The stories in this book vie with each other in interest. Each is a finished piece of literature, rich in humor and pathos; and without any offensive sermonizing they teach the loftiest lessons of kindness, thoughtfulness, and that all-comprehending sympathy which made the life of Jesus so sublime.
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Christmas In The Adirondacks.
W. H. H. Murray
How John Norton The Trapper Kept His Christmas.
John Norton's Vagabond.
Cover Design: @mei - Fotolia.com
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
A cabin. A cabin in the woods. In the cabin a great fireplace piled high with logs, fiercely ablaze. On either side of the broad hearthstone a hound sat on his haunches, looking gravely, as only a hound in a meditative mood can, into the glowing fire. In the center of the cabin, whose every nook and corner was bright with the ruddy firelight, stood a wooden table, strongly built and solid. At the table sat John Norton, poring over a book,—a book large of size, with wooden covers bound in leather, brown with age, and smooth as with the handling of many generations. The whitened head of the old man was bowed over the broad page, on which one hand rested, with the forefinger marking the sentence. A cabin in the woods filled with firelight, a table, a book, an old man studying the book. This was the scene on Christmas Eve. Outside, the earth was white with snow, and in the blue sky above the snow was the white moon.
"It says here," said the Trapper, speaking to himself, "it says here, 'Give to him that lacketh, and from him that hath not, withhold not thine hand.' It be a good sayin' fur sartin; and the world would be a good deal better off, as I conceit, ef the folks follered the sayin' a leetle more closely." And here the old man paused a moment, and, with his hand still resting on the page, and his forefinger still pointing at the sentence, seemed pondering what he had been reading. At last he broke the silence again, saying:—
"Yis, the world would be a good deal better off, ef the folks in it follered the sayin';" and then he added, "There's another spot in the book I'd orter look at to-night; it's a good ways furder on, but I guess I can find it. Henry says the furder on you git in the book, the better it grows, and I conceit the boy may be right; for there be a good deal of murderin' and fightin' in the fore part of the book, that don't make pleasant readin', and what the Lord wanted to put it in fur is a good deal more than a man without book-larnin' can understand. Murderin' be murderin', whether it be in the Bible or out of the Bible; and puttin' it in the Bible, and sayin' it was done by the Lord's commandment, don't make it any better. And a good deal of the fightin' they did in the old time was sartinly without reason and ag'in jedgment, specially where they killed the womenfolks and the leetle uns." And while the old man had thus been communicating with himself, touching the character of the Old Testament, he had been turning the leaves until he had reached the opening chapters of the New, and had come to the description of the Saviour's birth, and the angelic announcement of it on the earth. Here he paused, and began to read. He read as an old man unaccustomed to letters must read,—slowly and with a show of labor, but with perfect contentment as to his progress, and a brightening face.
"This isn't a trail a man can hurry on onless he spends a good deal of his time on it, or is careless about notin' the signs, fur the words be weighty, and a man must stop at each word, and look around awhile, in order to git all the meanin' out of 'em—yis, a man orter travel this trail a leetle slow, ef he wants to see all there is to see on it."
Then the old man began to read:—
"'Then there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host,'—the exact number isn't sot down here," he muttered; "but I conceit there may have been three or four hunderd,—'praisin' God and singin', Glory to God in the highest, and on 'arth, peace to men of good will.' That's right," said the Trapper. "Yis, peace to men of good will. That be the sort that desarve peace; the other kind orter stand their chances." And here the old man closed the book,—closed it slowly, and with the care we take of a treasured thing; closed it, fastened the clasps, and carried it to the great chest whence he had taken it, putting it away in its place. Having done this, he returned to his seat, and, moving the chair in front of the fire, he looked first at one hound, and then at the other, and said, "Pups, this be Christmas Eve, and I sartinly trust ye be grateful fur the comforts ye have."
He said this deliberately, as if addressing human companions. The two hounds turned their heads toward their master, looked placidly into his face, and wagged their tails.
