Port Vigor is a fascinating old town. It is built on a point jutting out int_he Sound. Dimly in the distance one can see the end of Long Island, whic_ifflin viewed with sparkling eyes. It seemed to bring him closer to Brooklyn.
Several schooners were beating along the estuary in the fresh wind, and ther_as a delicious tang of brine in the air. We drove direct to the station wher_he Professor alighted. We took his portmanteau, and shut Bock inside the va_o prevent the dog from following him. Then there was an awkward pause as h_tood by the wheel with his cap off.
"Well, Miss McGill," he said, "there's an express train at five o'clock, s_ith luck I shall be in Brooklyn to-night. My brother's address is 60_bingdon Avenue, and I hope when you're sending a card to the Sage you'll le_e have one, too. I shall be very homesick for Parnassus, but I'd rather leav_er with you than with any one I know."
He bowed very low, and before I could say a word he blew his nose violentl_nd hurried away. I saw him carrying his valise into the station, and then h_isappeared. I suppose that living alone with Andrew for all these years ha_nused me to the eccentricities of other people, but surely this littl_edbeard was one of the strangest beings one would be likely to meet.
Bock yowled dismally inside, and I did not feel in any mood to sell books i_ort Vigor. I drove back into the town and stopped at a tea shop for a pot o_ea and some toast. When I came out I found that quite a little crowd ha_ollected, partly owing to the strange appearance of Parnassus and partl_ecause of Bock's plaintive cries from within. Most of the onlookers seemed t_uspect the outfit of being part of a travelling menagerie, so almost agains_y will I put up the flaps, tied Bock to the tail of the wagon, and began t_nswer the humourous questions of the crowd. Two or three bought books withou_ny urging, and it was some time before I could get away. Finally I shut u_he van and pulled off, as I was afraid of seeing some one I knew. As I turne_nto the Woodbridge Road I heard the whistle of the five o'clock train to Ne_ork.
The twenty miles of road between Sabine Farm and Port Vigor was all familia_o me, but now to my relief I struck into a region that I had never visited.
On my occasional trips to Boston I had always taken the train at Port Vigor, so the country roads were unknown. But I had set out on the Woodbridge wa_ecause Mifflin had spoken of a farmer, Mr. Pratt, who lived about four mile_ut of Port Vigor, on the Woodbridge Road. Apparently Mr. Pratt had severa_imes bought books from the Professor and the latter had promised to visit hi_gain. So I felt in duty bound to oblige a good customer.
After the varied adventures of the last two days it was almost a relief to b_lone to think things over. Here was I, Helen McGill, in a queer case indeed.
Instead of being home at Sabine Farm getting supper, I was trundling along _trange road, the sole owner of a Parnassus (probably the only one i_xistence), a horse, and a dog, and a cartload of books on my hands. Since th_orning of the day before my whole life had twisted out of its accustome_rbit. I had spent four hundred dollars of my savings; I had sold abou_hirteen dollars' worth of books; I had precipitated a fight and met _hilosopher. Not only that, I was dimly beginning to evolve a new philosoph_f my own. And all this in order to prevent Andrew from buying a lot mor_ooks! At any rate, I had been successful in that. When he had seen Parnassu_t last, he had hardly looked at her—except in tones of scorn. I caught mysel_ondering whether the Professor would allude to the incident in his book, an_oping that he would send me a copy. But after all, why should he mention it?
To him it was only one of a thousand adventures. As he had said angrily t_ndrew, he was nothing to me, nor I to him. How could he realize that this wa_he first adventure I had had in the fifteen years I had been—what was it h_alled it?—compiling my anthology. Well, the funny little gingersnap!
I kept Bock tied to the back of the van, as I was afraid he might take _otion to go in search of his master. As we jogged on, and the falling su_ast a level light across the way, I got a bit lonely. This solitar_agabonding business was a bit sudden after fifteen years of home life. Th_oad lay close to the water and I watched the Sound grow a deeper blue an_hen a dull purple. I could hear the surf pounding, and on the end of Lon_sland a far-away lighthouse showed a ruby spark. I thought of the littl_ingersnap roaring toward New York on the express, and wondered whether he wa_ravelling in a Pullman or a day coach. A Pullman chair would feel easy afte_hat hard Parnassus seat.
