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   Chapter 3 A TEST OF STRENGTH

The White Crystals By Howard R. Garis Characters: 15345

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Hey, Pop! Have you brought him?" shouted the sturdy youngster whom Roger looked down at from the top of the stage. It seemed to him as if the boy was inquiring for some new kind of wild animal.

"He's here all right, Ade," replied Mr. Kimball, as he assisted his nephew down. "He's on time t' th' minute, 'n' I hope yer mother's got suthin' good fer us both t' eat."

"Land sakes! Allers thinkin' a' suthin' t' put in yer stomach," exclaimed Mrs. Kimball, laughing as she came forward to meet Roger and give him a hearty kiss.

"Here! You two boys git acquainted," commanded Mr. Kimball, and he and his wife stood aside until Roger could advance and meet his country cousin. Adrian and Roger were about the same age, and, though they were both nearly of equal height, Adrian was the more sturdy of the two, and it was easily seen what an advantage he had because of his life in the open air. He was tanned, and as brown as a butternut on his hands and face, and there was a clearness to his skin and a brightness to his eyes that Roger lacked, for the latter was pale, and his eyes showed the effects of hard study. Perhaps for a minute the two boys sized each other up, almost like two dogs that meet for the first time, and when each is uncertain as to the other's intention.

Roger held out his hand, and Adrian took it in a firm grasp, shaking it up and down, pump-handle fashion.

"Can you wrestle?" asked the country boy suddenly. It was his first greeting.

"A little," admitted Roger, "but I haven't had much chance at it. I know I'm not very good."

"Come on, then; right here in the grass," said Adrian. He started peeling off his coat.

"Not now, wait until arter supper," commanded Mr. Kimball. "Why, Ade," he went on, "I'm ashamed on ye. Don't ye know Roger's bin travellin' a good while, 'n' he ain't hed much rest. I'm s'prised at ye. 'T ain't fair t' rassal now."

"I'd just as soon," broke in Roger. "I never claimed to be much of a wrestler, but I'm not afraid to try."

He made up his mind he was not going to be stumped by any boy of his own age, in a test of strength, without an endeavor. So off came his coat in a hurry.

"Which way are you used to?" asked Adrian.

"Oh, I'm not particular."

"Well, catch-as-catch-can then," said the country boy, advancing toward Roger slowly.

It would seem that the two were hardly a match for each other, since the life Adrian led had made him much more sturdy than was his cousin. At the same time, though Roger was not as strong and well set-up as a lad of his age should have been, he was of wiry frame and quick on his feet. So, after all, the contest might not be so one-sided as it appeared at first.

For a minute the two boys circled about each other, looking for an opening. They had their hands extended, seeking for good holds, and ready to break any too dangerous grip on the part of the other. Their faces were set, and their eyes brightened with excitement, but, as it was all in fun, there was not a trace of anger.

Suddenly Adrian reached out and caught Roger's left hand with his own left. At the same moment he tried to get his right arm about the city boy's neck. But Roger was too quick for him, and, instead of gaining this advantage, Adrian found himself circled about by Roger's arm. Then there was a straining of muscles; the two boys closed in a tight grip, and the struggle was on.

Mr. Kimball watched them with great delight, for he was fond of a contest of this kind; but his wife, while used to the rough play of her own boy with his comrades, was somewhat alarmed for the effects of the wrestling on her nephew, whose frame was not trained to such rough exercise, she thought. However, she said nothing, thinking there was not much likelihood of any serious harm resulting from the tussle. The most that might happen would be a good shaking up, and soreness.

The boys were now wrestling away in earnest. To Roger it was no surprise to feel the sturdy muscles of his opponent, but it was some small wonder to Adrian to find Roger meeting his advance with a force he did not expect was in his cousin's rather thin arms. At first Adrian tried to duck his head out from the encircling hold of Roger. When he could not succeed in this he endeavored to pull the city boy off his feet. That was of little avail, for Roger was lighter than Adrian, and shuffled quickly about on the grass.

When a few minutes of this pulling and hauling had passed, the boys were panting a little, and breathing rapidly. Feeling the need of wind, Roger, for a short while, acted solely on the defensive. Then, seeing he was not making out as poorly as he feared he would, he ventured to try something on the offence. He put out his right leg, and planted it firmly behind that of Adrian's, and then tried to push his cousin over it backward, thinking to throw him in this fashion.

If Roger could have seen the smile that came over Adrian's face as he did this, perhaps he would not have been so ready to try the old trick. The country boy let himself be shoved over, ever so slightly. He even became limp in his opponent's hands, and Roger thought he saw victory most unexpectedly before him.

