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When Life Was Young At the Old Farm in Maine
A NOSE IN COMMON
It was on a sunny, windy May afternoon, late in the month, that the old gentleman drove to the railway station, eight miles from the farm, to fetch home the writer of this narrative. Till that day I had never seen either of my grandparents. But I knew that grandfather was to meet me at the station, and immediately on getting out of the car, I saw an erect, rather tall, elderly man with white hair and blue eyes, peering over the crowd, as if on the lookout for a boy. The instinctive stir of kinship made me sure who he was; but from some childish bashfulness I did not like to go directly to him and came around from one side, then touched his arm. He glanced down. "Are you looking for a small fellow like me, sir?" I asked.
"Yes, yes!" he exclaimed and laughed.
He looked at me searchingly, and his face grew sorrowful as he gazed.
"Yes, you are poor Edmund's boy. You've your father's forehead and eyes. Well, well, my son, I am glad to see you, and I hope you will like with us. You are coming to your father's old home, where he used to live when he was a boy. Your grandmother will be glad to see you; and you must not think of such a thing as being homesick. Your cousins are there; and there will be plenty of things to take up your mind."
I hastened to say that I was thankful for the home he was giving me, and that I had come to work and pay my way. (My mother had fully explained the situation to me.)
Grandfather smiled and looked at me again. "Yes, you are quite a boy!" he said. "If you are as good a boy as your father was, your coming may prove a blessing instead of an additional tax on us."
I felt much gratified that he considered me "quite a boy," and said that I knew so many of us must be a great care; but that I meant to do my best and to take my father's place with him, if he ever needed a son. (More of my good mother's ideas, rather than my own, I am afraid.) Unwittingly I had touched a pleasant chord, albeit a sad one. Grandfather grasped me by the hand, and I saw that his worn blue eyes had moistened.
I drew out my baggage check and ran to get my small trunk, which I dragged forward while grandfather backed the wagon up to the platform. We drove off much reassured in each other; and I remember still that the old gentleman's kind words stirred me to an impulsive boyish resolve never to disappoint his confidence; but it was a resolve that I often lost sight of in the years that followed.
Presently our road led along the shore of the Pennesseewassee, past woodland and farms, mile on mile, with the lake often in sight. I was much interested in watching the loons, and also a long raft of peeled hemlock logs which four men were laboriously poling down the lake to the saw-mills.
After a time grandfather began to talk more cheerily; he spoke of farming and of town affairs to me as if I were older; and once or twice he called me Edmund, although that was not my name; but I did not correct the mistake; I thought that I could do that some other time.
"There will be six of you now," he said, "six cousins, all in one family; and all not far from the same age." Then he asked me my age. "Twelve, almost thirteen," I replied. "Why, I thought you were fourteen," he said. "Well, now Addison is fifteen, or sixteen, and Theodora is near fourteen. Addison is a good boy and a boy of character, studious and scholarly. I do not know what his learning may lead to; sometimes I am afraid that he is imbibing infidelic doctrines; but he is a boy of good principles whom I would trust in anything. He is your Uncle William's son, you know, and came to our house two years ago, after his father's death at Shiloh. Theodora came at about the same time; she is your Aunt Adelaide's daughter. Poor Adelaide had to send her home to me after your Uncle Robert's death at Chancellorsville. Theodora is a noble-hearted child, womanly and considerate in all her ways; and she is as good a scholar as Addison.
"Then there's Halstead." Grandfather paused; and looking up in his face, I saw that a less cheery expression had come there. "Sometimes I do not know what to do with Halstead," grandfather remarked, at last. "He is a strange boy and has a very unsteady disposition. He came to us after your Uncle Henry's death. Your Uncle Henry and Uncle Charles both lost their lives in the Gettysburg fight. O this has been a terrible war! But what we have gained may be worth the sacrifice; I hope so! I hope so!" exclaimed the old gentleman, fervently.
"How old is Halstead?" I asked, after a silence of some minutes.
"He is fifteen; and your little cousins, Ellen and Wealthy, are twelve and nine," replied the old gentleman, resuming his account of my cousins to me. "They are your Uncle Charles' little girls, good dutiful children as one would ever need to have."
It was a long drive. At length the road, bending round the north end of the lake, led for half a mile or more up an easy hill. Here, on either hand, fields, inclosed with wide stone walls, were now beginning to show green a little through the dry grass of last year. Other fields, ploughed and planted, faintly disclosed long rows of corn, just breaking ground, presided over by tutelar scarecrows which drummed on pans and turned glittering bits of tin as the breeze played over them.
"We have lately finished planting," grandfather explained to me. "The crows are very bold this spring. Halstead and Addison have been displaying their ingenuity out there, to frighten them off."
At some distance below the farm buildings, we entered between rows of apple trees, on both sides of the walled road, trees so large and leafy, that they quite shut out the fields. These were now in blossom.
"To-morrow will be White Sunday," grandfather remarked, as old Sol (the farm horse) toiled up the long hill. "Nature's own bright Whitsuntide, never brighter, despite war and mourning."
The great trees stood like huge bouquets; their peculiar, heavy odor loaded the air, which resounded to the deep, musical hum of thousands of bees. The near report of a gun rang out, followed by a great uproar of crows.
"The boys are scaring them out of the wheat-field," said grandfather.
I was looking for the house, when old Sol turned in before a high gate-frame of squared timber, overhung by the apple trees (we sometimes walked across on the top timber from one tree into the other), and I jumped down to open the gate. "Pull out the pin," grandfather said. I did so, and the gate swung of its own accord, disclosing a grassy lane, marked with wheel-ruts. The farm buildings stood at the head of the lane; a two-story house, large on the ground, lately painted straw color. Three great Balm o' Gilead trees towered over it. A long wood-shed led from the house to a new stable, with a gilt vane and cupola, which showed off somewhat to the disadvantage of the two larger barns beyond it; for the latter were barns of the old times, high-posted with roofs of low pitch, and weathered from long conflicts with storms. Around them, like stunted children, clustered sheds, sties and a top-heavy corn-crib, stilted on four long, smooth legs.
