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August, Miss Loring and the cottage ing a lookout, and the like, and had lost boys at the Settlement School on Perilous no opportunity to "layway" and ambush heard large and frequent tales from Nucky infant Cheevers, and "tole" them into desMarrs about his two big brothers Blant perate encounters; but he longed for the and Ezry. With pardonable pride he re- day when he might emulate Blant and counted their deeds of valor, which had Ezry and rid the earth of some of the begun in their early teens, when, by rea- enemies. son of their father's health having been Blant and Ezry had not only these soshattered by a gunshot-wound, they had cial duties to perform for their family, but been obliged to take upon themselves various others, some of an unusual charthe defense of the family honor in the acter. It goes without saying that, since hereditary "war" with the Cheevers. By Mr. Marrs's lung had been punctured by the time Blant was twenty-one and Ezry a Cheever bullet, they were the breadnineteen, the two had done much to en- winners. They "tended the crop" on the hance the reputation of Trigger Branch, steep mountain-sides in summer, and Powderhorn Creek, and even of “Bloody logged, cleared new-ground, and did other Boyne," the county in which they lived. Herculean labors at other seasons; and, Needless to say, the other eleven cottage since the death of their mother a year beboys listened to these accounts with envy fore Nucky's arrival at the school, they and jealousy. Not one of them had an had also sustained many of the cares of the active "war" going on in his family; not household. Three or four days after the one lived in a neighborhood where, in fa- birth of her last child, Mrs. Marrs had vorable seasons, “they bring a dead man gone out to hoe in the onion-patch one day down the branch every week”; not one when the boys were away, and had been had big brothers as brave, as daring, as overtaken by a sudden, drenching shower, quick with the trigger, as Blant and Ezry. catching cold, and dying within the week. Nucky's one regret was that he had come She was intensely devoted to her eight along so many years after the big boys and children, and on her death-bed she had rehad been unable to assist them materially quested her husband never to put a “stepin the family quarrel. Of course he had maw" over them, and had instructed Blant
and Ezry to assist their father in raising near being et up by a jont ten times as big the younger ones, confiding to Blant's spe- as him.” The latter book had been the cial care the week-old baby, "your paw chief delight of Nucky's infancy. All this being too puny to set up with it of nights.” was most interesting to Miss Loring, as After the two big boys there was a gap in being another proof that the early settlers the family caused by the death of four were men of an education which isolation children from typhoid; then followed and the hard struggle for existence made Nucky, who was eleven, and the five impossible to their descendants. younger children.
Blant and Ezry ac- Nucky was continually expecting Blant cepted their trust with sincere devotion. and Ezry over to visit him at the school, Their father was able to do a good deal and getting word from passers-by that of the cooking and housework, but they they aimed to come soon; and Miss Lorassisted him even in this, and, when not ing and the cottage boys were most eager at work outside, tirelessly and tenderly to see the heroes materialize. But it apminded the children. At night "the babe" peared that, although the babe was now always slept at Blant's side, -or, rather, more than a year old and done with colic, the first three colic months it did not sleep, Blant was still unable to make up his and Blant patiently walked the floor with mind to leave it overnight. it, jolted it on his knees, toasted its little The autumn passed, and almost any feet before the fire, warmed its bottle, story Miss Loring read or told Nucky gave it generous doses of corn liquor, and, would be able to match with performances as Nucky said, "made it sugar-teats and of Blant and Ezry and their best friend soot-tea as good as a woman."
Richard Tarrant, who always assisted During the latter part of this colic-time, them in their undertakings. Blant, howMr. Marrs became so desperate by reason ever, was the star actor on every occasion. of being constantly disturbed in his sleep When, for instance, along in December, that he concluded there was nothing for it they were reading the story of Ulysses, but to get a woman in the house; and one and reached the place where the hero and evening he sadly and secretly started off his friends escape from the cave of Polyacross Elbow Mountain to propose to a phemus, Nucky told of the last time Blant capable widow over in Sassafras Hollow. had been arrested for necessarily killing a On the very summit of the mountain, he Cheever (when a Cheever and a Marrs was confronted by his wife's spirit, which, met it was only a question of the quickwith denunciation and warning, turned est trigger), and how, on the way to the him back, trembling and repentant, to re- county-seat afterward, the officers and new his promise to the children that they prisoner were overtaken by darkness and should never have a stepmaw, and from compelled to stop all night at a wayside that day to settle down to the lonely estate house. Blant went to bed in an upper of a "widow-man."