"Wa'al, ef Roger ain't a goin' t' throw him!" exclaimed Mr. Kimball, though not displeased because he was going to see his own son defeated. "Go at him, Roger!" he cried. "You're th' stuff!"

Then suddenly Adrian's body stiffened out. His arms that had been limp became rigid. From tilting backward he straightened up. He twisted his neck from the crook of Roger's arm, grabbed his cousin by the shoulders, shifted rapidly on his feet, and, with a quick push, sent Roger over backward, pinning him squarely upon his back on the sod.

"A fair fall! A fair fall!" cried Mr. Kimball, dancing about like a youngster himself. "I thought ye had him, Roger, but he fooled ye. Guess ye'll hev t' eat a leetle mite more, 'fore ye kin throw him," and the farmer chuckled in delight.

Roger got up from the ground. He was smiling slightly, but there was a determined look on his face that was good to see, for it showed he had met defeat bravely, and was not daunted by it.

"That's one," he said, breathing a trifle hard. "Maybe I'll do better next time. Are you ready?" and he stood waiting for another trial.

"What! Do you want to go at it again?" asked Adrian, somewhat surprised.

"Of course," answered Roger. "And if you throw me this time I'll try once more, and then to-morrow, and next day, and the next, until I've thrown you!"

"That's th' way t' talk!" exclaimed Mr. Kimball. "That's what I like t' hear. Never say die!" and he capered about as wild as a boy.

"Paw, how you talk!" said Mrs. Kimball. "Them boys sha'n't rassal any more t'night. Adrian, I'm s'prised at ye, throwin' yer cousin that has jest come out t' see ye."

"Oh, he's game, mother. He don't care," replied Adrian, smiling, and much pleased at Roger's pluck. "But we won't try any more falls right away," he added. "I'll give you another chance, though, Roger."

"Wa'al, I guess thet's th' best view t' take," said Mr. Kimball. "Ye know ye come out here t' Cardiff, Roger, t' git fattened up, 'n' ye won't do thet ef ye keep on rassalin'. I guess I'll declare a flag a' truce. Now mind," and his voice became stern, "no more rassalin' 'til I give ye leave. Ef ye want t' rassal, Ade, ye'll hev t' take on some un else."

"All right, dad," replied Adrian, good naturedly.

Roger said nothing, but he made up his mind that, though the contest was postponed for a while, he would not rest until he had thrown his cousin in a fair struggle. For the time, however, he was sa

tisfied to wait.

"Come on 'n' wash up fer supper!" cried Mr. Kimball, as the boys were putting on their coats. "Land a' Goshen, I'm 's hungry 's th' b'ar what sees his shadder on Candlemas Day. Come on, Roger, 'n' I'll interduce ye t' yer cousin Clara, 'n' let ye set yer teeth in some a' th' finest salt-risin' bread in Cardiff, 'n' th' best buckwheat honey growed in Onondaga County," and he started for the house, followed by the two boys and Mrs. Kimball, who began to ask Roger a score of questions about his father and mother and the baby, which the boy answered as best he could.

For the first time since he had alighted from the stage Roger had a chance to look about him. The comfortable large farmhouse, painted white with green shutters, stood on the east side of the road, which ran along the edge of the beautiful Onondaga valley. Behind the house rose a gently sloping hill, on the sunny declivities of which was a large vineyard, belonging to Mr. Kimball. In front of the house was a stretch of fields, forming the bottom part of the valley, and some of these broad acres belonged to Adrian's father. The valley was about three miles wide, and, if one should walk across that space he would come to the opposite hills that framed it in, towering up, with densely wooded sides, broken here and there with little farm clearings. It was a most pleasant place to live, Roger thought. He paused for a minute, and turned to look at the view behind him.

The sun was just sinking down behind the topmost trees of the western hills, and the slanting beams, sifting through the red and yellow leaves of the autumn forest, caused the woods to appear as if they were blazing with golden fire. The beauty of the sunset made all pause to look at it, and Roger was sure he had never before seen such a happy, calm, peaceful valley as the one in the centre of which nestled the village of Cardiff.

The Kimball house was of the large roomy kind the early farmers built, with tall white pillars supporting the roof of the front porch, on top of which was a balcony. A gravel driveway passed along the south side of the building leading to the barn in the rear. Instead of going in the front door, which was, as is usual in the country, seldom opened, Mr. Kimball led the way around the side. Roger, following, heard the splash of running water, and, turning the corner, he saw a pipe spouting a sparkling stream which fell into a big basin, chiselled out of a single solid stone. This was right at the side door of the house.

