MoboReader > Literature > The Story of a Country Town

   Chapter 14 I AM SURPRISED.

The Story of a Country Town By E. W. Howe Characters: 9719

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

MATTERS were going from bad to worse at Fairview. My father had been away to the country town a week, and had not yet returned.

As the attendance on the summer school was small, Agnes managed to come home very early, and go away very late, so that we were like three happy children having a holiday, for my mother remained up with us until midnight, if we did not get sleepy before that time, talking very little, but quietly enjoying our company, as though it was a pleasure usually denied her. I told them all I knew about Jo, Mateel, Barker, his strange sister, and Clinton Bragg, inventing incidents whenever the interest threatened to flag, and Agnes was always entertaining, so that we were very happy during that week.

It was the Saturday night after my return from the mill, when we were beginning to be seriously alarmed about my father's long absence, and just after we had agreed that something should be done about it, the door opened, and he walked in. I had been expecting him to return in a bad humor, but much to my surprise he was in a very good humor, and appeared to be pleased about something, as though he had accomplished all he desired, and was good enough to ask me if I had enjoyed myself at Barker's.

My mother and Agnes went out to the kitchen at once to prepare his supper, and he followed them to talk while they were about it. He had brought them presents, and, holding up the packages, asked them to guess what they were, and when they failed he laughed, and asked them to guess again. I looked on in wonder, and after he had seated himself at the table, and commenced eating without asking a blessing, he astonished us all by saying:-

"Well, I have bought the 'Union of States' newspaper, and a house in Twin Mounds, and we move there to live next Monday. What do you all think of it?"

We were so much surprised that we could not say what we thought of it, and he continued:-

"I have been making the trade for several weeks, but only finally closed it to-day, and I now hold the keys of the establishment in my pocket. The house in which we are to live is vacant, and I will go over with Ned on Monday, and Lee and his sons are already engaged to commence moving the next day. This may seem very sudden to you, but I have been thinking of it for months, and am already impatient at the delay. The farm will be rented to Lee, and his newly-married son will occupy this house. There is no reason I can think of why we should not move at once. In a month I shall drive over and attend the sale, which I have already advertised, and then I shall be through."

Taking from his pocket a roll of hand-bills, which were apparently fresh from the press, he handed each of us one. It began with the heading "Public Sale," and stated that the undersigned, having bought the "Union of States" newspaper in Twin Mounds, would offer at public sale, on the mentioned date, at his farm a half mile north of Fairview church, the following stock, implements, and effects. Here followed a long list of cattle, horses, ploughs, etc., with which I was very familiar, and I remember thinking they all looked exceedingly well in print.

"I am tired of Fairview," he said, pushing back from the table, and resuming his old habit of thoughtfulness. "I am tired of its work and drudgery. I don't dislike work, but, like other men, I am anxious that it pay me as much as possible. I shall continue to work as hard as ever, but I hope to more purpose. I make little enough here except in land speculations; that I can continue, and do more of. The profession I have chosen will afford me opportunity to study; that will be a part of my work, and we can live more genteelly in town than we have lived here. I feel that ten more years on a farm would make me an old man, whereas I should at that time only reach my prime. These are briefly the reasons why I made the change. I have figured it out; it will pay. I could not afford to make a mistake in this particular."

I thought of the long rows of figures which he had lately been casting up in his private book, and the hours he spent in pondering over the result.

"Three men are now necessary to do the work in publishing the 'Union of States.' In a year Ned and I will be able to do it ourselves, for we will work as hard there as here, but, as I have said, to more purpose. The time a boy spends in learning the trade of a printer is equal to so much time at school, therefore Ned will practically be at school summer and winter, and of some use besides. The boy is now reaching an age when his education should be attended to, and to all intents and purposes he will begin a term in an academy next Monday."

He got up at this and went to bed, leaving us to talk about it. From the cold and cheerless manner in which he said I would be able to do the work of a man and a h

alf in a year, I judged there was to be little idleness for me in the new place, and besides my work he expected me to look after my education, which had certainly been neglected in the past.

Although the paper had been coming to the house for years we had paid but little attention to it, so Agnes and I took the lamp and ransacked everywhere for a copy of the "Union of States," that we might examine it in a new light. We found one at last, artistically notched, and doing duty on a pantry shelf. It was a sheet of eight columns to the page, printed in large type, and we could not help admitting (it was really the case) that it was well printed, and very fair looking. I read most of the advertisements aloud, and wondered whether we should speedily become acquainted with the parties, or whether years would be required to get into their aristocratic circles, for, in connection with statements that they carried the principal stocks of goods in their line in the West, at that distance they seemed very important and distinguished. However, as they all claimed the distinction of being the leading merchant of Twin Mounds, I thought that perhaps the advertisements were overdrawn, and that I might know them, at least by sight, within a few months.

There was almost a full page of law notices, some of them from adjoining counties, where newspapers were not published; at the foot of each one was printed, "Printer's fee, $12," and it occurred to me that most of the revenue was derived from this source. I read four or five of these, but as they were all in nearly the same language, I gave it up.

There was also a large advertisement of the paper itself, occupying two full columns, commencing with the figures of the year in which it was established, and the figures of the current year (from which I made out that the paper had been published seven years), followed by "Subscribe," "Subscribe," in large black letters. Then came a long platform of dull political principles, and a declaration that it was the duty of every good citizen to take it, because it advocated Benton County first, and the world afterward. After this came a paragraph, separated from the other part of the advertisement by dashes and o's (-o-o-), stating that job printing in all its branches, from a mammoth poster to the most delicate visiting card, would be neatly and promptly executed on the new and fast presses belonging to the establishment, and immediately above the information that all letters should be addressed to the proprietor to insure prompt attention (as though there had once been a habit of sending letters intended for the printer to the blacksmith), it was said that one copy one year would be two dollars, invariably in advance; one copy six months, one dollar, also invariably in advance; one copy three months, fifty cents, also invariably in advance; and that single copies in neat wrappers for mailing could be had on application at five cents each.

We had no idea what the business was like, and sat there until midnight discussing and wondering about it, occasionally referring to the sheet to prove or disprove a notion advanced by one of the number. My own idea was that the paper was bought in a distant market, as an article of merchandise, and that my part of the business would be to stand behind a counter and sell copies at an advance in connection with mammoth posters and delicate visiting cards, but Agnes said that while she knew nothing about the newspaper business, she was certain that idea was wrong, and so it turned out.

When I suggested that Agnes could no longer live with us-it occurred to me all of a sudden, very late in the evening, and almost took my breath away-my mother (who had evidently not thought of it before, either) got up hurriedly, and went out of the room. I expressed the fear that she had gone away to cry about it, whereupon Agnes went after her, and came leading her back presently, with her arms tenderly about her.

"I can come over every Saturday," Agnes said, "and we shall all be so busy during the week as not to notice the separation. I shall miss you more than you can possibly miss me, for I always think of this as my home, but it is not far, and we shall often be together. My school will be out in three weeks, when I will come over and stay until you are tired of me."

As though we should ever tire of Agnes! But my mother would not be comforted, and continued to cry softly to herself-thinking, I have no doubt, that she was about to separate from the only creature in all the world who had ever been kind, and considerate, and fond of her. When I went to bed, I left them together, Agnes gently stroking my mother's hair, and assuring her that she was her dear, kind, good friend, and that she would never forget how welcome she had always been made in her new home.

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