‘God o’ mercy!’ said he, ’we’ve gone ’round in a half-circle. Now we’ll take the wall an’ mebbe it’ll bring us home.’
I thought I couldn’t keep my feet any longer, for an irresistible drowsiness had come over me. The voice of Uncle Eb seemed far away, and when I sank in the snow and shut my eyes to sleep he shook me as a terrier shakes a rat.
‘Wake up, my boy,’ said he, ‘ye musn’t sleep.’
Then he boxed my ears until I cried, and picked me up and ran with me along the side of the wall. I was but dimly conscious when he dropped me under a tree whose bare twigs lashed the air and stung my cheeks. I heard him tearing the branches savagely and muttering, ‘Thanks to God, it’s the blue beech.’ I shall never forget how he turned and held to my hand and put the whip on me as I lay in the snow, and how the sting of it started my blood. Up I sprang in a jiffy and howled and danced. The stout rod bent and circled on me like a hoop of fire. Then I turned and tried to run while he clung to my coat tails, and every step I felt the stinging grab of the beech. There is a little seam across my cheek today that marks a footfall of one of those whips. In a moment I was as wide awake as Uncle Eb and needed no more stimulation.
The wall led us to the pasture lane, and there it was easy enough to make our way to the barnyard and up to the door of the house, which had a candle in every window, I remember. David was up and dressed to come after us, and I recall how he took Uncle Eb in his arms, when he fell fainting on the doorstep, and carried him to the lounge. I saw the blood on my face as I passed the mirror, and Elizabeth Brower came running and gave me one glance and rushed out of doors with the dipper. It was full of snow when she ran in and tore the wrappings off my neck and began to rub my ears and cheeks with the cold snow, calling loudly for Grandma Bisnette. She came in a moment and helped at the stripping of our feet and legs. I remember that she slit my trousers with the shears as I lay on the floor, while the others rubbed my feet with the snow. Our hands and ears were badly frosted, but in an hour the whiteness had gone out of them and the returning blood burnt like a fire.
‘How queer he stares!’ I heard them say when Uncle Eb first came to, and in a moment a roar of laughter broke from him.
‘I’ll never fergit,’ said he presently, ‘if I live a thousan’ years, the lickin’ I gin thet boy; but it hurt me worse’n it hurt him.’
Then he told the story of the blue beech.
The next day was that ‘cold Friday’ long remembered by those who felt its deadly chill — a day when water thrown in the magic air came down in clinking crystals, and sheaths of frost lay thick upon the windows. But that and the one before it were among the few days in that early period that lie, like a rock, under my character.