In the Midst of Alarms
Part 2 out of 5
"Why, agreeing with him. There are depths of meanness in your
character, Renny, that I never suspected. You know that people who camp
out always object to the part assigned them by their fellow-campers. I
counted on that. I'll do anything but wash dishes."
"Then why didn't you say so?"
"Because any sane man would have said 'no' when I suggested cooking,
merely _because_ I suggested it. There is no diplomacy about you,
Renmark. A man doesn't know where to find you when you act like that.
When you refused to do the cooking, I would have said: 'Very well,
then, I'll do it,' and everything would have been lovely; but now--"
Yates lay down again in disgust. There are moments in life when
language fails a man.
"Then it's settled that you do the cooking and I wash the dishes?" said
"Settled? Oh yes, if you say so; but all the pleasure of getting one's
own way by the use of one's brains is gone. I hate to be agreed with in
that objectionably civil manner."
"Well, that point being arranged, who begins the foraging--you or I?"
"Both, Herr Professor, both. I propose to go to the house of the
Howards, and I need an excuse for the first visit; therefore I shall
forage to a limited extent. I go ostensibly for bread. As I may not get
any, you perhaps should bring some from whatever farmhouse you choose
as the scene of your operations. Bread is always handy in the camp,
fresh or stale. When in doubt, buy more bread. You can never go wrong,
and the bread won't."
"What else should I get? Milk, I suppose?"
"Certainly; eggs, butter--anything. Mrs. Bartlett will give you hints
on what to get that will be more valuable than mine."
"Have you all the cooking utensils you need?"
"I think so. The villain from whom I hired the outfit said it was
complete. Doubtless he lied; but we'll manage, I think."
"Very well. If you wait until I change my clothes, I'll go with you as
far as the road."
"My dear fellow, be advised, and don't change. You'll get everything
twenty per cent. cheaper in that rig-out. Besides, you are so much more
picturesque. Your costume may save us from starvation if we run short
of cash. You can get enough for both of us as a professional tramp. Oh,
well, if you insist, I'll wait. Good advice is thrown away on a man
Margaret Howard stood at the kitchen table kneading dough. The room was
called the kitchen, which it was not, except in winter. The stove was
moved out in spring to a lean-to, easily reached through the open door
leading to the kitchen veranda.
When the stove went out or came in, it marked the approach or the
departure of summer. It was the heavy pendulum whose swing this way or
that indicated the two great changes of the year. No job about the farm
was so much disliked by the farmer and his boys as the semiannual
removal of the stove. Soot came down, stovepipes gratingly grudged to
go together again; the stove was heavy and cumbersome, and many a pain
in a rural back dated from the journey of the stove from outhouse to
The kitchen itself was a one-story building, which projected back from
the two-story farmhouse, giving the whole a T-shape. There was a
veranda on each side of the kitchen, as well as one along the front of
the house itself.
Margaret's sleeves were turned back nearly to her elbows, showing a
pair of white and shapely arms. Now and then she deftly dusted the
kneading board with flour to prevent the dough sticking, and as she
pressed her open palms into; the smooth, white, spongy mass, the table
groaned protestingly. She cut the roll with a knife into lumps that
were patted into shape, and placed side by side, like hillocks of snow,
in the sheet-iron pan.
At this moment there was a rap at the open kitchen door, and Margaret
turned round, startled, for visitors were rare at that hour of the day;
besides, neighbors seldom made such a concession to formality as to
knock. The young girl flushed as she recognized the man who had spoken
to her the day before. He stood smiling in the doorway, with his hat in
his hand. She uttered no word of greeting or welcome, but stood looking
at him, with her hand on the floury table.
"Good-morning, Miss Howard," said Yates blithely; "may I come in? I
have been knocking for some time fruitlessly at the front door, so I
took the liberty of coming around."
"I did not hear you knock," answered Margaret. She neglected to invite
him in, but he took the permission for granted and entered, seating
himself as one who had come to stay. "You must excuse me for going on
with my work," she added; "bread at this stage will not wait."
"Certainly, certainly. Please do not let me interrupt you. I have made
my own bread for years, but not in that way. I am glad that you are
making bread, for I have come to see if I can buy some."
"Really? Perhaps I can sell you some butter and eggs as well."
Yates laughed in that joyous, free-hearted manner of his which had much
to do with his getting on in the world. It was difficult to remain long
angry with so buoyant a nature.
"Ah, Miss Howard, I see you haven't forgiven me for that remark. You
surely could not have thought I meant it. I really intended it for a
joke, but I am willing to admit, now that I look back on it, that the
joke was rather poor; but, then, most of my jokes are rather shopworn."
"I am afraid I lack a sense of humor."
"All women do," said Yates with easy confidence. "At least, all I've
Yates was sitting in a wooden chair, which he now placed at the end of
the table, tilting it back until his shoulders rested against the wall.
His feet were upon the rung, and he waved his hat back and forth,
fanning himself, for it was warm. In this position he could look up at
the face of the pretty girl before him, whose smooth brow was touched
with just the slightest indication of a faint frown. She did not even
glance at the self-confident young man, but kept her eyes fixed
resolutely on her work. In the silence the table creaked as Margaret
kneaded the dough. Yates felt an unaccustomed sensation of
embarrassment creeping over him, and realized that he would have to
re-erect the conversation on a new basis. It was manifestly absurd that
a resourceful New Yorker, who had conversed unabashed with presidents,
senators, generals, and other great people of a great nation, should be
put out of countenance by the unaccountable coldness of a country girl
in the wilds of Canada.
"I have not had an opportunity of properly introducing myself," he said
at last, when the creaking of the table, slight as it was, became
insupportable. "My name is Richard Yates, and I come from New York. I
am camping out in this neighborhood to relieve, as it were, a mental
strain--the result of years of literary work."
Yates knew from long experience that the quickest and surest road to a
woman's confidence was through her sympathy. "Mental strain" struck him
as a good phrase, indicating midnight oil and the hollow eye of the
"Is your work mental, then?" asked Margaret incredulously, flashing,
for the first time, a dark-eyed look at him.
"Yes," Yates laughed uneasily. He had manifestly missed fire. "I notice
by your tone that you evidently think my equipment meager. You should
not judge by appearances, Miss Howard. Most of us are better than we
seem, pessimists to the contrary notwithstanding. Well, as I was
saying, the camping company consists of two partners. We are so
different in every respect that we are the best of friends. My partner
is Mr. Stillson Renmark, professor of something or other in University
For the first time Margaret exhibited some interest in the
"Professor Renmark? I have heard of him."
"Dear me! I had no idea the fame of the professor had penetrated beyond
the precincts of the university--if a university has precincts. He told
me it had all the modern improvements, but I suspected at the time that
was merely Renny's brag."
The frown on the girl's brow deepened, and Yates was quick to see that
he had lost ground again, if, indeed, he had ever gained any, which he
began to doubt. She evidently did not relish his glib talk about the
university. He was just about to say something deferentially about that
institution, for he was not a man who would speak disrespectfully of
the equator if he thought he might curry favor with his auditor by
doing otherwise, when it occurred to him that Miss Howard's interest
was centered in the man, and not in the university.
"In this world, Miss Howard," he continued, "true merit rarely finds
its reward; at least, the reward shows some reluctance in making itself
visible in time for man to enjoy it. Professor Renmark is a man so
worthy that I was rather astonished to learn that you knew of him. I am
glad for his sake that it is so, for no man more thoroughly deserves
fame than he."
"I know nothing of him," said Margaret, "except what my brother has
written. My brother is a student at the university."
"Is he really? And what is he going in for?"
"A good education."
"Well, that is an all-round handy thing for a person to have about him.
I often wish I had had a university training. Still, it is not valued
in an American newspaper office as much as might be. Yet," he added in
a tone that showed he did not desire to be unfair to a man of
education, "I have known some university men who became passably good
reporters in time."
The girl made no answer, but attended strictly to the work in hand. She
had the rare gift of silence, and these intervals of quiet abashed
Yates, whose most frequent boast was that he could outtalk any man on
earth. Opposition, or even abuse, merely served as a spur to his
volubility, but taciturnity disconcerted him.
"Well," he cried at length, with something like desperation, "let us
abandon this animated discussion on the subject of education, and take
up the more practical topic of bread. Would you believe, Miss Howard,
that I am an expert in bread making?"
"I think you said already that you made your bread."
"Ah, yes, but I meant then that I made it by the sweat of my good lead
pencil. Still, I have made bread in my time, and I believe that some of
those who subsisted upon it are alive to-day. The endurance of the
human frame is something marvelous, when you come to think of it. I did
the baking in a lumber camp one winter. Used to dump the contents of a
sack of flour into a trough made out of a log, pour in a pail or two of
melted snow, and mix with a hoe after the manner of a bricklayer's
assistant making mortar. There was nothing small or mean about my bread
making. I was in the wholesale trade."
"I pity the unfortunate lumbermen."
"Your sympathy is entirely misplaced, Miss Howard. You ought to pity me
for having to pander to such appetites as those men brought in from the
woods with them. They never complained of the quality of the bread,
although there was occasionally some grumbling about the quantity. I
have fed sheaves to a threshing machine and logs to a sawmill, but
their voracity was nothing to that of a big lumberman just in from
felling trees. Enough, and plenty of it, is what he wants. No
'tabbledote' for him. He wants it all at once, and he wants it right
away. If there is any washing necessary, he is content to do it after
the meal. I know nothing, except a morning paper, that has such an
appetite for miscellaneous stuff as the man of the woods."
The girl made no remark, but Yates could see that she was interested in
his talk in spite of herself. The bread was now in the pans, and she
had drawn out the table to the middle of the floor; the baking board
had disappeared, and the surface of the table was cleaned. With a
light, deft motion of her two hands she had whisked over its surface
the spotlessly white cloth, which flowed in waves over the table and
finally settled calmly in its place like the placid face of a pond in
the moonlight. Yates realized that the way to success lay in keeping
the conversation in his own hands and not depending on any response. In
this way a man may best display the store of knowledge he possesses, to
the admiration and bewilderment of his audience, even though his store
consists merely of samples like the outfit of a commercial traveler;
yet a commercial traveler who knows his business can so arrange his
samples on the table of his room in a hotel that they give the onlooker
an idea of the vastness and wealth of the warehouses from which they
"Bread," said Yates with the serious air of a very learned man, "is a
most interesting subject. It is a historical subject--it is a biblical
subject. As an article of food it is mentioned oftener in the Bible
than any other. It is used in parable and to point a moral. 'Ye must
not live on bread alone.'"