By and by we neared a farmhouse which I took to be Mr. Pratt's. It stood clos_o the road, with a big, red barn behind and a gilt weathervane representing _alloping horse. Curiously enough Peg seemed to recognize the place, for sh_urned in at the gate and neighed vigorously. It must have been a favourit_topping place for the Professor.
Through a lighted window I could see people sitting around a table. Evidentl_he Pratts were at supper. I drew up in the yard. Some one looked out of _indow, and I heard a girl's voice:
"Why, Pa, here's Parnassus!"
Gingersnap must have been a welcome visitor at that farm, for in an instan_he whole family turned out with a great scraping of chairs and clatter o_ishes. A tall, sunburnt man, in a clean shirt with no collar, led the group, and then came a stout woman about my own build, and a hired man and thre_hildren.
"Good evening!" I said. "Is this Mr. Pratt?"
"Sure thing!" said he. "Where's the Perfessor?"
"On his way to Brooklyn," said I. "And I've got Parnassus. He told me to b_ure to call on you. So here we are."
"Well, I want to know!" ejaculated Mrs. Pratt. "Think of Parnassus turne_uffrage! Ben, you put up the critters, and I'll take Mrs. Mifflin in t_upper."
"Hold on there," I said. "My name's McGill—Miss McGill. See, it's painted o_he wagon. I bought the outfit from Mr. Mifflin. A business propositio_ntirely."
"Well, well," said Mr. Pratt. "We're glad to see any friend of the Perfessor.
Sorry he's not here, too. Come right in and have a bite with us."
They were certainly good-hearted folk, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Pratt. He put Peg an_ock away in the barn and gave them their supper, while Mrs. Pratt took me u_o her spare bedroom and brought me a jug of hot water. Then they all troope_ack into the dining-room and the meal began again. I am a connoisseur of far_ooking, I guess, and I've got to hand it to Beulah Pratt that she was an A-_ousewife. Her hot biscuit was perfect; the coffee was real Mocha, simmered, not boiled; the cold sausage and potato salad was as good as any Andrew eve_ot. And she had a smoking-hot omelet sent in for me, and opened a pot of he_wn strawberry preserve. The children (two boys and a girl) sat open-mouthed, nudging one another, and Mr. Pratt got out his pipe while I finished up o_tewed pears and cream and chocolate cake. It was a regular meal. I wondere_hat Andrew was eating and whether he had found the nest behind the wood pil_here the red hen always drops her eggs.
"Well, well," said Mr. Pratt, "tell us about the Perfessor. We was expectin'
him here some time this fall. He generally gets here around cider time."
"I guess there isn't so much to tell," I said. "He stopped up at our place th_ther day, and said he wanted to sell his outfit. So I bought him out. He wa_ining to get back to Brooklyn and write a book."
"That book o' his!" said Mrs. Pratt. "He was always talkin' on it, but I don'_elieve he ever started it yet."
"Whereabout do you come from, Miss McGill?" said Pratt. I could see he wa_ighty puzzled at a woman driving a vanload of books around the country, alone.
"Over toward Redfield," I said.
"You any kin to that writer that lives up that way?"
"You mean Andrew McGill?" I said. "He's my brother."
"Do tell!" exclaimed Mrs. Pratt. "Why the Perfessor thought a terrible lot o_im. He read us all to sleep with one of his books one night. Said he was th_est literature in this State, I do believe."
I smiled to myself as I thought of the set-to on the road from Shelby.
"Well," said Pratt, "if the Perfessor's got any better friends than us i_hese parts, I'm glad to meet 'em. He come here first time 'bout four year_go. I was up working in the hayfield that afternoon, and I heard a shout dow_y the mill pond. I looked over that way and saw a couple o' kids waving thei_rms and screamin'. I ran down the hill and there was the Perfessor just _ullin' my boy Dick out o' the water. Dick's this one over here."
Dick, a small boy of thirteen or so, grew red under his freckles.
"The kids had been foolin' around on a raft there, an' first thing you kno_ick fell in, right into deep water, over by the dam. Couldn't swim a stroke, neither. And the Perfessor, who jest happened to be comin' along in that 'bu_f his, heard the boys yell. Didn't he hop out o' the wagon as spry as _himpanzee, skin over the fence, an' jump into the pond, swim out there an'
tow the boy in! Yes, ma'am, he saved that boy's life then an' no mistake. Tha_an can read me to sleep with poetry any night he has a mind to. He's a plum_ine little firecracker, the Perfessor."
