BLOOD WILL TELL

The mingled expression of heart-felt delight, surprise, and
consternation that pervaded the features of Rich, when, upon turning, he
looked Morton in the face, was quite ludicrous.

“Mort!” he gasped.

“Yes, Mort,” replied his visitor, grasping fervently the hand that was
timidly extended to meet his own; “ain’t you glad to see me?”

“Glad!” shouted Rich, grasping both the hands of Morton in his own,
while the tears ran down his cheeks; “I hope you don’t think I am not;
but–”

“But you are in a working dress, and not in a state to receive me, who
never cleaned out the president’s barn, milked his cow, or dug his
potatoes, and you are smutty.”

Thus saying, Morton rubbed his hand on the top of the bellows, and made
an awful smut spot across the whole side of his face.

“Will that remove your scruples, old chum? How are you?”

“O, Mort, I’m so glad to see you!”

“Expected you’d be; that’s what I came for; didn’t come for anything
else; ‘kalkerlated,’ as Uncle Tim would say, to make you glad.”

Rich now introduced Morton to his father and uncle, who received him
without any of the embarrassment that had overwhelmed Rich, and in a
most hearty manner.

“You must excuse, Mr. Morton,” said Clement, “my son’s constraint upon
first seeing you; it was occasioned by the recollection of the change in
our circumstances, in consequence of which he cannot entertain as he
would wish the friend he loves so dearly, and whom we have all learned
through him to love, even before meeting. If we have been unfortunate,
it is no more than has overtaken more deserving persons than ourselves,
and our losses have neither chilled our hearts nor discouraged us from
effort.”

“We think,” said Robert, “that as we earned all we have lost by our own
industry, we can, by the same means, better our condition.”

“I am sorry, Mr. Morton,” said Clement, “to be obliged to keep my son
till this horse is shod, as the owner is waiting, and there is a new
shoe to make; but after that he will be at liberty.–Strike, Robert.”

Rich, eager to be released, struck with good will; the sparks flew all
over the shop, and a second heat put the iron in such shape that Mr.
Richardson required no further help. Rich flung off his leather apron,
washed himself in a bucket, and wiped the smut from Mort’s cheek with a
towel that did not put on much more dirt than it took off, when they
left to cleanse themselves more effectually at the house.

The dwelling was old, out of repair, and consisted of three rooms on the
ground floor, but two of them plastered, and a low attic. If Morton felt
depressed by finding his friends in such wretched quarters, he could not
but admire and wonder at the energy and cheerfulness with which Rich,
his father, mother, and uncle bore up under their reverses. The girls,
however, appeared chagrined and depressed, and seemed to him completely
heart-broken. They were considerably older than Rich, some children
having died between them. Rich, and Morton, after supper went to walk,
the former observing that by reason of their limited accommodations
there was no opportunity for conversation in the house. Following a
footpath that led along the bank of the river, they entered a noble
orchard, just commencing to blossom. It lay upon a declivity sloping to
the river. Passing through it, they came to a swale sprinkled with elms,
and commanding a fine view of the river, and flung themselves on the
grass side by side.

“Rich,” said Morton, “do you know what has surprised me more than
anything else I have met with here?”

“I should think the pickle you found me in when you came into the
shop.”

“No; it is to find yourself and your parents in such good spirits. Most
men, after having met with so great and sudden a reverse, would have
become entirely disheartened, and I expected to find _you_ completely
prostrated.”

“The cheerfulness is not assumed for the occasion, Mort.”

“I know that, you could not deceive me in such a matter.”

“Believe me, as far as I am concerned, and were it not for my sisters,
and seeing my parents compelled to renew in their old age the hardships
of their youth, I should be happier to-day than for the last year and a
half, for I have now a clear conscience.”

“What have you done? What crime have you committed to set your
conscience in arms?”

“The crime of doing nothing; of wasting myself. You know what fine
speeches I used to make in college about effort, setting the standard
high, and all that sort of thing, and how pat at my tongue’s end I
always had ‘_per angusta ad augusta_’ (I’m in a way to realize one part
of it now, I think); and as long as I was neck and neck with you and
Hill, I did do somewhat; but after I came home, I just fell right back
into the old ruts; could not make up my mind in regard to a profession;
didn’t really want to. I was too comfortable; but I felt mean, felt
guilty. When I went to Portland, and heard you argue that case, and saw
how much labor it had cost you, and how nobly you came out of it, I felt
meaner still, and was half inclined to return without seeing you, and
resolved when I got home I would go to work; but I took it out in
thinking so, till the trouble came like a flash of lightning; since
then, I trust, I’ve done something, and been of some little use.”

