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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 faces of both as white and unseeing as the It was the babe, a beautiful little girl, dead.
with big, gray eyes like Nucky's and Thereafter Nucky spent every possible Blant's, and such a tiny, white face, and moment with his brothers in the jail, and so pathetic and patient a smile, that Miss several times Miss Loring stopped in with Loring's heart was wrung within her. him. Blant's anguish was terrible to see. “Seem' like it 'll pine to death if it don't In vain Nucky and Miss Loring, Ezry get to see Blant,” explained Nucky; "so I and the other prisoners, and even the jail- brung it over." keeper, argued with him and tried to con- "Please bring it back to spend the night vince him he should not reproach himself with me!" implored Miss Loring. so bitterly or give way to such utter de- But Blant would by no means consent spair and grief. His one reply was: “I to this; not for an instant should it depart have killed my best friend. My heart is from his arms during the time it had to broke'. Life has no more charms for me. stay. Nucky reported afterward: "It just I hope to God the law will kill me and grabbed aholt of him the minute it seed put me out of my misery.” The strange him, and laid its head on his breast, and fact also developed that he had had a fore- would n't turn him a-loose even to eat or warning of Rich's death. For three con- sleep. All the other boys tried to get it to secutive days before Old Christmas, once come to them, but it would n't go even to when he was riving boards for the roof, Ezry. And Blant he set up and helt it in once when he was climbing the mountain his arms all night.” in search of a lost cow, once when he was The process of separating the babe from sitting with the babe in his arms before Blant next day was such a painful one that the fire, he had had visions of Rich stand- there was not a dry eye in the jail. ing beside him, headless; and so strong Court was not to sit until the middle of had been the impression that he had told March, when the trial of Blant and Ezry Rich the first thing when they met Christ- would come off. Of course Ezry would mas morning, and had warned him to be acquitted, -"contempt" was nothing, be specially careful what he did that - and at first it was hoped that Blant day.
would be acquitted, too, the absence of For weeks he was thus inconsolable and intention in his killing of Rich was so desperate. The first relief came one Sat- patent, and his grief so cruel and overurday when Nucky and Miss Loring were whelming a punishment in itself. But as at the jail. A neighbor from over on the weeks passed on there was a growing Trigger stopped his nag at the jail win- sentiment among the solid men of the dow, and told Blant, through the bars, county that a short penitentiary sentence that "the babe just whimped and cried in his case would be a very good thing, day and night for him, and could n't be and would make all the young men in the pacified noway.” At this Blant laid his region more careful with their guns in the head on the table where the other prison- future. Of course if Blant had killed a ers were playing cards and wept, the first Cheever, it would not be so imperative for tears he had shed, and they seemed to the law to step in,- the Cheevers were wash away some of his burden. A day or perfectly able to attend to their own aftwo later, a message came from Powder- fairs, but this thing of shooting wild and horn which should certainly have com- killing the wrong man was a menace to forted him some: Mrs. Tarrant, Rich's the whole community, and ought not to mother, sent word to him that though he go unpunished. Also, Kent County was, had “darkened the light of the sunball” and prided itself on being, more law-abidfor her, she freely forgave him.
ing than Boyne; and this chance to make The following Friday, Nucky asked an object-lesson of a Boyne boy was not to and received permission to make a visit be overlooked. home over the week-end; and the next These various rumors as to public opinafternoon Miss Loring was surprised to ion were carried to Blant by passers-by, see him out in the road in front of the cot- callers, and the jail-keeper himself; while tage, on his paw's nag, with a small bun- from Trigger came more and more disdle carried very carefully on one arm. tressing news every day. The Cheevers, This he unwrapped to show Miss Loring. taking advantage of the situation, were
marauding, shooting hogs, burning fodder- happens, and however well I like you, stacks, etc. Mr. Marrs was worn out and law is law, and I 'm obligated by my distracted in his mind by the unaccus- oath, and aimin' to do my whole duty. tomed load of cares, and as for the babe, I really think a heap of you, Blant, and its grief was working on it to a dangerous I'd hate right smart to have to kill extent. “It 's fairly pindling away,”. you." "Nothing but a pitiful little passel of One Tuesday morning early in March, bones," "Some days don't touch ary mor- Miss Loring started down to the village sel of victuals," "Favors a little picked post-office. When she reached that place bird," "Aiming to die if he don't get back in the road where it was necessary to walk to it soon,” were successive messages that the fence some distance on account of the reached the jail.
frightful mud-holes, she was surprised and The situation was freely discussed by delighted to see that a gang of men were Blant and Ezry and the other prisoners, working the road, and to recognize in mostly nice boys, arrested for only slight them Blant and Ezry and the other prisoffenses, such as moonshining and cele- oners. They were picking the shale from brating Christmas too enthusiastically, and the mountain-side, and shoveling it into by the jail-keeper; and one day Blant ex- the bottomless holes. All appeared happy pressed his mind as follows:
to feel the warm sunshine and breathe the “Yes, I don't know as I like the notion fresh air again, and worked with a will, of going down there to Frankfort very talking merrily with chance passers-by, well. If the law would just hang me, the keeper, who leaned on his rifle, enterI'd feel better. But I reckon there ain't ing amiably into the conversation. Miss no hopes of that; I ought to have recol- Loring was relieved to see Blant's face relected the prejudice they got again' hang- laxed and almost cheerful, and to know ing in this country. The way I look at it, that time was in a measure healing his a life for a life is just common justice.
