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happy, 'an ef this keeps up an' blows, as I cal-late it's goin' ter, guess they won't nobody git into the woods to do much fer some time yit."
“That's so, jes' so," assented the other; then with an almost imperceptible wink he added, "Your east lot thar' hain't so very late, is it, Deacon? But then, 'spose ye hain't got no wood up ner nothin'."
"Well, some years mine does start a littl airly, but this is the off
year, an’ besides I don't 'spose any on' us'll amount ter much with that new-fangled machine of the Squire's here, bilin' up the sap 'fore it comes from the trees, a’most.”
Just then Sim Goodnow flung up the window with a bang and every one rose to get his mail and hurry home, for the roads were fast becoming filled up by the storm. Lonnie was the last to leave and walked out behind Uncle Ike Randall and another man who lived in the village. Uncle Ike was talking in a tone loud enough to be heard above the wind.
“ 'Spose it's between Deacon White and the Squire agin'. Both them lots is airly and they both got everything ready. They's jist one lot in town airlier'n the Deacon's an' that's over on the south slope, 'tother side o' Freeman's Hill, but 'tain't ben tapped sence the buildin's burned an' ol' man Brigham come ter live ť the village. Thar's an arch an' sugar house stan'in' an' a few bukits, but they hain't nothin' ter bile with an' couldn't nobody git a road over thar now in time enny way, 'cause ef I know anythin' this storm's goin' ter clear off warm in a couple o' days, an airly lots is goin' ter start.”
Lonnie turned off at the sheds and unhitched the horse with trembling hands. An idea had come to him, an idea so brilliant, so incomparably greater than any he had before known, that it made his head spin round. He grasped the reins feverishly and drove, not homeward, but down around the common to the little white house where old man Brigham, the oldest man in town, lived.
He was about to retire, but politely asked Lonnie to come in. In a few minutes, Lonnie reappeared and the old man was saying: “Certin', certin', I'll keep quiet an’ winh ye luck, but I don't believe ye can do it. They's only a few trees ennyway an' nothin' else ter do with. Good-night.”
Squire Haskell left the village that night in rather good humor. "Look's ef ye kinder hed the Deke on two 'counts this time, Square,” said Bill Smith, a neighbor, who was riding up as far as the corner with him.
“Mebbe I hev'. Can't tell,” rejoined the other. “ 'Bout the road job, I 'spose town meetin', Tuesday, 'll decide that, an' I seem ter be kinder up agin' 'im in this sugar business. I don't need that fifty, that is, nothin' perticular, but I do hate to see es mean a man as White git it. He's a good churchman an' I ain't I 'spose, but I'll be hanged if I want ter be herded in the same yard with a man t could treat a feller bein' es he treated that boy Lonnie, 'fore the widder Freeman took 'im in."
"Must be kinder lonesome for them up thar, seein' they're city people'n all,” said Bill, glancing up the hillside at the lone light which marked the Freeman house. "Kinder queer their comin', want it, Square? Don't nobody in town seem ter know much 'bout 'em.”
The Squire was silent for some time. “Yaas," he said at last, "they must be lonesome. They been here now three months ’n I hain't been up. I'd like ter, Bill, God knows I'd like ter, fer Jim Freeman's sake, but I dunno how she feels towards me, an' I ain't much of a hand with women, 'n I kept puttin' it off.”
Bill Smith looked up in quick surprise at the deep earnestness in the Squire's tone as he went on. “It was 'fore you come ter town, Bill, thirty year ago, t Jim Freeman 'n I was young fellers 'n set up in business, buyin' an' sellin' cattle together. Both on us was counted pretty shrewd an' we was doin' well, but one day Jim got mad 'bout a little matter of a trade. We hed hot words, an' he packed right up an' left for out West. Sold out everything 'twas his 'n but the old homestead up thar. We was both hot
headed an' both ter blame, but we uster think a good deal er one 'nother.
“Bill, I never seen him sence. He sent the taxes reg'lar on the farm, an' I heerd once t' he was married an' doin' well out in Indiana. An' now poor Jim's dead an' gone.” Again the Squire was silent.
“My gal Letty's got a little friendly with the young un, an' I guess Jim had hard luck an' the old farm's 'bout all the widder's got."
They reached the corner and Bill Smith jumped out. "Carry ye over's well's not, Bill,” but the other insisted that he could walk and the Squire drove on.
