THE summer days passed
very quickly and happily for Bert at Maplebank, especially after the
surprising revelation of the love and tenderness that underlay his
grandfather’s stern exterior. No one did more for his comfort or
happiness than his grandmother, and he loved her accordingly with the
whole strength of his young heart. She was so slight and frail, and
walked with such slow, gentle steps, that the thought of being her
protector and helper often came into his mind and caused him to put on a
more erect, important bearing as he walked beside her in the garden, or
through the orchard where the apples were already beginning to give
promise of the coming ripeness.
Mrs. Stewart manifested her love for her grandson in one way that made a
great impression upon Bert. She would take him over to the dairy, in its
cool place beneath the trees, and, selecting the cooler with the
thickest cream upon it, would skim off a teaspoonful into a large spoon
that was already half filled with new oatmeal, and then pour the
luscious mixture into the open mouth waiting expectantly beside her.
“Is not that fine, Bertie boy?” she would say, patting him
affectionately upon the head; and Bert, his mouth literally too full for
utterance, would try to look the thanks he could not speak.
Maplebank had many strange visitors. It stood a little way back from the
junction of three roads, and the Squire’s hospitality to wayfarers being
unbounded, the consequence was that rarely did a night pass without one
or more finding a bed in some corner of the kitchen. Sometimes it would
be a shipwrecked sailor, slowly finding his way on foot to the nearest
shipping port. Sometimes a young lad with pack on back, setting out to
seek his fortune at the capital, or in the States beyond. Again it would
be a travelling tinker, or tailor, or cobbler, plying his trade from
house to house, and thereby making an honest living.
But the most frequent visitors of all—real nuisances, though, they often
made themselves—were the poor, simple folk, of whom a number of both
sexes roamed ceaselessly about. Not far from Maplebank was what the
better class called a “straglash district”— that is, a settlement
composed of a number of people who had by constant intermarriage, and
poor living, caused insanity of a mild type to be woefully common.
Almost every family had its idiot boy or girl, and these poor creatures,
being, as a rule, perfectly harmless, were suffered to go at large, and
were generally well treated by the neighbours, upon whose kindness they
were continually trespassing.
The best known of them at the time of Bert’s visit, was one called
“Crazy Colin,” a strange being, half wild, half civilised, with the
frame of an athlete, and the mind of a child. Although more than thirty
years of age, he had never shown much more sense than a two-year-old
baby. He even talked in a queer gibberish, such as was suitable to that
stage of childhood. Everybody was kind to him. His clothes and his food
were given him. As for a roof, he needed none in summer save when it
stormed, and in winter he found refuge among his own people. His chief
delight was roaming the woods and fields, talking vigorously to himself
in his own language, and waving a long ash staff that was rarely out of
his hands. He would thus spend whole days in apparent content, returning
only when the pangs of hunger could be borne no longer.
Bert took a great deal of interest in these “strag-lash” people, and
especially in Crazy Colin, who was a frequent visitor at the Squire’s
kitchen, for Mrs. Stewart never refused him a generous bowl of porridge
and milk, or a huge slice of bread and butter. At first he was not a
little afraid of Crazy Colin. But soon he got accustomed to him, and
then, boy-like, presuming upon acquaintance, began to tease him a bit
when he would come in for a “bite and sup.” More than once the idiot’s
eyes flashed dangerously at Bert’s pranks ; but, fool though he was, he
had sense enough to understand that any outbreak would mean his prompt
expulsion and banishment, and so he would restrain himself. One
memorable day, however, when Bert least expected or invited it, the
demon of insanity broke loose in a manner that might have had serious
It was on a Sunday. The whole family had gone off to church, except
Bert, who had been left at home in the charge of the cook. She was a
strapping big Scotch lassie, and very fond of Bert. About an hour after
the family left, Crazy Colin sauntered along and took his seat in the
kitchen. Neither Kitty nor Bert was by any means pleased to see him, but
they thought it better to keep their feelings to themselves. Bert,
indeed, made some effort to be entertaining, but Crazy Colin seemed in
rather a sulky mood, an unusual thing for him, so Bert soon gave it up,
and went off into the garden.
