A FOOL OR A GENIUS.
Josiah Hunter sat on his porch one summer afternoon, smoking his pipe, feeling dissatisfied, morose and sour on account of his only son Tim, who, he was obliged to confess to himself, gave every indication of proving a disappointment to him.
Mr. Hunter was owner of the famous Brereton Quarry & Stone Works, located about a mile above the thriving village of Brereton, on the eastern bank of the Castaran river, and at a somewhat greater distance below the town of Denville. The quarry was a valuable one and the owner was in comfortable circumstances, with the prospect of acquiring considerable more of a fortune out of the yield of excellent building stone. The quarry had been worked for something like ten years, and the discovery that he had such a fine deposit on his small farm was in the minds of his neighbors equivalent to the finding of a gold mine, for as the excavation proceeded, the quality of the material improved and Mr. Hunter refused an offer from a company which, but for the stone, would have been a very liberal price for the whole farm.
Mr. Hunter had been a widower ever since his boy was three years old, and the youth was now fourteen. His sister Maggie was two years his senior, and they were deeply attached to each other. Maggie was a daughter after her father's own heart,—one of those rare, sensible girls who cannot be spoiled by indulgence, who was equally fond of her parent and who stood unflinchingly by her brother in the little differences between father and son, which, sad to say, were becoming more frequent and serious with the passing weeks and months. It is probable that the affection of the parent for the daughter prevented him from ever thinking of marrying again, for she was a model housekeeper, and he could not bear the thought of seeing anyone come into the family and usurp, even in a small degree, her functions and place.
Mr. Hunter was getting on in years, and nothing was more natural than that he should wish and plan that Tim should become his successor in the development of the valuable quarry that was not likely to give out for many a year to come. But the boy showed no liking for the business. He was among the best scholars in the village school, fond of play and so well advanced in his studies that his parent determined to begin his practical business training in earnest. He looked upon a college education as a waste of so many years, taken from the most precious part of a young man's life, and it must be said that Tim himself showed no wish to attend any higher educational institution.
Tim had assisted about the quarry, more or less for several years. Of course he was too young to do much in the way of manual labor, but there were many errands that he ran, beside helping to keep his father's accounts. He wrote an excellent hand, was quick in figures and had such a command of language that all his parent had to do was to tell him the substance of the letter he wished written, to have the boy put it in courteous but pointed and clear form. The elder had never detected an error in the computations of the younger, who had no trouble at all when the operations included difficult fractions.
All this was good in its way, but it could not be denied that Tim had no liking for the business itself. His father had told him repeatedly that he must prepare himself for the active management of the stone works, and that to do so required something more than quickness in figures and skill in letter writing. But it was in vain. Tim was never at the works unless by direct command of his parent, and seized the first opportunity to get away.
"No person can succeed in a business which he dislikes," remarked Mr. Hunter to Maggie who on this summer afternoon sat on the front porch, plying her deft needle, while the waning twilight lasted, with Bridget inside preparing the evening meal.
"I think that is true, father," was her gentle reply.
"And that boy hates the stone business and I can't understand why he should."
"Isn't it also true, father, that one cannot control his likes and dislikes? Tim has told me he can't bear the thought of spending his life in getting out great blocks of stone and trimming them into shape for building. He said he wished he could feel as you do, but there's no use of his trying."
"Fudge!" was the impatient exclamation; "what business has a boy of his years to talk or think about what sort of business he prefers? It is my place to select his future avocation and his to accept it without a growl."
"He will do that, father."
"Of course he will," replied the parent with a compression of his thin lips and a flash of his eyes; "when I yield to a boy fourteen years old, it will be time to shift me off to the lunatic asylum."
"Why, then, are you displeased, since he will do what you wish and do it without complaint?
"I am displeased because he is dissatisfied and has no heart in his work. He shows no interest in anything relating to the quarries and it is becoming worse every day with him."
"Didn't he help this forenoon?"
"Yes, because I told him he must be on hand as soon as he was through breakfast and not leave until he went to dinner."
"Did you say nothing about his working this afternoon?"
"No; I left that out on purpose to test him."
"What was the result?"