From the suspicion of a twinkle in the eye of his listener he feared he
had not quoted correctly. He knew he was not now among that portion of
his samples with which he was most familiar, so he hastened back to the
historical aspect of his subject. Few people could skate over thinner
ice than Richard Yates, but his natural shrewdness always caused him to
return to more solid footing.
"Now, in this country bread has gone through three distinct stages, and
although I am a strong believer in progress, yet, in the case of our
most important article of food, I hold that the bread of to-day is
inferior to the bread our mothers used to make, or perhaps, I should
say, our grandmothers. This is, unfortunately, rapidly becoming the age
of machinery--and machinery, while it may be quicker, is certainly not
so thorough as old-fashioned hand work. There is a new writer in
England named Ruskin who is very bitter against machinery. He would
like to see it abolished--at least, so he says. I will send for one of
his books, and show it to you, if you will let me."
"You, in New York, surely do not call the author of 'Modern Painters'
and 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture' a new man. My father has one of
his books which must be nearly twenty years old."
This was the longest speech Margaret had made to him, and, as he said
afterward to the professor in describing its effects, it took him right
off his feet. He admitted to the professor, but not to the girl, that
he had never read a word of Ruskin in his life. The allusion he had
made to him he had heard someone else use, and he had worked it into an
article before now with telling effect. "As Mr. Ruskin says" looked
well in a newspaper column, giving an air of erudition and research to
it. Mr. Yates, however, was not at the present moment prepared to enter
into a discussion on either the age or the merits of the English
"Ah, well," he said, "technically speaking, of course, Ruskin is not a
new man. What I meant was that he is looked on--ah--in New York as--
that is--you know--as comparatively new--comparatively new. But, as I
was saying about bread, the old log-house era of bread, as I might call
it, produced the most delicious loaf ever made in this country. It was
the salt-rising kind, and was baked in a round, flat-bottomed iron
kettle. Did you ever see the baking kettle off other days?"
"I think Mrs. Bartlett has one, although she never uses it now. It was
placed on the hot embers, was it not?"
"Exactly," said Yates, noting with pleasure that the girl was thawing,
as he expressed it to himself. "The hot coals were drawn out and the
kettle placed upon them. When the lid was in position, hot coals were
put on he top of it. The bread was firm and white and sweet inside,
with the most delicious golden brown crust all around. Ah, that was
bread! but perhaps I appreciated it because I was always hungry in
those days. Then came the alleged improvement of the tin Dutch oven.
That was the second stage in the evolution of bread in this country. It
also belonged to the log-house and open-fireplace era. Bread baked by
direct heat from the fire and reflected heat from the polished tin. I
think our present cast-iron stove arrangement is preferable to that,
although not up to the old-time kettle."
If Margaret had been a reader of the New York _Argus_, she would
have noticed that the facts set forth by her visitor had already
appeared in that paper, much elaborated, in an article entitled "Our
Daily Bread." In the pause that ensued after Yates had finished his
dissertation on the staff of life the stillness was broken by a long
wailing cry. It began with one continued, sustained note, and ended
with a wail half a tone below the first. The girl paid no attention to
it, but Yates started to his feet.
"In the name of--What's that?"
Margaret smiled, but before she could answer the stillness was again
broken by what appeared to be the more distant notes of a bugle.
"The first," she said, "was Kitty Bartlett's voice calling the men home
from the field for dinner. Mrs. Bartlett is a very good housekeeper and
is usually a few minutes ahead of the neighbors with the meals. The
second was the sound of a horn farther up the road. It is what you
would deplore as the age of tin applied to the dinner call, just as
your tin oven supplanted the better bread maker. I like Kitty's call
much better than the tin horn. It seems to me more musical, although it
appeared to startle you."
"Oh, you can talk!" cried Yates with audacious admiration, at which the
girl colored slightly and seemed to retire within herself again. "And
you can make fun of people's historical lore, too. Which do you use--
the tin horn or the natural voice?"
"Neither. If you will look outside, you will see a flag at the top of a
pole. That is our signal."
It flashed across the mind of Yates that this was intended as an
intimation that he might see many things outside to interest him. He
felt that his visit had not been at all the brilliant success he had
anticipated. Of course the quest for bread had been merely an excuse.
He had expected to be able to efface the unfavorable impression he knew
he had made by his jaunty conversation on the Ridge Road the day
before, and he realized that his position was still the same. A good
deal of Yates' success in life came from the fact that he never knew
when he was beaten. He did not admit defeat now, but he saw he had, for
some reason, not gained any advantage in a preliminary skirmish. He
concluded it would be well to retire in good order, and renew the
contest at some future time. He was so unused to anything like a rebuff
that all his fighting qualities were up in arms, and he resolved to
show this unimpressionable girl that he was not a man to be lightly
As he rose the door from the main portion of the house opened, and
there entered a woman hardly yet past middle age, who had once been
undoubtedly handsome, but on whose worn and faded face was the look of
patient weariness which so often is the result of a youth spent in
helping a husband to overcome the stumpy stubbornness of an American
bush farm. When the farm is conquered, the victor is usually
vanquished. It needed no second glance to see that she was the mother
from whom the daughter had inherited her good looks. Mrs. Howard did
not appear surprised to see a stranger standing there; in fact, the
faculty of being surprised at anything seemed to have left her.
Margaret introduced them quietly, and went about her preparation for
the meal. Yates greeted Mrs. Howard with effusion. He had come, he
said, on a bread mission. He thought he knew something about bread, but
he now learned he came too early in the day. He hoped he might have the
privilege of repeating his visit.
"But you are not going now?" said Mrs. Howard with hospitable anxiety.
"I fear I have already stayed too long," answered Yates lingeringly.
"My partner, Professor Renmark, is also on a foraging expedition at
your neighbors', the Bartletts. He is doubtless back in camp long ago,
and will be expecting me."
"No fear of that. Mrs. Bartlett would never let anyone go when there
is a meal on the way."
"I am afraid I shall be giving extra trouble by staying. I imagine
there is quite enough to do in every farmhouse without entertaining any
chance tramp who happens along. Don't you agree with me for once, Miss
Yates was reluctant to go, and yet he did not wish to stay unless
Margaret added her invitation to her mother's. He felt vaguely that his
reluctance did him credit, and that he was improving. He could not
remember a time when he had not taken without question whatever the
gods sent, and this unaccustomed qualm of modesty caused him to suspect
that there were depths in his nature hitherto unexplored. It always
flatters a man to realize that he is deeper than he thought.
Mrs. Howard laughed in a subdued manner because Yates likened himself
to a tramp, and Margaret said coldly:
"Mother's motto is that one more or less never makes any difference."
"And what is your motto, Miss Howard?"
"I don't think Margaret has any," said Mrs. Howard, answering for her
daughter. "She is like her father. She reads a great deal and doesn't
talk much. He would read all the time, if he did not have to work. I
see Margaret has already invited you, for she has put an extra plate on
"Ah, then," said Yates, "I shall have much pleasure in accepting both
the verbal and the crockery invitation. I am sorry for the professor at
his lonely meal by the tent; for he is a martyr to duty, and I feel
sure Mrs. Bartlett will not be able to keep him."
Before Mrs. Howard could reply there floated in to them, from the
outside, where Margaret was, a cheery voice which Yates had no
difficulty in recognizing as belonging to Miss Kitty Bartlett.
"Hello, Margaret!" she said. "Is he here?"
The reply was inaudible.
"Oh, you know whom I mean. That conceited city fellow."
There was evidently an admonition and a warning.
"Well, I don't care if he does. I'll tell him so to his face. It might
do him good."
Next moment there appeared a pretty vision in the doorway. On the fair
curls, which were flying about her shoulders, had been carelessly
placed her brother's straw hat, with a broad and torn brim. Her face
was flushed with running; and of the fact that she was a very lovely
girl there was not the slightest doubt.
"How de do?" she said to Mrs. Howard, and, nodding to Yates, cried: "I
knew you were here, but I came over to make sure. There's going to be
war in our house. Mother's made a prisoner of the professor already,
but he doesn't know it. He thinks he's going back to the tent, and
she's packing up the things he wanted, and doing it awfully slow, till
I get back. He said you would be sure to be waiting for him out in the
woods. We both told him there was no fear of that. You wouldn't leave a
place where there was good cooking for all the professors in the
"You are a wonderful judge of character, Miss Bartlett," said Yates,
somewhat piqued by her frankness.
"Of course I am. The professor knows ever so much more than you, but he
doesn't know when he's well off, just the same. You do. He's a quiet,
"And which do you admire the most, Miss Bartlett--a quiet, stubborn
man, or one who is conceited?"
Miss Kitty laughed heartily, without the slightest trace of
embarrassment. "Detest, you mean. I'm sure I don't know. Margaret,
which is the most objectionable?"
Margaret looked reproachfully at her neighbor on being thus suddenly
questioned, but said nothing.
Kitty, laughing again, sprang toward her friend, dabbed a little kiss,
like the peck of a bird, on each cheek, cried: "Well, I must be off, or
mother will have to tie up the professor to keep him," and was off
accordingly with the speed and lightness of a young fawn.
"Extraordinary girl," remarked Yates, as the flutter of curls and
calico dress disappeared, "She is a good girl," cried Margaret
"Bless me, I said nothing to the contrary. But don't you think she is
somewhat free with her opinions about other people?" asked Yates.
"She did not know that you were within hearing when she first spoke,
and after that she brazened it out. That's her way. But she's a kind
girl and good-hearted, otherwise she would not have taken the trouble
to come over here merely because your friend happened to be surly."
"Oh, Renny is anything but surly," said Yates, as quick to defend his
friend as she was to stand up for hers. "As I was saying a moment ago,
he is a martyr to duty, and if he thought I was at the camp, nothing
would keep him. Now he will have a good dinner in peace when he knows I
am not waiting for him, and a good dinner is more than he will get when
I take to the cooking."
By this time the silent signal on the flagpole had done its work, and
Margaret's father and brother arrived from the field. They put their
broad straw hats on the roof of the kitchen veranda, and, taking water
in a tin basin from the rain barrel, placed it on a bench outside and
proceeded to wash vigorously.