The roses were blooming beautifully there, and he picked several before
returning to the kitchen. When he came back, he found the unwelcome
visitor alone, Kitty having gone into the other part of the house. He
was sitting beside the table with his head bent forward upon his hands,
apparently in deep dejection. Upon the table was a large knife which
Kitty had just been using in preparing the meat for dinner. Thinking it
would please poor Colin, Bert selected the finest rose in his bunch and
handed it to him, moving off toward the door leading into the hall as he
did so. Colin lifted his head and grasped the rose rudely. As his big
hand closed upon it, a thorn that hid under the white petals pierced
deep into the ball of his thumb. In an instant the sleeping demon of
insanity awoke. With eyes blazing and frame trembling with fury, he
sprang to his feet, seized the knife, and with a hoarse, inarticulate
shout, turned upon Bert, who, paralysed with terror, stood rooted to the
spot half-way between the idiot and the door. It was a moment of
imminent peril, but ere Crazy Colin could reach the boy, his hoarse cry
was echoed by a shrill shriek from behind Bert, and two stout arms
encircling him, bore him off through the door and up the stairs, pausing
not until Squire Stewart’s bedroom was gained and the door locked fast.
Then depositing her burden upon the floor, brave, big Kitty threw
herself into a chair, exclaiming, breathlessly:
“Thank God, Master Bert, we’re safe now. The creature darsen’t come up
And Kitty was right; for although Crazy Colin raged and stormed up and
down the hall, striking the wall with the knife, and talking in his
wild, unintelligible way, he did not attempt to set foot upon the
stairs. Presently he became perfectly quiet.
“Has he gone away, Kitty?” asked Bert, eagerly, speaking for the first
time. “He’s not making any noise now.”
Kitty stepped softly to the door, and putting her ear to the crack,
listened intently for a minute.
“There’s not a sound of him, Master Bert. Please God, he’s gone, but we
hadn’t better go out of the room until the folks come home. He may be
waiting in the kitchen.”
And so they stayed, keeping one another company through the long hours
of the morning and afternoon until at last the welcome sound of wheels
crushing the gravel told that the carriage had returned, and they might
leave their refuge.
The indignation of Squire Stewart when he heard what had occurred was a
sight to behold. Sunday though it was, be burst forth into an
unrestrained display of his wrath, and had the cause of it ventured
along at the time, he certainly would have been in danger of bodily
“The miserable trash!” stormed the Squire. “Not one of them shall ever
darken my threshold again. Hech! that’s what comes of being kind to such
objects. They take you to be as big fools as themselves, and act
accordingly. The constable shall lay his grip on that loon so sure as I
am a Stewart.” There were more reasons for the Squire’s wrath, too, than
the fright Crazy Colin had given Bert and Kitty, for no dinner awaited
the hungry church-goers, and rejoiced as they all were at the happy
escape of the two who had been left at home, that was in itself an
insufficient substitute for a warm, well-cooked dinner. But Kitty, of
course, could not be blamed, and there was nothing to be done but to
make the best of the situation, and satisfy their hunger upon such odds
and ends as the larder afforded.
As for poor Crazy Colin, whether by some subtle instinct on coming to
himself he realised how gravely he had offended, or whether in some way
or other he got a hint of the Squire’s threats, cannot be said. Certain
it was, that he did not present himself at Maplebank for many days
after, and then he came under circumstances, which not only secured him
complete forgiveness, but made him an actual hero, for the time, and won
him a big place in the hearts of both Bert and his mother.
Although Bert had been forbidden to leave the homestead, unless in
company with some grown-up person, he had on several occasions forgotten
this injunction, in the ardour of his play, but never so completely as
on the day that, tempted by Charlie Chisholm, the most reckless, daring
youngster in the neighbourhood, he went away off into the back-lands, as
the woods beyond the hill pasture were called, in search of an eagle’s
nest, which the unveracious Charlie assured him was to be seen high up
in a certain dead monarch of the forest.
