Three weeks passed quickly. October had already reached its middle point. The glory of the Indian summer was close at hand. Too quickly the days fled for the little family at the farm, for they knew that each brought nearer the parting of which they could not bear to think.
Jacob Carter, who had been sent for to do the heavy work on the farm, had arrived. He was a man of forty, stout and able to work, but had enjoyed few opportunities of cultivating his mind. Though a faithful laborer, he was destitute of the energy and ambition which might ere this have placed him in charge of a farm of his own. In New England few arrive at his age without achieving some position more desirable and independent than that of farm laborer. However, he looked pleasant and good-natured, and Mr. Frost accounted himself fortunate in securing his services.
The harvest had been got in, and during the winter months there would not be so much to do as before. Jacob, therefore, "hired out" for a smaller compensation, to be increased when the spring work came in.
Frank had not been idle. He had accompanied his father about the farm, and received as much practical instruction in the art of farming as the time would admit. He was naturally a quick learner, and now felt impelled by a double motive to prepare himself as well as possible to assume his new responsibilities. His first motive was, of course, to make up his father's loss to the family, as far as it was possible for him to do so, but he was also desirous of showing Mrs. Roxana Mason and other ill-boding prophets that they had underrated his abilities.
The time came when Mr. Frost felt that he must leave his family. He had enlisted from preference in an old regiment, already in Virginia, some members of which had gone from Rossville. A number of recruits were to be forwarded to the camp on a certain day, and that day was now close at hand.
Let me introduce the reader to the farmhouse on the last evening for many months when they would be able to be together. They were all assembled about the fireplace. Mr. Frost sat in an armchair, holding Charlie in his lap--the privileged place of the youngest. Alice, with the air of a young woman, sat demurely by her father's side on a cricket, while Maggie stood beside him, with one hand resting on his knee. Frank sat quietly beside his mother, as if already occupying the place which he was in future to hold as her counselor and protector.
Frank and his mother looked sober. They had not realized fully until this evening what it would be to part with the husband and father--how constantly they would miss him at the family meal and in the evening circle. Then there was the dreadful uncertainty of war. He might never return, or, if spared for that, it might be with broken constitution or the loss of a limb.
"If it hadn't been for me," Frank could not help thinking, "father would not now be going away. He would have stayed at home, and I could still go to school. It would have made a great difference to us, and the loss of one man could not affect the general result."
A moment after his conscience rebuked him for harboring so selfish a thought.
"The country needs him more even than we do," he said to himself. "It will be a hard trial to have him go, but it is our duty."
"Will my little Charlie miss me when I am gone?" asked Mr. Frost of the chubby-faced boy who sat with great, round eyes peering into the fire, as if he were deeply engaged in thought.
"Won't you take me with you, papa?" asked Charlie.
"What could you do if you were out there, my little boy?" asked the father, smiling.
"I'd shoot great big rebel with my gun," said Charlie, waxing valiant.
"Your gun's only a wooden one," said Maggie, with an air of superior knowledge. "You couldn't kill a rebel with that."
"I'd kill 'em some," persisted Charlie earnestly, evidently believing that a wooden gun differed from others not in kind, but in degree.
"But suppose the rebels should fire at you," said Frank, amused. "What would you do then, Charlie?"
Charlie looked into the fire thoughtfully for a moment, as if this contingency had not presented itself to his mind until now. Suddenly his face brightened up, and he answered. "I'd run away just as fast as I could."
All laughed at this, and Frank said: "But that wouldn't be acting like a brave soldier, Charlie. You ought to stay and make the enemy run."
"I wouldn't want to stay and be shooted," said Charlie ingenuously.
"There are many older than Charlie," said Mr. Frost, smiling, "who would doubtless sympathize entirely with him in his objection to being shooted, though they might not be quite so ready to make confession as he has shown himself. I suppose you have heard the couplet:
" 'He who fights and runs away May live to fight another day.' "
"Pray don't speak about shooting," said Mrs. Frost, with a shudder. "It makes me feel nervous."
