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The second day following these happenings, Tim Reardon sat on a bank of the stream, a short distance above the Ellison dam, fishing. There was no off-season in the matter of fishing, for Little Tim. Nobody else thought of trying for the pickerel now. But Tim Reardon fished the stream from early spring until the ice came; and, in the winter, he chopped through the ice, and fished that way, in the deep holes that he knew.

He was no longer barefoot, for the days were chilly. A stout pair of shoes protected his feet, which he kicked together as he dangled a long pole out from the shore. He was fishing in deep water now, with a lead sinker attached to his line; and, beside him, was a milk-can filled with water and containing live shiners for bait. These he had caught in the brook.

The fish weren’t biting, but Little Tim was a patient fisherman. He was so absorbed, in fact, in the thought that every next minute to come he must surely get the longed-for bite, that he failed to note the approach of a man from the road. And when, all at once, a big hand closed upon his coat collar, he was so surprised and gave such a jump that he would have lost his balance and gone into the stream, if the hand had not held him fast. Squirming about, in the firm grasp of the person who held him, Tim turned and faced Colonel Witham.

“Well, I reckon I’ve got yer,” was Colonel Witham’s comment. “No use in your trying to wriggle away.”

The fact was quite evident, and Tim’s face clouded.

“I haven’t done anything to hurt,” he said. “Lemme go.”

“Who said you had,” replied Colonel Witham, grimly. “I didn’t say you had and I didn’t say you hadn’t. I wouldn’t take chances on saying that you hadn’t done a whole lot of things you oughtn’t to. You’ve got to come along with me, though. I’m not going to hurt yer. You needn’t be scared.”

He changed his grip on the boy, from the latter’s collar to one wrist, which he held firmly.

“Pick up your stuff,” he said, “and come along with me. No use jumping that way. I’ve got you, all right.”

Little Tim, thinking over his sins, reached down and picked up the can of bait.

“I haven’t done anything to hurt,” he repeated.

“Hm!” exclaimed the colonel. “Reckon you’ve done a lot of things to hurt, if people only knew it. Here, I’ll take that can. You carry your pole. Now come along.”

“What for?” asked Tim, obeying the colonel’s command to “come along” with him.

“I’ll show you what I want,” replied Colonel Witham. “You know well enough, I guess, without any of my telling. Oh, I know you’ll say you don’t; but I don’t care anything about that. Just come along.”

They proceeded out to the road, whence they turned and went in the direction of the inn. Tim thought of the pumpkin, and his heart sank. He was going to “catch it” for that, he thought.

They came up to the flag-staff presently, and Tim repressed a chuckle with difficulty; for there, as on the night they had sent it aloft, hung the big pumpkin, grinning down on them both.

“There,” said Colonel Witham, “you didn’t have any hand in that oh, no! You wouldn’t do it, of course. You never did nothing to hurt. I know you. But see here, youngster” and he gave a twist to Tim’s wrist “you’ve got to get it down, do you understand?”

Tim gave a sigh of relief. It wasn’t a “whaling,” after all.

“Now,” continued Colonel Witham, eying him sharply, “perhaps you had a hand in that, and perhaps you didn’t. I don’t know and I don’t care. What I want is, to get it down. You needn’t say you didn’t do it, because I wouldn’t believe any of you boys, anyway. But I’m going to do the right thing.” The colonel hesitated a moment. “I’m going to be handsome about it. You get that down and I’ll give you a quarter twenty-five cents, do you hear?”

Little Tim nodded.

“Well,” Colonel Witham went on, “you give me that fish-pole. I’m not going to have you cut and run. I’m too smart for that.”

So saying, the colonel seized the boy’s fish-pole, and relinquished his grasp of his wrist.

“Reckon you won’t run away long as I’ve got this,” he said. “Now can you shin that pole?”

“Sure,” replied Tim. He glanced up at the lofty peak of the flag-staff, then began removing his shoes and stockings. He was up the pole the next moment like a squirrel, clinging fast with arms and bare toes. Half-way up he rested, by clutching the halyard and twisting it about his arm.

“Little monkey!” ejaculated Colonel Witham; “I’d give a dollar to know if he put it up there. Well, reckon I’ve got to give him that quarter, though, as long as I said I would.”