room, handcuffed, between the sheriff and From all accounts, Nucky's mother had a deputy, each of whom retired with a been a woman of remarkable mind and loaded revolver in his hand. In the mornheart, worthy of the rare affection her ing, when the officers awoke, the prisoner children cherished for her. Nucky was was gone, while the quilt that had covered proud of telling that, although she had the three swung from the window, and benever seen the inside of a school-house, neath it, on the ground, lay the two reshe had yet been a "scholar,” and able to volvers, placed neatly side by side. read, write, and figure, her great-grand- Christmas came and went, and still no father, when a very old man of nearly a Blant and Ezry appeared. The children hundred, and unable to do anything but had returned from their holiday visits sit by the fire, having imparted to her a home, and the first Saturday evening portion of his own learning. She had
thereafter, which happened to be the fifth proved such an apt, eager pupil that, on of January, Miss Loring and her boys sat his death, he had left her his most valued around the fire, again reading Ulysses. possessions—a few ancient books. One of There was a violent interruption, howthese was a Bible, another a story-book, ever, when Ulysses permits Scylla to with pictures, “about a man by the name snatch six of his friends out of the ship of Christian, that fit with devils, and come for a meal. “Dad burn him! I'm
done with him!" "Why n't he grab his tries to keep the young folks from antikin' ax and chop off them six heads when he around too much, for they claim it 's a seed 'em a-coming?" "Any man can't
solemn season. But the girls they mostly fight for his friends better be dead !" gets out and visits and sees what little fun “Ongrateful 's worse 'n pizen!” “Don't they can (th' ain't no real fun no time, want to hear no more about no such puke- though, for women), and the boys they stocking as him!” “Better shet up the take their nags and pistols and jugs and book!" were some of the sentiments. Miss rides up and down the road or the creek, Loring bowed to the storm and shut the hollering and shooting and making what book, and conversation finally simmered noise they able to. It 's what you might down to smoother levels, touching upon call a dangerous time to be out in." the adventures of the boys themselves dur- Miss Loring and the boys all agreed to ing the holidays. These seemed to Miss wake up at midnight that night and hear Loring exciting enough; but nearly every the cattle "lowing and mowing"; but they boy was bewailing the fact that he had had failed to set the alarm-clock, and unforto return to the school before Old Christ- tunately slept through the miraculous
hour. "I 've heard you boys speak of Old On the Tuesday following, Miss LorChristmas a number of times,” said Missing was passing through the school-yard Loring. “Now, what on earth is it?" on her way to dinner at noon when she
"Old Christmas is sure-enough Christ- a crowd rapidly gathering at the mas,” replied Taulbee, gravely. “You fence. A man on horseback outside was brought-on women thinks New Christmas talking and gesticulating. As she joined is Christmas, but it ain't. Real Christmas the crowd, he was telling how, on Old comes to-morrow, on the sixth of January; Christmas morning,
Christmas morning, Blant and Ezry and to-night is real Christmas eve.”
Marrs, Rich Tarrant, and a lot of the "What makes you think so ?"
boys, were galloping up and down Pow“Well, all the old folks says so, for one derhorn, drinking, shooting, and celebrathing, and I think they knows better than ting the day, when Rich recklessly and young ones; and, for another, I think the foolishly dashed out on Blant from behind beastes and plants knows better still. To- a large rock, and Blant, with his evernight 's the night when the elder blos- ready instinct for the Cheevers made more soms out and the cattle kneels down and keen by liquor, fired on the instant, before prays. You can hear 'em a-lowing and he saw who it really was, killing Rich a-mowing at midnight if you stay awake dead. Blant, said the news-bearer, was in and listen.”
a deplorable state of mind, first attemptMiss Loring had some recollection of ing to end his own life, and, foiled in this, the English calendar having been set for sending word to the sheriff to come and ward eleven days in the middle of the arrest him. Though Blant lived in Boyne, eighteenth century, and of the refusal of the shooting had occurred on the lower many of the people to accept the new reaches of Powderhorn, in Kent County, dates, and specially the new-style Christ- and the sheriff and deputies were now mas. This survival in the mountain coun- bringing both Blant and Ezry to the jail try seemed to her as wonderful as that of in the village near the school, Ezry having the old English ballads, and the good old opposed Blant's surrender and fired into Shaksperian words, obsolete elsewhere. the posse when it arrived, and being ar
"What do people do on Old Christ- rested for "contempt." mas? Do they give presents ?” she asked. All the rest of that day, with pale face
"No, indeed,” said Taulbee. “They and straining eyes, Nucky watched the never heared tell of such a new-fangle road; and the other boys kept just as near thing. The old folks they cook up a week the front fence as possible. A little before or two beforehand, and lay in a good dark, the cavalcade came along. Between stock of cider and liquor, for hospitality, two armed men rode Blant, his face rigid so 's they can offer a-plenty to eat and with misery and horror; Ezry, sullen and drink, and then when Christmas comes defiant of aspect, was behind, between two they set around and hold their hands all others. Nucky leaped into Blant's stirrup day (it would be a sin to work then), and and rode along with him to the jail, the