"Thar!" exclaimed Mr. Kimball, "thar, Roger, you'll find thet th' best water in th' State. Nothin' like it at Saratogy er New York City. It comes from a spring right up thar on my hill, 'n' we're th' fust family t' git it, jest 's it bubbles up from th' ground. Here!" taking down the half of an empty cocoanut shell, which served as a dipper, "here, sample it," and he let the spout fill the brown vessel with the babbling, laughing water.

Roger drank deep of the refreshing liquid, for he was thirsty from the long drive, and, when he handed back the empty dipper, with a grateful breath of contentment, his uncle needed no better evidence that the water was good, as indeed any one who has been to Cardiff and tasted of it will bear witness.

Now there was the flutter of a red dress in the doorway, and Roger looked up to meet the gaze of a pretty, brown-eyed girl, whose flushed cheeks took on a deeper color as she smiled at the boy.

"That's him, Clara," called out Adrian. "That's him, 'n' I threw him, too."

"Thet's your cousin Clara," put in Mr. Kimball. "I guess ye never seen her before, 'cause th' last time yer mother were here, Clara wa'n't born yit, 'n' I vum, ye was such' a leetle chap, thet it were hard work t' locate ye, in yer long dresses," and he laughed heartily at the remembrance.

Clara held out her hand, which Roger shook warmly. She was a girl of fourteen, and was almost as large as Roger. He thought her one of the prettiest girls he had ever seen.

"I'm so glad you got here safely," she said. "I suppose Ade made you wrestle as soon as you got off the stage. I believe he would rather roll in the dirt that way than eat," and she glanced at her brother, who was turning a handspring nimbly.

"Not much I wouldn't! Not when I know supper's so near ready," answered Adrian, landing on his feet near Clara.

Then Roger became aware of the nicest odor coming from the region of the kitchen. He thought it was the best he had ever smelled, for he was hungry, more hungry than he had been in several weeks, as his appetite had not been good of late. Now it seemed as if he could not get to the table quickly enough.

Once in the house Mrs. Kimball lost no time. She led Roger to his room, a pleasant chamber next to where Adrian slept, and, when she had seen his valise and trunk brought up, and showed him where the washbowl and pitcher of water could be found, she left him to prepare for supper.

For a minute or two Roger felt a flood of lonesomeness come over him. It was so very quiet, out there in the country, more quiet than he had ever supposed it possible to be. Even though it was only six o'clock, it was more silent than at midnight in New York, where, indeed, there is never lack of noise. Through the open window of the room came only the faint rattle of a distant wagon down the dusty road, and the chirp of crickets, that had begun their evening song early. For the first time since Roger had started he wished himself home again. It wasn't half as nice, this going away, as he had thought it would be. He felt a lump coming into his throat and a trace of moisture into his eyes.

Surely he couldn't be going to cry? What, cry? Of course not. Who ever heard of such a thing, even though it did seem lonesome just at first, you know, and even though he couldn't help feeling a trifle homesick. He controlled his feelings, poured out the water, and dashed it into his face vigorously. When he had finished using the towel he broke into a cheery whistle that penetrated to the rooms below; and then he bethought himself of his determination to wrestle and throw Adrian some day. He was ready to go downstairs now.

It was a very merry supper. Roger had his first taste of salt-rising bread, which is made without yeast, and he voted it the best he ever ate. He had fresh buckwheat honey, which had been taken from the hives that same day, his uncle told him. Then there was crisp, brown ham, and golden eggs, sugar-coated crullers, and rich creamy milk, and Roger surprised himself by the manner in which he put away the victuals.

The evening was spent in the "settin' room," as Mrs. Kimball called it, where they had kerosene lamps, which seemed strange to the city boy, used only to gas or electricity. About nine o'clock Roger's eyes began to get heavy, and to feel as if they had sticks in them. His head nodded once or twice, even while his uncle was talking to him.

"Bedtime," announced Mr. Kimball, suddenly, and Roger was glad to hear him say so. With a small lamp his aunt lighted the way to his room.

"I say!" called Adrian from his apartment, when Roger had settled snug between the cool sheets,-"I say, Roger."

"Well?"

"We'll go fishing to-morrow. I know a deep hole where we can get some dandy fat chubs."

"Good," called Roger, through his open door. "That will be sport."

He fell to listening to the dreamy chirp of the crickets and the trilling of the tree-toads. Gradually these sounds became fainter and fainter, and at last he could only hear them as if the insects were a score of miles away. Roger was sound asleep.

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