XVII. An Event in the Rustic Museum
 

Sidney Trove sat talking a while with Miss Letitia. Miss S'mantha, unable longer to bear the unusual strain of danger and publicity, went away to bed soon after supper. Tunk Hosely came in with a candle about nine.

"Wal, mister," said he, "you ready t' go t' bed?"

"I am," said Trove, and followed him to the cold hospitality of the spare room, a place of peril but beautifully clean. There was a neat rag carpet on the floor, immaculate tidies on the bureau and wash table, and a spotless quilt of patchwork on the bed. But, like the dungeon of mediaeval times, it was a place for sighs and reflection, not for rest. Half an inch of frost on every window-pane glistened in the dim light of the candle.

"As soon as they unlock my door, I'll come an' let ye out in the mornin'," Tunk whispered.

"Are they going to lock me in?"

"Wouldn't wonder," said Tunk, soberly.

"What can ye 'spect from a couple o' dummed ol' maids like them?"

There was a note of long suffering in his half-whispered tone,

"Good night, mister," said he, with a look of dejection. "Orter have a nightcap, er ye'll git hoar-frost on yer hair."

Trove was all a-shiver in the time it took him to undress, and his breath came out of him in spreading shafts of steam. Sheets of flannel and not less than half a dozen quilts and comfortables made a cover, under which the heat of his own blood warmed his body. He became uncomfortably aware of the presence of his head and face, however. He could hear stealthy movements beyond the door, and knew they were barricading it with furniture. Long before daylight a hurried removal of the barricade awoke him. Then he heard a rap at the door, and the excited voice of Tunk.

"Say, mister! come here quick," it called.

Sidney Trove leaped out of bed and into his trousers. He hurried through the dark parlour, feeling his way around a clump of chairs and stumbling over a sofa. The two old maids were at the kitchen door, both dressed, one holding a lighted candle. Tunk Hosely stood by the door, buttoning suspenders with one hand and holding a musket in the other. They were shivering and pale. The room was now cold.

"Hear that!" Tunk whispered, turning to the teacher.

They all listened, hearing a low, weird cry outside the door.

"Soun's t' me like a raccoon," Miss S'mantha whispered thoughtfully.

"Or a lamb," said Miss Letitia.

"Er a painter," Tunk ventured, his ear turning to catch the sound.

"Let's open the door," said Sidney Trove, advancing.

"Not me," said Tunk, firmly, raising his gun.

Trove had not time to act before they heard a cry for help on the doorstep. It was the voice of a young girl. He opened the door, and there stood Mary Leblanc--a scholar of Linley School and the daughter of a poor Frenchman. She came in lugging a baby wrapped in a big shawl, and both crying.

"Oh, Miss Tower," said she; "pa has come out o' the woods drunk an' has threatened to kill the baby. Ma wants to know if you'll keep it here to-night."

The two old maids wrung their hands with astonishment and only said "y!"

"Of course we'll keep it," said Trove, as he took the baby,

"I must hurry back," said the girl, now turning with a look of relief.

Tunk shied off and began to build a fire; Miss S'mantha sat down weeping, the girl ran away in the darkness, and Trove put the baby in Miss Letitia's arms.

"I'll run over to Leblanc's cabin," said he, getting his cap and coat. "They're having trouble over there."

He left them and hurried off on his way to the little cabin.

Loud cries of the baby rang in that abode of silence. It began to kick and squirm with determined energy. Poor Miss Letitia had the very look of panic in her face. She clung to the fierce little creature, not knowing what to do. Miss S'mantha lay back in a fit of hysterics. Tunk advanced bravely, with brows knit, and stood looking down at the baby.

"Lord! this is awful!" said he. Then a thought struck him. "I'll git some milk," he shouted, running into the buttery.

The baby thrust the cup away, and it fell noisily, the milk streaming over a new rag carpet.

"It's sick; I'm sure it's sick," said Miss Letitia, her voice trembling. "S'mantha, can't you do something?"

Miss S'mantha calmed herself a little and drew near.

"Jes' like a wil'cat," said Tunk, thoughtfully. "Powerful, too," he added, with an effort to control one of the kicking legs.

"What shall we do?" said Miss Letitia.

"My sister had a baby once," said Tunk, approaching it doubtfully but with a studious look.

He made a few passes with his hand in front of the baby's face. Then he gave it a little poke in the ribs, tentatively. The effect was like adding insult to injury.

"If 'twas mine," said Tunk, "which I'm glad it ain't--I'd rub a little o' that hoss liniment on his stummick,"

The two old maids took the baby into their bedroom. It was an hour later when Trove came back. Tunk sat alone by the kitchen fire. There was yet a loud wail in the bedroom.

"What's the news?" said Tunk, who met him at the door.

"Drunk, that's all," said Trove. "I took this bottle, sling-shot, and bar of iron away from him. The woman thought I had better bring them with me and put them out of his way."

He laid them on the floor in a corner.

"I got him into bed," he continued, "and then hid the axe and came away. I guess they're all right now. When I left he had begun to snore."

"Wal,--we ain't all right," said Tunk, pointing to the room. "If you can conquer that thing, you'll do well. Poor Miss Teeshy!" he added, shaking his head.

"What's the matter with her?" Trove inquired.

"Kicked in the stummick 'til she dunno where she is," said Tunk, gloomily.

He pulled off his boots.

"If she don't go lame t'morrer, I'll miss my guess," he added. "She looks a good deal like Deacon Haskins after he had milked the brindle cow."

He leaned back, one foot upon the stove-hearth. Shrill cries rang in the old house.

"'Druther 'twould hev been a painter," said Tunk, sighing.

"Why so?"

"More used to 'em," said Tunk, sadly.

They listened a while longer without speaking.

"Ye can't drive it, ner coax it, ner scare it away, ner do nuthin' to it," said Tunk, presently.

He rose and picked up the things Trove had brought with him. "I'll take these to the barn," said he; "they'd have a fit--if they was t' see 'em. What be they?"

"I do not know what they are," said Trove.

"Wal!" said Tunk. "They're queer folks--them Frenchmen. This looks like an iron bar broke in two in the middle."

He got his lantern, picked up the bottle, the sling-shot, and the iron, and went away to the barn.

Trove went to the bedroom door and rapped, and was admitted. He went to work with the baby, and soon, to his joy, it lay asleep on the bed. Then he left the room on tiptoe, and a bit weary.

"A very full day!" he said to himself.

"Teacher, counsellor, martyr, constable, nurse--I wonder what next!"

And as he went to his room, he heard Miss S'mantha say to her sister, "I'm thankful it's not a boy, anyway."