"And to-night we should only admit pleasant thoughts," said her husband. "Who is going to write me letters when I am gone?"
"I'll write to you, father," said Alice.
"And so will I," said Maggie.
"I, too," chimed in Charlie.
"Then, if you have so many correspondents already engaged, you will hardly want to hear from Frank and myself," said his wife, smiling.
"The more the better. I suspect I shall find letters more welcome than anything else. You must also send me papers regularly. I shall have many hours that will pass heavily unless I have something to read."
"I'll mail you Harper's Weekly regularly, shall I, father?" asked Frank.
"Yes, I shall be glad enough to see it. Then, there is one good thing about papers--after enjoying them myself, I can pass them round to others. There are many privations that I must make up my mind to, but I shall endeavor to make camp-life as pleasant as possible to myself and others."
"I wish you were going out as an officer," said Mrs. Frost. "You would have more indulgences."
"Very probably I should. But I don't feel inclined to wish myself better off than others. I am: willing to serve my country in any capacity in which I can be of use. Thank Heaven, I am pretty strong and healthy, and better fitted than many to encounter the fatigues and exposures which are the lot of the private."
"How early must you start to-morrow, father?" inquired Frank.
"By daylight. I must be in Boston by nine o'clock, and you know it is a five-mile ride to the depot. I shall want you to carry me over."
"Will there be room for me?" asked Mrs. Frost. "I want to see the last of you."
"I hope you won't do that for a long time to come," said Mr. Frost, smiling.
"You know what I mean, Henry."
"Oh, yes, there will be room. At any rate, we will make room for you. And now it seems to me it is time for these little folks to go to bed. Charlie finds it hard work to keep his eyes open."
"Oh, papa, papa, not yet, not yet," pleaded the children; and with the thought that it might be many a long day before he saw their sweet young faces again, the father suffered them to have their way.
After the children had gone to bed Frank and his father and mother sat up for a long time. Each felt that there was much to be said, but no one of them felt like saying much then. Thoughts of the approaching separation swallowed up all others. The thought kept recurring that to-morrow would see them many miles apart, and that many a long to-morrow must pass before they would again be gathered around the fire.
"Frank," said his father, at length, "I have deposited in the Brandon Bank four hundred dollars, about half of which I have realized from crops sold this season. This you will draw upon as you have need, for grocery bills, to pay Jacob, etc. For present purposes I will hand you fifty dollars, which I advise you to put under your mother's care."
As he finished speaking, Mr. Frost drew from his pocketbook a roll of bills and handed them to Frank.
Frank opened his portemonnaie and deposited the money therein.
He had never before so large a sum of money in his possession, and although he knew it was not to be spent for his own benefit--at least, no considerable part of it--he felt a sense of importance and even wealth in being the custodian of so much money. He felt that his father had confidence in him, and that he was in truth going to be his representative.
"A part of the money which I have in the bank," continued his father, "has been saved up toward the payment of the mortgage on the farm."
"When does it come due, father?"
"On the first of July of next year."
"But you won't be prepared to meet it at that time?"
"No, but undoubtedly Squire Haynes will be willing to renew it. I always pay the interest promptly, and he knows it is secured by the farm, and therefore a safe investment. By the way, I had nearly forgotten to say that there will be some interest due on the first of January. Of course, you are authorized to pay it just as if you were myself."
"How much will it be?"
"Twenty-four dollars--that is, six months' interest at six per cent. on eight hundred dollars."
"I wish the farm were free from encumbrance," said Frank.
"So do I; and if Providence favors me it shall be before many years are past. But in farming one can't expect to lay by money quite as fast as in some other employments."
The old clock in the corner here struck eleven.
"We mustn't keep you up too late the last night, Henry," said Mrs. Frost. "You will need a good night's sleep to carry you through to-morrow."
Neither of the three closed their eyes early that night. Thoughts of the morrow were naturally in their minds. At last all was still. Sleep--God's beneficent messenger--wrapped their senses in oblivion, and the cares and anxieties of the morrow were for a time forgotten.