"I haven't seen hide or hair of him since; I suppose he is off in the woods or up in his room, reading or figuring on some invention. Do you know where he is?"
"He has been in his room almost all the afternoon and is there now."
"I guess you have answered that question," replied Maggie laying aside her sewing because of the increasing shadows, and looking across at her father with a smile.
"That's what makes me lose all patience. What earthly good is it for him to sit in his room drawing figures of machines he dreams of making, or scribbling over sheets of paper? If this keeps up much longer, he will take to writing poetry, and the next thing will be smoking cigarettes and then his ruin will be complete."
Maggie's clear laughter rang out on the summer air. She was always overflowing with spirits and the picture drawn by her parent and the look of profound disgust on his face as he uttered his scornful words stirred her mirth beyond repression.
"What are you laughing at?" he demanded, turning toward her, though without any anger in his tones, for he could never feel any emotion of that nature toward such a daughter.
"It was the idea of Tim writing poetry or rhyme and smoking cigarettes. I'll guarantee that he will never do either."
"Nor anything else, you may as well add."
"I'll guarantee that if he lives he will do a good many things that will be better than getting out and trimming stone."
This was not the first time that Maggie had intimated the same faith, without going into particulars or giving any idea upon what she based that faith. The parent looked sharply at her and asked:
"What do you mean? Explain yourself."
But the daughter was not yet ready to do so. She had her thoughts or dreams or whatever they might be, but was not prepared as yet to share them with her parent. He was not in the mood, and for her to tell all that was in her mind would be to provoke an outburst that would be painful to the last degree. She chose for the present to parry.
"How can I know, father, what ambition Tim has? He is still young enough to change that ambition, whatever it may be."
"And he's got to change it, as sure as he lives! I am tired of his fooling; he is fourteen years old, big, strong, and healthy; if he would take hold of the work and show some interest in it, he would be able in a couple of years to take charge of the whole business and give me a rest, but he is frittering away valuable time until I've made up my mind to permit it no longer."
The parent knocked the bowl of his pipe against the column of the porch and shook his head in a way that showed he meant every word he said. Maggie was troubled, for she had feared an outbreak between him and Tim, and it seemed to be impending. She dreaded it more than death, for any violence by her beloved parent toward her equally beloved brother would break her heart. That parent, naturally placid and good-natured, had a frightful temper when it was aroused. She could never forget that day when in a quarrel with one of his employes, he came within a hair of killing the man and for the time was a raging tiger.
There was one appeal that Maggie knew had never failed her, though she feared the day would come when even that would lose its power. She reserved it as the last recourse. When she saw her father rise to his feet, and in the gathering gloom noted the grim resolute expression on his face, she knew the crisis had come.
"Tell him to come down-stairs; we may as well have this matter settled here and now."
"Father," she said in a low voice of the sweetest tenderness, "you will not forget what he did two years ago?"
The parent stood motionless, silent for a minute, and then gently resumed his seat, adding a moment later,
"No; I can never forget that; never mind calling him just now."
And what it was that Tim Hunter did "two years ago" I must now tell you.
Bear in mind that Tim Hunter was twelve years old at the time, being the junior by two years of his sister Maggie.
On the day which I have in mind, he had spent the forenoon fishing, and brought home a mess of trout for which he had whipped one of the mountain brooks, and which furnished the family with the choicest sort of a meal. The father complimented him on his skill, for that was before the parent's patience had been so sorely tried by the indifference of the lad toward the vocation to which the elder meant he should devote his life. He left the lad at liberty to spend the rest of the day as he chose, and, early in the afternoon, he proposed to his sister that they should engage in that old game of "jackstones" with which I am sure you are familiar.
Years ago the country lads and lassies generally used little bits of stones, instead of scraggly, jagged pieces of iron, with which they amuse themselves in these days. Tim had seen some of the improved jackstones; and, borrowing one from a playmate, he made a clay mould from it, into which he poured melted lead, repeating the operation until he had five as pretty and symmetrically formed specimens as one could wish. It was with these in his hands, that he led the way to the barn for a game between himself and sister.
