat down at mother's feet.
Father opened the Book, and I noticed that his hand trembled a little as he turned the leaves. When he found the desired chapter, he cleared his throat, paused, and then began to read in that wonderful way of which I have told you. And he read—not of an angry and vengeful Jehovah, nor of intriguing priests or wailing prophets, nor yet of Egypt or Babylon—but of a certain man who had a hundred sheep, one of which went astray; and behold, after he had sought far and wide and found the lost one, there was great rejoicing over it—yes, much more rejoicing than over the ninety and nine which went not astray.
He closed the Book, there was an interval of silence, and I returned the candlestand to its place.
"Say, Towhead," spoke up David somewhat harshly, "it's been a right smart spell since thee done any work. Come out, now, and help me git the kindlin's for mornin'."
I was so happy that I was ready to help at anything. So, after he had lighted the old tin lantern I followed him to the wood-pile. The kindlings had already been prepared, and needed only to be carried in; but David did not stop there.
"Come down to the cowshed, and I'll show thee somethin' that will make thee jump out of thy skin," he said.
"What is it, David?"
"Oh, I'll show thee."
He went inside the cowshed, and after a little fumbling around, brought out a wooden box, some ten inches square, with a netting of wire across one end.
"Jist thee look in there, Towhead," he said.
I thought of rats, and imagined that David was trying to play a trick on me. Moreover, the light from the lantern was so dim that when I tried to look through the netting, nothing was visible.
"I'll show thee," said David. And opening the other end of the box, he reached in and brought out two beautiful, half-grown squirrels. They were quite tame, and at once leaped upon his shoulder and sat there, waiting for the tidbits which they knew he would give them.
"O David! David!" I cried.
"Squeerels, Towhead, squeerels!" he said in delighted tones. "I ketched 'em the next day after thee got lost. And they're thine, Towhead. I've give 'em to thee."
"For my very own, David?"
"Yes; for thy very own. This one, his name's Esau, 'cause he's hairy an' red, like the feller in the Bible. An' this grayer one, his name's Jacob, 'cause he's sharp an' graspin', an' always gittin' mor'n his shear."
"Who named them, David?"
"Well, I guess father did. He kinder give me some hints, but he said I mustn't tell nobody."
"Oh, I'm so glad, David!" and I put my hand in his great rough palm.
"Well, I reckon thee ain't the onliest one," he said.