That was as much of a sign to the young people as if they had seen an old Royalist bow before King Charles’s portrait. It made them understand that Uncle Reuben always must remain great, however he abused his position, only because he had been so deeply loved.
In these days, when all greatness is so carefully examined, he has to be used with greater moderation than formerly. The limit for his age is lower; trees, boats and powder-horns ’are safe from him, but nothing of stone which can be sat upon can escape him.
And the children, the children of the day, treat him quite otherwise than their parents did. They criticise him openly and frankly. Their parents no longer understand how to inspire blind, terrified obedience. Little boarding-school girls discuss Uncle Reuben and wonder if he is anything but a myth. A six-year-old child proposes that he should prove by experiment that it is impossible to catch a mortal cold on stone steps.
But that is only a passing mood. That generation in their heart of hearts is just as convinced of Uncle Reuben’s greatness as the preceding one and obey him just as they did. The day will come when those scoffers will go down to the home of their ancestors, try to find the old stone steps, and raise on it a tablet with a golden inscription.
They joke about Uncle Reuben for a few years, but as soon as they are grown and have children to bring up, they will become convinced of the use and need of the great man.
“Oh, my little child, do not sit on those stone steps! Your mother’s mother had an uncle whose name was Reuben. He died when he was your age, because he sat down to rest on just such steps.”
So will it be as long as the world lasts.
I think I can see them as they drive away. Quite distinctly I can see his stiff, silk hat with its broad, curving brim, such as they had in the forties, his light waistcoat and his stock. I also see his handsome, clean-shaven face with its small, small whiskers, his high stiff collar, and the graceful dignity of his slightest movement. He is sitting on the right in the chaise and is just taking up the reins, and beside him is sitting that little woman. God bless her! I see her even more distinctly. Like a picture I have before me that narrow, little face, and the hat that frames it, tied under the chin, the dark-brown, smoothly combed hair, and the big shawl with the embroidered silk flowers. The chaise in which they are driving has a seat with a green, fluted back, and of course the innkeeper’s horse which is to take them the first six miles is a little fat sorrel.