The big, spacious structure was a favorite place for spending their leisure hours. The hard, seedy floor, with the arching rafters overhead could not be improved for their purpose. The shingles were so far aloft that the shade within was cool on sultry summer days, and it was the pleasantest kind of music to hear the rain drops patter on the roof and the wind whistle around the eaves and corners. The mow where the hay was stored was to the left, as you entered the door, and under that were the stalls where the horses munched their dinner and looked solemnly through the opening over the mangers at the two children engaged at play. Between where they sat and the rafters, the space was open.
Maggie took her seat in the middle of the floor, and her brother placed himself opposite. Before doing so, he stepped to the nearest stall and picked up a block of wood six inches in diameter and two feet in length. This he laid on the floor and seated himself upon it, tossing the jackstones to his sister to begin the game.
She was his superior, for her pretty taper fingers were more nimble than his sturdy ones, and, unless she handicapped herself by certain conditions, she invariably won in the contest of skill. She tossed them one after the other, then two or three or more at a time, snatching up the others from the floor and going through the varied performance with an easy perfection that was the wonder of Tim. Once or twice, she purposely missed some feat, but the alert lad was sure to detect it, and declared he would not play unless she did her best, and, under his watchful eye, she could not escape doing so. As I have said, the only way to equalize matters was for her to handicap herself, and even then I am compelled to say she was more often winner than loser.
Sitting on the block of wood tipped up on one end, Tim kept his eyes on the bits of metal, popping up in the air and softly dropping into the extended palm, and wondered again why it was so hard for him to do that which was so easy for her. Finally she made a slip, which looked honest, and resigned the stones to him.
Now, you know that in playing this game, you ought to sit on the floor or ground; for if your perch is higher, you are compelled to stoop further to snatch up the pieces and your position is so awkward that it seriously interferes with your success.
The very first scramble Tim made at the stones on the floor was not only a failure, but resulted in a splinter catching under the nail of one of his fingers. Maggie laughed.
"Why do you sit way up there?" she asked; "you can't do half as well as when you are lower down like me."
"I guess you're right," he replied, as he pushed the block away and imitated her. "I 'spose I'll catch the splinters just the same."
"There's no need of it; you mustn't claw the stones, but move your hand gently, just as I do. Now, watch me."
"It's a pity that no one else in the world is half as smart as you," replied the brother with fine irony, but without ill nature. "Ah, wasn't that splendid?"
Which remark was caused by the plainest kind of fluke on the part of Maggie, who in her effort to instruct her brother, forgot one or two nice points, which oversight was fatal.
"Well," said she, "I didn't fill my fingers with splinters."
"Nor with jackstones either; if I can't do any better than you I'm sure I can't do any worse."
"Well, Smarty, what are you waiting for?"
"For you to pay attention."
"I'm doing that."
With cool, careful steadiness, Tim set to work, and lo! he finished the game without a break, performing the more difficult exploits with a skill that compelled the admiration of his sister.
"I'm glad to see that you're not such a big dunce as you look; I've been discouraged in trying to teach you, but you seem to be learning at last."
"Wouldn't you like me to give you a few lessons?"
"No; for, if you did, I should never win another game," was the pert reply; "I wonder whether you will ever be able to beat me again."
"Didn't you know that I have been fooling with you all the time, just as I fool a trout till I get him to take the hook?"
Maggie stared at him with open mouth for a moment and then asked in an awed whisper:
"No; I didn't know that: did you?"
"Never mind; the best thing you can do is to tend to bus'ness, for I'm not going to show you a bit of mercy."
During this friendly chaffing, both noticed that the wind was rising. It moaned around the barn, and enough of it entered the window far above their heads for them to feel it fan their cheeks. An eddy even lifted one of the curls from the temple of the girl. This, however, was of no special concern to them, and they continued their playing.
Each went through the next series without a break. Tim was certainly doing himself honor, and his sister was at a loss to understand it. But you know that on some days the player of any game does much better than on others. This was one of Tim's best days and one of Maggie's worst, for he again surpassed her, though there could be no doubt that she did her very best, and she could not repress her chagrin. But she was too fond of her bright brother to feel anything in the nature of resentment for his success.
"There's one thing certain," she said, shaking her curly head with determination; "you can't beat me again."
"I wouldn't be so rash, sister; remember that I mean bus'ness to-day."