Mr. Howard was much more interested in his guest than his daughter had
apparently been. Yates talked glibly, as he could always do if he had a
sympathetic audience, and he showed an easy familiarity with the great
people of this earth that was fascinating to a man who had read much of
them, but who was, in a measure, locked out of the bustling world.
Yates knew many of the generals in the late war, and all of the
politicians. Of the latter there was not an honest man among them,
according to the reporter; of the former there were few who had not
made the most ghastly mistakes. He looked on the world as a vast hoard
of commonplace people, wherein the men of real genius were buried out
of sight, if there were any men of genius, which he seemed to doubt,
and those on the top were there either through their own intrigues or
because they had been forced up by circumstances. His opinions
sometimes caused a look of pain to cross the face of the older man, who
was enthusiastic in his quiet way, and had his heroes. He would have
been a strong Republican if he had lived in the States; and he had
watched the four-years' struggle, through the papers, with keen and
absorbed interest. The North had been fighting, in his opinion, for the
great and undying principle of human liberty, and had deservedly won.
Yates had no such delusion. It was a politicians' war, he said.
Principle wasn't in it. The North would have been quite willing to let
slavery stand if the situation had not been forced by the firing on
Fort Sumter. Then the conduct of the war did not at all meet the
approval of Mr. Yates.
"Oh, yes," he said, "I suppose Grant will go down into history as a
great general. The truth is that he simply knew how to subtract. That
is all there is in it. He had the additional boon of an utter lack of
imagination. We had many generals who were greater than Grant, but they
were troubled with imaginations. Imagination will ruin the best general
in the world. Now, take yourself, for example. If you were to kill a
man unintentionally, your conscience would trouble you all the rest of
your life. Think how you would feel, then, if you were to cause the
death of ten thousand men all in a lump. It would break you down. The
mistake an ordinary man makes may result in the loss of a few dollars,
which can be replaced; but if a general makes a mistake, the loss can
never be made up, for his mistakes are estimated by the lives of men.
He says 'Go' when he should have said 'Come.' He says 'Attack' when he
should have said 'Retreat.' What is the result? Five, ten, or fifteen
thousand men, many of them better men than he is, left dead on the
field. Grant, had nothing of this feeling. He simply knew how to
subtract, as I said before. It is like this: You have fifty thousand
men and I have twenty-five thousand. When I kill twenty-five thousand
of your men and you kill twenty-five thousand of my men, you have
twenty-five thousand left and I have none. You are the victor, and the
thoughtless crowd hovels about you, but that does not make you out the
greatest general by a long shot. If Lee had had Grant's number, and
Grant had Lee's the result would have been reversed. Grant set himself
to do this little sum in subtraction, and he did it--did it probably as
quickly as any other man would have done it, and he knew that when it
was done the war would have to stop. That's all there was to it."
The older man shook his head. "I doubt," he said, "if history will take
your view either of the motives of those in power or of the way the war
was carried on. It was a great and noble struggle, heroically fought by
those deluded people who were in the wrong, and stubbornly contested at
immense self-sacrifice by those who were in the right."
"What a pity it was," said young Howard to the newspaper man, with a
rudeness that drew a frown from his father, "that you didn't get to
show 'em how to carry on the war."
"Well," said Yates, with a humorous twinkle in his eye, "I flatter
myself that I would have given them some valuable pointers. Still, it
is too late to bemoan their neglect now."
"Oh, you may have a chance yet," continued the unabashed young man.
"They say the Fenians are coming over here this time sure." You ought
to volunteer either on our side or on theirs, and show how a war ought
to be carried on."
"Oh, there's nothing in the Fenian scare! They won't venture over. They
fight with their mouths. It's the safest way."
"I believe you," said the youth significantly.
Perhaps it was because the boy had been so inconsiderate as to make
these remarks that Yates received a cordial invitation from both Mr.
and Mrs. Howard to visit the farm as often as, he cared to do so. Of
this privilege Yates resolved to avail himself, but he would have
prized it more if Miss Margaret had added her word--which she did not,
perhaps because she was so busy looking after the bread. Yates knew,
however, that with a woman apparent progress is rarely synonymous with
real progress. This knowledge soothed his disappointment.
As he walked back to the camp he reviewed his own feelings with
something like astonishment. The march of events was rapid even for
him, who was not slow in anything he undertook.
"It is the result of leisure," he said to himself. "It is the first
breathing time I have had for fifteen years. Not two days of my
vacation gone, and here I am hopelessly in love!"
Yates had intended to call at the Bartletts' and escort Renmark back to
the woods; but when he got outside he forgot the existence of the
professor, and wandered somewhat aimlessly up the side road, switching
at the weeds that always grow in great profusion along the ditches of a
Canadian country thoroughfare. The day was sunny and warm, and as Yates
wandered on in the direction of the forest he thought of many things.
He had feared that he would find life deadly dull so far from New York,
without even the consolation of a morning-paper, the feverish reading
of which had become a sort of vice with him, like smoking. He had
imagined that he could not exist without his morning paper, but he now
realized that it was not nearly so important a factor in life as he had
supposed; yet he sighed when he thought of it, and wished he had one
with him of current date. He could now, for the first time in many
years, read a paper without that vague fear which always possessed him
when he took up an opposition sheet, still damp from the press. Before
he could enjoy it his habit was to scan it over rapidly to see if it
contained any item of news which he himself had missed the previous
day. The impending "scoop" hangs over the head of the newspaper man
like the sword so often quoted. Great as the joy of beating the
opposition press is, it never takes the poignancy of the sting away
from a beating received. If a terrible disaster took place, and another
paper gave fuller particulars than the _Argus_ did, Yates found
himself almost wishing the accident had not occurred, although he
recognized such a wish as decidedly unprofessional.
Richard's idea of the correct spirit in a reporter was exemplified by
an old broken-down, out-of-work morning newspaper man, who had not long
before committed suicide at an hour in the day too late for the evening
papers to get the sensational item. He had sent in to the paper for
which he formerly worked a full account of the fatality, accurately
headed and sub-headed; and, in his note to the city editor, he told why
he had chosen the hour of 7 P.M. as the time for his departure from an
"Ah, well," said Yates under his breath, and suddenly pulling himself
together, "I mustn't think of New York if I intend to stay here for a
couple of weeks. I'll be city-sick the first thing I know, and then
I'll make a break for the metropolis. This will never do. The air here
is enchanting, it fills a man with new life. This is the spot for me,
and I'll stick to it till I'm right again. Hang New York! But I mustn't
think of Broadway or I'm done for."
He came to the spot in the road where he could see the white side of
the tent under the dark trees, and climbed up on the rail fence,
sitting there for a few moments. The occasional call of a quail from a
neighboring field was the only sound that broke the intense stillness.
The warm smell of spring was in the air. The buds had but recently
broken, and the woods, intensely green, had a look of newness and
freshness that was comforting to the eye and grateful to the other
senses. The world seemed to be but lately made. The young man breathed
deeply of the vivifying air, and said: "No, there's nothing the matter
with this place, Dick. New York's a fool to it." Then, with a sigh, he
added: "If I can stand it for two weeks. I wonder how the boys are
getting on without me."
In spite of himself his thoughts kept drifting back to the great city,
although he told himself that it wouldn't do. He gazed at the peaceful,
spreading landscape, but his eyes were vacant and he saw nothing. The
roar of the streets was in his ears. Suddenly his reverie was broken by
a voice from the forest.
"I say, Yates, where's the bread?"
Yates looked quickly around, somewhat startled, and saw the professor
coming toward him.
"The bread? I forgot all about it. No; I didn't either. They were
baking--that was it. I am to go for it later in the day. What loot did
you rake in, professor?"
"That's all right. Have a good dinner?"
"So did I. Renny, when you interrupted me, I was just counting the
farmhouses in sight. What do you say to boarding round among them? You
are a schoolmaster, and ought to know all about it. Isn't education in
this country encouraged by paying the teacher as little as possible,
and letting him take it out in eating his way from one house to
another? Ever board around, Renny?"
"Never. If the custom once existed in Canada, it is out of date now."
"That's a pity. I hate to face my own cooking, Renmark. We become less
brave as we grow older. By the way, how is old man Bartlett? As well as
could be expected?"
"He seemed much as usual. Mrs. Bartlett has sent out two chairs to the
tent; she fears we will get rheumatism if we sit on the ground."
"She is a kind woman, Renny, and a thoughtful. And that reminds me: I
have a hammock somewhere among my belongings. I will swing it up.
Chairs are comfortable, but a hammock is luxury."
Yates slid down from the fence top, and together the two men walked to
the tent. The hammock was unfurled and slung between two trees. Yates
tested it cautiously, and finally trusted himself to its restful folds
of network. He was swaying indolently several feet from the ground when
he said to Renmark:
"I call this paradise--paradise regained; but it will be paradise lost
next month. Now, professor, I am ready to do the cooking, but I have a
fancy for doing it by proxy. The general directs, and the useful
prosaic man executes. Where are your vegetables, Renny? Potatoes and
carrots, eh? Very good. Now, you may wash them, Renny; but first you
must bring some water from the spring."
The professor was a patient man, and he obeyed. Yates continued to
swing in the hammock alternating directions with rhapsodies on the
beauties of the day and the stillness of the woods. Renmark said but
little, and attended strictly to the business in hand. The vegetables
finished, he took a book from his valise, tilted a chair back against a
tree, and began to read.
"I'm depending upon you for the bread," he said to the drowsy man in
"Right you are, Renny. Your confidence is not misplaced. I shall
presently journey down into the realms of civilization, and fill the
long-felt want. I shall go to the Howards by way of the Bartlett
homestead, but I warn you that if there is a meal on, at either place,
you will not have me here to test your first efforts at cooking. So you
may have to wait until breakfast for my opinion."
Yates extricated himself slowly and reluctantly from the hammock, and
looked regretfully at it when he stood once more on the ground.
"This mad struggle for bread, professor, is the curse of life here
below. It is what we are all after. If it were not for the necessity of
bread and clothing, what a good time a fellow might have. Well, my
blessing, Renny. Good-by."
