XXVI. The Coming of the Cars
 

That year was one of much reckoning there in the land of the hills. A year it was of historic change and popular excitement. To begin with, a certain rich man bought a heavy cannon, which had roared at the British on the frontier in 1812, and gave it to the town of Hillsborough. It was no sooner dumped on the edge of the little park than it became a target of criticism. The people were to be taxed for the expense of mounting it--"Taxed fer a thing we ain't no more need of than a bear has need of a hair-brush," said one citizen. Those Yankees came of men who helped to fling the tea into Boston harbour, and had some hereditary fear of taxes.

Hunters and trappers were much impressed by it. They felt it over, peering curiously into the muzzle, with one eye closed.

"Ye couldn't kill nuthin' with it," said one of them.

"If I was to pick it up an' hit ye over the head with it, I guess ye wouldn't think so," said another.

Familiarity bred contempt, and by and by they began to shoot at it from the tavern steps.

The gun lay rejected and much in the way until its buyer came to his own rescue and agreed to pay for the mounting. Then came another and more famous controversy as to which way they should "p'int" the gun. Some favoured one direction, some another, and at last, by way of compliment, they "p'inted" it squarely at the house of the giver on the farther side of the park. And it was loaded to the muzzle with envy and ingratitude.

The arrest of Sidney Trove, also, had filled the town with exciting rumours, and gossip of him seemed to travel on the four winds--much of it as unkind as it was unfounded.

Then came surveyors, and promoters of the railroad, and a plan of aiding it by bonding the towns it traversed. In the beginning horror and distrust were in many bosoms. If the devil and some of his angels had come, he might, indeed, for a time, have made more converts and less excitement.

"It's a delusion an' a snare," said old Colonel Barclay in a speech. "Who wants t' whiz through the air like a bullet? God never intended men to go slidin' over the earth that way. It ain't nat'ral ner it ain't common sense. Some say it would bring more folks into this country. I say we can supply all the folks that's nec'sary. I've got fourteen in my own family. S'pose ye lived on a tremendous sidehill that reached clear to New York City, so ye could git on a sled an' scoot off like a streak o' lightnin'. Do ye think ye'd be any happier? Do ye think ye'd chop any more wood er raise a bigger crop o' potatoes? S'pose ye could scoot yer crops right down t' Albany in a day. That would be all right if 'ye was the only man that was scootin', but if there was anything t' be made by it, there'd be more than a million sleds on the way, an' ye couldn't sell yer stuff for so much as ye git here. Some day ye'd come home and ask where's Ma an' Mary, and then Sam would say, 'Why, Mary's slid down t' New York, and the last I see o' Ma she was scootin' for Rochester.'"

Here, the record says, Colonel Barclay was interrupted by laughter and a voice.

"Wal, if there was a railroad, they could scoot back ag'in," said the voice.

"Yes," the Colonel rejoined, "but mebbe after they'd been there a while ye'd wish they couldn't. Wal, you git your own supper, an' then Sam says, says he, 'I guess I'll scoot over t' Watertown and see my gal fer a few minutes.' An' ye sit by the fire a while, rockin' the twins, an' by and by yer wife comes back. An' ye say, 'Ma, why don't ye stay t' home?' 'Wal,' says she, 'it is so splendid, and there's so much goin' on.' An' Mary, she begins t' talk as if she'd bit her tongue, an' step stylish, an' hold up her dress like that, jest as though she was steppin' over a hot griddle. Purty soon it's dizzle-dazzle an' flippity-floppity an' splendiferous and sewperb, an' the first thing ye know ye ain't knee-high to a grasshopper. Sam he comes back an' tells Ed all about the latest devilment. You hear of it; then, mebbe, ye begin to limber up an' think ye'll try it yerself. An' some morning ye'll wake up an' find yer moral character has scooted. You fellers that go t' meetin' here an' talk about resistin' temptation--if you ever git t' goin' it down there in New York City, temptation 'll have to resist you. My friends, ye don't want to make it too easy fer everybody to go somewhere else. If ye do, by an' by there won't be nobody left here but them that's too old t' scoot er a few sickly young folks who don't care fer the sinful attractions o' this world."

Who shall say that old Colonel Barclay had not the tongue of a prophet?

"An' how about the cost?" he added in conclusion, "Fellow-citizens, ye'll have to pay five cents a mile fer yer scootin', an' a tax,--a tax, fellow-citizens, to help pay the cost o' the railroad. If there's anybody here that don't feel as if he'd been taxed enough, he ought t' be taxed fer his folly."

The dread of "scooting" grew for a time, but wise men were able to overcome it.