“Was it, then, so sudden? I knew that your father’s difficulties came in
consequence of his lumber and mills being carried away; but even a
freshet gives some warning.”

“None of us knew that father had every dollar invested in logs that were
like to go down stream. He and uncle were anxious enough, but kept it to
themselves; and the very night it came, when every man about the mills
was out in the pouring rain watching for trouble, I was
fooling–reciting a poem that I was going to deliver to a company of our
young folks; and I’m ashamed to say, that what I am now going to tell
you I had from Henry Alden, one of the men who was where I ought to have
been, with my father at the time. You see that smooth, perpendicular
ledge that makes out into the river?”

“Yes,”

“And that stake driven into a crack in the ledge?”

“Yes.”

“When the water is up to that stake it is freshet pitch. All the morning
and afternoon the water had been rising; in the evening, it was the same
till it reached a fearful height, when one of the mills went. My father
and Uncle Robert stood under that ledge with a lantern, watching the
marks they had made on it with chalk. The rain had stopped, and for the
last hour the water had not risen, the clouds had broken away overhead,
and the stars came out. Every one of the men (all old river-drivers)
thought the danger was over. ‘Robert,’ said my father, ‘I think the
booms will hold; the rain is over, and the river will soon fall.’ The
words were scarcely out of his mouth before there was a great cry from
the bank above that the logs were coming. Henry said father turned pale,
but never opened his mouth, or turned to look, but went straight home.
When I came to the breakfast table the next morning, father was sitting
there, a little paler than usual, but just as calm as ever, and told us
what had taken place. You see now how sudden it must have been to me,
mother, and the girls, and almost as much so to him, for he thought the
crisis had passed.”

“Why didn’t the boom break before? and how came it to break after the
water was done rising?”

“About two miles above this place is a large intervale, where a great
quantity of hay is cut. Upon this flat stood a large barn, with no
cattle in it, used for storing hay; half a mile below this was a
toll-bridge. The water undermined the barn, and started it from its
foundations, and down it came against the bridge with an awful crash.
The toll-house stood on piles outside of the bridge. It struck the
bridge within ten feet of the house, in which the toll-keeper, his wife,
and three children, one a babe in arms, were sound asleep, they
supposing, as did my father, that the danger was over. Awakened by the
shock, and thinking, in their fright, the house was going, they ran out
on to the bridge, the mother with the babe in her arms, all in their
night clothes, and were swept off, with about twenty-five feet of the
bridge. If they had staid in the house they would have been all right,
for there it remained on its own foundation. The barn, bridge, a parcel
of fences and drift stuff, all came down into our upper boom together,
broke that and then the lower one. One mill had gone before. This vast
mass, borne on the raging torrent, carried away another, half the grist
mill, and a carding mill.”

[Illustration: THE BREAKING OF THE BOOM. Page 119.]

“What became of the family on the bridge?”

“The barn, being so big, and taking so much wind, went ahead of the
bridge, that was low in the water, and when they got down where the
river was narrower, some men went off in a canoe and took them ashore.”

“Rich, I am going to hazard a supposition. Will you tell me if I am
correct in it?”

“I’ll tell you anything I know.”




“You belong to a strong, resolute breed of men. Any person looking at
your father as he stands at the anvil, and your uncle, can see where you
came from. It is not in accordance with the make-up of persons having
such blood in their veins to live without effort or object. It causes
them to despise themselves–the meanest of all feelings, because the
rugged nature craves hardship. When you exerted yourself to the utmost
in college studies, chopped wood and hewed timber, although there was no
necessity for it; when in that tremendous race at Brunswick, through
gullies, thorns, coal kilns, dogs, and mires, you gave me, who had the
advantage of years of training, all I could do, and distanced all the
rest, that was the true nature asserting itself. I can understand why it
was that, after crossing the Alps, settling down in Capua, and becoming
effeminate, you lost your own self-respect, and were unhappy, and also
how these feelings were all intensified when you found that while ruin
was impending, your father’s mind racked with agony, you were writing
verses to school girls, wasting time and talents, and throwing away
opportunities that would never come again. I can understand, likewise,
why, when you took your portion of the load and felt that your father
was encouraged by your aid and sympathy, you regained self-respect, and
experienced relief and comparative happiness. But there is much more I
cannot fathom.”