"Yis, yis, I understand ye," said the Trapper. "Ye both be comfortable, and, I dare say, that arter yer way ye both be grateful, fur, next to eatin', a dog loves the heat, and ye be nigh enough to the logs to be toastin'. Yis, this be Christmas Eve," continued the old man, "and in the settlements the folks be gittin' ready their gifts. The young people be tyin' up the evergreens, and the leetle uns be onable to sleep because of their dreamin'. It's a pleasant pictur', and I sartinly wish I could see the merry-makin's, as Henry has told me of them, sometime, but I trust it may be in his own house, and with his own children." With this pleasant remark, in respect to the one he loved so well, the old man lapsed into silence. But the peaceful contentment of his face, as the firelight revealed it, showed plainly that, though his lips moved not, his mind was still active with pleasant thoughts of the one whose name he had mentioned, and whom he so fondly loved. At last a more sober look came to his countenance,—a look of regret, of self-reproach, the look of a man who remembers something he should not have forgotten,—and he said:—
"I ax the Lord to pardin me, that in the midst of my plenty I have forgot them that may be in want. The shanty sartinly looked open enough the last time I fetched the trail past the clearin', and though with the help of the moss and the clay in the bank she might make it comfortable, yit, ef the vagabond that be her husband has forgot his own, and desarted them, as Wild Bill said he had, I doubt ef there be vict'als enough in the shanty to keep them from starvin'. Yis, pups," said the old man, rising, "it'll be a good tramp through the snow, but we'll go in the mornin', and see ef the woman be in want. The boy himself said, when he stopped at the shanty last summer, afore he went out, that he didn't see how they was to git through the winter, and I reckon he left the woman some money, by the way she follered him toward the boat; and he told me to bear them in mind when the snow came, and see to it they didn't suffer. I might as well git the pack-basket out, and begin to put the things in't, fur it be a goodly distance, and an 'arly start will make the day pleasant to the woman and the leetle uns, ef vict'als be scant in the cupboard. Yis, I'll git the pack-basket out, and look round a leetle, and see what I can find to take 'em. I don't conceit it'll make much of a show, fur what might be good fur a man won't be of sarvice to a woman; and as fur the leetle uns, I don't know ef I've got a single thing but vict'als that'll fit 'em. Lord! ef I was near the settlements, I might swap a dozen skins fur jest what I wanted to give 'em; but I'll git the basket out, and look round and see what I've got."
In a moment the great pack-basket had been placed in the middle of the floor, and the Trapper was busy overhauling his stores to see what he could find that would make a fitting Christmas gift for those he was to visit on the morrow. A canister of tea was first deposited on the table, and, after he had smelled of it, and placed a few grains of it on his tongue, like a connoisseur, he proceeded to pour more than half of its contents into a little bark box, and, having carefully tied the cover, he placed it in the basket.
"The yarb be of the best," said the old man, putting his nose to the mouth of the canister, and taking a long sniff before he inserted the stopple—"the yarb be of the best, fur the smell of it goes into the nose strong as mustard. That be good fur the woman fur sartin, and will cheer her sperits when she be downhearted; fur a woman takes as naterally to tea as an otter to his slide, and I warrant it'll be an amazin' comfort to her, arter the day's work be over, more specially ef the work had been heavy, and gone sorter crosswise. Yis, the yarb be good fur a woman when things go crosswise, and the box'll be a great help to her many and many a night, beyend doubt. The Lord sartinly had women in mind when He made the yarb, and a kindly feelin' fur their infarmities, and, I dare say, they be grateful accordin' to their knowledge."
A large cake of maple sugar followed the tea into the basket, and a small chest of honey accompanied it.
"That's honest sweetenin'," remarked the Trapper with decided emphasis; "and that is more'n ye can say of the sugar of the settlements, leastwise ef a man can jedge by the stuff they peddle at the clearin'. The bees be no cheats; and a man who taps his own trees, and biles the runnin' into sugar under his own eye, knows what kind of sweetenin' he's gittin'. The woman won't find any sand in her teeth when she takes a bite from that loaf, or stirs a leetle of the honey in the cup she's steepin'."
Some salt and pepper were next added to the packages already in the basket. A sack of flour and another of Indian meal followed. A generous round of pork, and a bag of jerked venison, that would balance a twenty-pound weight, at least, went into the pack. On these, several large-sized salmon trout, that had been smoked by the Trapper's best skill, were laid. These offerings evidently exhausted the old man's resources, for, after looking round a while, and searching the cupboard from bottom to top, he returned to the basket, and contemplated it with satisfaction, indeed, yet with a face slightly shaded with disappointment.