In 1850, the iron way had come through the wilderness and begun to rend the northern hills. Some were filled with awe, learning for the first time that in the moving of mountains giant-powder was more efficient than faith. Soon it had passed Hillsborough and was finished. Everybody came to see the cars that day of the first train. The track was lined with people at every village; many with children upon arms and shoulders. They waited long, and when the iron horse came roaring out of the distance, women fell back and men rolled their quids and looked eagerly up the track. It came on with screaming whistle and noisy brakes and roaring wheels. Children began to cry with fear and men to yell with excitement. Dogs were barking wildly, and two horses ran away, dragging with them part of a picket-fence. A brown shoat came bounding over the ties and broke through the wall of people, carrying many off their feet and creating panic and profanity. The train stopped, its engine hissing. A brakeman of flashy attire, with fine leather showing to the knees, strolled off and up the platform on high heels, haughty as a prince. Confusion began to abate.

"Hear it pant," said one, looking at the engine.

"Seems so it had the heaves," another remarked thoughtfully.

"Goes like the wind," said a passenger, who had just alighted. "Jerked us ten mile in less 'n twenty minutes."

"Folks 'll have to be made o' cast iron to ride on them air cars," said another. "I'd ruther set on the tail of a threshin'-machine. It gave a slew on the turn up yender, an' I thought 'twas goin' right over Bowman's barn. It flung me up ag'in the side o' the car, an' I see stars fer a minute. 'What's happened,' says I to another chap. 'Oh, we're all right,' says he. 'Be we?' says I, an' then I see I'd lost a tooth an' broke my glasses. 'That ain't nuthin',' says he, 'I had my foot braced over ag'in that other seat, an' somebody fell back on my leg, an' I guess the knee is out o' j'int. But I'm alive, an' I ain't got no fault to find. If I ever git off this shebang, I'm goin' out in the woods somewhere an' set down an' see what kind o' shape I'm in. I guess I'm purty nigh sp'ilt, an' it cost me fifty cents t' do it.'

"'An' all yer common sense, tew,' says I."

A number got aboard, and the train started. Rip Enslow was on the rear platform, his faithful hound galloping gayly behind the train. Some one had tied him to the brake rod. Nearly a score of dogs followed, barking merrily. Rip's hound came back soon, his tongue low, his tail between his legs. A number called to him, but he seemed to know his own mind perfectly, and made for the stream and lay down in the middle of it, lapping the shallow water, and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.

A crowd of hunters watched him.

"Looks so he'd been ketched by a bear," said one.

In half an hour Rip returned also, a shoulder out of joint, a lump on his forehead, a big rent in his trousers. He was one, of those men of whom others gather wisdom, for, after that, everybody in the land of the hills knew better than to jump off the cars or tie his hound to the rear platform.

And dogs came to know, after a little while, that the roaring dragon was really afraid of them and would run like a very coward if it saw a dog coming across the fields. Every small cur that lived in sight of it lay in the tall grass, and when he saw the dragon coming, chased him off the farm of his master.

Among those who got off the train at Hillsborough that day was a big, handsome youth of some twenty years. In all the crowd there were none had ever seen him before. Dressed in the height of fashion, he was a figure so extraordinary that all eyes observed him as he made his way to the tavern. Trove and Polly and Mrs. Vaughn were in that curious throng on the platform, where a depot was being built.

"My! What a splendid-looking fellow," said Polly, as the stranger passed,

Trove had a swift pang of jealousy that moment. Turning, he saw Riley Brooke--now known as the "Old Rag Doll"--standing near them in a group of villagers.

"I tell you, he's a thief," the boy heard him saying, and the words seemed to blister as they fell; and ever after, when he thought of them, a great sternness lay like a shadow on his brow.

"I must go," said he, calmly turning to Polly. "Let me help you into the wagon."

When they were gone, he stood a moment thinking. He felt as if he were friendless and alone.

"You're a giant to day," said a friend, passing him; but Trove made no answer. Roused incomprehensibly, his heavy muscles had become tense, and he had an odd consciousness of their power. The people were scattering, and he walked slowly down the street. The sun was low, but he thought not of home or where he should spend the night. It was now the third day after his arrest. Since noon he had been looking for Darrel, but the tinker's door had been locked for days, according to the carpenter who was at work below. For an hour Trove walked, passing up and down before that familiar stairway, in the hope of seeing his friend. Daylight was dim when the tinker stopped by the stairs and began to feel for his key. The young man was quickly at the side of Darrel.

"God be praised!" said the latter; "here is the old Dial an' the strong an' noble Trove. I heard o' thy trouble, boy, far off on the postroad, an' I have made haste to come to thee."