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Irving Bacheller - Eben Holden (1859)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

This is the first of Irving Bacheller's series of successful novels. Two tales from his pen—The Master of Silence and The Unbidden Guest—had been published previously, but they had attracted comparatively little attention. Eben Holden was begun as a juvenile story, but when about ten chapters had been written the purpose was altered and it was recast for adult readers. The scenes in the north country described in this novel are, many of them, such as were familiar in fact to the author's boyhood; and many of the characters entering into the story were at least suggested by persons whom he had actually known. The book was not copyrighted in Great Britain, its great popularity there having been unforeseen by either its author or its American publisher, the result being that it has been supplied to the British public in various forms, from editions de luxe to sixpenny pamphlets. Eben Holden was dramatized in 1901. We present here the author's own condensation of the story.

EBEN HOLDEN, a cheerful old bachelor with a rare knack of story-telling, had worked on my father's farm in northern Vermont since long before I was born. When I was a lad of six my parents were drowned, leaving me the only surviving member of the family. The farm was not worth the mortgage, and everything had to be sold. Uncle Eb, as I had learned affectionately to call him, wished to keep 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. Some persons were for sending me to the county house, but it was finally decided to turn me over to the care of a dissolute uncle, with some allowance for my keep.

The night before they were to take me from the old home, Uncle Eb lifted me into a large pack-basket, to the rim of which he had tied bundles of provisions, and, strapping it to his shoulder, set out afoot in the darkness in a westerly direction.

Traveling thus by night and resting in concealment by day, we journeyed for weeks, with no particular destination, and only the one immediate purpose in Uncle Eb's mind of getting beyond the reach of those who would have taken me from him.

After many interesting experiences in the great Adirondack forest, wherein Uncle Eb's wisdom, courage, and knowledge of woodcraft were repeatedly tested, we one night took refuge from a thunderstorm in an old cabin, apparently deserted. Here we first met "the night man," a mysterious person of whom I was to learn more in later years. At first he angrily ordered us away, but Uncle Eb succeeded finally in gaining his friendship and, as I afterward had reason to believe, in tempting him into confidence that had been given to no other person.

From this strange man we learned where we were. "Down the hill is Paradise Valley, in the township o' Faraway," he told us. "It's the end o' Paradise road, an' a purty country. Been settled a long time, an' the farms are big an' prosperous—kind uv a land o' plenty. That big house at the foot o' the hill is Dave Brower's. He's the richest man in the valley."

In the morning we trudged down the hill to Mr. Brower's house. As we turned in at the gate a barefooted little girl, a bit older than I, with red cheeks and blue eyes, and long curly hair that shone like gold in the sunlight, came running out to meet us and led me up to the doorstep, while Uncle Eb was talking with David Brower. Presently Mr. Brower came and lifted me by the shoulders, high above his head, and shook me as if to test my mettle. Then he led me into the house where his wife was working.

"What do you think of this small bit of a boy?" he asked. She had already knelt on the floor and put her arms about my neck and kissed me.

"Ain' no home," said he. "Come all the way from Vermont with an of man. They're worn out, both uv 'em. Guess we'd better take 'em in awhile."

"Oh, yes, mother—please, mother!" put in the little girl, who was holding my hand. "He can sleep with me. Please let him stay."

"David," said the woman, "I couldn't turn the little thing away. Won't ye hand me those cookies?"

And so our life in Paradise Valley began. In ten minutes I was playing my first game of "I spy" with little Hope Brower, among the fragrant stooks of wheat in the field back of the garden.

David Brower and his wife had settled in Paradise Valley when they were young, and had seen the clearing widen, until now, far as the eye could reach, were the neat white houses of the settlers. Many years before our arrival there Nehemiah Brower, their eldest child, then a lad of sixteen, had killed an-other boy by accident and run away. Some time later word had been received that Nehemiah had been drowned on his way to Van Diemen's Land. There was a wide-spread superstition in the valley that. "the night man," who was never seen in the daylight, but whose tall form was often observed skulking in the dark, was the ghost of the boy Nehemiah had killed.

I could not have enjoyed my new home more if I had been born in it. Mr. and Mrs. Brower were all that a father and mother could be to me, while Hope filled the place of sister and playmate. True, she sometimes annoyed me by too effusive expressions of affection. Once, for instance, when we were going to mill in the big sled with Uncle Eb, she embraced me and said that she loved me very much, adding that when we were big she was going to have me for a husband. This embarrassed me, I remember. It seemed unmanly to be petted like a doll.