Yates strolled slowly through the woods, until he came to the beginning
of a lane which led to the Bartlett homestead. He saw the farmer and
his son at work in the back fields. From between the distant house and
barn there arose, straight up into the still air, a blue column of
smoke, which, reaching a certain height, spread out like a thin, hazy
cloud above the dwelling. At first Yates thought that some of the
outhouses were on fire, and he quickened his pace to a run; but a
moment's reflection showed him that the column was plainly visible to
the workers in the fields, and that if anything were wrong they would
not continue placidly at their labor. When he had walked the long
length of the lane, and had safely rounded the corner of the barn, he
saw, in the open space between that building and the house, a huge camp
fire blazing. From a pole, upheld by two crotched supports, hung a big
iron kettle over the flames. The caldron was full nearly to the brim,
and the steam was already beginning to rise from its surface, although
the fire had evidently been but recently kindled. The smoke was not now
so voluminous, but Kitty Bartlett stood there with a big-brimmed straw
hat in her hands, fanning it away from her face, while the hat at the
same time protected her rosy countenance from the fire. She plainly was
not prepared to receive visitors, and she started when the young man
addressed her, flushing still more deeply, apparently annoyed at his
"Good-afternoon," he said cordially. "Preparing for washing? I thought
Monday was washing day."
"Then I have not been misinformed. And you are not preparing for
Yates laughed so heartily that Kitty, in spite of herself, had to
permit a smile to brighten her own features. She always found it
difficult remain solemn for any length of time.
"This is obviously a conundrum," said Yates, ticking off the items on
his four fingers. "First, Monday is washing day. Second, this is not
Monday. Third, neither is to-morrow. Fourth, we are preparing for
washing. I give it up, Miss Bartlett. Please tell me the answer."
"The answer is that I am making soap; soft soap, if you know what that
"Practically, I don't know what it is; but I have heard the term used
in a political connection. In the States we say that if a man is very
diplomatic he uses soft soap, so I suppose it has lubricating
qualities. Sam Slick used the term 'soft sawder' in the same way; but
what sawder is, soft or hard, I haven't the slightest idea."
"I thought you knew everything, Mr. Yates."
"Me? Bless you, no. I'm a humble gleaner in the field of knowledge.
That's why I brought a Toronto professor with me. I want to learn
something. Won't you teach me how to make soap?"
"I'm very busy just now. When I said that we were preparing for
washing, I should perhaps have told you there was something else we are
not prepared for to-day."
"What is that?"
"Oh, I say, Miss Bartlett, you are a little hard on me. I'm not a
visitor. I'm a friend of the family. I want to help. You will find me a
most diligent student. Won't you give me a chance?"
"All the hard work's done. But perhaps you knew that before you came."
Yates looked at her reproachfully, and sighed deeply.
"That's what it is to be a misunderstood man. So you think, among other
bad qualities, I have the habit of shirking work? Let me tell you, Miss
Bartlett, that the reason I am here is because I have worked too hard.
Now, confess that you are sorry for what you said--trampling on an
already downtrodden man."
Kitty laughed merrily at this, and Yates laughed also, for his sense of
comradeship was strong.
"You don't look as if you had ever worked in your life; I don't believe
you know what work is."
"But there are different kinds of labor. Don't you call writing work?"
"That's just where you're mistaken. It is, and hard work, too. I'll
tell you about the newspaper business if you'll tell me about soap
making. Fair exchange. I wish you would take me as a pupil, Miss
Bartlett; you would find me quick at picking up things."
"Well, then, pick up that pail and draw a pailful of water."
"I'll do it," cried Yates sternly; "I'll do it, though it blast me."
Yates picked up the wooden pail, painted blue on the outside, with a
red stripe near the top for ornament, and cream-colored inside. It was
called a "patent pail" in those days, as it was a comparatively recent
innovation, being cheaper, lighter, and stronger than the tin pail
which it was rapidly replacing. At the well was a stout pole, pinned
through the center to the upright support on which it swung, like the
walking-beam of an engine. The thick end, which rested on the ground,
was loaded with heavy stones; while from the thin end, high in the air,
there dangled over the mouth of the well a slim pole with a hook. This
hook was ingeniously furnished with a spring of hickory, which snapped
when the handle of the pail was placed on the hook, and prevented the
"patent" utensil from slipping off when it was lowered to the surface
of the water. Yates speedily recognized the usefulness of this
contrivance, for he found that the filling of a wooden pail in a deep
well was not the simple affair it looked. The bucket bobbed about on
the surface of the water. Once he forgot the necessity of keeping a
stout grip on the pole, and the next instant the pail came up to the
sunlight with a suddenness that was terrifying. Only an equally sudden
backward jump on Yates' part saved his head. Miss Bartlett was pleased
to look upon this incident as funny. Yates was so startled by the
unexpected revolt of the pail that his native courtesy did not get a
chance to prevent Kitty from drawing up the water herself. She lowered
the vessel, pulling down the pole in a hand-over-hand manner that the
young man thought decidedly fetching, and then she gave an almost
imperceptible twist to the arrangement that resulted in instant
success. The next thing Yates knew the full pail was resting on the
well curb, and the hickory spring had given the click that released the
"There," said Kitty, suppressing her merriment, "that's how it's done."
"I see the result, Miss Bartlett; but I'm not sure I can do the trick.
These things are not so simple as they seem. What is the next step?"
"Pour the water into the leach."
"Into the what?"
"Into the leach, I said. Where else?"
"Oh, I'm up a tree again. I see I don't even know the A B C of this
business. In the old days the leech was a physician. You don't mean I'm
to drown a doctor?"
"This is the leach," said Kitty, pointing to a large, yellowish, upright
wooden cylinder, which rested on some slanting boards, down the surface
of which ran a brownish liquid that dripped into a trough.
As Yates stood on a bench with the pail in his hand he saw that the
cylinder was filled nearly to the top with sodden wood ashes. He poured
in the water, and it sank quickly out of sight.
"So this is part of the soap-making equipment?" he said, stepping down;
"I thought the iron kettle over the fire was the whole factory. Tell me
about the leach."
"That is where the hard work of soap making comes in," said Kitty,
stirring the contents of the iron kettle with a long stick. "Keeping
the leach supplied with water at first is no fun, for then the ashes
are dry. If you put in five more pails of water, I will tell you about
"Right!" cried Yates, pleased to see that the girl's evident objection
to his presence at first was fast disappearing. "Now you'll understand
how energetic I am. I'm a handy man about a place."
When he had completed his task, she was still stirring the thickening
liquid in the caldron, guarding her face from the fire with her big
straw hat. Her clustering, tangled fair hair was down about her
shoulders; and Yates, as he put the pail in its place, when it had been
emptied the fifth time, thought she formed a very pretty picture
standing there by the fire, even if she were making soft soap.
"The wicked genii has finished the task set him by the fairy princess.
Now for the reward. I want all the particulars about the leach. In the
first place, where do you get this huge wooden cylinder that I have,
without apparent effect, been pouring water into? Is it manufactured or
"Both. It is a section of the buttonwood tree."
"Buttonwood? I don't think I ever heard of that. I know the beech and
the maple, and some kinds of oak, but there my wood lore ends. Why the
"The buttonwood happens to be exactly suited to the purpose. It is a
tree that is very fine to look at. It seems all right, but it generally
isn't. It is hollow or rotten within, and, even when sound, the timber
made from it is of little value, as it doesn't last. Yet you can't tell
until you begin to chop whether it is of any use or not." Kitty shot a
quick glance at the young man, who was sitting on a log watching her.
"Go on, Miss Bartlett; I see what you mean. There are men like the
buttonwood tree. The woods are full of them. I've met lots of that
kind, fair to look upon, but hollow. Of course you don't mean anything
personal; for you must have seen my worth by the way I stuck to the
water hauling. But go on."
"Dear me, I never thought of such a thing; but a guilty conscience,
they say--" said Kitty, with a giggle.
"Of course they say; but it's wrong, like most other things they say.
It's the man with the guilty conscience who looks you straight in the
eye. Now that the buttonwood is chopped down, what's the next thing to
"It is sawn off at the proper length, square at one end and slanting at
"Don't you see, the foundation of plank on which it rests is inclined,
so the end of the leach that is down must be slantingly cut, otherwise
it would not stand perpendicularly. It would topple over in the first
"I see, I see. Then they haul it in and set it up?"
"Oh, dear no; not yet. They build a fire in it when it gets dry
Really? I think I understand the comprehensive scheme, but I slip up on
the details, as when I tried to submerge that wooden pail. What's the
"To burn out what remains of the soft inside wood, so as to leave only
the hard outside shell. Then the charring of the inner surface is
supposed to make the leach better--more water-tight, perhaps."
"Quite so. Then it is hauled in and set up?"
"Yes; and gradually filled with ashes. When it is full, we pour the
water in it, and catch the lye as it drips out. This is put in the
caldron with grease, pigskins, and that sort of thing, and when it
boils long enough, the result is soft soap."
"And if you boil it too long, what is the result?"
"Hard soap, I suppose. I never boil it too long."
The conversation was here interrupted by a hissing in the fire, caused
by the tumultuous boiling over of the soap. Kitty hurriedly threw in a
basin of cold lye, and stirred the mixture vigorously.
"You see," she said reproachfully, "the result of keeping me talking
nonsense to you. Now you will have to make up for it by bringing in
some wood and putting more water into the leach."
"With the utmost pleasure," cried Yates, springing to his feet. "It is
a delight to atone for a fault by obeying your commands."
The girl laughed. "Buttonwood," she said. Before Yates could think of
anything to say in reply Mrs. Bartlett appeared at the back door.
"How is the soap getting on, Kitty?" she asked. "Why, Mr. Yates, are
"Am I here? I should say I was. Very much here. I'm the hired man. I'm
the hewer of wood and the hauler of water, or, to speak more correctly,
I'm the hauler of both. And, besides, I've been learning how to make
soap, Mrs. Bartlett."
"Well, it won't hurt you to know how."
"You bet it won't. When I get back to New York, the first thing I shall
do will be to chop down a buttonwood tree in the park, if I can find
one, and set up a leach for myself. Lye comes useful in running a
Mrs. Bartlett's eyes twinkled, for, although she did not quite
understand his nonsense, she knew it was nonsense, and she had a liking
for frivolous persons, her own husband being so somber-minded.
"Tea is ready," she said. "Of course you will stay, Mr. Yates."
"Really, Mrs. Bartlett, I cannot conscientiously do so. I haven't
earned a meal since the last one. No; my conscience won't let me
accept, but thank you all the same."