It was a beautiful afternoon, toward the end of August, when Bert, his
imagination fired by the thought of obtaining a young eagle, Charlie
having assured him that this was entirely possible, broke through all
restraints, and went off with his tempter. Unseen by any of the
household, as it happened, they passed through the milk yard, climbed
the hill, hastened across the pasture, dotted with the feeding cows, and
soon were lost to sight in the woods that fringed the line of settlement
on both sides of the valley, and farther on widened into the great
forest that was traversed only by the woodsman and the hunter.
On and on they went, until at length Bert was tired out. “Aren’t we far
enough now, Charlie?” he asked, plaintively, throwing himself down upon
a fallen tree to rest a little.
“Not quite, Bert; but we’ll soon be,” answered Charlie. “Let’s take a
rest, and then go ahead,” he added, following Bert’s example.
Having rested a few minutes, Charlie sprang up saying:
“Come along, Bert; or we’ll never get there.” And somewhat reluctantly
the latter obeyed. Deeper and deeper into the forest they made their
way, Charlie going ahead confidently, and Bert following doubtfully; for
he was already beginning to repent of his rashness, and wish that he was
Presently Charlie showed signs of being uncertain as to the right route.
He would turn first to the right and then to the left, peering eagerly
ahead, as if hoping to come upon the big dead tree at any moment.
Finally he stopped altogether.
“See here, Bert; I guess we ’re on the wrong track,” said he, coolly.
“I’ve missed the tree somehow, and it’s getting late, so we’d better
make for home. We’ll have a try some other day.”
Poor little Bert, by this time thoroughly weary, was only too glad to
turn homeward, and the relief at doing this gave him new strength for a
while. But it did not last very long, and soon, footsore and exhausted,
he dropped down upon a bank of moss, and burst into tears.
“Oh, Charlie, I wish we were home,” he sobbed. “I’m so tired, and
Charlie did not know just what to do. It was getting on toward sundown;
he had quite lost his way, and might be a good while finding it again,
and he felt pretty well tired himself. But he put on a brave face and
tried to be very cheerful, as he said:
“Don’t cry, Bert. Cheer up, my boy, and we’ll soon get home.”
It was all very well to say “cheer up,” but it was another thing to do
it. As for getting home soon, if there were no other way for Bert to get
home than by walking the whole way, there was little chance of his
sleeping in his own bed that night.
How thoroughly miserable he did feel! His conscience, his legs, and his
stomach, were all paining him at once. He bitterly repented of his
disobedience, and vowed he would never err in the same way again. But
that, while it was all very right and proper, did not help him homeward.
At length Charlie grew desperate. He had no idea of spending the night
in the woods if he could possibly help it, so he proposed a plan to
“See here, Bert,” said he, “you’re too played out to walk any more. Now,
I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll run home as fast as I can, and saddle
the old mare and bring her here, and then we’ll ride back again
together. What do you say?”
“Oh, don’t leave me here alone?” pleaded Bert. “I’ll be awfully
“Chut! Bert. There’s nothing to frighten you but some old crows. Stay
just where you are, and I’ll be back inside of an hour.” And without
waiting to argue the point, Charlie dashed off into the woods in the
direction he thought nearest home; while Bert, after crying out in vain
for him to come back, buried his face in the moss and gave himself up to
One hour, two hours, three hours passed, and still Bert was alone. The
sun had set, the gloaming well-nigh passed, and the shadows of night
drew near. All kinds of queer noises fell upon his ear, filling him with
acute terror. He dared not move from the spot upon which Charlie had
left him, but sat there, crouched up close against a tree, trembling
with fear in every nerve. At intervals he would break out into vehement
crying, and then he would be silent again. Presently the darkness
enveloped him, and still no succour came.
Meantime, there had been much anxiety at Maplebank. On Bert’s being
missed, diligent inquiry was made as to his whereabouts, and at length,
after much questioning, some one was found who had seen him, in company
with Charlie Chisholm, going up through the hill pasture toward the
woods. When Mrs. Lloyd heard who his companion was, her anxiety
increased, for she well knew what a reckless, adventurous little fellow
Charlie was, and she determined that search should be made for the boys
at once. But in this she was delayed by Uncle Alec and the men being off
at a distance, and not returning until supper time. So soon as they did
get back, and heard of Bert’s disappearance, they swallowed their
supper, and all started without delay to hunt him up.
