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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter VII. Country Experiences

BERT had come to Maplebank just in time for the haying season. The long slopes of upland and the level stretches of intervale waved before the breeze their russet and green wealth, awaiting the summons of the scythe and reaper. A number of extra hands had been hired to help in gathering the crop, which this year was unusually abundant, and a few days after Bert’s coming the attack was begun.

The mowing machine had not yet reached Maplebank. The papers were talking about it a good deal, but Squire Stewart was not the man to quickly adopt new inventions, and nobody else in the neighbourhood could afford to do so. Consequently, the West River Valley still continued to witness the good, old-fashioned way of mowing with the scythe; and Bert, accompanying Uncle Alec to the field, was filled with admiration for the stalwart “Rorys” and “Donalds” and “Sandys” as they strode along through the thick grass, cutting a wide swath before them. There was something in the work that appealed to the boy’s bump of destructiveness, and filled him with eagerness to join in it.

“Oh, Uncle Alec, mayn’t I mow?” he asked.

“Certainly, Bert, if you know how; but if you don’t, I wouldn’t advise you to try it,” was the smiling reply.

Not at all discouraged, Bert waited patiently until one of the mowers stopped to sharpen his scythe, and then stepping to him, asked, in his most engaging way:

“Please, sir, won’t you let me mow a little?”

The man looked down at him in surprise.

“You couldn’t hold a scythe, sonny,” he said, with a grin of amusement.

“Oh, yes, I could. Please let me try; won’t you?” pleaded Bert.

The man yielded, and placing his scythe in Bert’s hands, told him to go ahead.

With much difficulty Bert succeeded in grasping the two short handles which projected from the long curved shaft, and, summoning all his strength, he tried to move the scythe in the way the mowers were doing. But at the first attempt the sharp point stuck in the turf, and instantly the long handle flew up, turned over, and hit him a hard crack, square between the eyes, that felled him to the ground.

The stars were dancing before his eyes, and the next moment the tears would have been there too, had he not, as he picked himself up, caught sight of the men laughing heartily over his mishap.

“They shan’t see me cry,” said he to himself; and, putting forth a heroic effort, he swallowed his tears, though the gulping them down was positively painful, and, standing up straight, looked bravely about him. Uncle Alec saw it all and understood just how Bert felt.

“Well done, my little hero,” said he, clapping him on the back. “You have the right stuff in you.”

“That he has, sir,” said Big Sandy, with an admiring look. “He would make a right good laddie for the farm.”

Bert’s heart was filled with joy at these praises, and he determined that nobody on the farm should ever see him cry, unless he really couldn’t at all help it.

The scythe handle gave him quite an ugly bruise, which caused many a question when he went back to the house; and Aunt Sarah, who was as nervous as she was loving and sympathetic, made much ado over it, and insisted on a bandage, which made Bert look like a little soldier who had been in action. Mrs. Lloyd took the matter much more quietly. She knew her son had to get his share of bumps and bruises, and that each one would bring wisdom with it; so she contented herself with a kiss of sympathy, and the hope that he would have better fortune next time.

The succeeding days were full of surprises and enjoyments to Bert.

His mother gave him full liberty to go and come as he pleased, so long as he did not roam beyond the borders of the homestead, except when with Uncle Alec. The hay mows, the carriage loft, the sheep pens, the cattle stalls, were all explored; and ever so many cosy little nooks discovered, that seemed just made for “hide and seek” or “I spy.” Squire Stewart had three barns on his homestead; one very large double barn, and two smaller ones. Each of these had its own attractions; but the big barn, that stood to your left, half way between the red gate and the house, was the best of all. It contained great hay mows, in which vast quantities of hay could be stored; a row of stalls where the horses stood when not out at pasture; queer dark pens, into which the sheep were gathered at winter time; and then, down underneath, great ranges of uprights, between which the patient cattle were fastened, and fed with hay, in the months when the snow lay deep upon their accustomed pastures. There was an air of shadowy mystery about this huge, rambling structure, with its lichen-patched roof, that fascinated Bert, and that even the saucy chirpings of the sparrows, which boldly built their nests in its dusty corners, could not dispel.

Bert often wished that his city playmates could come and share with him the enjoyments of “grandfather’s.” He was not without companions, however. Cameron, the big blacksmith at the cross-roads, had three freckle-faced boys that were very glad to play with the little gentleman at Squire Stewart’s, when they could get away from the numerous duties they were required to do at home; and other playmates soon turned up. Bert was at first not very much inclined to be sociable with them. Not only did they seem to have no shoes and stockings, but their entire clothing was usually limited to a battered straw hat, an unbleached cotton shirt, and a pair of rough homespun trousers; and the city boy was inclined to look upon the country lads with some contempt, until his Aunt Martha cured him effectually one day by a remark made in a quiet way.

Bert had been making some unflattering comments upon the barefooted youngsters, when Aunt Martha interrupted him:

“You had better not make fun of those boys, Bert,” said she, with a curious smile. “They may look as though they were poor, but remember that their fathers have all of them their own carriage and horses, and your father has not.”

Bert saw the point at once, and never again ventured to ridicule boys who were the sons of “real carriage folk.” Not only so, but he began at once to feel a respect for them, which wrought such a change in his bearing toward them, that they, who were not at all favourably impressed at first, changed their minds and decided that he was a “right smart little fellow.” It was while playing “hide and seek” in the big barn with half-a-dozen of these youngsters, that Bert had a narrow escape from serious injury, if not, indeed, from death. The great, gaping mows were being filled with hay, which was pitched in any way, and not, of course, packed firmly. Consequently, it was in some places like snow upon the Alpine slopes— ready to fall in an avalanche, at the slightest temptation.