"Nonsense; my conscience won't let you go away hungry. If nobody were
to eat but those who earn their victuals, there would be more starving
people in the world than there are. Of course you'll stay."
"Now, that's what I like, Mrs. Bartlett. I like to have a chance of
refusing an invitation I yearn for, and then be forced to accept.
That's true hospitality." Then in a whisper he added to Kitty; "If you
dare to say 'buttonwood,' Miss Bartlett, you and I will quarrel."
But Kitty said nothing, now that her mother had appeared on the scene,
but industriously stirred the contents of the iron kettle.
"Kitty," said the mother, "you call the men to supper."
"I can't leave this," said Kitty, flushing; "it will boil over. You
So Mrs. Bartlett held her open palms on each side of her mouth, and
gave the long wailing cry, which was faintly answered from the fields,
and Yates, who knew a thing or two, noted with secret satisfaction that
Kitty had refused doubtless because he was there.
"I tell you what it is, Renny," said Yates, a few days after the soap
episode, as he swung in his hammock at the camp, "I'm learning
something new every day."
"Not really?" asked the professor in surprise.
"Yes, really. I knew it would astonish you. My chief pleasure in life,
professor, is the surprising of you. I sometimes wonder why it delights
me; it is so easily done."
"Never mind about that. What have you been learning?"
"Wisdom, my boy; wisdom in solid chunks. In the first place, I am
learning to admire the resourcefulness of these people around us.
Practically, they make everything they need. They are the most self-
helping people that I was ever thrown among. I look upon theirs as the
"I think you said something like that when we first came here."
"I said that, you ass, about camping out. I am talking now about farm
life. Farmers eliminate the middleman pretty effectually, and that in
itself is going a long way toward complete happiness. Take the making
of soap, that I told you about; there you have it, cheap and good. When
you've made it, you know what is in it, and I'll be hanged if you do
when you pay a big price for it in New York. Here they make pretty
nearly everything they need, except the wagon and the crockery; and I'm
not sure but they made them a few years back. Now, when a man with a
good sharp ax and a jack-knife can do anything from building his house
to whittling out a chair, he's the most independent man on earth.
Nobody lives better than these people do. Everything is fresh, sweet,
and good. Perhaps the country air helps; but it seems to me I never
tasted such meals as Mrs. Bartlett, for instance, gets up. They buy
nothing at the stores except the tea, and I confess I prefer milk
myself. My tastes were always simple."
"And what is the deduction?"
"Why, that this is the proper way to live. Old Hiram has an anvil and
an amateur forge. He can tinker up almost anything, and that eliminates
the blacksmith. Howard has a bench, saws, hammers, and other tools, and
that eliminates the carpenter. The women eliminate the baker, the soap
boiler, and a lot of other parasites. Now, when you have eliminated all
the middlemen, then comes independence, and consequently complete
happiness. You can't keep happiness away with a shotgun then."
"But what is to become of the blacksmith, the carpenter, and all the
"Let them take up land and be happy too; there's plenty of land. The
land is waiting for them. Then look how the master is eliminated.
That's the most beautiful riddance of all. Even the carpenter and
blacksmith usually have to work under a boss; and if not, they have to
depend on the men who employ them. The farmer has to please nobody but
himself. That adds to his independence. That's why old Hiram is ready
to fight the first comer on the slightest provocation. He doesn't care
whom he offends, so long as it isn't his wife. These people know how to
make what they want, and what they can't make they do without. That's
the way to form a great nation. You raise, in this way, a self-
sustaining, resolute, unconquerable people. The reason the North
conquered the South was because we drew our armies mostly from the
self-reliant farming class, while we had to fight a people accustomed
for generations to having things done for them."
"Why don't you buy a farm, Yates?"
"Several reasons. I am spoiled for the life here. I am like the
drunkard who admires a temperate life, yet can't pass a ginshop. The
city virus is in my blood. And then, perhaps, after all, I am not quite
satisfied with the tendency of farm life; it is unfortunately in a
transition state. It is at the frame-house stage, and will soon blossom
into the red-brick stage. The log-house era is what I yearn for. Then
everything a person needed was made on the farm. When the brick-house
era sets in, the middleman will be rampant. I saw the other day at the
Howards' a set of ancient stones that interested me as much as an
Assyrian marble would interest you. They were old, home-made
millstones, and they have not been used since the frame house was
built. The grist mill at the village put them out of date. And just
here, notice the subtlety of the crafty middleman. The farmer takes his
grist to the mill, and the miller does not charge him cash for grinding
it. He takes toll out of the bags, and the farmer has a vague idea that
he gets his grinding for almost nothing. The old way was the best,
Renny, my boy. The farmer's son won't be as happy in the brick house
which the mason will build for him as his grandfather was in the log
house he built for himself. And fools call this change the advance of
"There is something to be said for the old order of things," admitted
Renmark. "If a person could unite the advantages of what we call
civilization with the advantages of a pastoral life, he would
inaugurate a condition of things that would be truly idyllic."
"That's so, Renmark, that's so!" cried Yates enthusiastically. "A
brownstone mansion on Fifth Avenue, and a log hut on the shores of Lake
Superior! That would suit me down to the ground. Spend half the year in
"Yes," said the professor meditatively; "a log hut on the rocks and
under the trees, with the lake in front, would be very nice if the hut
had a good library attached."
"And a daily paper. Don't forget the press."
"No. I draw the line there. The daily paper would mean the daily
steamer or the daily train. The one would frighten away the fish, and
the other would disturb the stillness with its whistle."
Yates sighed. "I forgot about the drawbacks," he said. "That's the
trouble with civilization. You can't have the things you want without
bringing in their trail so many things you don't want. I shall have to
give up the daily paper."
"Then there is another objection, worse than either steamer or train."
"The daily paper itself."
Yates sat up indignantly.
"Renmark!" he cried, "that's blasphemy. For Heaven's sake, man, hold
something sacred. If you don't respect the press, what do you respect?
Not my most cherished feelings, at any rate, or you wouldn't talk in
that flippant manner. If you speak kindly of my daily paper, I'll
tolerate your library."
"And that reminds me: Have you brought any books with you, Yates? I
have gone through most of mine already, although many of them will bear
going over again; still, I have so much time on my hands that I think I
may indulge in a little general reading. When you wrote asking me to
meet you in Buffalo, I thought you perhaps intended to tramp through
the country, so I did not bring as many books with me as I should have
done if I had known you were going to camp out."
Yates sprang from the hammock.
"Books? Well, I should say so! Perhaps you think I don't read anything
but the daily papers. I'd have you know that I am something of a reader
myself. You mustn't imagine you monopolize all the culture in the
The young man went into the tent, and shortly returned with an armful
of yellow-covered, paper-bound small volumes, which he flung in
profusion at the feet of the man from Toronto. They were mostly
Beadle's Dime Novels, which had a great sale at the time.
"There," he said, "you have quantity, quality, and variety, as I have
before remarked. 'The Murderous Sioux of Kalamazoo;' that's a good one.
A hair-raising Indian story in every sense of the word. The one you are
looking at is a pirate story, judging by the burning ship on the cover.
But for first-class highwaymen yarns, this other edition is the best.
That's the 'Sixteen String Jack set.' They're immense, if they do cost
a quarter each. You must begin at the right volume, or you'll be sorry.
You see, they never really end, although every volume is supposed to be
complete in itself. They leave off at the most exciting point, and are
continued in the next volume. I call that a pretty good idea, but it's
rather exasperating if you begin at the last book. You'll enjoy this
lot. I'm glad I brought them along."
"It is a blessing," said Renmark, with the ghost of a smile about his
lips. "I can truthfully say that they are entirely new to me."
"That's all right, my boy," cried Yates loftily, with a wave of his
hand. "Use them as if they were your own."
Renmark arose leisurely and picked up a quantity of the books.
"These will do excellently for lighting our morning camp fire," he
said. "And if you will allow me to treat them as if they were my own,
that is the use to which I will put them. You surely do not mean to say
that you read such trash as this, Yates?"
"Trash?" exclaimed Yates indignantly. "It serves me right. That's what
a man gets for being decent to you, Renny. Well, you're not compelled
to read them; but if you put one of them in the fire, your stupid
treatises will follow, if they are not too solid to burn. You don't
know good literature when you see it."
The professor, buoyed up, perhaps, by the conceit which comes to a man
through the possession of a real sheepskin diploma, granted by a
university of good standing, did not think it necessary to defend his
literary taste. He busied himself in pruning a stick he had cut in the
forest, and finally he got it into the semblance of a walking cane. He
was an athletic man, and the indolence of camp life did not suit him as
it did Yates. He tested the stick in various ways when he had trimmed
it to his satisfaction.
"Are you ready for a ten-mile walk?" he asked of the man in the
"Good gracious, no. Man wants but little walking here below, and he
doesn't want it ten miles in length either. I'm easily satisfied.
You're off, are you? Well, so long. And I say, Renny, bring back some
bread when you return to camp. It's the one safe thing to do."
Renmark walked through the woods and then across the fields, until he
came to the road. He avoided the habitations of man as much as he
could, for he was neither so sociably inclined nor so frequently hungry
as was his companion. He strode along the road, not caring much where
it led him. Everyone he met gave him "Good-day," after the friendly
custom of the country. Those with wagons or lighter vehicles going in
his direction usually offered him a ride, and went on, wondering that a
man should choose to walk when it was not compulsory. The professor,
like most silent men, found himself good company, and did not feel the
need of companionship in his walks. He had felt relieved rather than
disappointed when Yates refused to accompany him. And Yates, swinging
drowsily in his hammock, was no less gratified. Even where men are firm
and intimate friends, the first few days of camping out together is a
severe strain on their regard for each other. If Damon and Pythias had
occupied a tent together for a week, the worst enemy of either, or
both, might at the end of that time have ventured into the camp in
safety, and would have been welcome.
Renmark thought of these things as he walked along. His few days'
intimacy with Yates had shown him how far apart they had managed to get
by following paths that diverged more and more widely the farther they
were trodden. The friendship of their youth had turned out to be merely
ephemeral. Neither would now choose the other as an intimate associate.
Another illusion had gone.
"I have surely enough self-control," said Renmark to himself, as he
walked on, "to stand his shallow flippancy for another week, and not
let him see what I think of him."