"Just as if you haven't always done your best; it's you that are bragging, not I."
Tim had taken the stones in his right hand with the purpose of giving them the necessary toss in the air, when a blast of wind struck the barn with a force that made it tremble. They distinctly felt the tremor of the floor beneath them. He paused and looked into the startled face of his sister with the question:
"Hadn't we better run to the house?"
"No," she replied, her heart so set on beating him that she felt less fear than she would have felt had it been otherwise; "it's as safe here as in the house; one is as strong as the other; if you want to get out of finishing the game, why, I'll let you off."
"You know it isn't that, Maggie; but the barn isn't as strong as the house."
"It has stood a good many harder blows than this; don't you see it has stopped? Go on."
"All right; just as you say," and up went the pronged pieces and were caught with the same skill as before. Then he essayed a more difficult feat and failed. Maggie clapped her hands with delight, and leaned forward to catch up the bits and try her hand.
At that instant something like a tornado or incipient cyclone struck the barn. They felt the structure swaying, heard the ripping of shingles, and casting his eyes aloft, Tim saw the shingles and framework coming down upon their heads.
It was an appalling moment. If they remained where they were, both would be crushed to death. The door was too far away for both to reach it; though it was barely possible that by a quick leap and dash he might get to the open air in the nick of time, but he would die a hundred times over before abandoning his sister. The open window was too high to be reached from the floor without climbing, and there was no time for that.
The action of a cyclone is always peculiar. Resistless as is its power, it is often confined to a very narrow space. The one to which I am now referring whipped off a corner of the roof, so loosening the supports that the whole mass of shingles and rafters covering the larger portion came down as if flung from the air above, while the remainder of the building was left unharmed, the terrified horses not receiving so much as a scratch.
There was one awful second when brother and sister believed that the next would be their last. Then Tim threw his arm around the neck of Maggie and in a flash drew her forward so that she lay flat on her face and he alongside of her; but the twinkling of an eye before that he had seized the block of wood, rejected some time before as a chair, and stood it on end beside his shoulder, keeping his right arm curved round it so as to hold it upright in position, while the other arm prevented Maggie from rising.
"Don't move?" he shouted amid the crashing of timbers and the roaring of the gale; "lie still and you won't be hurt."
She could not have disobeyed him had she tried, for the words were in his mouth when the fearful mass of timber descended upon them.
Do you understand what Tim Hunter did? Had the mass of timber descending upon him and his sister been unchecked, they would not have lived an instant. Had it been shattered into small fragments by the cyclone, the ingenious precaution which a wonderful presence of mind enabled him to make, would have been of no avail.
Take a block of seasoned oak, six inches through, and two feet in height, and interpose it squarely against an approaching body and it is almost as powerful in the way of resistance as so much metal. It would take an ironclad to crush it to pulp, by acting longitudinally or along its line of length. This block stood upright, and received a portion of the rafters, covered by the shingles and held them aloft as easily as you can hold your hat with your outstretched arm. From this point of highest support, the debris sloped away until it rested on the floor, but the open space, in which the brother and sister lay, was as safe as was their situation, before the gale loosened the structure.
Tim called to his sister and found that not so much as a hair of her head had been harmed, and it was the same with himself. All was darkness in their confined quarters, but the wrenched framework gave them plenty of air to breathe.
Who can picture the feelings of the father, when he saw the collapse of the roof of the barn and knew that his two children were beneath? He rushed thither like a madman, only to be cheered to the highest thankfulness the next moment at hearing their muffled assurances that both were all right. A brief vigorous application of his axe and the two were helped out into the open air, neither the worse for their dreadful experience.
The parent could hardly believe what had been done by his boy, when Maggie told him, until an examination for himself showed that it was true. He declared that neither he nor anyone would have thought of the means and applied it with such lightning quickness. It certainly was an extraordinary exhibition of presence of mind and deserved all the praise given to it. The Brereton Intelligencer devoted half a column to a description of the exploit and prophesied that that "young man" would be heard from again. For weeks and months there was nothing at the disposal of Mr. Hunter which was too good for his boy and it is probable that the indulgence of that period had something to do with making Tim dissatisfied with the prospect of spending all his life as a "hewer of stone."