Tim did the topmost length of the pole cautiously. It was a high one, with a slim topmast spliced on with iron bands. He knew how to climb this like a sailor; careful to hold himself close in to the slender stick, and not throw his weight out, so as to put a strain on it that might cause it to snap and let him fall; careful not to get it to swaying.

Then, almost at the very top, he rested again for a moment, sustaining part of his weight by the halyards, as before. When he had got his breath, he drew himself up close to where the big pumpkin hung, on the opposite side; dug his toes in hard, and held on with them and one hand. He reached his other hand into a trousers’ pocket, and drew forth a knife that he had opened before he began the ascent.

Holding fast to the pole, he cut the rope that held the pumpkin. It fell, grazing one of his knees, and would have dislodged him had he not guarded against it. The next moment, it landed with a crash at the base and was shattered into fragments.

Little Tim laboriously loosened the knot Harvey had tied, and let the halyard run free. A moment more, and he was on the ground with Colonel Witham.

The colonel eyed the wreck of the hobgoblin with satisfaction. Then he turned to Tim.

“You’re a smart little rascal,” he said, “and a plucky one. I’ll say that for you. There’s your fish-pole and your can.”

Colonel Witham paused, and reluctantly put his hand in his trousers pocket. With still greater reluctance, he drew forth a twenty-five cent piece and tendered it to the boy.

“Here,” he said, “it’s a lot of money, but I won’t say as you haven’t earned it.”

To Colonel Witham’s astonishment, however, the boy shook his head.

“I don’t want any money,” he said. “I wouldn’t take it for that.”

Another moment, he had slipped into shoes and stockings, snatched up his pole and can, and was walking quickly down the road.

Little Tim had a conscience.

“Well, if that don’t beat me!” exclaimed the amazed Colonel Witham, as he stood staring at the boy. “Who’d ever have thought it?”

But soon a great light dawned upon him.

“Aha!” he exclaimed. “The little rascal! He stuck it up there, or my name’s not Witham. That’s why he wouldn’t take the money for getting it down. Reckon I ought to have given him a taste of that stick, instead of offering him a quarter.”

But even Colonel Witham, when he came to think upon it, knew deep down in his heart that he had a sort of admiration for Little Tim.

In the meantime, Henry Burns, turning over in his mind the secret that had been partly revealed to him, through the words of Grannie Thornton, could not make up his mind just what to do about it. He had almost decided to entrust what he knew to Lawyer Estes, for him to unravel, when the lawyer was called out of town for several weeks, on an important case. Again, another event intervened to cause delay. Miss Matilda Burns made a visit to her home in Massachusetts, and took Henry Burns with her; and it was well into November, close upon Thanksgiving, in fact, when they returned to Benton. By this time early winter had set in, and some heavy snow falls had buried all the country around and about Benton deep under drifts.

“You’re just in time,” said Harvey, as he and Tom Harris greeted Henry Burns on the latter’s return. “We’ve got a week’s holiday, and look what I’ve made for us.”

Harvey proudly displayed a big toboggan, some seven feet in length, in the making of which he had expended the surplus time and energy of the last two weeks. “No easy job steaming those ends and making ’em curl up together even,” he added; “but she’ll go some. Say, you ought to see the slide we’ve got, down the mountain above Ellison’s. Well go up this afternoon, if you like.”

They were up there, all of them, early in the afternoon, George and Young Joe Warren driving one of the Warren horses hitched to a sleigh, and drawing a string of toboggans after. Blanketing the horse some distance above the Ellison dam, they proceeded up the surface of the frozen stream to the slide.

It was, as Henry Burns said, enough to make the hair on one’s fur cap stand on end, to look at it. From the summit of what might almost be termed a small mountain certainly, a tremendous hill to the base, down a precipitous incline, the boys had constructed a chute, by banking the snow on either side. This chute led down on to the frozen stream, where a similar chute had been formed for a half-mile or more down stream.

Moreover, a temporary thaw, with a fall of sleet, had coated the bed of the chute with a glassy surface, like polished steel, or glare ice. Henry Burns, standing beside the slide, half-way up the mountain, saw a toboggan with four youths dash down the steep incline, presently. Little Tim sat in front, yelling like an Indian at a war-dance. They fairly took Henry Burns’s breath away as they shot past him. He looked at Harvey and shrugged his shoulders.