"I hate to be kissed," I said, pulling away from her, at which Uncle Eb laughed heartily.

The day came when I would have given half my life for the words I held so cheaply then.

It was Jed Feary, a local poet, who discovered that I was not likely to make a farmer. When I was still a little chap he called Uncle Eb's attention to my slender hands, and said : "Folks here in the valley think o' nuthin' but hard work, most uv 'em. Toil an' slave an' scrimp an' save--thet's about all we think uv. 'Tain't right, Holden. When thet boy is old enough t' take care uv himself, let him git out o' this country. I tell ye he'll never make a farmer, an' if he marries an' settles down here he'll git t' be a poet, mebbe, er some such shif'less cuss, an' die in the poorhouse."

"Singular man!" said Uncle Eb, when Feary had gone. "But anyone thet picks him up fer a fool '11 find him a counterfeit."

In time others came to believe that I was planned by nature for something besides farm work, and Mr. Brower, who had now become father in name as well as in fact, decided that I should have a good education.

The winter that marked the end of my fifteenth year was a time of new things. Then I began to enjoy the finer humors of life in Faraway—to see with understanding, and to feel the in-finite 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, with a beauty of face and form that was the talk of the countryside. Of late years something had come between us. Long ago we had fallen out of each other's confidence. Uncle Eb had once told, before company, how she had kissed me and bespoken me for a husband that day in the big sled, and while the others laughed loudly, she had gone out of the room crying. Ever since then she had seemed to shun me.

Uncle Eb one day suggested that I invite her to an entertainment at the schoolhouse that night.

I took his advice. She looked at me, blushing, and said she would ask her mother. She did, and we walked to the school-house together, her hand holding my arm, timidly, the most serious pair that ever struggled with the problems of deportment on such an occasion. On the way home she asked me what part of the entertainment I enjoyed most.

"Your company," I said, with a fine air of gallantry. "Honestly?"

"Honestly. I want to take you to a dance at Rickard's some time."

"Maybe I won't let you," she said.

"Wouldn't you?"

"You'd better ask me some time and see."

"I shall. I wouldn't ask any other girl."

How far my aroused courage might have carried me I cannot say. We were interrupted by a woman who overtook us. The next autumn Hope, who had a fine voice, went away to study music, and I to the academy at Hillsboro.

In the spring we had returned and were in the garden, the playground of our childhood, when I confessed my love. A flood of color came into her cheeks, as she stood a moment looking down in silence.

"I shall keep your secret," she said tenderly, "and when you are through college—and you are older—and I am older—and you love me as you do now—I hope—I shall love you, tooas--I do now." After a moment she added: "Do not speak of it again until we are older, and, if you never speak again, I shall know you-you do not love me any longer."

In my second year at college Hope went away to continue her studies in New York. She was to live in the family of John Fuller, a friend of Mr. Brower, who had left Faraway years before and made his fortune in the big city. The evening before she was to go Uncle Eb slyly beckoned her and me into his room, and, counting a hundred dollars from a great roll which he took from his trunk, handed it to Hope, saying: "Put thet away in yer wallet, Might come handy when ye're away f'm hum."

She kissed him tenderly.

"Put it 'n yer wallet an' say nuthin'—not a word t' nobody," he said.

Then he counted over a like amount for me.

After my graduation at college, Uncle Eb and I took the train for New York one summer day in 186o. I was leaving to seek my fortune in the big city; Uncle Eb was off for a holiday, and to see Hope and bring her home for a short visit. She was now very busy with her studies and with her singing in a fashionable church. Besides, Mrs. Fuller, as I had learned, had taken her a good deal into society and encouraged a certain wealthy young man named Livingstone to pay much attention to her. I had lost hope of winning her, but as we sped on Uncle Eb encouraged me.

David Brower and Horace Greeley had been playmates in their boyhood, and I had a letter in my pocket from my adopted father to the great editor. When Mr. Greeley had read it and asked me many questions about its writer, I told him that I wanted to work on the Tribune.

"Well," said he, turning back to his desk, "go and write me an article about rats."

"Would you advise—" I began, when he interrupted me. "The man that gives advice is a bigger fool than the man that takes it. Go and do your best."

The thought of rats suggested ships and wharves and sewers, so I went down to the water-front. There I met a big, good-natured Irish policeman, who went about with me and did not leave me until I was on my way to Mrs. Fuller's, loaded with fact and fable and good dialect with a flavor of the sea in it.

