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How Bunny Brought Good Luck by Susan Coolidge

 

It was Midsummer's Day, that delightful point toward which the whole year climbs, and from which it slips off like an ebbing wave in the direction of the distant winter. No wonder that superstitious people in old times gave this day to the fairies, for it is the most beautiful day of all. The world seems full of bird-songs, sunshine, and flower-smells then; storm and sorrow appear impossible things; the barest and ugliest spot takes on a brief charm and, for the moment, seems lovely and desirable.

“That's a picturesque old place,” said a lady on the back seat of the big wagon in which Hiram Swift was taking his summer boarders to drive.

They were passing a low, wide farmhouse, gray from want of paint, with a shabby barn and sheds attached, all overarched by tall elms. The narrow hay-field and the vegetable-patch ended in a rocky hillside, with its steep ledges, overgrown and topped with tall pines and firs, which made a dense green background to the old buildings.

“I don't know about its being like a picter,” said Hiram, dryly, as he flicked away a fly from the shoulder of his horse, “but it isn't much by way of a farm. That bit of hay-field is about all the land there is that's worth anything; the rest is all rock. I guess the Widow Gale doesn't take much comfort in its bein' picturesque. She'd be glad enough to have the land made flat, if she could.”

“Oh, is that the Gale farm, where the silver-mine is said to be?”

“Yes, marm; at least, it's the farm where the man lived that, 'cordin' to what folks say, said he'd found a silver-mine. I don't take a great deal of stock in the story myself.”

“A silver-mine! That sounds interesting,” said a pretty girl on the front seat, who had been driving the horses half the way, aided and abetted by Hiram, with whom she was a prime favorite. “Tell me about it, Mr. Swift. Is it a story, and when did it all happen?”

“Well, I don't know as it ever did happen,” responded the farmer, cautiously. “All I know for certain is, that my father used to tell a story that, before I was born (nigh on to sixty years ago, that must have been), Squire Asy Allen—that used to live up to that red house on North Street, where you bought the crockery mug, you know, Miss Rose—come up one day in a great hurry to catch the stage, with a lump of rock tied in his handkerchief. Old Roger Gale had found it, he said, and they thought it was silver ore; and the Squire was a-takin' it down to New Haven to get it analyzed. My father, he saw the rock, but he didn't think much of it from the looks, till the Squire got back ten days afterward and said the New Haven professor pronounced it silver, sure enough, and a rich specimen; and any man who owned a mine of it had his fortune made, he said. Then, of course, the township got excited, and everybody talked silver, and there was a great to-do.”

“And why didn't they go to work on the mine at once?” asked the pretty girl.

“Well, you see, unfortunately, no one knew where it was, and old Roger Gale had taken that particular day, of all others, to fall off his hay-riggin' and break his neck, and he hadn't happened to mention to any one before doing so where he found the rock! He was a close-mouthed old chap, Roger was. For ten years after that, folks that hadn't anything else to do went about hunting for the silver-mine, but they gradooally got tired, and now it's nothin' more than an old story. Does to amuse boarders with in the summer,” concluded Mr. Swift, with a twinkle. “For my part, I don't believe there ever was a mine.”

“But there was the piece of ore to prove it.”

“Oh, that don't prove anything, because it got lost. No one knows what became of it. An' sixty years is long enough for a story to get exaggerated in.”

“I don't see why there shouldn't be silver in Beulah township,” remarked the lady on the back seat. “You have all kinds of other minerals here,—soapstone and mica and emery and tourmalines and beryls.”

“Well, ma'am, I don't see nuther, unless, mebbe, it's the Lord's will there shouldn't be.”

“It would be so interesting if the mine could be found!” said the pretty girl.

“It would be so, especially to the Gale family,—that is, if it was found on their land. The widow's a smart, capable woman, but it's as much as she can do, turn and twist how she may, to make both ends meet. And there's that boy of hers, a likely boy as ever you see, and just hungry for book-l'arnin', the minister says. The chance of an eddication would be just everything to him, and the widow can't give him one.”

“It's really a romance,” said the pretty girl, carelessly, the wants and cravings of others slipping off her young sympathies easily.

