“Father,” said he, looking straight across the top of the axe-handle which he held between his knees as a mental stimulant, “father, I’ve been thinking of something a good bit lately.”
“Jest thirty-five years, Tony, come next Thanksgiving,” replied the old man, promptly, in a thin asthmatic falsetto. “I recollect your mother used to say it dated from the time your Aunt Hannah was here with the girls.”
“Yes, father, I think it may be a matter of thirty-five years; though it don’t seem so long, does it? But I’ve been thinking harder for the last week or two, and I’m going to speak out.”
Unbounded amazement looked out at the old man’s eyes; his tongue, utterly unprepared for the unexpected contingency, refused its office; a corncob imperfectly denuded dropped from his nerveless hand, and was critically examined, in turn, by the gossamer dogs, hoping against hope. A smoking brand in the fireplace fell suddenly upon a bed of hot coals, where, lacking the fortitude of Guatimozin, it emitted a sputtering protest, followed by a thin flame like a visible agony. In the resulting light Tony’s haggard face shone competitively with a ruddy blush, which spread over his entire scalp, to the imminent danger of firing his flaxen hair.
“Yes, father,” he answered, making a desperate clutch at calmness, but losing his grip, “I’m going to make a clean breast of it this time, for sure! Then you can do what you like about it.”
The paternal organ of speech found sufficient strength to grind out an intimation that the paternal ear was open for business.
“I’ve studied it all over, father; I’ve looked at it from every side; I’ve been through it with a lantern! And I’ve come to the conclusion that, seeing as I’m the oldest, it’s about time I was beginning to think of getting married!”
* * * * *
Near the road leading from Deutscherkirche to Lagerhaus may be seen the ruins of a little cottage. It never was a very pretentious pile, but it has a history. About the middle of the last century it was occupied by one Heinrich Schneider, who was a small farmer—so small a farmer his clothes wouldn’t fit him without a good deal of taking-in. But Heinrich Schneider was young. He had a wife, however—most small farmers have when young. They were rather poor: the farm was just large enough to keep them comfortably hungry.
Schneider was not literary in his taste; his sole reading was an old dog’s-eared copy of the “Arabian Nights” done into German, and in that he read nothing but the story of “Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp.” Upon his five hundredth perusal of that he conceived a valuable idea: he would rub his lamp and corral a Genie! So he put a thick leather glove on his right hand, and went to the cupboard to get out the lamp. He had no lamp. But this disappointment, which would have been instantly fatal to a more despondent man, was only an agreeable stimulus to him. He took out an old iron candle-snuffer, and went to work upon that.