Yates at the same time was thoroughly enjoying the peaceful silence of
the camp. "That man is an exaggerated schoolmaster, with all the faults
of the species abnormally developed. If I once open out on him, he will
learn more truth about himself in ten minutes than he ever heard in his
life before. What an unbearable prig he has grown to be." Thus ran
Yates' thoughts as he swung in his hammock, looking up at the ceiling
of green leaves.
Nevertheless, the case was not so bad as either of them thought. If it
had been, then were marriage not only a failure, but a practical
impossibility. If two men can get over the first few days in camp
without a quarrel, life becomes easier, and the tension relaxes.
Renmark, as he polished off his ten miles, paid little heed to those he
met; but one driver drew up his horse and accosted him.
"Good-day," he said. "How are you getting on in the tent?"
The professor was surprised at the question. Had their tenting-out
eccentricity gone all over the country? He was not a quick man at
recognizing people, belonging, as he did, to the "I-remember-your-face-
but-can't-recall-your-name" fraternity. It had been said of him that he
never, at any one time, knew the names of more than half a dozen
students in his class; but this was an undergraduate libel on him. The
young man who had accosted him was driving a single horse, attached to
what he termed a "democrat"--a four-wheeled light wagon, not so slim
and elegant as a buggy, nor so heavy and clumsy as a wagon. Renmark
looked up at the driver with confused unrecognition, troubled because
he vaguely felt that he had met him somewhere before. But his surprise
at being addressed speedily changed into amazement as he looked from
the driver to the load. The "democrat" was heaped with books. The
larger volumes were stuck along the sides with some regularity, and in
this way kept the miscellaneous pile from being shaken out on the road.
His eye glittered with a new interest as it rested on the many-colored
bindings; and he recognized in the pile the peculiar brown covers of
the "Bohn" edition of classic translations, that were scattered like so
many turnips over the top of this ridge of literature. He rubbed his
eyes to make sure he was not dreaming. How came a farmer's boy to be
driving a wagon load of books in the wilds of the country as
nonchalantly as if they were so many bushels of potatoes?
The young driver, who had stopped his horse, for the load was heavy and
the sand was deep, saw that the stranger not only did not recognize
him, but that from the moment he saw the books he had forgotten
everything else. It was evidently necessary to speak again.
"If you are coming back, will you have a ride?" he asked.
"I--I think I will," said the professor, descending to earth again and
climbing up beside the boy.
"I see you don't remember me," said the latter, starting his horse
again. "My name is Howard. I passed you in my buggy when you were
coming; in with your tent that day on the Ridge. Your partner--what's
his name--Yates, isn't it?--had dinner at our house the other day."
"Ah, yes. I recollect you now. I thought I had seen you before; but it
was only for a moment, you know. I have a very poor memory so far as
people are concerned. It has always been a failing of mine. Are these
your books? And how do you happen to have such a quantity?"
"Oh, this is the library," said young Howard.
"Yes, the township library, you know."
"Oh! The township has a library, then? I didn't know."
"Well, it's part of it. This is a fifth part. You know about township
libraries, don't you? Your partner said you were a college man."
Renmark blushed at his own ignorance, but he was never reluctant to
"I ought to be ashamed to confess it, but I know nothing of township
libraries. Please, tell me about them."
Young Howard was eager to give information to a college man, especially
on the subject of books, which he regarded as belonging to the province
of college-bred men. He was pleased also to discover that city people
did not know everything. He had long had the idea that they did, and
this belief had been annoyingly corroborated by the cocksureness of
Yates. The professor evidently was a decent fellow, who did not pretend
to universal knowledge. This was encouraging. He liked Renmark better
than Yates, and was glad he had offered him a ride, although, of
course, that was the custom; still, a person with one horse and a heavy
load is exempt on a sandy road.
"Well, you see," he said in explanation, "it's like this: The township
votes a sum of money, say a hundred dollars, or two hundred, as the
case may be. They give notice to the Government of the amount voted,
and the Government adds the same amount to the township money. It's
like the old game: you think of a number, and they double it. The
Government has a depository of books, in Toronto, I think, and they
sell them cheaper than the bookstores do. At any rate, the four hundred
dollars' worth are bought, or whatever the amount is, and the books are
the property of the township. Five persons are picked out in the
township as librarians, and they have to give security. My father is
librarian for this section. The library is divided into five parts, and
each librarian gets a share. Once a year I go to the next section and
get all their books. They go to the next section, again, and get all
the books at that place. A man comes to our house to-day and takes all
we have. So we get a complete change every year, and in five years we
get back the first batch, which by that time we have forgotten all
about. To-day is changing day all around."
"And the books are lent to any person in each section who wishes to
read them?" asked the professor.
"Yes. Margaret keeps a record, and a person can have a book out for two
weeks; after that time there is a fine, but Margaret never fines
"And do people have to pay to take out the books?"
"Not likely!" said Howard with fine contempt. "You wouldn't expect
people to pay for reading books; would you, now?"
"No, I suppose not. And who selected the volumes?"
"Well, the township can select the books if it likes, or it can send a
committee to select them; but they didn't think it worth the trouble
and expense. People grumbled enough at wasting money on books as it
was, even if they did buy them at half price. Still, others said it was
a pity not to get the money out of the Government when they had the
chance. I don't believe any of them cared very much about the books,
except father and a few others. So the Government chose the books.
They'll do that if you leave it to them. And a queer lot of trash they
sent, if you take my word for it. I believe they shoved off on us all
the things no on else would buy. Even when they did pick out novels,
they were just as tough as the history books. 'Adam Bede' is one. They
say that's a novel. I tried it, but I would rather read the history of
Josephus any day. There's some fighting in that, if it is a history.
Then there's any amount of biography books. They're no good. There's a
'History of Napoleon.' Old Bartlett's got that, and he won't give it
up. He says he was taxed for the library against his will. He dares
them to go to law about it, and it aint worth while for one book. The
other sections are all asking for that book; not that they want it, but
the whole country knows that old Bartlett's a-holding on to it, so
they'd like to see some fun. Bartlett's read that book fourteen times,
and it's all he knows. I tell Margaret she ought to fine him, and keep
on fining, but she won't do it. I guess Bartlett thinks the book
belongs to him by this time. Margaret likes Kitty and Mrs. Bartlett,--
so does everybody,--but old Bartlett's a seed. There he sits now on his
veranda, and it's a wonder he's not reading the 'History of Napoleon.'"
They were passing the Bartlett house, and young Howard raised his voice
and called out:
"I say, Mr. Bartlett, we want that Napoleon book. This is changing day,
you know. Shall I come up for it, or will you bring it down? If you
fetch it to the gate, I'll cart it home now."
The old man paid no heed to what was said to him; but Mrs. Bartlett,
attracted by the outcry, came to the door.
"You go along with your books, you young rascal!" she cried, coming
down to the gate when she saw the professor. "That's a nice way to
carry bound books, as if they were a lot of bricks. I'll warrant you
have lost a dozen between Mallory's and here. But easy come, easy go.
It's plain to be seen they didn't cost you anything. I don't know what
the world's a-coming to when the township spends its money in books, as
if taxes weren't heavy enough already. Won't you come in, Mr. Renmark?
Tea's on the table."
"Mr. Renmark's coming with me this trip, Mrs. Bartlett," young Howard
said before the professor had time to reply; "but I'll come over and
take tea, if you'll invite me, as soon as I have put the horse up."
"You go along with your nonsense," she said; "I know you." Then in a
lower voice she asked: "How is your mother, Henry--and Margaret?"
"They're pretty well, thanks."
"Tell them I'm going to run over to see them some day soon, but that
need not keep them from coming to see me. The old man's going to town
to-morrow," and with this hint, after again inviting the professor to a
meal, she departed up the path to the house.
"I think I'll get down here," said Renmark, halfway between the two
houses. "I am very much obliged to you for the ride, and also for what
you told me about the books. It was very interesting."
"Nonsense!" cried young Howard; "I'm not going to let you do anything
of the sort. You're coming home with me. You want to see the books,
don't you? Very well, then, come along, Margaret is always impatient on
changing day, she's so anxious to see the books, and father generally
comes in early from the fields for the same reason."
As they approached the Howard homestead they noticed Margaret waiting
for them at the gate; but when the girl saw that a stranger was in the
wagon, she turned and walked into the house. Renmark, seeing this
retreat, regretted he had not accepted Mrs. Bartlett's invitation. He
was a sensitive man, and did not realize that others were sometimes as
shy as himself. He felt he was intruding, and that at a sacred moment--
the moment of the arrival of the library. He was such a lover of books,
and valued so highly the privilege of being alone with them, that he
fancied he saw in the abrupt departure of Margaret the same feeling of
resentment he would himself have experienced if a visitor had
encroached upon him in his favorite nook in the fine room that held the
library of the university.
When the wagon shopped in the lane, Renmark said hesitatingly:
"I think I'll not stay, if you don't mind. My friend is waiting for me
at the camp, and will be wondering what has become of me."
"Who? Yates? Let him wonder. I guess he never bothers about anybody
else as long as he is comfortable himself. That's how I sized him up,
at any rate. Besides, you're never going back on carrying in the books,
are you? I counted on your help. I don't want to do it, and it don't
seem the square thing to let Margaret do it all alone; does it, now?
"Oh, if I can be of any assistance, I shall--"
"Of course you can. Besides, I know my father wants to see you, anyhow.
Don't you, father?"
The old man was coming round from the back of the house to meet them.
"Don't I what?" he asked.
"You said you wanted to see Professor Renmark when Margaret told you
what Yates had said to her about him."
Renmark reddened slightly at finding so many people had made him the
subject of conversation, rather suspecting at the same time that the
boy was making fun of him. Mr. Howard cordially held out his hand.
"So this is Professor Renmark, is it? I am very pleased to see you.
Yes, as Henry was saying, I have been wanting to see you ever since my
daughter spoke of you. I suppose Henry told you that his brother is a
pupil of yours?"
"Oh! is Arthur Howard your son?" cried Renmark, warming up at once. "I
did not know it. There are many young men at the college, and I have
but the vaguest idea from what parts of the country they all come. A
teacher should have no favorites, but I must confess to a strong liking
for your son. He is a good boy, which cannot be said about every member
of my class."
"Arthur was always studious, so we thought we would give him a chance.
I am glad to hear he behaves himself in the city. Farming is hard work,
and I hope my boys will have an easier time than I had. But come in,
come in. The missus and Margaret will be glad to see you, and hear how
the boy is coming on with his studies."