Then the horses reached the top of the long hill they had been climbing, Hiram put on the brake, and they began to grind down a hill equally long, with a soft panorama of plumy tree-clad summits before them, shimmering in the June sunshine. Drives in Beulah township were apt to be rather perpendicular, however you took them.

Some one, high up on the hill behind the farmhouse, heard the clank of the brakes, and lifted up her head to listen. It was Hester Gale,—a brown little girl, with quick dark eyes, and a mane of curly chestnut hair, only too apt to get into tangles. She was just eight years old, and to her the old farmstead, which the neighbors scorned as worthless, was a sort of enchanted land, full of delights and surprises,—hiding-places which no one but herself knew, rocks and thickets where she was sure real fairies dwelt, and cubby-houses sacred to the use of “Bunny,” who was her sole playmate and companion, and the confidant to whom she told all her plans and secrets.

Bunny was a doll,—an old-fashioned doll, carved out of a solid piece of hickory-wood, with a stern expression of face, and a perfectly unyielding figure; but a doll whom Hester loved above all things. Her mother and her mother's mother had played with Bunny, but this only made her the dearer.

The two sat together between the gnarled roots of an old spruce which grew near the edge of a steep little cliff. It was one of the loneliest parts of the rocky hillside, and the hardest to get at. Hester liked it better than any of her other hiding-places, because no one but herself ever came there.

Bunny lay in her lap, and Hester was in the middle of a story, when she stopped to listen to the wagon grinding down-hill.

“So the little chicken said, 'Peep! Peep!' and started off to see what the big yellow fox was like,” she went on. “That was a silly thing for her to do, wasn't it, Bunny? because foxes aren't a bit nice to chickens. But the little chicken didn't know any better, and she wouldn't listen to the old hens when they told her how foolish she was. That was wrong, because it's naughty to dis—dis—apute your elders, mother says; children that do are almost always sorry afterward.

“Well, she hadn't gone far before she heard a rustle in the bushes on one side. She thought it was the fox, and then she did feel frightened, you'd better believe, and all the things she meant to say to him went straight out of her head. But it wasn't the fox that time; it was a teeny-weeny little striped squirrel, and he just said, 'It's a sightly day, isn't it?' and, without waiting for an answer, ran up a tree. So the chicken didn't mind him a bit.

“Then, by and by, when she had gone a long way farther off from home, she heard another rustle. It was just like—Oh, what's that, Bunny?”

Hester stopped short, and I am sorry to say that Bunny never heard the end of the chicken story, for the rustle resolved itself into—what do you think?

It was a fox! A real fox!

There he stood on the hillside, gazing straight at Hester, with his yellow brush waving behind him, and his eyes looking as sharp as the row of gleaming teeth beneath them. Foxes were rare animals in the Beulah region. Hester had never seen one before; but she had seen the picture of a fox in one of Roger's books, so she knew what it was.

The fox stared at her, and she stared back at the fox. Then her heart melted with fear, like the heart of the little chicken, and she jumped to her feet, forgetting Bunny, who fell from her lap, and rolled unobserved over the edge of the cliff. The sudden movement startled the fox, and he disappeared into the bushes with a wave of his yellow brush; just how or where he went, Hester could not have told.

“How sorry Roger will be that he wasn't here to see him!” was her first thought. Her second was for Bunny. She turned, and stooped to pick up the doll—and lo! Bunny was not there.

High and low she searched, beneath grass tangles, under “juniper saucers,” among the stems of the thickly massed blueberries and hardhacks, but nowhere was Bunny to be seen. She peered over the ledge, but nothing met her eyes below but a thick growth of blackish, stunted evergreens. This place “down below” had been a sort of terror to Hester's imagination always, as an entirely unknown and unexplored region; but in the cause of the beloved Bunny she was prepared to risk anything, and she bravely made ready to plunge into the depths.

It was not so easy to plunge, however. The cliff was ten or twelve feet in height where she stood, and ran for a considerable distance to right and left without getting lower. This way and that she quested, and at last found a crevice where it was possible to scramble down,—a steep little crevice, full of blackberry briers, which scratched her face and tore her frock. When at last she gained the lower bank, this further difficulty presented itself: she could not tell where she was. The evergreen thicket nearly met over her head, the branches got into her eyes, and buffeted and bewildered her. She could not make out the place where she had been sitting, and no signs of Bunny could be found. At last, breathless with exertion, tired, hot, and hopeless, she made her way out of the thicket, and went, crying, home to her mother.

