‘Drownded!’ said Uncle Eb. ‘How?’
‘In the ocean,’ the first answered gaping. ’Went away off ’round the world an’ they got a letter that said he was drownded on his way to Van Dieman’s Land.’
‘To Van Dieman’s Land!’
‘Yes, an some say the night man is the ghost o’ the one he killed.’
I remember waking that night and hearing excited whispers at the window near my bed. It was very dark in the room and at first I could not tell who was there.
‘Don’t you see him?’ Tip whispered.
‘Where?’ I heard Uncle Be ask
‘Under the pine trees — see him move.’
At that I was up at the window myself and could plainly see the dark figure of a man standing under the little pine below us.
‘The night man, I guess,’ said Uncle Be, ’but he won’t do no harm. Let him alone; he’s going’ away now.’
We saw him disappear behind the trees and then we got back into our beds again. I covered my head with the bedclothes and said a small prayer for the poor night man.
And in this atmosphere of mystery and adventure, among the plain folk of Faraway, whose care of me when I was in great need, and whose love of me always, I count among the priceless treasures of God’s providence, my childhood passed. And the day came near when I was to begin to play my poor part in the world.
It was a time of new things — that winter when I saw the end of my fifteenth year. Then I began to enjoy the finer humours of life in Faraway — to see with understanding; and by God’s grace — to feel.
The land of play and fear and fable was now far behind me and I had begun to feel the infinite in the ancient forest’ in the everlasting hills, in the deep of heaven, in all the ways of men. Hope Brower was now near woman grown. She had a beauty of face and form that was the talk of the countryside. I have travelled far and seen many a fair face hut never one more to my eye. I have heard men say she was like a girl out of a story-book those days.
Late years something had come between us. Long ago we had fallen out of each other’s confidence, and ever since she had seemed to shun me. It was the trip in the sledgehouse that’ years after, came up between us and broke our childish intimacy. Uncle Be had told, before company, how she had kissed me that day and bespoke me for a husband, and while the others laughed loudly she had gone out of the room crying. She would have little to say to me then. I began to play with boys and she with girls. And it made me miserable to hear the boys a bit older than I gossip of her beauty and accuse each other of the sweet disgrace of love.
But I must hasten to those events in Faraway that shaped our destinies. And first comes that memorable night when I had the privilege of escorting Hope to the school lyceum where the argument of Jed Feary — poet of the hills — fired my soul with an ambition that has remained with me always.