Gradually as the effects of the remarkable rescue wore off, the impatience of the parent grew until we have seen him on the point of calling to account the boy who had really been the means of saving two lives, for his own was as much imperilled as the sister's. Once more she appealed to that last recourse, and once more it did not fail her. When he recalled that dreadful scene, he could not help feeling an admiring gratitude for his boy. Although silent and reserved some time later, when the three gathered round the table for their evening meal, nothing unpleasant was said by the parent, though the sharp-witted Tim felt a strong suspicion of the cause of his father's reserve.
Later in the evening, the latter sat down by the table in the sitting room and took up his copy of the Brereton Intelligencer, which had arrived that afternoon. He always spent his Thursday evenings in this manner, unless something unusual interfered, the local news and selected miscellany affording enough intellectual food to last him until retiring time.
While he was thus occupied, Tim and Maggie played checkers, there being little difference in their respective skill. They were quiet, and when necessary to speak, did so in low tones, so as not to disturb the parent.
An hour had passed, when he suddenly turned, with his spectacles on his nose, and looked at the children. The slight resentment he still felt toward Tim caused him to address himself directly to his sister:
"Maggie, do you know who has been writing these articles in the paper for the last few weeks?"
She held a king suspended as she was on the point of jumping a couple of Tim's and asked in turn:
"They are signed 'Mit' and each paper for the last two or three months has had one of them."
"No, sir; I do not know who wrote them."
"Well, whoever he is he's a mighty smart fellow."
"Maybe it's a 'she,'" suggested Maggie, as she proceeded to sweep off the board the two kings of Tim that had got in the path of her single one.
"Fudge! no woman can write such good sense as that. Besides, some of them have been on the tariff, the duties of voters, the Monroe Doctrine and politics: what does any woman know about such themes as those?"
"Don't some women write about them?"
"I haven't denied that, but that doesn't prove that they know anything of the subjects themselves."
The miss could make no suitable response to this brilliant remark and did not attempt to do so, while Tim said nothing at all, as if the subject had no attraction to him.
By and by the parent uttered a contemptuous sniff. He was reading "Mit's" contribution, and for the first time came upon something with which he did not agree.
"He's 'way off there," remarked the elder, as if speaking to himself.
"What is it, father?" asked Maggie, ceasing her playing for the moment, for her affection always led her to show an interest in whatever interested him.
"The article is the best I have read until I get toward the end. Listen: 'No greater mistake can be made than for a parent to force a child into some calling or profession for which he has no liking. The boy will be sure to fail.' Now, what do you think of that?"
"The latter part sounds very much like what you said to me this afternoon."
"It isn't that, which is true enough, but the idea that a boy knows better than his father what is the right profession for him to follow. That doctrine is too much like Young America who thinks he knows it all."
"Read on, father; let me hear the rest."
The father was silent a minute or two, while he skimmed through the article.
"It isn't worth reading," he remarked impatiently, thereby proving that he had been hit by the arguments which he found difficult to refute. Maggie made no comment, but smiled significantly at Tim across the board, as they resumed their game.
In truth, Mr. Hunter had come upon some sentiments that set him to thinking, such, for instance, as these: "It may be said with truth in many cases, that the father is the best judge of what the future of his son should be. In fact no one can question this, but the father does not always use that superior knowledge as he should. Perhaps he has yielded to the dearest wish of the mother that their son should become a minister. The mother's love does not allow her to see that her boy has no gifts as a speaker and no love for a clergyman's life. He longs to be a lawyer or doctor. Will any one deny that to drive the young man into the pulpit is the greatest mistake that can be made?
"Sometimes a father, with an only son, perhaps, intends that he shall be trained to follow in his footsteps. The boy has a dislike for that calling or profession,—a dislike that was born with him and which nothing can remove. His taste runs in a wholly different channel; whatever talent he has lies there. While it may be convenient for him to step into his parent's shoes, yet he should never be forced to do so, but be allowed to select that for which he has an ability and toward which he is drawn. Parents make such sad mistakes as these, and often do not awake to the fact until it is too late to undo the mischief that has been done. Let them give the subject their most thoughtful attention and good is sure to follow."
