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THE OLD SQUIRE ALLOWS US FOUR DAYS FOR CAMPING OUT
So occupied were our minds with the Fair and its incidents, that not one of us had thought to go or send to the post office during that entire week. We had even passed near it, without thinking to call.
But on Sunday morning the Old Squire suddenly bethought himself of his religious newspaper, The Independent, which he commonly read for an hour after breakfast. He called me aside and, after remarking that he did not make a practice of going, or sending, to the post office on the Sabbath, said that I might make a trip to the Corners and bring home the mail. As the post office was at the residence of the postmaster, letters and papers could be taken from the office on any day or hour of the week.
I went to the Corners, accordingly, and at the door of the post office met Catherine Edwards who had also come there on a similar errand.
She looked very bright and smart that morning and laughed when she saw me.
"Your folks forgot the mail, too," said she. "Father told me to go down across the meadow, so that the Old Squire's folks needn't see me, going to the post office; for you know father stands in great awe of your grandpa's opinions. I shall tell him when I get home that he needn't have been so cautious."
Kate did not hasten away; and I summoned courage to say, "Please wait for me," although it cost me a great effort.
"All right," she replied. "I'll go on slow."
The postmaster had again to look up his glasses and was, I thought, a long while peering at the letters and papers. At length he handed out my package and I hurried away. Kate had not proceeded very far, however, and I soon overtook her. But she was obliged to take the lead in conversation.
"Our school doesn't begin this winter till after Thanksgiving," she remarked. "Have your folks heard who the schoolmaster is going to be?"
We had not.
"Well then, it is a young man, named Samuel Lurvy," said Kate. "He lives at Lurvy's Mills; and they say that his father, who owns the mills, has sent him for three terms to the Academy. Mr. Batchelder is our district school agent, you know; and his wife is a relative of the Lurvys; that's the reason, father says, that he came to hire Sam. Our folks are a little surprised and so are the Wilburs; for this Sam isn't more than nineteen or twenty years old; and mother says that she doesn't believe that he can be a very good scholar, for his parents are very ignorant.
"I was in hopes that they would have a good teacher this winter; for I want to make a start in Algebra," Kate continued. "I suppose you are nicely along in your studies. They must have better schools at Philadelphia than we do, away back here in the country."
It appeared, however, that whatever advantages I might have had in this respect, I was yet not as far advanced in Arithmetic as Kate; nor yet in any other branch. I had barely reached Compound Interest, while Kate had finished her Practical Arithmetic the previous winter.
"I could do all the examples in it when school was done last winter," she said. "I reviewed it once this summer, under Miss Emmons; I think like as not I might trip on some of them now. But I know that Theodora can do them all. She is a little older than I am; and she is a real good scholar, though I don't think that she is quite so good as Addison. He is different, somehow; he knows lots about everything and can talk real interesting with the teachers, in the classes. I know he is hoping we will have a good teacher, so he can finish up all his common school studies. You tell him that we are going to have Sam Lurvy, and see what he thinks about it.
"But it will be a long time before school begins," Kate continued, "nearly two months. We only have about nineteen weeks of school in a year here."
By this time we had reached the meadow where the bridge spanned the meadow brook.
"Go easy on the bridge and look off the lower end of it," Kate advised. "We may see a big trout."
We did so and saw several trout, swimming away, but not very large ones.
"Well, I guess I shall go up the meadow and across the fields home," remarked Kate. "It is nearer for me; and it is a little nearer for you; but perhaps you would rather go by the road, seeing it is Sunday."
"I had rather go with you up the meadow," I said, but I felt somewhat abashed; and it seemed to me very bold to take such a long walk through meadow, pasture and fields, with a girl, alone, of about my own age, and not a cousin.
We proceeded up the meadow, following the meanderings of the brook, past numerous bush clumps. At length, we drew near a large bend where the brook looked to be both wide and deep. "This is the best trout hole on the meadow," Kate told me in a low tone. "Just wait a moment and keep back out of sight, while I catch a grasshopper." She hunted about in the dry grass, alternately stealing forward on tip-toe, then making a quick dash and pressing her hand suddenly on the grass. "I've got two," she said, coming cautiously forward. "Now creep up still to that little bunch of basswood bushes, on the edge of the bank. Get down low and crawl and don't jar the ground. I'm going to throw in a grasshopper. Oh dear me, look at the 'molasses' the nasty thing has put on my hand!"
Kate threw the grasshopper into the pool at the bend; and it seemed to me that it had barely touched the water, when flop rose a fine trout and snatched it.
"Oh, if it wasn't Sunday and we had a hook here to put this other grasshopper on," said Kate eagerly, "wouldn't it be fun to haul that trout out here!
"I caught ten here one day last June," she continued. "Oh, I do love to fish! — Do you think it is very horrid for girls to fish?" she asked suddenly.
"Girls don't fish as much as boys, but I didn't know there was any harm in it," I said.
"I'm glad you don't think it isn't nice," said Kate. "Tom is always hectoring me about it. I sometimes catch more than he does; and I think that is the reason he wants to plague me."
