THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
JERRY’S GRANDMOTHER. 11. I had something to do besides cry when I shut myself in my little bedroom. First I tried on father’s best pantaloons. He had never worn them since mother’s funeral, and had forgotten he had anything but his old velveteens. They were a pretty good fit, and so were his boots. I would have to make a blouse of an old flannel dress of mother’s, a blue paid, and hating to cut into that, and wondering what she would say about my venture, hindered me a good while. Well, it was two o’clock in the morning when I dressed myself in my new suit and tried to see myself in my bit of looking-glass. 1 started back half frightened, such a big boy I looked to be. I had cut off my hair. That was a dreadful hard thing to do, but if I had stopped at that I would have had to give up going. Then I had a good cry. I remembered how mother used to brush and curl my hair, and how her hand lay on it when her eyelids shut down for ever. , . . . . . If you will believe it, father never noticed my red eyes in the morning, nor my short hair, but I kept on my sun-bonnet. “ I shall be gone when you come back, father. You must be very good to Pont. Give him enough to eat, and let him sleep by my bed at night.” Pont had a way of lying down by my bed whenever I went away, as if that comforted him.
Pont, who had seemed to be dozing on the doorstep, got up at my words and came close to me and pushed his nose into my hand. “ I haven’t any money for you, Peggy. Pay day don’t come until Saturday, and Stuart gives me no peace for that bill.”
“ Never mind the money, father. I can get along.” I had half a dollar mother gave me. Father was so absent-minded, like, he would have gone to work without kissing me good-bye. I slipped before him and half laughing took his pipe from his mouth.
“ Kiss me good bye, father,” with both arms around his neck.
“ You are a good girl, Peggy, you alius was.”
“ You will be good to Pont, won’t you, father ? ” “ Don’t worrit about us, child. Did you leave a good baking of bread ? ”
That was better than if he felt sorry about my going away, for then just as like as not I should have given up and stayed at home.
It was a tough long pull on a hot day from our house to “The Point,” but I made it before noon. I put into a narrow ravine about half a mile on the river side from Jerry Clark’s grandmother’s, and ate my bread and cold flapjacks sitting in my boat. There I had Dancing Polly well under the flags; nobody would have dreamed the boat was there. I cut a stick and swung my little bundle over my shoulder, showered myself with road dust, and struck off down the road with a long swinging gait. My greatest fear was that I should forget to be as deaf and stupid as I had decided to be, so if you will believe me, I scratched the back of my right had with a thorn—no little scratch either —to tell me of my ears. A few rods from the lonely cabin a log lay by the footpath. There I sat down* knowing that somebody would be watching me. I pretended to fall into a doze, but through the meshes of my hat I saw the big bouncing girl come to the door several times and watch me close. She tried sawing wood, but the saw got fast. Then she began picking up chips, watching me all the time.
It was a desolate, wind-swept spot. An old woman who would insist upon living there would have to be very fond of Lake Erie and its zephyrs. The island made a beautiful picture in the afternoon sunshine, and it was a fine place to watch the steamers and sloops, and the..long rafts, of logs bound for Tonawanda, if : one could live on those things, and did not mind how hard the wind blowed. A poor place for smugglers, thought I, and was sorry I had come. Why, a good field glass could
watch the place from a hundred points ; every inch of ground around it for a mile or more. There was neither boat nor landing, only a breakneck path to the water’s edge, where the flags were high and thick. The big girl came out when I got up and walked away. She had two water buckets, and she halted at the top of the path down the bank. I jogged on as if not seeing her. “ Hey, there 1” she called after me, but I was too deaf to hear. “ Hey, there ! Say ! Are you looking for work ?” I was half a mind to give up the deafness and hear her, but I slowly trudged on. “ Hey, there!” she shouted again, with no girl’s voice, sending a stone after me, which struck my hat. I turned round and stood stock still in the path. As she came up to me I motioned that I was hard of hearing. So she shouted in a loud voice, close to my ear : “ Are you looking for work ?” I said that I was, ducking my head for a bow, and that for all I was hard of hearing I could do as good work as anybody. I had been cook for lumbermen, and was hoping to get better
wages up in Saginaw. “ Saginaw !” with an oath. It is good to be deaf sometimes. Such an odd-looking creature she was, but not much, if any, taller than Peggy Herrick. She had short, bristling hair, very much oiled, but still it would not stay parted in the middle ; a rough, blotched skin, laughing brown eyes, that made me less afraid of her than I would have been — eyes you can trust, somehow. Her chin was square and heavy well enough for a man—and when she walked her skirts seemed to trouble her a good deal. She told me just what I knew she would. Her grandmother was very sick, nigh unto death. She must have somebody to help her —somebody who could be useful in every way. She would rather have a man-servant, for she sometimes had to send by skiff across the river or over to Buffalo. Could I row? Then I was just the help she wanted, and she offered me good wages, and pay in advance. “ I’ll do my best to please, ma’am, and in a a little while you won’t mind my being so deaf.” I followed her back to the shanty, my heart beating fast enough. She made me understand that the lady would be distressed to see the face of a stranger. I must keep in the little kitchen. I began work at once by taking the two buckets and going down to the lake for water. There was a strange silence in the cabin, and somebody was smoking cigars.