It was these words, following on the talk he had had with Maggie a short time before that set Mr. Hunter to thinking more deeply than he had ever done over the problem in which his son was so intimately concerned. After his children had retired and he was left alone, he turned over the paper and read the article again. It stuck to him and he could not drive it away. Laying the journal aside, he lit his pipe and leaned back in his chair.
"It is not pleasant," he mused, "to give up the idea of Tim becoming my successor, for he is the only one I have ever thought of as such. But there is force in what 'Mit' says about driving a boy into a calling or profession that he hates; he will make a failure of it, whereas he might become very successful if left to follow his own preferences. I wonder who 'Mit' is; his articles are the best I have ever read in the Intelligencer; I must ask the editor, so I can have him out here and talk over this question which is the biggest bother I ever had."
Before Maggie and Tim separated to go to their rooms, and while at the top of the stairs they whispered together for a few minutes. The parent had got thus far in his musings, when he heard the voice of Maggie calling from above:
"Father, do you think 'Mit' is a smart fellow?"
"Of course, even though I may not agree with all his views," replied the parent, wondering why his child was so interested.
"Would you like to know who he is?"
"Of course, but you told me you didn't know."
"I didn't at that time, but I have learned since. If you will spell the name backwards and put it before your surname, you will have that of the youth who wrote the articles you admire so much."
The parent did as suggested, and behold! the name thus spelled out was that of his only son, whose writings he had praised before the young man's face.
When the chuckling Tim told his sister the secret as he paused to kiss her good-night at the head of the stairs, he did not dream that she would reveal it to their father; but, before he could exact a promise, she emitted the truth, despite his attempts to place his hand over her mouth. Then she darted off, and, humiliated and chagrined, he went to his own room.
But the parent was given more to think about. He was pleasant to both the next morning at breakfast and made no reference to the matter that was in the minds of all. Just as the meal was finished, he remarked:
"Tim, the load of stone is ready and we will take it over to Montvale to-day; wouldn't you like to go with us?"
"Thank you, father; I shall be glad to go."
"All right; as soon as you and Maggie are through with your nonsense, come out to the wharf and join us."
The method of transporting stone from the Brereton quarries to Montvale, on the other side of the river, was simple. The canal ran directly in front of the quarries, and there the boat was loaded with the heavy freight. It was then drawn by horse through the canal Denville, several miles to the north, where the waterway touched the level of the Castaran river. Passing through a lock, the boat was pulled across the stream by means of a rope, and wheel arrangement (a heavy dam furnishing comparatively deep and smooth water), when another lock admitted it to the canal on the opposite side.
The boat, which lay against the bank of the canal near the quarries, was loaded so heavily that it was brought as low in the water as was safe. Then a horse was hitched fast, and with Tim driving, and with Warren and his father and two men on board, the craft began slowly moving against the sluggish current.
The start was made in the morning, and before the forenoon was half gone they were at the lower end of Denville, where preparations were quickly made for crossing the river. The horse was taken on board, the boat securely fastened by a strong rope at the bow and stern, so as to hold her broadside against the current, and then the contrivance began dragging her slowly toward the opposite shore.
During the spring months and the period of high water, a great many rafts of lumber descend the Castaran, though the number is not so great of late years as formerly. They are sold at various points along the river, and occasionally two or three rafts float down stream during the summer months. A long sweeping paddle (sometimes a couple) at either end of the raft enable the men to clear the abutments of the bridges and to shoot the rapids at different points.
The canal boat, with its cargo of stone had no more than fairly left the eastern side, when a large raft was observed emerging from between two abutments of the bridge above. The men at the oars began toiling with them with a view of working the structure toward the rapids, through which the only safe passage can be secured.
Those on the boat having nothing to do had seated themselves here and there, and were watching their surroundings, as they moved at right angles to the current. The raft was heading toward a point just ahead of the boat, and was so near that Tim, who was sitting beside his father on the cabin, started to his feet and said:
"I believe they are going to strike us."
"Sit down; there is no danger; these people know their business; we shall be well out of their way before they can reach us."