She was still crying, and refusing to be comforted, when Roger came in from milking. He was sorry for Hester, but not so sorry as he would have been had his mind not been full of troubles of his own. He tried to console her with a vague promise of helping her to look for Bunny “some day when there wasn't so much to do.” But this was cold comfort, and, in the end, Hester went to bed heartbroken, to sob herself to sleep.

“Mother,” said Roger, after she had gone, “Jim Boies is going to his uncle's, in New Ipswich, in September, to do chores and help round a little, and to go all winter to the academy.”

The New Ipswich Academy was quite a famous school then, and to go there was a great chance for a studious boy.

“That's a bit of good luck for Jim.”

“Yes; first-rate.”

“Not quite so first-rate for you.”

“No” (gloomily). “I shall miss Jim. He's always been my best friend among the boys. But what makes me mad is that he doesn't care a bit about going. Mother, why doesn't good luck ever come to us Gales?”

“It was good luck for me when you came, Roger. I don't know how I should get along without you.”

“I'd be worth a great deal more to you if I could get a chance at any sort of schooling. Doesn't it seem hard, Mother? There's Squire Dennis and Farmer Atwater, and half a dozen others in this township, who are all ready to send their boys to college, and the boys don't want to go! Bob Dennis says that he'd far rather do teaming in the summer, and take the girls up to singing practice at the church, than go to all the Harvards and Yales in the world; and I, who'd give my head, almost, to go to college, can't! It doesn't seem half right, Mother.”

“No, Roger, it doesn't; not a quarter. There are a good many things that don't seem right in this world, but I don't know who's to mend 'em. I can't. The only way is to dig along hard and do what's to be done as well as you can, whatever it is, and make the best of your 'musts.' There's always a 'must.' I suppose rich people have them as well as poor ones.”

“Rich people's boys can go to college.”

“Yes,—and mine can't. I'd sell all we've got to send you, Roger, since your heart is so set on it, but this poor little farm wouldn't be half enough, even if any one wanted to buy it, which isn't likely. It's no use talking about it, Roger; it only makes both of us feel bad.—Did you kill the 'broilers' for the hotel?” she asked with a sudden change of tone.

“No, not yet.”

“Go and do it, then, right away. You'll have to carry them down early with the eggs. Four pairs, Roger. Chickens are the best crop we can raise on this farm.”

“If we could find Great-uncle Roger's mine, we'd eat the chickens ourselves,” said Roger, as he reluctantly turned to go.

“Yes, and if that apple-tree'd take to bearing gold apples, we wouldn't have to work at all. Hurry and do your chores before dark, Roger.”

Mrs. Gale was a Spartan in her methods, but, for all that, she sighed a bitter sigh as Roger went out of the door.

“He's such a smart boy,” she told herself, “there's nothing he couldn't do,—nothing, if he had a chance. I do call it hard. The folks who have plenty of money to do with have dull boys; and I, who've got a bright one, can't do anything for him! It seems as if things weren't justly arranged.”

Hester spent all her spare time during the next week in searching for the lost Bunny. It rained hard one day, and all the following night; she could not sleep for fear that Bunny was getting wet, and looked so pale in the morning that her mother forbade her going to the hill.

“Your feet were sopping when you came in yesterday,” she said; “and that's the second apron you've torn. You'll just have to let Bunny go, Hester; no two ways about it.”

Then Hester moped and grieved and grew thin, and at last she fell ill. It was low fever, the doctor said. Several days went by, and she was no better. One noon, Roger came in from haying to find his mother with her eyes looking very much troubled. “Hester is light-headed,” she said; “we must have the doctor again.”

Roger went in to look at the child, who was lying in a little bedroom off the kitchen. The small, flushed face on the pillow did not light up at his approach. On the contrary, Hester's eyes, which were unnaturally big and bright, looked past and beyond him.

“Hessie, dear, don't you know Roger?”

“He said he'd find Bunny for me some day,” muttered the little voice; “but he never did. Oh, I wish he would!—I wish he would! I do want her so much!” Then she rambled on about foxes, and the old spruce-tree, and the rocks,—always with the refrain, “I wish I had Bunny; I want her so much!”