“ Miss Nancy ” was the name of my mistress, and she called me Trumps. I got a wonderfully big supper that night, considering nobody was supposed to want any but Miss Nancy and me. There was bean soup, broiled steak, black coffee, the leavings of a game pie, and bananas. The old lady had her “ death hunger,” Miss Nancy said, but I was so deaf she gave up trying to make me understand all about it. She carried the most of the supper into the side room. When she had shut the door behind her, and slipped the bolt, I heard her say : “ That’s the biggest piece of luck we poor devils ever had. Zounds !if we don’t save ourselves to-night we may as well give up.” “I must die to-night, sure!”—the same weezing voice I heard on Navy Island. “ Say Hank, why not send this dolt over with my coffin ?” “ That’s just what we will do, boys. What lucky dogs we are, after all. Catching him will be another thing from catching one of us.” “ It’s running a great risk,” said somebody, hardly above a whisper; a cold, disagreeable voice. If this thing goes on we are ruined. Captain Bedell is on our track. Jerry heard some of his passengers talking about it to-day. They think we make the run from Grand Island to Tonawanda—that we have a canal boat or a lumber sloop in the business. The Captain don’t suspect Jerry. Asked him about his grandmother the other day. It seems there is a good deal of interest in the old lady.” They laughed at that, and the disagreeable voice broke in again : “ 111 not trust this boy until I have tested him. You say he is a Roman Catholic ?” Miss Nancy thought so because I crossed myself when she said the old lady was dying. “ Well, you send him up the lake shore in about an hour from now. I’ll play up Father O’Leary.” Their voices fell as if something had hushed them suddenly. I began spading up the garden beds outside the door, where the weeds had choked the lettuce. What a terrible place for me to be in 1 And the sun was down. And why had father let me come ? I looked off in the direction of Grand Island, and was just on the point of throwing down my spade and running to where Dancing Polly was hidden, when Miss Nancy came out and bade me go to a hut on the river bank a half mile away, and borrow a skiff. The old woman was sinking, she said. I crossed myself. There was a missionary priest who would be at a certain locality that night, she was sure—a house where there was sickness farther up the lake. I was to find the priest without fail. The fishermen in that locality would know about him. That much she made me hear, but she thought me duller than usual, and my ears heard some hard things said about them.
Once out on the water I should have made for Grand Island, but Miss Nancy stood on the bluff, watching me with her eagle eyes, and I knew very well she would send a shot after me if I disobeyed her. No; I would go through with it all: but oh ! how I wished, just for a minute, that I had never been such a silly girl! There is a swift current, you know, where the river tide sets in from the lake—twelve miles an - hour or more—and I had something besides silly Peggy to think of just then. I kept as near the shore as I could, and had not gone as far as I expected when I saw a fire burning on the beach, such as the fishermen make. Between it and me stood the figure of a man. I could see that he was beckoning for me to come to shore. He was dressed like a priest—Father O’Leary, of course—and I was glad I should not have to go hunting the country over to find him.
I did not forget to be deaf. He screamed at me, and asked if I would take him two miles further up the lake j he would pay me well. Another priest was waidng for him he said, and it was a long journey to land. Surely any good fisherman would do as much for the sake of the blessed St. Peter.
But I put in my plea for the dying grandmother. He said no, he would not go, and looked at me as if I was something to run away from. He was a good actor, that Father O’Leary, and so was Peggy Herrick for once. “ You know, boy,” said he, gripping my arm, for I had pulled up to the beach and he had got into the boat, “ that those folks are smugglers. This is a wicked pretence of yours to get me into trouble. Confess your guilt: at once, or I will visit your soul with a curse.”
I made him believe that I believed in Miss Nancy and the grandmother; that I didn’t see through him and his trumped up clothes, and that I was just the one to go over to Buffalo that night. So, after a great deal of urging on my part and much hanging back on his, we rowed for the point. “ He’s all right.” I heard him say to Miss Nancy, who was waiting for our return. Then they went into the sick room, Miss Nancy pretending to wipe the tears from her eyes. I was called shortly afterwards to bring hot water, and had stumbled through the door quite into the grandmother’s presence before Miss Nancy could check me. I only saw a coffin standing upon a table near an untidy bed —not a large coffin, but it was empty and open, and the sight shocked me, so I gave a little scream, and laughed when she had followed me out into the kitchen, and said the old lady was very queer ; she had had that coffin by her bed for more than a fortnight. Then went on to say that while I was gone on a message had come from Jerry. He was sick at Black Rock. If his grandmother should die that night they were to send her remains directly to him. Somebody would be waiting for them not far from the house where he was. She was glad I was such a good boatman. I would have to take the body over before morning, no doubt. She would follow in another boat with Father O’Leary, if he could be made to go rt all. “ Why not not wait for the daylight ?” I asked. “ Then we might miss Jerry. He gives the orders. We must do as he says.” I went up to the loft where my bed was, but with no idea of going to sleep. I did not undress. I threw myself down on the bed, and that was all I knew until I was awakened by Miss Nancy about midnight. The grandmother was dead, she said, and in her coffin. Father O’Leary would not cross the lake in the night for any money. She would have to slay at home, and 1 mu&t make the trip alone.
I moved about as in a horrible dream, talking to myself in my thoughts, and then only saying something like: “ Stick to it, Peggy. Don’t give up. You are almost through. Nothing will hurt you : and by to-morrow —only tomorrow—you will be a very rich girl, Peggy; well paid for this night’s work. Keep up Peggy, keep up.” (To be continued.)
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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 270, 16 February 1881
THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 270, 16 February 1881
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