Two boys, one carrying a gun, were coming in from the field; and I saw girls' faces at the front windows.
We drove in at the open door of the stable; and while we were alighting from the wagon, grandmother came out to welcome me and see, I suppose, what manner of lad I was. The two boys, larger than myself and bearing little resemblance to each other, approached to unharness the horse; they regarded me casually, without much apparent interest; and a sense of being an utter stranger there fell on me. I hardly ventured to glance at grandmother, who took me by both hands and looked earnestly in my face. I feared that she would kiss me before the others and durst not look at her. "Yes," I heard her say, in a low voice, "it is Edmund's own boy." She led the way into the house, through the long wood-shed and ell. Supper was waiting; and after a hasty wash at a long sink in the wood-shed, I followed grandfather through the kitchen to the room beyond it, where the large round table was spread. The family all came in and sat down. I still felt very strange to the place; but a glance into grandmother's kind face reassured me a little.
Grandmother, as I remember her, was then fair and plump, with hair partially gray, and a tinge of recent sadness upon a face naturally genial. With a quiet sigh, she seated me next to her — a sigh for the last of her boys.
"They are all here now, father," she said, "the last one has come. It's a strange thing to see them coming as they have and know why they have come."
My cousins were regarding me with a kind of curious sympathy. I picked out Halstead at a glance: a boy with a rather low forehead, dark complexion and a round head, which his short clipped hair caused to appear still more spherical. A hare-lip, never appropriately treated, gave his mouth a singular, grieved droop; but, as if in contradiction to this, his eyes were black and restless. The contrast with the steady gray eyes, and high forehead of the boy sitting next to him, was as great as could well be imagined.
As a boy, I naturally looked at the boys first; but while doing so, I knew that a girl in a black dress, was regarding me in a kind, cousinly way, a girl with a large, fair face, calm gray-blue eyes and a profusion of light golden hair. Grandfather's remark, that Theodora was "a noble-hearted child," came back to me with my first glance at her.
Two smaller girls, who frequently left their chairs, to wait on the table, were sitting at grandmother's left hand; girls with brown eyes, brown hair, and rosy faces, one larger than the other; these were Ellen and Wealthy.
"They don't look much alike," said grandmother, looking at us all, over her glasses. "One never would mistrust they were cousins."
The old gentleman contemplated us kindly. "Only their noses," said he. "Their noses are somewhat alike."
Grandmother looked again, through her glasses this time.
"So they are!" cried she. "They've all got your nose, Joseph;" and the old lady laughed; and we all laughed a little oddly and looked at grandfather and laughed again. I think we felt a little better acquainted after that; we had, at least, a nose in common. But even our laughter that evening was distrait, or seemed to me so, as if shadowed by something sad.
As evening drew on, we all, save Halstead, gathered in the front sitting-room without lights; for the windows were open; and there was a hazy moon. Theodora sat at one window, looking off upon the lake; while Ellen slowly and rather imperfectly played tunes on a melodeon, lively tunes, I believe, but the old instrument seemed to me to be weeping and wailing to us under a mask of pretended music. Beyond doubt I was a little homesick and tired from my journey; and after a time grandmother lighted a candle to show me the way up-stairs to bed. I remember feeling disappointed when she told me that I was to sleep with Halstead. The latter had come in and followed us up-stairs. He seemed surprised at finding me in his room.
"Thought you was going to roost with Ad," said he. "Heard the old gent say so. Guess Ad has been whining to the grandmarm not to have you. He is a regular old Betty. 'Fraid you'll upset some of his precious gimcracks."
"What are they?" I asked.
"Don't know much about them. I don't go near him, and he keeps his door fastened. Lets Doad and Nell in once in awhile. No admittance to me.
"Hold on a bit!" he exclaimed, suddenly. "Don't sit down on the side o' the bed just yet. There's (feeling under the bed-clothes) something soft in there. Here 'tis (drawing out half a large apple pie). Have a piece?"
Not liking to commit myself to pie under such dubious circumstances, I said that I guessed not. Halstead began eating it without further ceremony.
"I always want a luncheon before I go to bed," he explained, between mouthfuls. "The old folks think it's hurtful to eat and go right to sleep. I don't; and I generally manage to get a bite stowed away during the day."
I inquired how he managed it.
"Oh, watch my chance at the cupboard. 'Bout three o'clock in the afternoon is a pretty good time. Women-folks all in the sitting-room then."
While Halstead was finishing the pie, I got into bed, taking the farther side. There was a shockingly hard lump under my back and after trying in vain to adapt myself to it, I asked Halstead if he knew what it was.
"Oh! I forgot that," said he; and coming round, he made another investigation in the straw bed and took out an old pistol, a very large, long one.
"It is loaded!" I exclaimed, for I caught sight of the bright brass cap.
"Course 'tis," said he. "What's the good of a pistol, if you don't load it? I had a pair. They're hoss pistols. But the old gent don't 'prove of pistols. He nabbed the other one. I have to keep this one hid."
"I should think they would find it when they make the bed," said I.
"Oh, the grandmarm don't stir the straw very often. She's kind o' fat. It tires her, I expect. After she's stirred it once, I know I'm safe to put things in there for quite a spell."
After secreting the pistol in the leg of an old boot, Halstead came to bed, and was asleep in a few moments. Falling asleep almost as soon as he touched the bed was one of his peculiarities. I, too, was soon asleep.