A big bass viol, taller than himself, had long been the solace of his Sundays. After he had shaved — a ceremony so solemn that it seemed a rite of his religion — that sacred viol was uncovered. He carried it sometimes to the back piazza and sometimes to the barn, where the horses shook and trembled at the roaring thunder of the strings. When he began playing we children had to get well out of the way, and keep our distance. I remember now the look of him, then — his thin face, his soft black eyes, his long nose, the suit of broadcloth, the stock and standing collar and, above all, the solemnity in his manner when that big devil of a thing was leaning on his breast.
As to his playing I have never heard a more fearful sound in any time of peace or one less creditable to a Christian. Weekdays he was addicted to the milder sin of the flute and, after chores, if there were no one to talk with him, he would sit long and pour his soul into that magic bar of boxwood.
Uncle Eb had another great accomplishment. He was what they call in the north country ‘a natural cooner’. After nightfall, when the corn was ripening, he spoke in a whisper and had his ear cocked for coons. But he loved all kinds of good fun.
So this man had a boy in his heart and a boy in his basket that evening we left the old house. My father and mother and older brother had been drowned in the lake, where they had gone for a day of pleasure. I had then a small understanding of my loss, hat I have learned since that the farm was not worth the mortgage and that everything had to be sold. Uncle Eb and I — a little lad, a very little lad of six — were all that was left of what had been in that home. Some were for sending me to the county house; but they decided, finally, to turn me over to a dissolute uncle, with some allowance for my keep. Therein Uncle Eb was to be reckoned with. He had set his heart on keeping me, but he was a farm-hand without any home or visible property and not, therefore, in the mind of the authorities, a proper guardian. He had me with him in the old house, and the very night he heard they were coming after me in the morning, we started on our journey. I remember he was a long time tying packages of bread and butter and tea and boiled eggs to the rim of the basket, so that they hung on the outside. Then he put a woollen shawl and an oilcloth blanket on the bottom, pulled the straps over his shoulders and buckled them, standing before the looking-glass, and, hang