"But we must go away from here!" Kate exclaimed. "For I don't think it is quite right to want to fish so badly, on Sunday. I think it is as bad to want to catch a fish as to catch one, or almost as bad."
This being our moral condition, we veered off from the brook a little; and Kate pointed out to me a bank of choke-cherry bushes, from which we gathered a few cherries, not very good ones.
"It isn't a good cherry year," said Kate. "Last year was. We got splendid ones off these same bushes, last September."
Kate also pointed out to me some small bird pear trees, growing beside an old hedge fence across the upper end of the meadow, where we climbed over and going through a tract of sparse woodland entered the pasture below the Old Squire's south field.
"Oh, I do love to be out in the woods and pastures on a bright pleasant day like this!" exclaimed Kate, with a long breath of enjoyment. "I wish I could camp out and be out of doors all the fall. That makes me think, has Addison or Dora said anything to you about our making a trip to the 'great woods' this fall, after the apples are picked?"
"I have heard Addison say that he would like to go," said I. "And Theodora said that they had talked of making a camping trip once. But I haven't heard anything about it lately."
"Oh dear, I'm afraid they will all give it up," said Kate. "There is a place away up in the woods where there is a nice chance to camp. Tom was up there once. It is quite a good ways. We should have to camp out over night. Wouldn't that be fun? There's a brook up there full of fish, they say; and there are partridges and lots of game. My folks will let Tom and me go, if Theodora and Ellen and Addison go. Mother thinks Dora is the nicest girl there ever was about here; she holds her up as a pattern for me, regularly. But I happen to know that Dora enjoys having a good time, as much as I do.
"Now you put them up to go," Kate added, as we came to the west field bars, where our ways homeward diverged. "Good-by. I've had a real nice walk."
It was certainly very polite for her to say that; for she had been obliged to do nearly all the talking.
Addison and Theodora were standing out near the bee hives and saw me coming across the field to the house. A great and embarrassing fear fell upon me, as I saw them observing my approach. Even now, Catherine was still in sight, at a distance, crossing Mr. Edwards' field. My two cousins had been waiting about for me to bring The Portland Transcript and The Boston Weekly Journal, which they read very constantly in those days.
"Aha! aha!" exclaimed Addison, significantly. "Seems to me that you have been gone a long time after the mail!"
"And who is that young lady we saw you taking leave of, over at the bars?" put in Theodora.
A very small hole would have sufficed for me to creep into at about that time!
"See how red he is," hectored Addison. "We've found him out. I had no idea he was any such boy as this!"
"Dear me, no," said Theodora, pretending to be vastly scandalized. "Just see how bold he behaves! I never would have thought it of him!" Thus they tormented me, winking confidentially to each other; and an eel being skinned alive for the frying-pan would not have suffered more than I did from their gibes.
For a number of days after the Fair, we found it difficult to settle down to farm work, so greatly had it interrupted the ordinary course of events. When we did get to work again, our first task was to pick the winter apples, the Baldwins and Greenings, and barrel them, for market. Gramp did not allow these apples to be shaken off the trees; they must all be hand-picked, then carefully sorted up and the first layers placed in the barrels in rows around the bottom. Baldwins and Greenings, thus barrelled, will keep sound till the following March; but if care be not used and apples which have fallen from the trees be put in, the barrel of fruit may wholly decay before February.
It was pleasant, but tiresome work, climbing to the top of the great trees, holding on with one hand and picking apples with the other. We were well provided with "horses," ladders and hooks, however, and in four days, picked and put up one hundred and thirty barrels. Lest some farmer's son well versed in this kind of work, be inclined to think my story large, I may explain that there were six of us, including the two Doanes and the Old Squire; and I must also add that the girls helped us at the sorting and barrelling.
The fact was, that we were all working with good will; for Addison had taken opportunity to ask the Old Squire and Gram about making that excursion to the "great woods;" and although the latter had not yet consented to allow Theodora and Ellen to go, Gramp had said that we boys might have four days, after the apples were picked. Addison had told me about it, but had said nothing to Halstead, for he had expressly stipulated with the old gentleman, that Halse should not be allowed to accompany us.
Addison's plan to exclude Halse disturbed Theodora, however; she thought it was wrong to treat him in that manner, even if we did not like his ways. Addison, however, declared that we would be sure to have trouble, if Halstead went, he was so headstrong and bad-tempered. We had several very earnest private discussions of the matter. Addison would not yield the point; he would as lief not go, he said, as to go with Halse.
Thomas and Catherine Edwards, and Willis Murch, had been advised of the proposed expedition and asked to go. We should thus make a party of seven, Addison urged, and would have a fine time; for the Edwards young folks and Willis were good-tempered and intelligent, with tastes much like our own. Ned Wilbur had been invited, but declined, having to choose between this trip and a long promised visit to some friends, in another county.
The matter was pending all the time we were gathering apples. Theodora even argued for Halstead with Gramp; but Addison stood in well with the old gentleman; he declared that he wished and needed to take a gun with us, and that he, for one, did not dare go out with Halse, if the latter had a gun; nor did he believe that any of us would be safe, if Halse had the handling of one.