Farmer Pratt pulled hard on his pipe. Evidently his friendship for th_andering bookseller was one of the realities of his life.
"Yes, ma'am," he went on, "that Perfessor has been a good friend to me, sur_nough. We brought him an' the boy back to the house. The boy had gone dow_hree times an' the Perfessor had to dive to find him. They were both purt_ell all in, an' I tell you I was scared. But we got Dick aroun_omehow—rolled him on a sugar bar'l, an' poured whiskey in him, an' worked hi_rms, an' put him in hot blankets. By and by he come to. An' then I found tha_he Perfessor, gettin' over the barb-wire fence so quick (when he lit for th_ond) had torn a hole in his leg you could put four fingers in. There was hi_rouser all stiff with blood, an' he not sayin' a thing. Pluckiest little run_n three States, by Judas! Well, we put _him_ to bed, too, and then th_issus keeled over, an' we put _her_ to bed. Three of them, by time the Do_ot here. Great old summer afternoon that was! But bless your heart, w_ouldn't keep the Perfessor abed long. Next day he was out lookin' fer hi_oetry books, an' first thing you know he had us all rounded up an' wa_reachin' good literature at us like any evangelist. I guess we all fel_sleep over his poetry, so then he started on readin' that 'Treasure Island'
story to us, wasn't it, Mother? By hickory, we none of us fell asleep ove_hat. He started the kids readin' so they been at it ever since, and Dick'_op boy at school now. Teacher says she never saw such a boy for readin'.
That's what Perfessor done for us! Well, tell us 'bout yerself, Miss McGill.
Is there any good books we ought to read? I used to pine for some o' tha_eller Shakespeare my father used to talk about so much, but Perfessor always
'lowed it was over my head!"
It gave me quite a thrill to hear all this about Mifflin. I could readil_magine the masterful little man captivating the simple-hearted Pratts wit_is eloquence and earnestness. And the story of the mill pond had its meaning, too. Little Redbeard was no mere wandering crank—he was a real man, cool an_teady of brain, with the earmarks of a hero. I felt a sudden gush of warmt_s I recalled his comical ways.
Mrs. Pratt lit a fire in her Franklin stove and I racked my head wondering ho_ could tread worthily in the Professor's footsteps. Finally I fetched the
"Jungle Book" from Parnassus and read them the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.
There was a long pause when I had finished.
"Say, Pa," said Dick shyly, "that mongoose was rather like Professor, wasn't he!"
Plainly the Professor was the traditional hero of this family, and I began t_eel rather like an impostor!
I suppose it was foolish of me, but I had already made up my mind to push o_o Woodbridge that night. It could not be more than four miles, and the tim_as not much after eight. I felt a little twinge of quite unworthy annoyanc_ecause I was still treading in the glamour of the Professor's influence. Th_ratts would talk of nothing else, and I wanted to get somewhere where I woul_e estimated at my own value, not merely as his disciple. "Darn the Redbeard,"
I said to myself, "I think he has bewitched these people!" And in spite o_heir protests and invitations to stay the night, I insisted on having Pe_itched up. I gave them the copy of the "Jungle Book" as a small return fo_heir hospitality, and finally sold Mr. Pratt a little copy of "Lamb's Tale_rom Shakespeare" which I thought he could read without brain fever. Then _it my lantern and after a chorus of good-byes Parnassus rolled away. "Well,"
I said to myself as I turned into the high road once more, "drat th_ingersnap, he seems to hypnotize everybody… he must be nearly in Brooklyn b_his time!"
It was very quiet along the road, also very dark, for the sky had clouded ove_nd I could see neither moon nor stars. As it was a direct road I should hav_ad no difficulty, and I suppose I must have fallen into a doze during whic_eg took a wrong turning. At any rate, I realized about half-past nine tha_arnassus was on a much rougher road than the highway had any right to be, an_here were no telephone poles to be seen. I knew that they stretched all alon_he main road, so plainly I had made a mistake. I was reluctant for a momen_o admit that I could be wrong, and just then Peg stumbled heavily and stoo_till. She paid no heed to my exhortations, and when I got out and carried m_antern to see whether anything was in the way, I found that she had cast _hoe and her foot was bleeding. The shoe must have dropped off some way bac_nd she had picked up a nail or something in the quick. I saw no alternativ_ut to stay where I was for the night.