The dusk had come before the men—headed by Uncle Alec, and followed, as
far as the foot of the hill, by the old Squire—got well started on their
search; but they were half-a-dozen in number, and all knew the country
pretty well, so that the prospect of their finding the lost boy soon
seemed bright enough.
Yet the dusk deepened into darkness, and hour after hour passed—hours of
intense anxiety and earnest prayer on the part of the mother and others
at Maplebank—without any token of success.
Mrs. Lloyd was not naturally a nervous woman, but who could blame her if
her feelings refused control when her darling boy was thus exposed to
dangers, the extent of which none could tell.
The Squire did his best to cheer her in his bluff, blunt way:
“Tut! tut! Kate. Don’t worry so. The child’s just fallen asleep
somewhere. He’ll be found as soon as it’s light. There’s nothing to harm
him in those woods.”
Mrs. Lloyd tried hard to persuade herself that there wasn’t, but all
kinds of vague terrors filled her mind, and refused to be allayed.
At length, as it drew toward midnight, a step was heard approaching, and
the anxious watchers rushed eagerly to the door, hoping for good news.
But it was only one of the men, returning according to arrangement to
see if Bert had been found, and if not to set forth again along some new
line of search. After a little interval another came, and then another,
until all had returned, Uncle Alec being the last, and still no news of
They were bidden to take some rest and refreshment before going back
into the woods. While they were sitting in the kitchen, Uncle Alec, who
was exceedingly fond of Bert, and felt more concerned about him than he
cared to show, having no appetite for food, went off toward the red gate
with no definite purpose except that he could not keep still.
Presently the still midnight air was startled with a joyful “Hurrah!”
followed close by a shout of “Bert’s all right—he’s here,” that brought
the people in the house tumbling pell-mell against each other in their
haste to reach the door and see what it all meant.
Crazy Colin strode up the road, bearing
Bert high upon his shoulder
The light from the
kitchen streamed out upon the road, making a broad luminous path, up
which the next moment strode Crazy Colin, bearing Bert high upon his
broad shoulders, while his swarthy countenance fairly shone with a smile
of pride and satisfaction that clearly showed he did not need Uncle
Alec’s enthusiastic clappings on the back, and hearty “Well done, Colin!
You’re a trump!” to make him understand the importance of what he had
The two were at once surrounded by the overjoyed family. After giving
her darling one passionate hug, Mrs. Lloyd took both of Crazy Colin’s
hands in hers, and, looking up into his beaming face, said, with a deep
sincerity even his dull brain could not fail to appreciate: “God bless
you, Colin. I cannot thank you enough, but I’ll be your friend for
life;” while the Squire, having blown his nose very vigorously on his
red silk handkerchief, grasped Colin by the arm, dragged him into the
house, and ordered that the best the larder could produce should be
placed before him at once. It was a happy scene, and no one enjoyed it
more than did Crazy Colin himself.
The exact details of the rescue of Bert were never fully ascertained;
for, of course, poor Colin could not make them known, his range of
expression being limited to his mere personal wants, and Bert himself
being able to tell no more than that while lying at the foot of the
tree, and crying pretty vigorously, he heard a rustling among the trees
that sent a chill of terror through him, and then the sound of Crazy
Colins talk with himself, which he recognised instantly. Forgetting all
about the fright Colin had given him a few days before, he shouted out
his name. Colin came to him at once, and seeming to understand the
situation at a glance, picked him up in his strong arms, flung him over
his shoulder, and strode off toward Maplebank with him as though he were
a mere feather-weight and not a sturdy boy. Dark as it was, Colin never
hesitated, nor paused, except now and then to rest a moment, until he
reached the red gate where Uncle Alec met him, and welcomed him so
Mrs. Lloyd did not think it wise nor necessary to say very much to Bert
about his disobedience. If ever there was a contrite, humbled boy, it
was he. He had learned a lesson that he would be long in forgetting. As
for his tempter, Charlie Chisholm, he did not turn up until the next
morning, having lost himself completely in his endeavour to get home;
and it was only after many hours of wandering he found his way to an
outlying cabin of the backwoods settlement, where he was given shelter
for the night.