Darrel of the Blessed Isles by Irving Bacheller
IV. The Uphill Road
For Trove it was a day of sowing. The strange old tinker had filled his heart with a new joy and a new desire. Next morning he got a ride to Hillsborough--fourteen miles--and came back, reading, as he walked, a small, green book, its thin pages covered thick with execrably fine printing, its title "The Works of Shakespeare." He read the book industriously and with keen pleasure. Allen complained, shortly, that Shakespeare and the filly had interfered with the potatoes and the corn.
The filly ceased to take food and sickened for a time after the dam left her. Trove lay in the stall nights and gave her milk sweetened to her liking. She grew strong and playful, and forgot her sorrow, and began to follow him like a dog on his errands up and down the farm. Trove went to school in the autumn--"Select school," it was called. A two-mile journey it was, by trail, but a full three by the wagon road. He learned only a poor lesson the first day, for, on coming in sight of the schoolhouse, he heard a rush of feet behind him and saw his filly charging down the trail. He had to go back with her and lose the day, a thought dreadful to him, for now hope was high, and school days few and precious. At first he was angry. Then he sat among the ferns, covering his face and sobbing with sore resentment. The little filly stood over him and rubbed her silky muzzle on his neck, and kicked up her heels in play as he pushed her back. Next morning he put her behind a fence, but she went over it with the ease of a wild deer and came bounding after him. When, at last, she was shut in the box-stall he could hear her calling, half a mile away, and it made his heart sore. Soon after, a moose treed him on the trail and held him there for quite half a day. Later he had to help thrash and was laid up with the measles. Then came rain and flooded flats that turned him off the trail. Years after he used to say that work and weather, and sickness and distance, and even the beasts of the field and wood, resisted him in the way of learning.
He went to school at Hillsborough that winter. His time, which Allen gave him in the summer, had yielded some forty-five dollars. He hired a room at thirty-five cents a week. Mary Allen bought him a small stove and sent to him, in the sleigh, dishes, a kettle, chair, bed, pillow, and quilt, and a supply of candles.
She surveyed him proudly, as he was going away that morning in December,
"Folks may call ye han'some," she said. "They'd like to make fool of ye, but you go on 'bout yer business an' act as if ye didn't hear."
He had a figure awkward, as yet, but fast shaping to comeliness. Long, light hair covered the tops of his ears and fell to his collar. His ruddy cheeks were a bit paler that morning; the curve in his lips a little drawn; his blue eyes had begun to fill and the dimple in his chin to quiver, slightly, as he kissed her who had been as a mother to him. But he went away laughing.
Many have seen the record in his diary of those lank and busy days. The Saturday of his first week at school he wrote as follows:--
"Father brought me a small load of wood and a sack of potatoes yesterday, so, after this, I shall be able to live cheaper. My expenses this week have been as follows:--
Rent 35 cents Corn meal 14 " Milk 20 " Bread 8 " Beef bone 5 " Honey 5 " Four potatoes, about 1 " -- 88 cents.
"Two boys who have a room on the same floor got through the week for 75 cents apiece, but they are both undersized and don't eat as hearty. This week I was tempted by the sight of honey and was fool enough to buy a little which I didn't need. I have some meal left and hope next week to get through for 80 cents. I wish I could have a decent necktie, but conscience doth make cowards of us all. I have committed half the first act of 'Julius Caesar.'"
And yet, with pudding and milk and beef bone and four potatoes and "Julius Caesar" the boy was cheerful.
"Don't like meat any more--it's mostly poor stuff anyway," he said to his father, who had come to see him.
"Sorry--I brought down a piece o' venison," said Allen.
"Well, there's two kinds o' meat," said the boy; "what ye can have, that's good, an' what ye can't have, that ain't worth havin'."
He got a job in the mill for every Saturday at 75 cents a day, and soon thereafter was able to have a necktie and a pair of fine boots, and a barber, now and then, to control the length of his hair.
Trove burnt the candles freely and was able but never brilliant in his work that year, owing, as all who knew him agreed, to great modesty and small confidence. He was a kindly, big-hearted fellow, and had wit and a knowledge of animals and of woodcraft that made him excellent company. That schoolboy diary has been of great service to all with a wish to understand him. On a faded leaf in the old book one may read as follows:--
"I have received letters in the handwriting of girls, unsigned. They think they are in love with me and say foolish things. I know what they're up to. They're the kind my mother spoke of--the kind that set their traps for a fool, and when he's caught they use him for a thing to laugh at. They're not going to catch me.
"Expenses for seven days have been $1.14. Clint McCormick spent 60 cents to take his girl to a show and I had to help him through the week. I told him he ought to love Caesar less and Rome more."
Then follows the odd entry without which it is doubtful if the history of Sidney Trove could ever have been written. At least only a guess would have been possible, where now is certainty. And here is the entry:--
"Since leaving home the men of the dark have been very troublesome. They wake me about every other night and sometimes I wonder what they mean."
Now an odd thing had developed in the mystery of the boy. Even before he could distinguish between reality and its shadow that we see in dreams, he used often to start up with a loud cry of fear in the night. When a small boy he used to explain it briefly by saying, "the men in the dark." Later he used to say, "the men outdoors in the dark." At ten years of age he went off on a three days' journey with the Allens. They put up in a tavern that had many rooms and stairways and large windows. It was a while after his return of an evening, before candle-light, when a gray curtain of dusk had dimmed the windows, that he first told the story, soon oft repeated and familiar, of "the men in the dark"--at least he went as far as he knew.
"I dream," he was wont to say in after life, "that I am listening in the still night alone--I am always alone. I hear a sound in the silence, of what I cannot be sure. I discover then, or seem to, that I stand in a dark room and tremble, with great fear, of what I do not know. I walk along softly in bare feet--I am so fearful of making a noise. I am feeling, feeling, my hands out in the dark. Presently they touch a wall and I follow it and then I discover that I am going downstairs. It is a long journey. At last I am in a room where I can see windows, and, beyond, the dim light of the moon. Now I seem to be wrapped in fearful silence. Stealthily I go near the door. Its upper half is glass, and beyond it I can see the dark forms of men. One is peering through with face upon the pane; I know the other is trying the lock, but I hear no sound. I am in a silence like that of the grave. I try to speak. My lips move, but, try as I may, no sound comes out of them. A sharp terror is pricking into me, and I flinch as if it were a knife-blade. Well, sir, that is a thing I cannot understand. You know me--I am not a coward. If I were really in a like scene fear would be the least of my emotions; but in the dream I tremble and am afraid. Slowly, silently, the door opens, the men of the dark enter, wall and windows begin to reel. I hear a quick, loud cry, rending the silence and falling into a roar like that of flooding waters. Then I wake, and my dream is ended--for that night."
Now men have had more thrilling and remarkable dreams, but that of the boy Trove was as a link in a chain, lengthening with his life, and ever binding him to some event far beyond the reach of his memory.