“Guess that’s pretty near as exciting as cruising in Samoset bay, isn’t it?” he remarked. “Well, you hold the tiller, Jack, and I’m game; though it’s new sport to me. I never spent a winter in Maine before.”

“Oh, there isn’t much steering to do here,” replied Harvey; “you only have to keep her in the chute, and not let her get to swerving. It’s easy. You’ll like it.”

It certainly did seem a risky undertaking, to a novice, standing at the very summit of the mountain and looking along down the icy plunge of the chute, far below to the stream. It took all of Henry Burns’s nerve, to seat himself at the front end of the toboggan, while Jack Harvey gave a shove off. For the first moment, it was almost like falling off a steeple. Then he caught the exhilaration of the sport, as the toboggan gathered speed and shot down the incline at lightning speed.

Henry Burns had hardly time to gather his thoughts, and to glory in the excitement, when they were at the foot of the descent, and gliding swiftly along the surface of the stream.

“My, but that’s great!” he exclaimed. “It’s next to sailing, if it isn’t as good. Come on, let’s try it again.”

The mountain was admirably situated for such a sport; for it rose up from the shore where the stream made a sharp bend in its course, forming a promontory that overlooked the surrounding land. Thus the chute, after leaving the base of it, continued in a straight line down stream.

The sport, thrilling as it was, however, grew tame for Young Joe. He wanted something different. He had brought along, also, a steel-shod sled, known to the boys as a “pointer,” because its forward ends ran out to sharp points, protected by the turning up of the steel runners. He declared himself ready to make the descent on that.

“Don’t be a fool, Joe,” remonstrated his elder brother; “you can’t handle that here. You’ll go so fast you can’t steer it.”

If Young Joe had had any misgivings and doubts upon the matter before, however, this remonstrance settled them. A little opposition was all that was needed to set him off. Modestly calling the attention of all the others to the fact that he was about to attempt a feat never before tried, Young Joe lay at full length upon the sled and pushed off.

Certainly, never before had any object shot down the mountain side at the speed Young Joe was travelling. Fortunately for him, the sides of the chute were sufficiently high to keep the sled within bounds, and on its course. The sled made the descent in safety and darted out across the surface of the stream, still within the chute. Then something unexpected happened.

The chute had been designed for toboggans, and continued only as far as the fastest one of them would travel. Watching Young Joe’s daring feat, the boys saw him make the descent and speed along the level, until he reached the spot where the toboggans usually stopped. And there, also, Young Joe’s sled did stop, its sharp points digging into the crust and sticking fast.

But not Young Joe. Like an arrow fired from a crossbow, he left the sled and continued on over the icy surface of the crust downstream. It was a smooth, glare surface, and he slid as though it were greased. Far down stream, they saw him finally come to a stop the most astonished youth that ever slid down a hill. He ended in a little drift of snow blown against a projecting log, and arose, sputtering.

Strangely enough, thanks to thick mittens, and a cap drawn down to cover his face, he was not even scratched. He picked himself up, looked about him, dazed for a moment, and then walked slowly back.

And after all, the upshot of Young Joe’s experiment was, that sleds became popular on the chute, and almost came to exclude the toboggan; only the boys continued the chute for fully a mile down stream, shovelling away to the glare ice. Young Joe had introduced a new and more exciting form of sport.

The next two days afforded rare enjoyment, for the slide was at its best, and the weather clear and bracing. But the afternoon of the third day was not so propitious. It began to grow cloudy at midday, and some light flakes of snow fell, as they ate their luncheon and drank their coffee, beside a fire of spruce and birch at the summit of the mountain, near the head of the slide.

They continued till about five in the afternoon, however, when the snow began falling steadily, and they took their last slide. A party of three of them, Harvey and Henry Burns and George Warren, had proceeded nearly to the Ellison dam, on their way to Benton, when Henry Burns suddenly stopped, with an exclamation of annoyance.

“I’ve got to go back,” he said; “I’ve left my buckskin gloves and Tom’s hatchet up by the fire.”