Uncle Eb and Hope expressed great pleasure when I told them I had a job on the Tribune. I was for going at once to write my article, but Hope said it was time to be getting ready for dinner.

At that elaborate meal I met many handsome men and women, among them Mr. Livingstone and a Mr. John Trumbull, the latter a big, full-bearded man who, as I learned, had made the acquaintance of the family by snatching Hope from under a horse's feet and saving her life.

"Seems as if it were fate," said Hope. "I had seen him so often and wondered who he was.

After dinner Uncle Eb and John Trumbull went to the smoking-room, where I found them talking earnestly in a corner. Mrs. Fuller afterward told me that Mr. Trumbull was a speculator. "A strange man," she added, "successful, silent, and, I think, in love."

That evening Hope and I had a few moments together in a corner of the large parlor. "I've heard how well you did last year," she said, " and how nice you were to the girls. A friend of mine wrote me all about it. How attentive you were to that little Miss Brown!"

"Only decently polite," I answered. "One has to have somebody or—or—be a monk."

" One has to have somebody!" she said quickly, as she picked at the flower on her bosom and looked down at it soberly. "That is true—one has to have somebody, and, you know, I haven't had any lack of company myself. By the way, I have news to tell you. I am going to England with Mrs. Fuller." A moment later she said : " My friend writes that you are in love."

"She is right," I said. "I am madly, hopelessly in love. It is time you knew it, Hope, and I want your counsel."

She rose quickly and turned her face away. "Do not tell me!" she said coldly. "Do not speak of it again. I forbid you!"

Before I could speak Mrs. Fuller had come through the door-way. "Come, Hope," she said, "I cannot let you sit up late. You are worn out, my dear."

That night Uncle Eb came to my room, and I told him that Hope didn't care for me.

"Don't believe it," he answered calmly. "Thet woman—she's tryin' t' keep her away from ye, but 'twon't make no differ'nce. Not a bit."

"Hope has got too far ahead of me," I said. "She can marry a rich man if she wishes to, and I don't see why she shouldn't."

"There's things goin' t' happen," Uncle Eb whispered. "I can't tell ye what er when, but they're goin' t' happen an' they're goin' t' change everything."

Instead of going home with Uncle Eb, Hope went first to Saratoga, and then abroad with Mrs. Fuller.

When my article was written I took it to Mr. Greeley, who instructed his city editor to read it and, if it were well done, to give me a place on the Tribune staff. The city editor gave me little encouragement, saying the staff was full, but he took my address and said I would hear from him when he wanted me. I never heard from him.

That evening I chanced to meet Mr. Trumbull, and we took a long walk together.

"Come!" said he, after a silence, "talk to me. Tell me—what are you going to do?"

I told him of my plans, so far as they had matured. "You love Hope," he said. "You will marry her?" "If she will have me," I answered.

"You must wait," he said. "Time enough!"

I was soon nearly out of money and at my wits' end. In this plight I ran upon Fogarty, the policeman who had been the good angel of my one hopeful day in journalism. His manner invited my confidence, and I told him I needed work—any kind of honest work. He led me to a gang of Irishmen working in the street near by and induced the boss to give me work. I began next morning. We were paving Park Place, and presently I saw Mr. Greeley standing near and looking down at me.

" Do you mean to tell me that you'd rather work than beg or borrow ?" lie said, after beckoning me to him.

"That's about it," I answered.

"And ain't ashamed of it?"

"Ashamed! Why?" said I, not quite sure of his meaning, for I had learned that all work was honorable.

"I guess you'll do for the Tribune," he laughed. "Come and see me at twelve to-morrow." He gave me a place on the local staff and invited me to dine with him at his home that evening.

In the course of my duty I went to report the ball given in honor of the Prince of Wales at the Academy of Music. There I saw Mrs. Fuller in one of the boxes, and made haste to speak with her. She had just landed, having left Hope to study for a time in the Conservatory at Leipsic.

"Mrs. Livingstone is with her," said she, "and they will return together in April."

"Mrs. Fuller, did she send any word to me?" I inquired anxiously. "Did she give you no message?"

"None," she said coldly, "except one to her mother and father, which I have sent in a letter to them."

In 1861 I resigned from the Tribune and went to the war. At Washington I received a letter from Uncle Eb informing me that Hope, in one of her recent letters, had said she had not heard from me, but had heard from somebody else that I was going to be married. "You had oughter write her a letter, Bill," Uncle Eb wrote. "Looks to me so you haint used her right. She's a-comin' hum in July."

I wrote immediately to Uncle Eb, telling him of the letters I had sent to Hope, and of my effort to see her.

