And Jem was wonderfully peaceable for the rest of the day. A word from my father went a long way with him. They were very fond of each other.
I had no love of fighting for fighting’s sake, and I had other interests besides sliding and skating; so I was well satisfied that we got through the January frost without further breaches of the peace. Towards the end of the month we all went a good deal upon the mill-dam, and Mr. Wood (assisted by me as far as watching, handing tools and asking questions went) made a rough sledge, in which he pushed Charlie before him as he skated; and I believe the village boys, as well as his own school-fellows, were glad that Cripple Charlie had a share in the winter fun, for wherever Mr. Wood drove him, both sliders and skaters made way.
And even on the pond there were no more real battles that winter. Only now and then some mischievous urchin tripped up our brand-new skates, and begged our pardon as he left us on our backs. And more than once, when “the island” in the middle of the pond was a very fairyland of hoar-frosted twigs and snow-plumed larches, I have seen its white loveliness rudely shaken, and skating round to discover the cause, have beheld Jem, with cheeks redder than his scarlet comforter, return an “accidental” shove with interest; or posed like a ruffled robin redbreast, to defend a newly-made slide against intruders.
“He it was who
sent the snowflakes
Sifting, hissing through the forest;
Froze the ponds, the lakes, the rivers,
* * * * *
Shinbegis, the diver, feared not.”
The Song of Hiawatha.
The first day of February was mild, and foggy, and cloudy, and in the night I woke feeling very hot, and threw off my quilt, and heard the dripping of soft rain in the dark outside, and thought, “There goes our skating.” Towards morning, however, I woke again, and had to pull the quilt back into its place, and when I started after breakfast to see what the dam looked like, there was a sharpish frost, which, coming after a day of thaw, had given the ice such a fine smooth surface as we had not had for long.
I felt quite sorry for Jem, because he was going in the dog-cart with my father to see a horse, and as I hadn’t got him to skate with, I went down to the farm after breakfast, to see what Charlie and the Woods were going to do. Charlie was not well, but Mr. Wood said he would come to the dam with me after dinner, as he had to go to the next village on business, and the dam lay in his way.
“Keep to the pond this morning, Jack,” he added, to my astonishment. “Remember it thawed all yesterday; and if the wheel was freed and has been turning, it has run water off from under the ice, and all may not be sound that’s smooth.”
The pond was softer than it looked, but the mill-dam was most tempting. A sheet of “glare ice,” as Americans say, smooth and clear as a newly-washed window-pane. I did not go on it, but I brought Mr. Wood to it early in the afternoon, in the full hope that he would give me leave.