“Oh, let ’em go till to-morrow,” said Harvey, who was feeling hungry.

“No, it won’t do,” replied Henry Burns, looking back wearily to where the faint smoke of the day’s fire still showed through the light snow-fall. “You fellows needn’t wait, though. Keep on, and perhaps I’ll catch up.”

He started back, plodding slowly, for he was tired with the frequent climbing of the mountain throughout the day. The others, thinking of the supper awaiting them, continued on the way home.

It was a little more than a mile that Henry Burns had to go; and, by the time he was half-way there, it was snowing hard. The storm had increased perceptibly; and, moreover, the wind was rising, and it blew the snow into his eyes so that he could hardly see. He kept on stubbornly, however.

Presently, there came a gust that reminded him of a quick squall on the water. It seemed to gather a cloud of the driving snow and fairly bury him under it. He staggered for a moment and stood still, holding his hands to his face for protection.

“That’s a three-reef blow, all right,” he muttered, and went on again, finally beginning the ascent of the mountain. But there he found himself suddenly assailed by a succession of gusts that made it impossible to try to climb. Moreover, the air was rapidly becoming so thick with snow that he saw he was in danger of being lost.

He made up his mind quickly, realizing the danger he was in, and started back down stream. He must gain shelter soon, or he would be unable to find his way. He was not any too hasty in his decision. In a few minutes the outlines of the stream and its banks were blended into a blurred white mass. Then he could no longer see the shore at any distance, and even the path was being blotted out.

He found, too, it was with difficulty that he could breathe, for the incessant flying of the snow into his nostrils. Estimating, as best he could, where the Half Way House must lie, he struck off from the stream and headed for that. He stumbled on blindly, till his progress was suddenly arrested by his bumping into an object that proved, most fortunately, to be Colonel Witham’s flag-pole. Even at that short distance, the inn was now hidden; but he knew where it must be, and presently stood safe upon its piazza.

It was an odd situation for Henry Burns. Once before, had Colonel Witham refused him shelter under this roof, and that, too, in a storm. But he knew there was no help for it now. He had got to enter and he had got to stay. No human being could go on to-night. He hesitated only for a moment, and then opened the door and stepped within.

The office was vacant, and the air was chilly. The remains of a wood fire smouldered, rather than burned, in the fireplace. There was no lamp lighted, although it was quite dark, with the storm and approaching evening. The place seemed deserted.

Henry Burns stepped to the desk, took a match from a box and lighted the lamp that hung there. It cast a dismal glow, and added little to the cheer of the place, although it enabled him to distinguish objects better. He turned to the hearth, raked the embers together, blew up a tiny blaze and replenished the fire from the wood-box. He threw off his outer garments, and drew a chair toward the blaze.

But now, from an adjoining room, the door of which was slightly ajar, there came unexpectedly a thin, querulous voice that startled him. He recognized, the next moment, the tones of old Granny Thornton.

“Is that you, Dan?” she asked.

Henry Burns opened the door and answered. She seemed afraid, until he had told her who he was, begging him to go away from the place and not harm a poor, lone woman. But she recognized him, when he had spoken again, and had lighted another lamp and held it for her to look at him.

She sat in an arm-chair, in which she had been evidently sleeping, propped up with pillows; and looked ill and feeble.

“I’m cold,” she said, and shivered.

Henry Burns dragged her chair out into the office, by the fire, while she clung to the arms of it, as though in terror of tumbling out on to the floor. And, in that brief journey from room to room, it flashed over Henry Burns that the time and opportunity had come for him to know the secret she possessed.

“Dan won’t like to find you here,” she muttered. “He ought to be here leaving me all alone. My, how it blows! How’d you get here, anyway? Don’t mind what Dan says; you’ll have to stay.”

“He’ll not be here to-night, with this storm keeping up,” answered Henry Burns, “Where is he?”

“He went to town with Bess,” said she. “Why don’t she come? I’m lonesome without her. I’m hungry, too. She ought to make me a cup of tea.”

“I’ll make it,” said Henry Burns; “and I’ll get something for myself, too. I’ll pay for it, so Witham won’t lose by it.”