Unfortunately there was only too much truth in this latter argument. Theodora then urged that Halse might be allowed to go and made to promise in advance not to take up the gun at all while we were gone. Addison retorted that those might trust his promises who wished, but that he would not.
Wealthy, whom grandmother judged too young to go, at length told Halstead of the proposed trip and informed him that he, at least, would have to stay at home with her. Thereupon Halstead began to question me in our room at night about the trip. I told him bluntly that Gramp did not think it prudent for him to go, lest he should make trouble.
"So I've got to stay at home and work!" he exclaimed bitterly.
"Well, you might behave better when you are out, then," I said. "It's your own fault."
"What have I done?" he exclaimed.
"Picked a quarrel with 'Enoch' on Fourth o' July," said I, to refresh his memory.
"I don't care; he stoned me!" Halse exclaimed.
"But you began the fuss," I put in.
"Oh, you say that because Ad does. You and he are about alike!" cried Halse, angrily.
"Then there was town-meeting night," I went on to say. "I think you came home intoxicated that night; I think you had been gambling, too."
"You say that again and I'll thrash you!" exclaimed Halse, now very hot.
"Well, I think so, or I shouldn't say it," I repeated.
In an instant Halse was upon me, as I sat on the side of our bed, and there was an unseemly scuffle. Halse was the larger, and I think that I would have gotten the worst of the squabble, but at this juncture, Addison, hearing the racket, rushed in from his room and pulled us apart.
"Who began this row?" quoth our separator.
"I did, and I'll thrash him!" shouted Halse. "He said I was drunk town-meeting night."
"Well, you were," said Addison. "We all know that."
Halse then tried to throw a boot at Addison who set him down violently in a chair.
"Do you know what I would do with you, if I were in the Old Squire's place?" cried Addison. "I would put you at the Reform School, you little rowdy!"
Up jumped Halse to seize the other boot to throw, but was set down again, this time so hard that the whole room shook. He sat panting a moment, then began to whimper. Theodora came to the door.
"Oh, boys," said she in a low voice, "please don't. Do try not to disturb Gramp to-night; he is very tired and has just gone to bed."
I suppose that we all felt ashamed of ourselves. I did; for I knew that I had been somewhat to blame, to provoke Halstead so far. We fell asleep in anything but a kindly mood toward each other; I had remained awake till Halse was snoring, being a little afraid of him, to tell the truth. Even after he was asleep, he kept starting and muttering, he had become so much excited.
But for this incident I think that Theodora would have won her way, and Halse would have been invited to go; she was very persevering, to carry her point, when she thought a thing was right.
But now we were so embittered that Halstead declared next morning he would not go with us, if we asked him.
"But you will all be sorry for this before you get back!" he blurted out; — words which made me feel uneasy, for they seemed to imply a threat of some sort. I said nothing about it, however, not believing that he really would do anything.
That afternoon we finished picking the apples; and the Old Squire said that the hired men could gather up those on the ground, for home use, subsequently. Since we were going on a trip, he thought that we had better go at once, before the weather turned colder. The fact was, that Ad had succeeded in interesting Gramp in the trip. The old gentleman owned a number of lots of wild land, up in the "great woods." There had been stories that there was silver in some of the mountains there; Addison often talked about finding mines; and as he already knew quite a good deal about the different kinds of rocks and ores, the Old Squire thought that he might possibly discover something of value.
That evening we were busy with our preparations for the trip; and I do not remember seeing Halstead at all; Catherine and Tom Edwards came over, and Willis Murch a little later, to ask about taking his gun. Addison thought that one gun would be enough to carry; for we found out, as every camping party does, that our luggage would prove burdensome and must be reduced to the least possible weight. We wanted to take, in addition to four "comforters" and two blankets, only what things we could pack in two common bushel baskets which are convenient to carry, either on one's shoulder, or for two persons where one lends a hand at either ear of the basket. In one basket we packed our tinware, frying-pan, tin dippers, plates, etc., along with four or five loaves of bread, sugar, coffee, salt, pepper, etc., and four dozen eggs. In the other was stowed potatoes, pork, a little bag of coarse corn meal for mush, butter and a score other little articles that are often forgotten at the start and sadly missed later on. Finally on top of each basket was strapped the comforters and blankets.
It being past the middle of October, when frosty nights might be expected, we all wore thick winter clothing and strong boots.
Gram had at last consented to allow Ellen and Theodora to go, although it must be said that such a jaunt was not at all to the dear old lady's taste, and violated many of her traditions of what girls should do.
There were none too many hours passed in sleep by any of us that night, I feel sure; for we did not finish our preparations and packing, till towards midnight; and Addison waked us promptly at five o'clock. When he came to my door to call me, Halse waked up and lay scowling, as I dressed by the light of a candle. "You feel mighty smart, don't ye?" he said at length. I did not blame him much for being out of sorts, and so did not reply.
"I hope it will rain every day you are gone!" he exclaimed. "I hope the 'Cannucks' will rob ye!"
There were rumors concerning parties of Canadian outlaws that were thought to infest the "great woods," or at least to pass through it and rendezvous somewhere in its recesses, on their way to and from Canada. Hence the name of Cannucks.