MR. SILK PROPOSES.
Farmer Cordery had six grown sons—Jonathan, George, William, Increase, Homer, and Lemuel—the eldest eight-and-twenty, the youngest sixteen. All were strapping fellows, and each as a matter of course had fallen over head and ears in love with Ruth.
They were good lads and knew it to be hopeless. She had stepped into their home as a goddess from a distant star, to abide with them for a while. They worshipped, none confessing his folly; but it made them her slaves, and emulous to shine before her as though she had been a queen of tournay. Because of her presence (it must be sadly owned) challengings, bickerings, even brotherly quarrels, disturbed more and more the patriarchal peace of Sweetwater Farm. “I dunno what’s come over the boys,” their father grumbled; “al’ays showing off an’ jim-jeerin’. Regilar cocks on a dunghill. A few years agone I’d ’ve cured it wi’ the strap; but now there’s no remedy.”
William had challenged his eldest brother Jonathan to “put” a large round-shot that lay in the verandah. Their father had brought it home from the capture of Louisbourg as a souvenir. Jonathan and George had served at Louisbourg too, in the Massachusetts Volunteers; but William, though of age to fight, had been left at home to look after the farm and his mother. It had been a sore disappointment at the time; now that Jonathan and George had taken on a sudden to boast, it rankled. Hence the challenge. The three younger lads joined in. If they could not defeat their seniors, they could at least dispute the mastery among themselves. Thereupon in all seriousness (ingenuous youths!) they voted that Miss Josselin should be asked to umpire.
The contest took place next morning after breakfast, in a paddock beyond the elms, with Ruth for umpire and sole spectator. Nothing had been said to the farmer, who was fast losing his temper with “these derned wagerings,” and might have come down with a veto that none dared disobey. He had ridden off, however, at sun-up to the mountain, to look after the half-wild hogs he kept at pasture among the woods at its base.
Ruth measured out the casts conscientiously. In no event would the young men have disputed her arbitrament; but, as it happened, this nicety was thrown away. Jonathan’s “put” of forty feet—the shot weighed close upon sixteen pounds—easily excelled the others’, who were sportsmen and could take a whipping without bad blood or dispute. The winner crowed a little, to be sure; it was the New England way. But Lemuel the youngest, who had outgrown his strength, had made a deplorable “put,” and the rest jeered at him, to relieve their feelings. The boy fired up. “Oh, have your laugh!” he blazed, with angry tears in his eyes. “But when it comes to running, there’s not one of you but knows I can put circles round him.”
“Take you on, this moment,” answered up young Increase. “Say, boys, we’ll all take him on.”