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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter3)

2006-09-08 19:28

  CHAPTER III Silas Peck

  Trading Store was the sign over the door he entered. Men and women were buying and selling, but the Indian stood aside shyly until all were served, and Master Peck cried out:

  "Ho, Quonab! what have ye got for trade to-day?"

  Quonab produced his furs. The dealer looked at them narrowly and said:

  "They are too late in the season for primes; I cannot allow you more than seven cents each for the rats and seventy-five cents for the mink, all trade."

  The Indian gathered up the bundle with an air of "that settles it," when Silas called out:

  "Come now, I'll make it ten cents for the rats."

  "Ten cents for rats, one dollar for mink, all cash, then I buy what I like," was the reply.

  It was very necessary to Silas's peace that no customer of his should cross the street to the sign,

  "SILAS MEAD Trading Store"

  So the bargain, a fair one now, was made, and the Indian went off with a stock of tobacco, tea, and sugar.

  His way lay up the Myanos River, as he had one or two traps set along the banks for muskrats, although in constant danger of having them robbed or stolen by boys, who considered this an encroachment on their trapping grounds.

  After an hour he came to Dumpling Pond, then set out for his home, straight through the woods, till he reached the Catrock line, and following that came to the farm and ramshackle house of Micky Kittering. He had been told that the man at this farm had a fresh deer hide for sale, and hoping to secure it, Quonab walked up toward the house. Micky was coming from the barn when he saw the Indian. They recognized each other at a glance. That was enough for Quonab; he turned away. The farmer remembered that he had been "insulted." He vomited a few oaths, and strode after the Indian, "To take it out of his hide"; his purpose was very clear. The Indian turned quickly, stood, and looked calmly at Michael

  Some men do not know the difference between shyness and cowardice, but they are apt to find it out unexpectedly Something told the white man, "Beware! this red man is dangerous." He muttered something about, "Get out of that, or I'll send for a constable." The Indian stood gazing coldly, till the farmer backed off out of sight, then he himself turned away to the woods.

  Kittering was not a lovely character. He claimed to have been a soldier. He certainly looked the part, for his fierce white moustache was curled up like horns on his purple face, at each side of his red nose, in a most milita style. His shoulders were square and his gait was swaggering, beside which, he had an array of swear words that was new and tremendously impressive in Connecticut. He had married late in life a woman who would have made him a good wife, had he allowed her. But, a drunkard himself he set deliberately about bringing his wife to his own ways and with most lamentable success. They had had no children, but some months before a brother's child, fifteen-year-old lad, had become a charge on their hands and, with any measure of good management, would have been a blessing to all. But Micky had gone too far. His original weak good-nature was foundered in rum. Always blustery and frothy, he divided the world in two —— superior officers, before whom he grovelled, and inferiors to whom he was a mouthy, foul-tongued, contemptible bully, in spite of a certain lingering kindness of heart that showed itself at such rare times when he was neither roaring drunk nor crucified by black reaction. His brother's child, fortunately, had inherited little of the paternal family traits, but in both body and brain favoured his mother, the daughter of a learned divine who had spent unusual pains on her book education, but had left her penniless and incapable of changing that condition.

  Her purely mental powers and peculiarities were such that, a hundred years before, she might have been burned for a witch, and fifty years later might have been honoured as a prophetess. But she missed the crest of the wave both ways and fell in the trough; her views on religious matters procured neither a witch's grave nor a prophet's crown, but a sort of village contempt.

  The Bible was her standard —— so far so good —— but she emphasized the wrong parts of it. Instead of magnifying the damnation of those who follow not the truth (as the village understood it), she was content to semi-quote:

  "Those that are not against me are with me," and "A kind heart is the mark of His chosen." And then she made a final utterance, an echo really of her father: "If any man do anything sincerely, believing that thereby he is worshipping God, he is worshipping God."

  Then her fate was sealed, and all who marked the blazing eyes, the hollow cheeks, the yet more hollow chest and cough, saw in it all the hand of an offended God destroying a blasphemer, and shook their heads knowingly when the end came.

  So Rolf was left alone in life, with a common school education, a thorough knowledge of the Bible and of "Robinson Crusoe," a vague tradition of God everywhere, and a deep distrust of those who should have been his own people.

  The day of the little funeral he left the village of Redding to tramp over the unknown road to the unknown south where his almost unknown Uncle Michael had a farm and, possibly, a home for him.

  Fifteen miles that day, a night's rest in a barn, twenty- five miles the next day, and Rolf had found his future home.

  "Come in, lad," was the not unfriendly reception, for his arrival was happily fallen on a brief spell of good humour, and a strong, fifteen-year-old boy is a distinct asset on a farm.

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