“Mother, I do believe it's that wretched old doll she's fretted herself sick over,” said Roger, going back into the kitchen. “Now, I'll tell you what! Mr. Hinsdale's going up to the town this noon, and he'll leave word for the doctor to come; and the minute I've swallowed my dinner, I'm going up to the hill to find Bunny. I don't believe Hessie'll get any better till she's found.”

“Very well,” said Mrs. Gale. “I suppose the hay'll be spoiled, but we've got to get Hessie cured at any price.”

“Oh, I'll find the doll. I know about where Hessie was when she lost it. And the hay'll take no harm. I only got a quarter of the field cut, and it's good drying weather.”

Roger made haste with his dinner. His conscience pricked him as he remembered his neglected promise and his indifference to Hester's griefs; he felt in haste to make amends. He went straight to the old spruce, which, he had gathered from Hester's rambling speech, was the scene of Bunny's disappearance. It was easily found, being the oldest and largest on the hillside.

Roger had brought a stout stick with him, and now, leaning over the cliff edge, he tried to poke with it in the branches below, while searching for the dolly. But the stick was not long enough, and slipped through his fingers, disappearing suddenly and completely through the evergreens.

“Hallo!” cried Roger. “There must be a hole there of some sort. Bunny's at the bottom of it, no doubt. Here goes to find her!”

His longer legs made easy work of the steep descent which had so puzzled his little sister. Presently he stood, waist-deep, in tangled hemlock boughs, below the old spruce. He parted the bushes in advance, and moved cautiously forward, step by step. He felt a cavity just before him, but the thicket was so dense that he could see nothing.

Feeling for his pocket-knife, which luckily was a stout one, he stood still, cutting, slashing, and breaking off the tough boughs, and throwing them on one side. It was hard work, but after ten minutes a space was cleared which let in a ray of light, and, with a hot, red face and surprised eyes, Roger Gale stooped over the edge of a rocky cavity, on the sides of which something glittered and shone. He swung himself over the edge, and dropped into the hole, which was but a few feet deep. His foot struck on something hard as he landed. He stooped to pick it up, and his hand encountered a soft substance. He lifted both objects out together.

The soft substance was a doll's woollen frock. There, indeed, was the lost Bunny, looking no whit the worse for her adventures, and the hard thing on which her wooden head had lain was a pickaxe,—an old iron pick, red with rust. Three letters were rudely cut on the handle,—R. P. G. They were Roger's own initials. Roger Perkins Gale. It had been his father's name also, and that of the great-uncle after whom they both were named.

With an excited cry, Roger stooped again, and lifted out of the hole a lump of quartz mingled with ore. Suddenly he realized where he was and what he had found. This was the long lost silver-mine, whose finding and whose disappearance had for so many years been a tradition in the township. Here it was that old Roger Gale had found his “speciment,” knocked off probably with that very pick, and, covering up all traces of his discovery, had gone sturdily off to his farm-work, to meet his death next week on the hay-rigging, with the secret locked within his breast. For sixty years the evergreen thicket had grown and toughened and guarded the hidden cavity beneath its roots; and it might easily have done so for sixty years longer, if Bunny,—little wooden Bunny, with her lack-lustre eyes and expressionless features,—had not led the way into its tangles.

Hester got well. When Roger placed the doll in her arms, she seemed to come to herself, fondled and kissed her, and presently dropped into a satisfied sleep, from which she awoke conscious and relieved. The “mine” did not prove exactly a mine,—it was not deep or wide enough for that; but the ore in it was rich in quality, and the news of its finding made a great stir in the neighborhood. Mrs. Gale was offered a price for her hillside which made her what she considered a rich woman, and she was wise enough to close with the offer at once, and neither stand out for higher terms nor risk the chance of mining on her own account. She and her family left the quiet little farmhouse soon after that, and went to live in Worcester. Roger had all the schooling he desired, and made ready for Harvard and the law-school, where he worked hard, and laid the foundations of what has since proved a brilliant career. You may be sure that Bunny went to Worcester also, treated and regarded as one of the most valued members of the family. Hester took great care of her, and so did Hester's little girl later on; and even Mrs. Gale spoke respectfully of her always, and treated her with honor. For was it not Bunny who broke the long spell of evil fate, and brought good luck back to the Gale family?