So they went in together.
"Hello! Hello, there! Wake up! Breakfa-a-a-st! I thought that would
fetch you. Gosh! I wish I had your job at a dollar a day!"
Yates rubbed his eyes, and sat up in the hammock. At first he thought
the forest was tumbling down about his ears, but as he collected his
wits he saw that it was only young Bartlett who had come crashing
through the woods on the back of one horse, while he led another by a
strap, attached to a halter. The echo of his hearty yell still
resounded in the depths of the woods, and rang in Yates' ears as he
pulled himself together.
"Did you--ah--make any remarks?" asked Yates quietly.
The boy admired his gift of never showing surprise.
"I say, don't you know that it's not healthy to go to sleep in the
middle of the day?"
"Is it the middle of the day? I thought it was later. I guess I can
stand it, if the middle of the day can. I've a strong constitution.
Now, what do you mean by dashing up on two horses into a man's bedroom
in that reckless fashion?"
The boy laughed.
"I thought perhaps you would like a ride. I knew you were alone, for I
saw the professor go mooning up the road a little while ago."
"Oh! Where was he going?"
"Hanged if I know, and he didn't look as if he knew himself. He's a
queer fish, aint he?"
"He is. Everybody can't be as sensible and handsome as we are, you
know. Where are you going with those horses, young man?"
"To get them shod. Won't you come along? You can ride the horse I'm on.
Its got a bridle. I'll ride the one with the halter."
"How far away is the blacksmith's shop?"
"Oh, a couple of miles or so; down at the Cross Roads."
"Well," said Yates, "there's merit in the idea. I take it your generous
offer is made in good faith, and not necessarily for publication."
"I don't understand. What do you mean?"
"There is no concealed joke, is there? No getting me on the back of one
of those brutes to make a public exhibition of me? Do they bite or kick
or buck, or playfully roll over a person?"
"No," cried, young Bartlett indignantly. "This is no circus. Why, a
baby could ride this horse."
"Well, that's about the style of horse I prefer. You see, I'm a trifle
out of practice. I never rode anything more spirited than a street car,
and I haven't been on one of them for a week."
"Oh, you can ride all right. I guess you could do most things you set
your mind to."
Yates was flattered by this evidently sincere tribute to his capacity,
so he got out of the hammock. The boy, who had been sitting on the
horse with both feet on one side, now straightened his back and slipped
to the ground.
"Wait till I throw down the fence," he said.
Yates mounted with some difficulty, and the two went trotting down the
road. He managed to hold his place with some little uncertainty, but
the joggling up and down worried him. He never seemed to alight in
quite the same place on the horse's back, and this gave an element of
chance to his position which embarrassed him. He expected to come down
some time and find the horse wasn't there. The boy laughed at his
riding, but Yates was too much engaged in keeping his position to mind
that very much.
"D-d-dirt is s-s-said to b-b-be matter out of place, and that's what's
the m-m-mat-matter w-w-with me." His conversation seemed to be shaken
out of him by the trotting of the horse. "I say, Bartlett, I can't
stand this any longer. I'd rather walk."
"You're all right," said the boy; "we'll make him canter."
He struck the horse over the flank with the loose end of the halter
"Here!" shouted Yates, letting go the bridle and grasping the mane.
"Don't make him go faster, you young fiend. I'll murder you when I get
off--and that will be soon."
"You're all right," repeated young Bartlett, and, much to his
astonishment, Yates found it to be so. When the horse broke into a
canter, Yates thought the motion as easy as swinging in a hammock, and
as soothing as a rocking chair.
"This is an improvement. But we've got to keep it up, for if this brute
suddenly changes to a trot, I'm done for."
"We'll keep it up until we come in sight of the Corners, then we'll
slow down to a walk. There's sure to be a lot of fellows at the
blacksmith's shop, so we'll come in on them easy like."
"You're a good fellow, Bartlett," said Yates. "I suspected you of
tricks at first. I'm afraid, if I had got another chap in such a fix, I
wouldn't have let him off as easily as you have me. The temptation
would have been too great."
When they reached the blacksmith's shop at the Corners, they found four
horses in the building ahead of them. Bartlett tied his team outside,
and then, with his comrade, entered the wide doorway of the smithy. The
shop was built of rough boards, and the inside was blackened with soot.
It was not well lighted, the two windows being obscured with much
smoke, so that they were useless as far as their original purpose was
concerned; but the doorway, as wide as that of a barn, allowed all the
light to come in that the smith needed for his work. At the far end and
darkest corner of the place stood the forge, with the large bellows
behind it, concealed, for the most part, by the chimney. The forge was
perhaps six feet square and three or four feet high, built of plank and
filled in with earth. The top was covered with cinders and coal, while
in the center glowed the red core of the fire, with blue flames
hovering over it. The man who worked the bellows chewed tobacco, and
now and then projected the juice with deadly accuracy right into the
center of the fire, where it made a momentary hiss and dark spot. All
the frequenters of the smithy admired Sandy's skill in expectoration,
and many tried in vain to emulate it. The envious said it was due to
the peculiar formation of his front teeth, the upper row being
prominent, and the two middle teeth set far apart, as if one were
missing. But this was jealousy; Sandy's perfection in the art was due
to no favoritism of nature, but to constant and long-continued
practice. Occasionally with his callous right hand, never removing his
left from the lever, Sandy pulled an iron bar out of the fire and
examined it critically. The incandescent end of the bar radiated a
blinding white light when it was gently withdrawn, and illuminated the
man's head, making his beardless face look, against its dark
background, like the smudged countenance of some cynical demon glowing
with a fire from within. The end of the bar which he held must have
been very hot to an ordinary mortal, as everyone in the shop knew, all
of them, at their initiation to the country club, having been handed a
black piece of iron from Sandy's hand, which he held unflinchingly, but
which the innocent receiver usually dropped with a yell. This was
Sandy's favorite joke, and made life worth living for him. It was
perhaps not so good as the blacksmith's own bit of humor, but public
opinion was divided on that point. Every great man has his own
particular set of admirers; and there were some who said,--under their
breaths, of course,--that Sandy could turn a horseshoe as well as
Macdonald himself. Experts, however, while admitting Sandy's general
genius, did not go so far as this.
About half a dozen members of the club were present, and most of them
stood leaning against something with hands deep in their trousers
pockets; one was sitting on the blacksmith's bench, with his legs
dangling down. On the bench tools were scattered around so thickly that
he had had to clear a place before he could sit down; the taking of
this liberty proved the man to be an old and privileged member. He sat
there whittling a stick, aimlessly bringing it to a fine point,
examining it frequently with a critical air, as if he were engaged in
some delicate operation which required great discrimination.
The blacksmith himself stooped with his back to one of the horses, the
hind hoof of the animal, between his knees, resting on his leathern
apron. The horse was restive, looking over its shoulder at him, not
liking what was going on. Macdonald swore at it fluently, and requested
it to stand still, holding the foot as firmly as if it were in his own
iron vise, which was fixed to the table near the whittler. With his
right hand he held a hot horseshoe, attached to an iron punch that had
been driven into one of the nail holes, and this he pressed against the
upraised hoof, as though sealing a document with a gigantic seal. Smoke
and flame rose from the contact of the hot iron with the hoof, and the
air was filled with the not unpleasant odor of burning horn. The
smith's tool box, with hammer, pinchers, and nails, lay on the earthern
floor within easy reach. The sweat poured from his grimy brow; for it
was a hot job, and Macdonald was in the habit of making the most of his
work. He was called the hardest working man in that part of the
country, and he was proud of the designation. He was a standing
reproach to the loafers who frequented his shop, and that fact gave him
pleasure in their company. Besides, a man must have an audience when he
is an expert swearing. Macdonald's profanity was largely automatic,--a
natural gift, as it were,--and he meant nothing wrong by it. In fact,
when you got him fighting angry, he always forgot to swear; but in his
calm moments oaths rolled easily and picturesquely from his lips, and
gave fluency to his conversation. Macdonald enjoyed the reputation
round about of being a wicked man, which he was not; his language was
against him, that was all. This reputation had a misty halo thrown
around it by Macdonald's unknown doings "down East," from which
mystical region he had come. No one knew just what Macdonald had done,
but it was admitted on all sides that he must have had some terrible
experiences, although he was still a young man and unmarried. He used
to say: "When you have come through what I have, you won't be so ready
to pick a quarrel with a man."
This must have meant something significant, but the blacksmith never
took anyone into his confidence; and "down East" is a vague place, a
sort of indefinite, unlocalized no-man's-land, situated anywhere
between Toronto and Quebec. Almost anything might have happened in such
a space of country. Macdonald's favorite way of crushing an opponent
was to say: "When you've had some of my experiences, young man, you'll
know better'n to talk like that." All this gave a certain fascination
to friendship with the blacksmith; and the farmers' boys felt that they
were playing with fire when in his company, getting, as it were, a
glimpse of the dangerous side of life. As for work, the blacksmith
reveled in it, and made it practically his only vice. He did everything
with full steam on, and was, as has been said, a constant reproach to
loafers all over the country. When there was no work to do, he made
work. When there was work to do, he did it with a rush, sweeping the
sweat from his grimy brow with his hooked fore finger, and flecking it
to the floor with a flirt of the right hand, loose on the wrist, in a
way that made his thumb and fore finger snap together like the crack of
a whip. This action was always accompanied with a long-drawn breath,
almost a sigh, that seemed to say: "I wish I had the easy times you
fellows have." In fact, since he came to the neighborhood the current
phrase, "He works like a steer" had given way to, "He works like
Macdonald," except with the older people, who find it hard to change
phrases. Yet everyone liked the blacksmith, and took no special offense
at his untiring industry, looking at it rather as an example to others.
He did not look up as the two newcomers entered, but industriously
pared down the hoof with a curiously formed knife turned like a hook at
the point, burned in the shoe to its place, nailed it on, and rasped
the hoof into shape with a long, broad file. Not till he let the foot
drop on the earthen floor, and slapped the impatient horse on the
flank, did he deign to answer young Bartlett's inquiry.
"No," he said, wringing the perspiration from his forehead, "all these
horses aint ahead of you, and you won't need to come next week. That's
the last hoof of the last horse. No man needs to come to my shop and go
away again, while the breath of life is left in me. And I don't do it,
either, by sitting on a bench and whittling a stick."