He made his way to the kitchen and the pantry; lighted a fire in the kitchen stove, and made tea for himself and Granny Thornton; and toasted some bread for her. Then he foraged for himself and ate a hearty meal, for he was ravenously hungry. And, all the while, he was thinking what he should do and say to the old woman, nodding in the chair out in the office.

He returned there, and put more wood on the fire, so that it blazed up brightly, and the sparks shot up the flue with a roar. The roar was more than answered by the wind outside. It rattled the glass in the windows, and dashed the snow against them as though it would break them in. It found a hundred cracks and crevices about the old inn, to moan and shriek through, and blew a thin film of snow under the door.

Old Granny Thornton shook and quivered, as some of the sharper blasts cried about the corners of the house. She seemed frightened; and once she spoke up in a half whisper, and asked Henry Burns if he believed there were ever spirits out on such a night as this. He would have laughed away her fears, under ordinary circumstances; but it suited his purpose better now to shake his head, and answer, truthfully enough, that he didn’t know.

Presently, the old woman started up in her chair and stared anxiously at one of the snow-covered windows.

“They might be lost!” she cried, hoarsely. “They could be lost to-night in this storm, like folks were in the great blizzard twenty years ago. Oh, Bess” she uttered the girl’s name with a sob “I hope you’re safe. You’d die in this snow. Say, boy, do you suppose they’ve got shelter? It’s not Dan Witham I care for, whether he’s dead or not, but Little Bess.”

Henry Burns stepped in front of the old woman, and looked into her eyes.

“What do you care whether Bess is lost or not?” he asked. “She don’t belong to you. She’s not yours. You’re not her grandmother.”

At the words, so quick and unexpected, Granny Thornton shrank back as though she had received a blow. Her eyes rolled in her head, and she seemed to be trying to reply; but the words would not come. She gasped and choked, and clutched at her throat with her shrunken hands.

Henry Burns spoke again, grasping one of her hands, and compelling her to listen.

“Somebody else wants her home more than you do,” he said. “Why don’t you give her back? She’s too smart and bright to go to the poorhouse, when you die. Why do you keep her here?”

He spoke at random, knowing not whether he was near the secret or not, but determined that he would make her speak out.

But she sank down in her chair, huddled into an almost shapeless, half-lifeless heap. Her head was buried in her hands. She rocked feebly to and fro. Once she roused herself a bit, and strove to ask a question, but seemed to be overcome with weakness. Henry Burns thought he divined what she would ask, and answered.

“I know it’s so,” he said. “You can’t hide it any longer. I’ve found it out.”

It seemed as though she would not speak again. The minutes went by, ticked off in clamorous sound, by a big clock on the wall. Granny Thornton still crouched all in a heap in her chair, moaning to herself. Henry Burns remained silent and waited.

Then when, all at once, the old woman brought herself upright, with a jerk, and spoke to him, the sound of her voice amazed him. It was not unlike the tone in which she had answered Colonel Witham, the night Henry Burns overheard her. It was shrill and sharp, though with a whining intonation. What she said was most unexpected.

“Have you been to school?” she queried.

Henry Burns stared hard. He thought her mind wandering. But she continued.

“Don’t stare that way haven’t you any wit? Can you write? Hurry I’m afeared Dan will be here.”

Henry Burns understood, in a flash. He sprang to the desk, got the pen and ink there and a block of coarse paper, the top sheet of which had some figuring on it. He returned to the old woman’s side and sat down, with the paper on his knees. She stared at him blankly for a few moments then said abruptly:

“Write it down just as I tell you. I’m going to die soon Don’t stare like that write it down. Dan Witham can’t harm me then, and I’m going to tell. Her name isn’t Bess Thornton it’s Bess Ellison.”

Henry Burns’s hand almost refused to write. But he controlled himself, and followed her.

“Dan shan’t have her,” she continued. “I’ll give her up, first. Twelve years ago last June she was born. And she weren’t as pretty as my girl’s baby, that was born the same day though they looked alike, too.

“My girl’s name was Elizabeth, but she’s dead. She was a sight prettier than Lizzie Anderson that married Jim Ellison. But my girl married Tom Howland, and he ran away and left her, and that just before the baby was born. And her baby, Elizabeth Howland, was born the same day, I tell you, as Lizzie Ellison’s baby. That one was named Elizabeth, too Elizabeth Ellison. That’s Bess.