In endeavouring to reach a far corner of the barn, where he felt sure no one could possibly find him, Bert tried to cross a hill of hay, that had piled up in one division of the mow. His hasty movements were just what was needed to bring the whole mass toppling down in confusion to the bottom of the mow. Unfortunately for him, he was involved in the overthrow, and without a moment’s warning was buried beneath a huge mass of hay. As he went sliding helplessly down he uttered a cry of terror, which startled little Rory Chisholm, who sprang out from his hiding-place just in time to see poor Bert disappear.

“Hi! Hi! boys—come here; Bert Lloyd’s under the hay.”

The boys quickly gathered, and with eager hands set to work, to rescue their imperiled playmate. But, vigorously though they toiled, it was slow progress they made; and in the meantime the little fellow, pressed upon by many hundredweight of hay, was fast losing breath and consciousness. He could hear them very indistinctly, but could not make a sound himself.

By a fortunate accident, one of the men happened along, just as the boys were near giving up the task as too great for them.

“Donald! Donald! Quick! Bert Lloyd’s under the hay. Dig him out, or he’ll die,” cried Rory, at the top of his voice.

Seizing a pitchfork, Donald attacked the hay like a giant, getting more and more careful as he drew near the bottom of the mow, until at last, with a shout of “I’ve got him,” he stooped down and dragged the senseless form of Bert from the very bottom of the pile. Taking him in his arms, he ran with him to the house, and gave Aunt Sarah a great fright by suddenly plumping him into her lap, as she sat on the verandah reading, saying, breathlessly:

“Here, miss, bring him to, and he’ll be none the worse for it.”

Aunt Sarah screamed for hartshorn, spirits of wine, and the dear knows what, but Mrs. Lloyd, bringing a glass of water, dashed it freely over her boy’s pale face, and in a minute or two he opened his eyes again. As Donald said, he was none the worse for his experience, for no bones were broken, nor muscles strained; yet all felt thankful that he had escaped so well.

It was not long after this that Bert had another adventure, which also came near costing him his life. He was not only very fond of water, but as fearless about it as a Newfoundland puppy. The blue sea, calm as a mirror or flecked with “white caps,” formed part of his earliest recollections. He would play at its margin all day long, building forts out of sand for the advancing billows of the tide to storm and overwhelm. He was never happier than when gliding over it in his father’s skiff. It was the last thing in nature he looked upon before lying down at night, and the first thing to which he turned on awaking in the morning. Thus he got so used to the great salt sea, that when he came to Maplebank and looked at the quiet stream, which glided along so noiselessly at the bottom of the slope before the house, he thought it a mere plaything, and could hardly be made to understand that, innocent as the river appeared, there was water enough in it to drown him ten times over.

One day some of the village folk came out to spend the day at Maplebank, and the weather being decidedly warm, Uncle Alec proposed that the men of the party should go with him for a bathe. They gladly assented, and Bert having begged to accompany them was given leave to do so. Uncle Alec took them to a lovely spot for a bath—a tempting nook in which one might almost have expected to surprise a water nymph or two, if you drew near quietly enough. On one side, the bank rose high and steep, affording perfect seclusion ; a narrow beach of gravel made a fine place for undressing. The river rolled gently along with plenty of depth, and beyond it was another beach, and then the swelling intervals.

Amid much laughter and excitement the men undressed, Uncle Alec allowing Bert to do the same, as he had promised to carry him across the river on his back. So soon as they were ready the bathers dived in ; and, with much splashing and noise, swam races to the opposite bank, leaving Bert alone upon the shore. Skylarking with one another there they quite forgot their little companion until Uncle Alec looking across, gave a start, and cried out:

“Hallo! What’s become of the boy?”

Not a sign of Bert was to be seen. His little pile of clothes, with hat placed carefully on top, was plain enough but no Bert. Full of anxiety, Uncle Alec sprang into the water, and with great sweeping strokes made for the other side. The water fairly foamed about his broad, white shoulders as he tore through it. He steered straight for the spot where he had seen Bert last. Three-fourths of the distance had been covered, when suddenly he stopped, and reaching down into the water, pulled up—What do you think? Why, Bert, of course, whose big brown eyes had startled him as they looked up at him through the clear, cool water. But how did Bert get there? Well, easily enough. He had got tired waiting for his uncle to come back for him. He wanted to be over there where the men were all having such fun. He could not swim across, so he just coolly accepted the only alternative, and started to walk across! When Uncle Alec found him there was a clear foot of water over his head. A step or two more and he would certainly have lost his footing, been carried away by the current, and drowned perhaps before Uncle Alec could have found him.

The men all voted him a young hero when they were told of his attempt, and Uncle Alec vowed he’d teach him to swim the next time he paid a visit to Maplebank.

Aunt Sarah was greatly excited when she heard of her darling Bert’s second escape, and had Mrs. Lloyd taken her advice the poor boy would have been tied to somebody’s apron strings for the rest of the summer. But Mrs. Lloyd thought it better to do no more than caution Bert, and trust to the Providence that protects children to keep him from harm. He would have to learn to take care of himself sooner or later, and the sooner the better.

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