"That's so. That's so," said Sandy, chuckling, in the admiring tone of
one who intimated that, when the boss spoke, wisdom was uttered.
"That's one on you, Sam."
"I guess I can stand it, if he can," said the whittler from the bench;
which was considered fair repartee.
"Sit it, you mean," said young Bartlett, laughing with the others at
his own joke.
"But," said the blacksmith severely, "we're out of shoes, and you'll
have to wait till we turn some, that is, if you don't want the old ones
reset. Are they good enough?"
"I guess so, if you can find 'em; but they're out in the fields. Didn't
think I'd bring the horses in while they held on, did you?" Then,
suddenly remembering his duties, he said by, way of general
introduction: "Gentlemen, this is my friend Mr. Yates from New York."
The name seemed to fall like a Wet blanket on the high spirits of the
crowd. They had imagined from the cut of his clothes that he was a
storekeeper from some village around, or an auctioneer from a distance,
these two occupations being the highest social position to which a man
might attain. They were prepared to hear that he was from Welland, or
perhaps St. Catherines; but New York! that was a crusher. Macdonald,
however, was not a man to be put down in his own shop and before his
own admirers. He was not going to let his prestige slip from him merely
because a man from New York had happened along? He could not claim to
know the city, for the stranger would quickly detect the imposture and
probably expose him; but the slightly superior air which Yates wore
irritated him, while it abashed the others. Even Sandy was silent.
"I've met some people from New York down East," he said in an offhand
manner, as if, after all, a man might meet a New Yorker and still not
sink into the ground.
"Really?" said Yates. "I hope you liked them."
"Oh, so-so," replied the blacksmith airily. "There's good and bad among
them, like the rest of us."
"Ah, you noticed that," said Yates. "Well, I've often thought the same
myself. It's a safe remark to make; there is generally no disputing
The condescending air of the New Yorker was maddening, and Macdonald
realized that he was losing ground. The quiet insolence of Yates' tone
was so exasperating to the blacksmith that he felt any language at his
disposal inadequate to cope with it. The time for the practical joke
had arrived. The conceit of this man must be taken down. He would try
Sandy's method, and, if that failed, it would at least draw attention
from himself to his helper.
"Being as you're from New York, maybe you can decide a little bet Sandy
here wants to have with somebody."
Sandy, quick to take the hint, picked up the bar that always lay near
enough the fire to be uncomfortably warm.
"How much do you reckon that weighs?" he said, with critical nicety
estimating its ounces in his swaying hand. Sandy had never done it
better. There was a look of perfect innocence on his bland,
unsophisticated countenance, and the crowd looked on in breathless
Bartlett was about to step forward and save his friend, but a wicked
glare from Macdonald restrained him; besides, he felt, somehow, that
his sympathies were with his neighbors, and not with the stranger he
had brought among them. He thought resentfully that Yates might have
been less high and mighty. In fact, when he asked him to come he had
imagined his brilliancy would be instantly popular, and would reflect
glory on himself. Now he fancied he was included in the general scorn
Yates took such little pains to conceal.
Yates glanced at the piece of iron and, without taking his hands from
his pockets, said carelessly:
"Oh, I should imagine it weighed a couple of pounds."
"Heft it," said Sandy beseechingly, holding it out to him.
"No, thank you," replied Yates, with a smile. "Do you think I have
never picked up a hot horseshoe before? If you are anxious to know its
weight, why don't you take it over to the grocery store and have it
"'Taint hot," said Sandy, as he feebly smiled and flung the iron back
on the forge. "If it was, I couldn't have held it s'long."
"Oh, no," returned Yates, with a grin, "of course not. I don't know
what a blacksmith's hands are, do I? Try something fresh."
Macdonald saw there was no triumph over him among his crowd, for they
all evidently felt as much involved in the failure of Sandy's trick as
he did himself; but he was sure that in future some man, hard pushed in
argument, would fling the New Yorker at him. In the crisis he showed
the instinct of a Napoleon.
"Well, boys," he cried, "fun's fun, but I've got to work. I have to
earn my living, anyhow."
Yates enjoyed his victory; they wouldn't try "getting at" him again, he
said to himself.
Macdonald strode to the forge and took out the bar of white-hot iron.
He gave a scarcely perceptible nod to Sandy, who, ever ready with
tobacco juice, spat with great directness on the top of the anvil.
Macdonald placed the hot iron on the spot, and quickly smote it a
stalwart blow with the heavy hammer. The result was appalling. An
instantaneous spreading fan of apparently molten iron lit up the place
as if it were a flash of lightning. There was a crash like the bursting
of a cannon. The shop was filled for a moment with a shower of
brilliant sparks, that flew like meteors to every corner of the place.
Everyone was prepared for the explosion except Yates. He sprang back
with a cry, tripped, and, without having time to get the use of his
hands to ease his fall, tumbled and rolled to the horses' heels. The
animals, frightened by the report, stamped around; and Yates had to
hustle on his hands and knees to safer quarters, exhibiting more
celerity than dignity. The blacksmith never smiled, but everyone else
roared. The reputation of the country was safe. Sandy doubled himself
up in his boisterous mirth.
"There's no one like the old man!" he shouted. "Oh, lordy! lordy! He's
all wool, and a yard wide."
Yates picked himself up and dusted himself off, laughing with the rest
"If I ever knew that trick before, I had forgotten it. That's one on
me, as this youth in spasms said a moment ago. Blacksmith, shake! I'll
treat the crowd, if there's a place handy."
People who have but a superficial knowledge of the life and times here
set down may possibly claim that the grocery store, and not the
blacksmith's shop, used to be the real country club--the place where
the politics of the country were discussed; where the doings of great
men were commended or condemned, and the government criticised. It is
true that the grocery store was the club of the village, when a place
like the Corners grew to be a village; but the blacksmith's shop was
usually the first building erected on the spot where a village was
ultimately to stand. It was the nucleus. As a place grew, and
enervating luxury set in, the grocery store slowly supplanted the
blacksmith's shop, because people found a nail keg, or a box of
crackers, more comfortable to sit on than the limited seats at their
disposal in a smithy; moreover, in winter the store, with its red-hot
box stove, was a place of warmth and joy, but the reveling in such an
atmosphere of comfort meant that the members of the club had to live
close at hand, for no man would brave the storms of a Canadian winter
night, and journey a mile or two through the snow, to enjoy even the
pleasures of the store. So the grocery was essentially a village club,
and not a rural club.
Of course, as civilization advanced, the blacksmith found it impossible
to compete with the grocer. He could not offer the same inducements.
The grocery approached more nearly than the smithy the grateful
epicurism of the Athenaeum, the Reform, or the Carlton. It catered to
the appetite of man, besides supplying him with the intellectual
stimulus of debate. A box of soda crackers was generally open, and,
although such biscuits were always dry, they were good to munch, if
consumed slowly. The barrel of hazel nuts never had a lid on. The
raisins, in their square box, with blue-tinted paper, setting forth the
word "Malaga" under the colored picture of joyous Spanish grape
pickers, stood on the shelves behind the counter, at an angle suited to
display the contents to all comers, requiring an exceptionally long
reach, and more than an ordinary amount of cheek, before they were got
at; but the barrel of Muscavado brown sugar was where everyone could
dip his hand in; while the man on the keg of tenpenny nails might
extend his arm over into the display window, where the highly colored
candies exhibited themselves, although the person who meddled often
with them was frowned upon, for it was etiquette in the club not to
purloin things which were expensive. The grocer himself drew the line
at the candies, and a second helping usually brought forth the mild
"Shall I charge that, Sam; or would you rather pay for it now?"
All these delicacies were taken in a somewhat surreptitious way, and
the takers generally wore an absent-minded look, as if the purloining
was not quite intentional on their part. But they were all good
customers of the grocer, and the abstractions were doubtless looked on
by him as being in the way of trade; just as the giving of a present
with a pound of tea, or a watch with a suit of clothes, became in later
days. Be that as it may, he never said anything unless his generosity
was taken advantage of, which was rarely the case.
Very often on winter nights there was a hilarious feast, that helped to
lighten the shelves and burden the till. This ordinarily took the form
of a splurge in cove oysters. Cove oysters came from Baltimore, of
course, in round tins; they were introduced into Canada long before the
square tin boxes that now come in winter from the same bivalvular city.
Cove oysters were partly cooked before being tinned, so that they
would, as the advertisements say, keep in any climate. They did not
require ice around them, as do the square tins which now contain the
raw oysters. Someone present would say:
"What's the matter with having a feed of cove oysters?"
He then collected a subscription of ten cents or so from each member,
and the whole was expended in several cans of oysters and a few pounds
of crackers. The cooking was done in a tin basin on the top of the hot
stove. The contents of the cans were emptied into this handy dish, milk
was added, and broken crackers, to give thickness and consistency to
the result. There were always plenty of plates, for the store supplied
the crockery of the neighborhood. There were also plenty of spoons, for
everything was to be had at the grocery. What more could the most
exacting man need? On a particularly reckless night the feast ended
with several tins of peaches, which needed no cooking, but only a
sprinkling of sugar. The grocer was always an expert at cooking cove
oysters and at opening tins of peaches.
There was a general feeling among the members that, by indulging in
these banquets, they were going the pace rather; and some of the older
heads feebly protested against the indulgence of the times, but it was
noticed that they never refrained from doing their share when it came
to spoon work.
"A man has but one life to live," the younger and more reckless would
say, as if that excused the extravagance; for a member rarely got away
without being fifteen cents out of pocket, especially when they had
peaches as well as oysters.
The grocery at the Corners had been but recently established and as yet
the blacksmith's shop had not looked upon it as a rival. Macdonald was
monarch of all he surveyed, and his shop was the favorite gathering
place for miles around. The smithy was also the patriotic center of the
district, as a blacksmith's shop must be as long as anvils can take the
place of cannon for saluting purposes. On the 24th of May, the queen's
birthday, celebrated locally as the only day in the year, except
Sundays, when Macdonald's face was clean and when he did no work, the
firing of the anvils aroused the echoes of the locality. On that great
day the grocer supplied the powder, which was worth three York
shillings a pound--a York shilling being sixpence halfpenny. It took
two men to carry an anvil, with a good deal of grunting; but Macdonald,
if the crowd were big enough, made nothing of picking it up, hoisting
it on his shoulder, and flinging it down on the green in front of his
shop. In the iron mass there is a square hole, and when the anvil was
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