This was not very pleasant, but the adventures of the day had put me into _toical frame of mind, and I saw no good in repining. I unhitched Peg, sponge_er foot, and tied her to a tree. I would have made more careful exploration_o determine just where I was, but a sharp patter of rain began to fall. So _limbed into my Parnassus, took Bock in with me, and lit the swinging lamp. B_his time it was nearly ten o'clock. There was nothing to do but turn in, so _ook off my boots and lay down in the bunk. Bock lay quite comfortably on th_loor of the van. I meant to read for a while, and so did not turn out th_ight, but I fell asleep almost immediately.
I woke up at half-past eleven and turned out the lamp, which had made the va_ery warm. I opened the little windows front and back, and would have opene_he door, but I feared Bock might slip away. It was still raining a little. T_y annoyance I felt very wakeful. I lay for some time listening to the patte_f raindrops on the roof and skylight—a very snug sound when one is warm an_afe. Every now and then I could hear Peg stamping in the underbrush. I wa_lmost dozing off again when Bock gave a low growl.
No woman of my bulk has a right to be nervous, I guess, but instantly m_ecurity vanished! The patter of the rain seemed menacing, and I imagined _undred horrors. I was totally alone and unarmed, and Bock was not a larg_og. He growled again, and I felt worse than before. I imagined that I hear_tealthy sounds in the bushes, and once Peg snorted as though frightened. _ut my hand down to pat Bock, and found that his neck was all bristly, like _ighting cock. He uttered a queer half growl, half whine, which gave me _hill. Some one must be prowling about the van, but in the falling rain _ould hear nothing.
I felt I must do something. I was afraid to call out lest I betray the fac_hat there was only a woman in the van. My expedient was absurd enough, but a_ny rate it satisfied my desire to act. I seized one of my boots and bange_igorously on the floor, at the same time growling in as deep and masculine _oice as I could muster: "What the hell's the matter? What the hell's th_atter?" This sounds silly enough, I dare say, but it afforded me some relief.
And as Bock shortly ceased growling, it apparently served some purpose.
I lay awake for a long time, tingling all over with nervousness. Then I bega_o grow calmer, and was getting drowsy almost in spite of myself when I wa_roused by the unmistakable sound of Bock's tail thumping on the floor—a sur_ign of pleasure. This puzzled me quite as much as his growls. I did not dar_trike a light, but could hear him sniffing at the door of the van and whinin_ith eagerness. This seemed very uncanny, and again I crept stealthily out o_he bunk and pounded on the floor lustily, this time with the frying pan, which made an unearthly din. Peg neighed and snorted, and Bock began to bark.
Even in my anxiety I almost laughed. "It sounds like an insane asylum," _hought, and reflected that probably the disturbance was only caused by som_mall animal. Perhaps a rabbit or a skunk which Bock had winded and wanted t_hase. I patted him, and crawled into my bunk once more.
But my real excitement was still to come. About half an hour later I hear_nmistakable footsteps alongside the van. Bock growled furiously, and I lay i_ panic. Something jarred one of the wheels. Then broke out a mos_xtraordinary racket. I heard quick steps, Peg whinneyed, and something fel_eavily against the back of the wagon. There was a violent scuffle on th_round, the sound of blows, and rapid breathing. With my heart jumping _eered out of one of the back windows. There was barely any light, but dimly _ould see a tumbling mass which squirmed and writhed on the ground. Somethin_truck one of the rear wheels so that Parnassus trembled. I heard hoars_wearing, and then the whole body, whatever it was, rolled off into th_nderbrush. There was a terrific crashing and snapping of twigs. Bock whined, growled, and pawed madly at the door. And then complete silence.
My nerves were quite shattered by this time. I don't think I had been s_rightened since childhood days when I awakened from a nightmare. Littl_rickles of fear crept up and down my spine and my scalp prickled. I pulle_ock on the bunk, and lay with one hand on his collar. He, too, seeme_gitated and sniffed gingerly now and then. Finally, however, he gave a sig_nd fell asleep. I judged it might have been two o'clock, but I did not lik_o strike a light. And at last I fell into a doze.
When I woke the sun was shining brilliantly and the air was full of th_hirping of birds. I felt stiff and uneasy from sleeping in my clothes, and m_oot was numb from Bock's weight.
I got up and looked out of the window. Parnassus was standing in a narrow lan_y a grove of birch trees. The ground was muddy, and smeared with footprint_ehind the van. I opened the door and looked around. The first thing I saw, o_he ground by one of the wheels, was a battered tweed cap.