THE HERMIT’S CABIN

MARK smiled to himself as the boys left him.

“James doesn’t care to associate with us working boys,” he thought.
“Well, I fancy he cares as much for my company as I do for his.”

Mark was thoroughly independent and self-reliant, and had no disposition
to trouble himself because a particular boy didn’t care to associate
with him.

He was not self-conceited, but he respected himself, and never would
have been willing, like Tom Wyman, to play the part of an humble
satellite to the son of a wealthy shoe manufacturer.

He reached the edge of the woods, and plunged into their shaded
recesses. Here and there were paths more or less worn. One of these he
took. It was a considerable time before he found anything to shoot at.
Finally he fired at a squirrel, but the active little animal eluded him,
and made his way to some covert, whence possibly he peeped out with
twinkling eyes at his enemy.

Farther on he reached a small clearing, in the center of which rose an
humble log dwelling, of the most primitive description.

Mark regarded it with curiosity, for, though it was no new object to
him, he knew that it was occupied by a man who for five years had
baffled the curiosity of the neighborhood.

Now and then he was seen in the village, whither he went to procure
supplies of food and other necessaries. A striking figure he was, with
his long flowing sandy beard, thickly flecked with gray hairs, high
forehead, and long, circular cloak wrapped around his tall, spare form.

On his head he wore a Spanish sombrero, and his appearance in the
streets never failed to attract the curious eyes of the children.

Once some rude boys followed him with jeers, but were never tempted to
repeat the rudeness. With his long staff upraised, he gave chase to
them, looking so terrible that they were panic-stricken, and with pale
faces, scattered in all directions.

While Mark was standing near the hermit’s cabin, he thought he heard a
smothered groan proceeding from within.

“What can be the matter,” he thought, “can old Anthony be sick?”

This was the name, correct or not, by which the hermit was known in the
village.

He paused a moment in indecision, but on hearing the groan repeated, he
overcame his scruples, and pushing open the door, which stood ajar, he
entered.

On a pallet, at one corner of the main room, lay the old man, with his
limbs drawn up, as if in pain. His back was towards the door.

“Who is there?” he asked, as he heard the door open.

“A friend,” answered Mark. “Are you sick?”

“I have a severe attack of rheumatism,” answered the old man.

“And you have no one to take care of you?” said Mark, pityingly.

“No; I have no friends,” answered the old man, in a tone half sad, half
bitter. “Come round to the foot of the bed; let me look at you,” he
added, after a pause.

Mark complied with his request.

Old Anthony regarded him attentively, and said, half to himself, “a good
face! a face to be trusted!”

“I hope so,” said Mark, with a feeling of pleasure. “Can I do anything
for you?”

“You are willing to help old Anthony? You see I know what they call me
in the village.”

“Yes. I shall be willing and glad to do anything for you.”

“You are a good boy. What is your name?”

“Mark Manning.”

“I know who you are. Your mother is a widow.”

“Yes.”

“And poor.”

“We have little money, but we have never wanted for food.”

“You work for your mother?”

“Yes; I am employed in the shoe factory.”

“A good son will make a good man. You will never repent what you are
doing for your mother.”

“No; I am sure I shall not,” returned Mark, warmly. “I ought not, for
she has done everything for me.”

“What brings you here?” asked the old man.

“I had a spare afternoon, and came out gunning. I was wandering about
these woods and happened to come this way. How long have you been sick?”

“For several days; but I was able to be about till yesterday.”

“Have you taken no medicine?”

“No. I thought I might do without it; but I find I am mistaken.”

“Shall I call the doctor?”

“No; my disease is of old standing, and I know what to do for it. If you
are willing to go to the drug store for me you may take the bottle on
yonder shelf and get it filled. The druggist will understand what is
wanted. You may also get me a box of rheumatic pills.”

“Yes, sir; I will go at once.”

“You will want money. Look in the box on yonder shelf, and select a gold
piece. Pay for the articles and bring back the change.”

“Yes, sir.”

Mark went to the shelf, and in a square wooden box found a collection of
gold and silver coins from which he selected a five-dollar gold piece.

“I have taken five dollars,” he said.

“Very well.”

“Are you not afraid to leave this money so exposed while you are sick
and helpless?” Mark ventured to inquire.

“I have no visitors,” answered old Anthony.

“But you might have. Some tramp——”

“That is true. Perhaps it would be well to provide for that contingency.
Will you take it all, and take care of it for me?”

Mark regarded the old man with surprise.

“What—take it away with me?” he asked.

“Yes. I shall have to employ you as my man of business till I get
better. I will speak with you about it further when you return with the
medicines.”


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“Do you know how much there is here?” asked Mark.

“No; you may count it, if you like.”

Mark did so and announced as the result of his count, “Twenty-nine
dollars and thirty cents.”

“Very well! You may keep an account of what you expend for me,” said the
old man, indifferently.

“He seems to put a good deal of confidence in me,” Mark reflected, with
some satisfaction.

“Is there nothing else you want in the village?” Mark asked, as he
prepared to go.

“You may bring me a loaf of fresh bread and a quart of milk, if it will
not be too much trouble. You will find a tin measure for the milk on the
shelf.”

“Here it is, sir.”

“Very well.”

“If you would like something nourishing—some meat, for instance—I can
get my mother to cook you some,” continued Mark.

“Not to-day. Another day I may avail myself of your kind offer. You are
very kind—to a poor recluse.”

“I am afraid you don’t pass a very pleasant life,” said Mark. “I should
be miserable if I lived alone in the woods, like you.”

“No doubt, no doubt. You are young and life opens before you bright and
cheerful. As for me, I have lived my life. For me no prospect opens but
the grave. Why, indeed, should I seek to prolong this miserable life?”

Mark hardly knew how to answer him. He could not enter into the old
man’s morbid feelings.

“I will be back soon,” he said as he left the cabin.