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Chapter 8

  • 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.