All day Sunday the snow fell but the temperature steadily rose, and by Monday morning the storm had dwindled down to a cold, drizzling rain which froze as it fell and formed a hard, slippery crust.
During this time Lonnie had gone about with a strangely excited air. As soon as the crust would bear on Monday he got out a large hand sled and asked if he might have the old stove, lying unused in the back room, giving the indefinite excuse that he wanted to do a little work over the hill a piece. The widow consented without question, for she trusted Lonnie implicitly and really knew very little about farm work and its requirements.
Toward night, true to Ike Randall's predictions, the storm cleared away. Lonnie returned home very late.
Town meeting day dawned bright and clear, and what was more, to at least three persons in Fayville, quite warm. The meeting progressed rather tamely for Fayville. The bright weather or something seemed to have infected every one with an unusual lack of interest in the ordinary business of the town. The only excitement came when the Squire and Deacon White were nominated for road commissioner, but the Deacon was overwhelmingly defeated and the meeting adjourned for dinner.
“Sugarin' any yit up your way," asked Bill Smith as the Deacon stood for a moment outside, looking nervously up at the smiling blue sky.
"Hain't teched a bucket. Is ennybody up your way? Ye-Ye -hain't noticed the Squire's people scatterin' enny, hev'ye, Bill ?”
"See he hed a few out soakin' up, but I guess the won't nobody do much sugarin' till they git roads, will they?"
When the afternoon session opened Squire Haskell missed the Deacon, but was not much disturbed as he thought of his two stalwart sons at home with the team, putting a road through the softened crust to the sugar lot. He knew the Deacon had no one to help him but his hired man and they had both voted that morning. The meeting ended at three and the Squire hurried home. The boys had, indeed, done well. Not only was the road broken out, but the sap was merrily tinkling into a hundred buckets, some already half full.
"Yoke up the cattle, boys,” said the Squire delightedly. "Guess we'd better git this simmered down a little tonight, seein' the Deacon went home airly."
At dark a great holder of sap was safely stored in the sugar house and the Squire started a fire for the first time under the new evaporator. He had studied the directions till he knew them by heart. By the time things were steaming up nicely it was nine o'clock and the Squire, carefully arranging the feed pipe according to directions, went to the house for his supper.
But alas! for new inventions with their intricate mechanisms. The syphon which was to carry the sap from the first to the second pan refused to work, and when the Squire returned, a half hour later, he found the sugar house filled with smoke and the front pan of his beloved "bilin' machine" burned beyond the possibility of further use.
Early next morning Squire Haskell, very much discouraged, started for the tin shop with his ruined pan. There was just a bare possibility of his getting it repaired in time to get his sugar in ahead of the Deacon, but the probability, he was forced to admit, was very slight.
Just before reaching the village he met Lonnie, and, surprised at seeing him so early at the village, stopped a moment to ask if any one was sick at the Freeman house.
“Waal, guess not," answered Lonnie with a sort of wild exultation in his voice. “I jes' run down ter collect a little matter o' fifty dollars on some sugar I ben makin’.”
“What!” The Squire's mettlesome horses started as the exclamation burst from him.
Then Lonnie told him, for he liked the Squire, of how he had, almost, without sugaring apparatus, without a team or road, but with an old stove and a hand sled, outwitted the two shrewdest men in town with everything at their command. These were not Lonnie's words, but that is what the Squire understood by them.
For a moment he stared at Lonnie with an expression of blank amazement, then he burst into a roar of laughter and, leaning over, wrung the boy's hand till it ached.
“So ye got ahead of us old fellers, did ye. Ha! Ha! Well, Lonnie, I guess you'll do. But don't let it git out an' I'll go down an' tell Sim Goodnow. Want nobody else round when he paid ye, was thar? Guess I'll try 'n be round down thar a spell. Deacon White's goin' ter be comin' in ter town with his'n, ye know, purty quick. Waal I never!"
As the Squire reached the corner, he turned in his seat and called: “Say, Lonnie, tell the widder me'n my wife 'll be up this afternoon, will ye?”
That afternoon Jim Freeman's widow came to know the nobility and generosity of the man who had been the friend of her husband's youth, and Lonnie will never forget the immeasurable happiness that came to him when Alice put her hand on his shoulder and, with tear-dimmed eyes, assured him that his money should be her means of going to Bolton Academy.
A, M. B., 'oi.