She hoped that the last news she But what good or justice it will do any- had had from Trigger— that the babe was body to coop me up in Frankfort for a nothing but a feather and would soon couple of year' or more when I 'm so bad' blow away–had not reached him. needed at home, I fail to see.
Here I am,
The two succeeding days the cottage with a living to make for the folks, and boys made every excuse to go up the road the outdacious maneuvers of the Cheevers and exchange words with the road-gang. to keep down, and the babe to raise, - you By great good fortune, Nucky had the might say with my hands running-over kitchen-job, and, running errands for the full, -and now they aim to shut me up housekeeper to and from the village, had where I can't do none of it! It ain't rea- frequent chances to see his big brothers. sonable. Now, if they was to send me off Friday noon he brought word that the to the Philippynes or somewheres to fight mud-holes were filled, and the boys were for 'em, I could see some sense in that, now preparing to blast out rock and widen because then I'd do 'em a heap of good. the road at a point still nearer the school. But just to shut me up where I can't never All that afternoon heavy detonations rent see no sunshine, or do nothing but set and the air, and puffs of smoke were visible think, why, seems like it 's more than I from the school-garden, where it was alwant to face."
most impossible for Miss Loring to keep “You ought to have thought of that her boys at work. sooner," admonished the keeper. "You Saturday, too, the blasting continued at done a mighty near-sighted job when you intervals. About two in the afternoon the sent for the sheriff; I would n't have be- wash-girls had finished their labors and lieved it of you, Blant. Nobody would n't were out “passing the ball” in the schoolhave thought of arrestin' you; they 'd 'a' yard, and the boys, under Miss Loring's knowed you never meant no harm to Rich. supervision, were washing the last winBut I reckon your mind was clean un- dows and scrubbing the last floor in the hinged by misery. And now you 've made cottage. Joab, on his knees, plying a your bed, you got to lay in it. Whatever scrubbing-brush, with an occasional droll you do, take warnin' and don't try no glance at Miss Loring, was chanting motricks here on Because, whatever notonously,
“Let the women do the work, do the work, the trees! the trees! Oh, God, they 're do the work,
to 'em! They 're safe!" Let the men do the laying around,”
After a few parting shots into the tim
ber, the keeper shook his head, philosophiwhen several loud, near-by gunshots sentcally shouldered his gun, and turned to everybody Alying to the front yard. Up the other prisoners, who had come down the steep mountain-side facing the cottage the road behind him. "Well, boys," he two men were leaping, while down in the remarked, "I done my best, as the law road below ran a third, stopping only to required. But they got too good a start aim and fire.
It was right pyeert of 'em to “It 's Blant and Ezry!" called out a stand on the far side from me when that dozen voices. “Go it, boys! Run! oh, last blast went off, and gain that much of run!”
a start. That was as plucky a race for All the school was by this time at the life as ever I see; and I hain't sorry I fence, breathlessly watching the hard ascent. never killed 'em. I put Blant's arm out The mountain was cleared half-way up, of business for a while, but I 'm free to not a tree or a rock affording shelter. The say I 'm glad it was n't no vital. Yes, sir, keeper, selecting a vantage-ground just I don't know when I ever made the acoutside the cottage gate, took his stand quaintance of two nicer, cleverer boys there, and grimly proceeded to do his than them; and I think it was mighty "whole duty,” firing calmly, swiftly, and sensible of 'em not to stay and stand trial. surely at the flying figures. In running That 'ere Blant is as perfect a gentleman accompaniment to the gunshots, Nucky's as ever I seed, and hain't got a criminal voice rang out sharp and clear. “Keep to bone in him. To send him to Frankfort the right a little grain!” “Drap down in would be just plumb ridiculous and scanthe swag there, so 's he can't hit you so dalous.
dalous. He never ought to have give' easy!” “Make for the timber!" Bullets himself up when he killed Rich; that was raised tiny clouds of dust about the feet of the dad-burn foolishest thing ever I bethe fugitives, and in the slope just ahead held. But of course he was momentarily of them. The seconds seemed ages; the distracted by grief and not accountable. watchers' hearts stood still. Once Blant Well, I hope it has learnt him a lesson to stopped short, clutching his left arm; then think twice in future. And now I reckon he ran on again more swiftly than ever, he 'll lay out in the woods a spell, though the arm dangling strangely. Nucky's I 'm sure nobody would n't be low-down voice, edged with agony, faltered no more enough to hunt him, and it 's again' the than did the bullets. “Can't you move no law, anyhow, that a man's life shall be quicker 'n that? Once you reach them twice in jeopardy for the same offense, trees, he'll never hit you. Oh, hurry! and then he'll go home, and settle the hurry! Seems like I could crawl faster. Cheevers, and cheer up his pap, and raise You're getting near now. The trees! what 's left of that pore little babe."