"The vict'als be all right," he said, "fur there be enough to last 'em a month, and they needn't scrimp themselves either. But eatin' isn't all, and the leetle uns was nigh on to naked the last time I seed 'em; and the woman's dress, in spite of the patchin', looked as ef it would desart her, ef she didn't keep a close eye on't. Lord! Lord! what shall I do? fur there's room enough in the basket, and the woman and the leetle uns need garments; that is, it's more'n likely they do, and I haven't a garment in the cabin to take 'em."
"Hillo! Hillo! John Norton! John Norton! Hillo!" The voice came sharp and clear, cutting keenly through the frosty air and the cabin walls. "John Norton!"
"Wild Bill!" exclaimed the Trapper. "I sartinly hope the vagabond hasn't been a-drinkin'. His voice sounds as ef he was sober; but the chances be ag'in the signs, fur, ef he isn't drunk, the marcy of the Lord or the scarcity of liquor has kept him from it. I'll go to the door, and see what he wants. It's sartinly too cold to let a man stand in the holler long, whether he be sober or drunk;" with which remark the Trapper stepped to the door, and flung it open.
"What is it, Wild Bill? what is it?" he called. "Be ye drunk, or be ye sober, that ye stand there shoutin' in the cold with a log cabin within a dozen rods of ye?"
"Sober, John Norton, sober. Sober as a Moravian preacher at a funeral."
"Yer trappin' must have been mighty poor, then, Wild Bill, for the last month, or the Dutchman at the clearin' has watered his liquor by a wrong measure for once. But ef ye be sober, why do ye stand there whoopin' like an Indian, when the ambushment is onkivered and the bushes be alive with the knaves? Why don't ye come into the cabin, like a sensible man, ef ye be sober? The signs be ag'in ye, Wild Bill; yis, the signs be ag'in ye."
"Come into the cabin!" retorted Bill. "An' so I would mighty lively, ef I could; but the load is heavy, and your path is as slippery as the plank over the creek at the Dutchman's, when I've two horns aboard."
"Load! What load have ye been draggin' through the woods?" exclaimed the Trapper. "Ye talk as ef my cabin was the Dutchman's, and ye was balancin' on the plank at this minit."
"Come and see for yourself," answered Wild Bill, "and give me a lift. Once in your cabin, and in front of your fire, I'll answer all the questions you may ask. But I'll answer no more until I'm inside the door."
"Ye be sartinly sober to-night," answered the Trapper, laughing, as he started down the hill, "fur ye talk sense, and that's more'n a man can do when he talks through the nozzle of a bottle.
"Lord-a-massy!" exclaimed the old man as he stood over the sled, and saw the huge box that was on it. "Lord-a-massy, Bill! what a tug ye must have had! and how ye come to be sober with sech a load behind ye is beyend the reckinin' of a man who has knowed ye nigh on to twenty year. I never knowed ye disapp'int one arter this fashion afore."
"It is strange, I confess," answered Wild Bill, appreciating the humor that lurked in the honesty of the old man's utterance. "It is strange, that's a fact, for it's Christmas Eve, and I ought to be roaring drunk at the Dutchman's this very minit, according to custom; but I pledged him to get the box through jest as he wanted it done, and that I wouldn't touch a drop of liquor until I had done it. And here it is, according to promise, for here I am sober, and here is the box."
"H'ist along, Bill, h'ist along!" exclaimed the Trapper, who suddenly became alive with interest, for he surmised whence the box had come. "H'ist along, Bill, I say, and have done with yer talkin', and let's see what ye have got on yer sled. It's strange that a man of yer sense will stand jibberin' here in the snow with a roarin' fire within a dozen rods of ye."
Whatever retort Wild Bill may have contemplated, it was effectually prevented by the energy with which the Trapper pushed the sled after him. Indeed, it was all he could do to keep it off his heels, so earnestly did the old man propel it from behind; and so, with many a slip and scramble on the part of Wild Bill, and a continued muttering on the part of the Trapper about the "nonsense of a man's jibberin' in the snow arter a twenty mile drag, with a good fire within a dozen rods of him," the sled was shot through the doorway into the cabin, and stood fully revealed in the bright blaze of the firelight.
"Take off yer coat and yer moccasins, Wild Bill," exclaimed the Trapper, as he closed the door, "and git in front of the fire; pull out the coals, and set the tea pot a-steepin'. The yarb will take the chill out of ye better than the pizen of the Dutchman. Ye'll find a haunch of venison in the cupboard that I roasted to-day, and some johnnycake; I doubt ef either be cold. Help yerself, help yerself, Bill, while I take a peep at the box."
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