Nevertheless a collision seemed so imminent a moment later, that Mr. Hunter rose to his feet and motioned to those working the rope to give the boat greater speed. At the same time he shouted to the raftsmen:
"Keep off; don't you see we are in danger?"
"Get out of the way, then!" was the reply; "we must go through there."
Such manifestly was their right, and the gentleman again waved his hands to those on both shores. But they saw the danger, and applying all the power at their command, the boat began moving so much faster that Mr. Hunter resumed his seat.
"It's all right now," he remarked; "but it looked mighty squally a minute ago."
The canal boat was now crossing the rapid current, where a passage-way had been left on purpose for rafts. It had not quite reached the middle, toward which the structure was aiming, but its speed was sufficient to take it well out of the way, provided no accident occurred.
And this is just what did occur. The unusual strain on the gearing caused something to give way, and the forward motion of the craft ceased at the very moment it reached the middle of the strong current. Those on the bank who were managing the apparatus saw the trouble at once, and strove desperately to extricate the boat from its perilous situation, but they were powerless.
"For Heaven's sake, keep off!" shouted Mr. Hunter to the raftsmen; "if you don't we shall be ruined!"
As he spoke he caught up a long pole, and pressing one end against the bed of the river exerted himself with might and main to impel the boat forward. He called to the two men to do the same, and under their united propulsion the boat advanced, but at a snail's pace.
The lumbermen, seeing the alarming state of affairs, put forth all their strength to swing the raft over so that it would pass between the boat and the eastern shore. There was scant room for this, but they were hardly less anxious than the imperilled boatmen, to whom the consequences were certain to be more serious than to themselves.
Had the distance been greater they might have succeeded, but under the circumstances it was impossible. Dipping the broad blades of the long oars, balanced at the ends of the raft, the men almost lay on their faces as they held their breath and pushed with every ounce of strength at their command. Then, when they reached the edge of the raft, they bore down so as to lift the blade from the water, ran back to the other side, dipped the oar again and shoved as before.
Meanwhile Mr. Hunter and his assistants were panting and red in the face, as they desperately strove to force the boat from the path of the approaching raft, which came plunging down upon them with increasing speed.
"No use!" he suddenly exclaimed, flinging the wet pole in the center of the boat on top of the stone; "we shall be shivered to atoms! Be ready to jump on the raft as it crushes through us! Leave the horse to take care of himself! Tim, you know how to swim, but jump on the raft with us—Heavens! what have you done, my son?"
A few seconds before the boy had caught up the sharp hatchet lying near the cabin, and intended for use of splitting fuel for the stove. With two quick blows he severed the rope which held the stern. The latter yielded to the strong current dashing against it, and began swinging around, so that it quickly lay parallel with the river, with the bow pointing up stream, and held securely by the rope fastened at that end.
This was no more than fairly done when the enormous raft swept past, so close that the nearest log was heard scraping the entire length of the boat. The impact drove it clear, and before any one beside the boy realized how it was done the entire structure had gone by, no damage was done and all were safe.
"Jim," said Mr. Hunter, a minute after, when the flurry was over, "what a set of fools we were that we didn't think of that."
"I don't agree with you," replied the other, "because no one would have thought of it except that youngster."
"Tim," added the father, placing his hand affectionately on his head, "I am proud of you." And the little fellow blushed and replied:
"I'm glad I happened to think of it in time, but it was rather close, wasn't it?"
"It couldn't have been more so, and but for you boat and cargo would have been a dead loss, and more than likely some of us would have lost our lives."
That night at the supper table, Mr. Hunter remarked with a meaning smile:
"Maggie, the Hunter family contains a fool and a genius, I'm not the genius and 'Mit' isn't the fool."
"Father, you are not just to yourself," the boy hastened to say; "I have done wrong in not appreciating your kindness or indulgence, and I have resolved to do my best to please you. I think I have some talent for composition and invention, but I can use it just as well, without neglecting the quarries and stone works, and if you will permit, I shall give you all the help I can in the business with the hope that some day, which I pray may be far distant, I shall become your successor."
Tears filled the eyes of all, as the parent, rising from his chair, placed his hand on the head of Tim and said, in a tremulous voice:
"God bless you, my son!"