Uncle Be suggested that I ask Hope to go with me.
‘Prance right up to her,’ he said, ‘an’ say you’d be glad of the pleasure of her company.
It seemed to me a very dubious thing to do. I looked thoughtful and turned red in the face.
‘Young man,’ he continued, ’the boy thet’s ‘fraid o’ women’ll never hev whiskers.’
‘How’s that?’ I enquired.
‘Be scairt t’ death,’ he answered,’ ‘fore they’ve hed time t’ start Ye want t’ step right up t’ the rack jes’ if ye’d bought an’ paid fer yerself an’ was proud o’ yer bargain.’
I took his advice and when I found Hope alone in the parlour I came and asked her, very awkwardly as I now remember, to go with me.
She looked at me, blushing, and said she would ask her mother.
And she did, and we walked to the schoolhouse together that evening, her hand holding my arm, timidly, the most serious pair that ever struggled with the problem of deportment on such an occasion. I was oppressed with a heavy sense of responsibility in every word I uttered.
Ann Jane Foster, known as ‘Scooter Jane’, for her rapid walk and stiff carriage, met us at the corners on her way to the schoolhouse.
‘Big turn out I guess,’ said she. ’Jed Feary ‘n’ Squire Town is comin’ over from Jingleville an’ all the big guns’ll be there. I love t’ hear Jed Feary speak, he’s so techin’.’
Ann Jane was always looking around for some event likely to touch her feelings. She went to every funeral in Faraway and, when sorrow was scarce in her own vicinity, journeyed far in quest of it
’Wouldn’t wonder ‘f the fur flew when they git t’ going’,’ she remarked, and then hurried on, her head erect, her body motionless, her legs flying. Such energy as she gave to the pursuit of mourning I have never seen equalled in any other form of dissipation.
The schoolhouse was nearly full of people when we came in. The big boys were wrestling in the yard; men were lounging on the rude seats, inside, idly discussing crops and cattle and lapsing into silence, frequently, that bore the signs both of expectancy and reflection. Young men and young women sat together on one side of the house whispering and giggling. Alone among them was the big and eccentric granddaughter of Mrs Bisnette, who was always slapping some youngster for impertinence. Jed Feary and Squire Town sat together behind a pile of books, both looking very serious. The long hair and beard of the old poet were now white and his form bent with age. He came over and spoke to us and took a curl of Hope’s hair in his stiffened fingers and held it to the lamplight.
‘What silky gold!’ he whispered.’ ‘S a skein o’ fate, my dear girl!’
Suddenly the schoolteacher rapped on the desk and bade us come to order and Ransom Walker was called to the chair.
‘Thet there is talent in Faraway township,’ he said, having reluctantly come to the platform, ’and talent of the very highest order, no one can deny who has ever attended a lyceum at the Howard schoolhouse. I see evidences of talent in every face before me. And I wish to ask what are the two great talents of the Yankee - talents that made our forefathers famous the world over? I pause for an answer.’