“What is that, Mort?”

“Well, there is a light in your eye, and an expression of quiet,
trustful happiness in your face, that were never there before, and that
are not to be accounted for by anything you have yet told me, or that I
have observed here. It seems to me that while summoning all your own
resources to meet this exigency, you have gone out of yourself for aid;
and that, to my mind, accounts perfectly for all the results, and
renders happiness in untoward circumstances no mystery.”

“Mort, I am going to answer your question, but not directly, because I
don’t feel quite sure of myself yet. When we were in college there was
perfect sympathy between us. Perk, Hill, Savage, and the rest, had their
ups and downs, fallings out and makings up; but between you and me there
was never a shadow or a chill. We were as completely one in sentiment
and affection as that mist that’s rising over the river; but after you
went to hear Mr. Sewall, and wrote me about it, there seemed to be a
dark shadow between us. I couldn’t tell what it was, and I didn’t love
you any the less, but somehow there was a difference. Mort, since this
trouble came I’ve read your letters over, and understand them as I never
did before. That shadow is gone, and the sun shines all over.”

“I know what you mean, Rich; you need say no more.”

“Now, Mort, this orchard, the swale, and all this land to the river,
were part of our place. You have seen where we live now, and I suppose
you would like to see the spot we left; if so, we had better go before
it gets dark.”

“Perhaps you don’t care to go.”

“Yes, I do. I don’t dislike to go. Father might have put it into
somebody’s hands to cheat his creditors, and still lived there, as many
have done; but he paid his debts with that and other property, and went
behind the anvil; and every time I go there I consider what a temptation
he resisted, and feel proud of him. I don’t know how others may feel,
neither do I care; but I had much rather have for my father a poor man
of principle, than a wealthy rascal; blood-blisters on every finger, and
earn my bread by hard blows on hot iron, than to feel the very clothes I
wore, and the luxuries I enjoyed, were swift witnesses against me.”

It was plain enough to Morton that the grindstone grit of poverty was
fast cutting away the iron that overlaid the steel, and bringing out the
true temper. So delighted was he, that he could not forbear shaking
Rich. A playful scuffle followed, in which Morton by no means attained
the usual advantage.

“I tell you what it is, Mort,” said Rich, “let me work at the anvil and
you study law a while longer, and I’ll lay you on your back, and mud
both shoulders.”

“It is always a pleasure to me to see a young man ambitious, for even if
he places his standard beyond the measure of his capacity, he is likely
to make the most of himself. I’ve got something in view when I go back
that will offset your sledge-hammer. See if I don’t make your backbone
crack the next time we take hold, old fellow.”

“I should like to know what kind of exercise it is. I’m sure you can’t
hew timber there.”

“A churn-drill, my boy. What do you think of that? Ain’t that a good
deal like work? Won’t there be some misery to that? There’s a man by the
name of Noble, who blows rocks on Oak Street. He has two churn-drills. I
am going to use one of them as soon as he gets it steeled.”

“You please yourself with that idea, young man, will you? You can’t
start a hole with a churn-drill as it ought to be. I can tell you, it
takes a workman to do that. Your drill will bind, and you’ll get stuck.”

“I know I can’t at first, but he’ll start the holes for me and then I
can churn; and after a while I shall learn to start my own holes, and
strike true.”

“You’ll get sick of it. It is the hardest work that is done.”

“Did you ever know me to get sick of, or give up anything, I undertook?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Name it, slanderer, name it. Don’t think to escape by dealing in
generalities. I demand date and place. When and where did I get sick of
anything, and give it up?”

“On the twenty-fifth of December, Christmas night, quarter before seven,
you got sick of eating pork pie at Uncle Tim Longley’s, and Granny
Longley gave you a dose of thoroughwort tea, and made you _give it up_.”

“If we are going to see that house, it is time we were about it, for it
is almost sundown, and will soon be dark.”