I went to the war in despair, and was badly wounded in the battle of Bull Run, and left on the field. Far into the night I lay near to death. Then I heard a voice calling my name again and again, coming nearer and nearer. I answered with a feeble cry, and presently a mighty man had picked me up and was making off. The jolt of his step seemed to be breaking my arms at the shoulder. Fainter and fainter I grew, until my own voice seemed to whisper to me : "My God ! this is no man. This is Death severing the soul from the body." From then till I came to myself in the little church at Centreville I remember nothing. In a few weeks I was removed to Washington, where I soon recovered my strength and set out for home.

When I arrived at Jersey City, Uncle Eb was there to meet me. As I was greeting him I heard a lively rustle of skirts. Two dainty gloved hands laid hold of mine; a sweet voice spoke my name. There, beside me, stood the tall, erect figure of Hope. Our eyes met, and, before there was any thinking of propriety, I had her in my arms and was kissing her and she was kissing me.

Explanations followed later. She had not received my letters, as I suspected. Mrs. Fuller had wished her to marry young Livingstone. "But for Uncle Eb," she said, "I think I should have done so, for I had given up all hope of you."

We went to an inn, and late that night when we wakened Uncle Eh and told him that we were to be man and wife, he said: "You go into the other room and wait a minute, and I'll put on my clothes an' then you'll hear me talk some conversation."

As we neared home in the north country, Uncle Eb told us that David Brower had recently lost a large sum of money in speculation and was low in spirits, but that he would soon rise again. The following Christmas Eve we learned what he meant. David and Elizabeth Brower were facing the prospect of losing their home with pathetic bravery when Uncle Eb handed them a check for twenty thousand dollars, saying it was from their son Nehemiah.

"Why, Nehemiah is dead," said David.

Then Uncle Eb opened the door and a tall, bearded man came in.

"Mr. Trumbull!" Hope exclaimed, rising.

"David an' Elizabeth Brower," said Uncle Eb, "the dead has come to life. I give ye back yer son—Nehemiah"

Nehemiah, whom I had known as John Trumbull, sat between his father and mother, holding a hand of each, telling his story far into the night. When he was a mere boy he had accidentally shot another boy with an old gun which he supposed was not loaded. He had often quarreled with that boy, and some thought he had killed him purposely, so, to escape arrest, he ran away and went to sea. Near Van Diemen's Land a shipmate was washed overboard and drowned. Nehemiah placed a letter in the drowned man's box, saying his real name was Nehemiah Brower, son of David Brower, of Faraway, New York, and the captain wrote to Mr. Brower that his son was dead. Six years later Nehemiah sailed into the harbor of Quebec, and the desire to see those he loved had tempted him to Paradise Valley. Here he concealed himself in the woods by day, coming out at night to watch over the old home and occasionally to peep through a window at his friends.

"I made my home in a concealed cave," he went on; "caught a cub panther and a baby coon. They grew up with me there and were the only friends I had, except Uncle Eb."

"Uncle Eb!" I exclaimed.

" You know how I met him," Nehemiah continued, addressing me. " You were not as big and heavy then as you were the night I carried you from Bull Run battle-field. Well, Uncle Eb won my confidence that night in the old cabin, and I told him my history. Ever since that he has been my friend, guide, and helper. But for him I should have gone crazy in my loneliness. Indeed, I was half crazy when he urged me to go out among men and gave me a thousand dollars to start me in business. I walked through the woods to Utica, where I bought fashionable clothing, and went to New York. You know the rest, save that my introduction to Hope was not so accidental as it seemed. I had long kept pretty close watch over her."

"I declare!" said he, beaming down upon David and Elizabeth Brower. "In all my born days I never see sech fun. It's tree-menjious, I tell ye. Them 'et takes care uv others'll be took care uv—'less they do it o' purpose."

" Three cheers for Uncle Eb ! " I demanded. And we gave them.

Hope and I were married, and made our home in the great city, whence every summer we return to the old fireside and sit by the graves of those we loved and think of the last words of Uncle Eb, now cut in marble :

I ain't afraid.
'Shamed o' nuthin' I ever done.
Allwas kep' my tugs tight,
Never swore 'less 'twas necessary,
Never ketched a fish bigger'n 'twas
Er lied in a hoss trade
Er shed a tear I didn't hev to.
Never cheated anybody but Ebert Holden.
Goin' off somewheres Bill—dunno the way nuther.
Dunno if it's east er west er north er south
Er road er trail
But I ain't afraid.

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