“And when the two babies were born, why we were poor and Jim Ellison was well-to-do. The Thorntons got in debt, and he bought up the mortgages. And when Bess Ellison was born, her mother was so ill she didn’t see the baby for many weeks; and my girl went up to the house in about three weeks to nurse both babies, we being poor. And I went up, too, to look after things.

“I guess my girl was wild, too, though I won’t blame her now. One day she went to town and didn’t come back; and she left me a note, saying she wouldn’t ever come back, anyway. And I could bring up the baby which I didn’t like to do, because I’d brought up one, and now she’d run away.

“So I was getting ready to go back to the house and take the baby with me; and I took care of both babies for a day or two. And just as I was planning to go back, there lay the two, side by side in the bed; and I could hardly tell which was which they looked so much alike.

“Then what put it into my head, I don’t know. But I thought that, if I changed the two, nobody’d know, because Bess Ellison’s mother hadn’t seen her. And I thought of how the property would come back to the Thorntons that way, if I put my girl’s Bess in the other’s place. And I up and did it, quick.

“Then, when I got home with Lizzie Ellison’s baby, why I found I’d been so hasty I’d brought away a chain and bit of money, that they’d put about her neck. It was an old coin that had been in the family for years, and was thought to carry good luck so I learned afterwards. I meant to take it back, but I couldn’t, right away, and then I lost the coin. Oh, how I hunted for it! But I never could find it.

“Now are you putting it all down? Be quick, or Dan might come in. It was all for nothing what I did for my girl’s baby died two years later. Let me look what you’ve got there. I know school-writing. I went to school once. Give me the pen. I’ll put my name down to that. Hold my hand, so it won’t shake. That’s my name. It don’t look like much, I guess. But that’s it.”

Tremblingly, the old woman took the pen and, guided by Henry Burns, subscribed her name to what he had written. Then she spoke again:

“Go into that bed-room and look in the top drawer. There’s a key there. That’s the key to the old house.”

Henry Burns followed her instructions, and brought forth the key. She bade him keep it, and go the next day and get the stuff in the attic: the chain, minus its locket; the little dress, and a pair of shoes. She mourned the loss of the coin, lest her strange story might not be believed by Mrs. Ellison, without that evidence not knowing that the coin had even now come into Mrs. Ellison’s own hands.

She sank into a doze not long after; and Henry Burns also slept, on a couch in the office, with a buffalo robe over him. He woke early next day, waded through the drifts to the old house, and got the things from the drawer. Then he went down the road.

Below the old mill, near the road that ran up to the Ellison farm, a horse and sledge came in sight, travelling slowly. Henry Burns’s pulse beat quicker as he recognized Colonel Witham and Bess coming up from Benton, where they had passed the night. Colonel Witham scowled upon him, but the girl smiled.

“Hello,” she said. “Isn’t everything pretty, all covered with snow? Where’d you come from so early?”

Henry Burns could hardly answer her. He faced Colonel Witham.

“Granny Thornton’s got an errand up at the Ellisons’ for Bess,” he said. “I just came from the inn, I left the money for my lodging, too. Mrs. Ellison wants to see Bess.”

Colonel Witham grumbled. “I won’t wait for her,” he said. “She’ll have to foot it up through the snow.”

“I don’t care,” exclaimed the girl, and sprang lightly out.

Henry Burns never did remember what was said on that walk up to the farm. His mind was taken up with one subject. He had a vague remembrance, after it was all over, of knocking at the door, and of their being both admitted; of his almost ignoring the greeting of the brothers; of his finding himself and Bess somehow in the parlour with Mrs. Ellison.

He remembered, afterward, of handing the writing he had done, at old Granny Thornton’s bidding, to Mrs. Ellison, and of her starting to read it and breaking down suddenly; of her asking him many questions about it, and of his answering them almost in a daze. He remembered that Mrs. Ellison resumed the reading, the tears streaming down her cheeks; of how he laid down the little bundle of stuff he had brought from the attic, and pointed it out to Mrs. Ellison.

He remembered that Mrs. Ellison sprang up and seized the child in her arms and just about that time Henry Burns stole out and left the two together; so that he never did know just what happened next.