The Mexia Weekly Herald (Mexia, Tex.), Vol. 12, Ed. 1 Thursday, December 14, 1911 Page: 2 of 16
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ROUGH hut crouching along upon
A the hill in the forest, half hidden in
the thicket of naked boughs. Before
. it, a hemlock tree, almost black in the
Btfij iJj-tjt. nil in the early dawn
and pointing with hundreds of frozen fjngers
to the sombre earth.
Presently the one door of the hut opens
slowly, and an old 'man comes forth clothed
in dingy rags. Barely glancing at the sky and
shivering with cold, he totters down the
slope of the hill, an<j bending, gathers one by
one the dry sticks that lie about his feet. •
No one witnessing the scene would suppose
that holiday thoughts could ever reach the
spot, or that before many hours the merry
Christmas bells would startle the echoes from
their hiding places around the dismal abode.
There is no glow of expectation upon the
old man's face as, mechanically, his jagged
armful is borne into the hut and laid upon the
rough hearthstone, and when, afterward, a
steam of smoke issued from a long rusty pipe,
projecting from the walls, it creeps languidly
to the earth, as if "even her froien bosom were
warmer and more genial than the fire it has
Sometimes when on clear, bright days the
smoke curled hurriedly up from this same pipe,
eager to escape into the sunshine—the village
children, looking up from the valley, would
shout to each other that "Old Pop" was awake
and the bravest of them would propose a visit
to his mysterious dwelling. The expedition
once resolved upon, boys and girls by the
dozens would soon join the ranks, and with
many a wihsper and startled laugh the pro-
cession would wend Us way up and down the
forest hills until the forbidden eminence was
reached, where "Old Pop" reigned supreme.
Here their unwilling host would quickly ap-
pear, and with angry frown and furious shout,
scatter his uninvited guests at the first flourish
of his hugh stick, though the little scamperers
would often halt at a safe distance and rend
the air with merry shouts, expressive of any-
thing but love for the grim old man.
Many stories were current in the village
concerning the "Hermit of the Hills," as he
was called bv the people of the place, though
among the children he invariably bore the un-
dignifted title of "Old Pop." Sour and grim
"See, He's Hurt; He Dosen't Get Up"
the little folks well knew him to be, and his
violence had always expended itself in angry
words and a ferocious shaking of his stick;
never had a blow fallen from his hand upon a
single pair of little shoulders, though more
than once he had caught a stray invader near
his very threshold.
"He won't hurt us, never fear!" the boldest
of their leaders would sometimes say, by way
of encouragement, "though he hates us awful-
ly. They say the very sight of a child makes
"They say," was a power in this village, as
it has proven elsewhere, as unquestioned and
despotic as any of the Gossipic Dynasty. So,
of course, as "they" said it, not a man, woman
of child in the place ventured to doubt the
assertion. The other rumors circulated by the
great "They Say" were that the old man was a
miser, and had nf «nt<rf huried under the
• ^ f - * f — Q
roots of his chestnuts and maples; that he was
some great criminal sulking from justice; that
before the village was settled the old hermit
hid already taken up his abode in the dreary
hut, and that the mound near it was a grave
—the grave of one whom the old man had,
years before, carried there at night, dying or
dead. Again that he was not an old man at
all, but one still in the vigor of manhood.
Many a boy and girl testified to having seen
his bent figure straightened in his wrath until
he had towered like a very Orson. Some of
the villagers believed him to be a lunatic, and
thanked their lucky stars that he choosed to
keep aloof from their sunny lanes; and others
even went so far as to hint that he was a
"weird one," gifted with strange powers, and
that his very donkey, lean and weak-jointed as
it was, has a "wrong" look out of its weak
eyes. No one had ever seen the donkey ex-
cept at nightfall, when, on very rare occasions,
one chanced to meet the old hermit riding
slowly in an opposite direction to the village.
However all this may have been, some points
were quite certain. "Old Pop" was not at all
like other men. He lived alone and uncared for
in his broken down hut; sought no company—
never speaking to any of the villagers, ex-
cepting very rarely to the schoolmaster, or
even returning their salutations, when they
crossed his path, but by a low sound, half mut-
tered, half growl, and never by any chance hav-
ing a kind word or pleasant greeting for boy
or girl. Unloved he knew himself to be, and
he evidently had resolved to balance his ac-
count with humanity by being himself un-
loved to the last.
It happened that on the Very morning with
which my history opens—December 23—one
of the biggest boys of the village had an idea.
No one, seeing him seated upon the edge of
the bed, his carroty locks disheveled, his
freckled face unwashed, to say nothing of a
chronic swelling of lips and eyelids, would
have deemed the thing possible; yet the fact
is on rccord. Will Ripley (called William
Augustus by his parfents and aunts), albeit not
a bright boy, hid under his unprepossessing ex-
terior a jewel that on this particular morning
had succeeded in flashing a ray of light into
his dull head, and the consequence was an idea
which, if successfully carried out, would se-
cure glory for himself and infinite fun for a
host of young adventurers.
The idea was nothing less than a project to
form a large party of boys, who, at noon that
day should march in a body to "Old Pop's"
domain, and, in spite of his certain wrath, beg
from him the beautiful young hemlock before
his hut as a Christmas tree for Jennie Todd,
the juvenile belle of the village. The jewel that
inspired the exploit was a warm heart under
Will's jacket, beating just now soely for that
same Jennie Todd, a blooming damsel of just
No sooner was the idea conceived than Will
set about carrying it to completion. His tight
jacket and outgrown trousers being hastily
donned, and sundry hugh mouthfuls of mush
and molasses disposed of, our hero commenced
his labors as recruiting officer. It was just
two days before Christmas, and the first morn-
ing of a fortnight holiday; the children were
consequently in a highly receptive condition
as far as fun and adventure were concerned.
Numerous volunteers quickly enrolled them-
selves under the banner of William Augustus.
In the general enthusiasm even the petticoat
uniform was admitted upon equal terms, until
finally their brilliant commander aulked out
that ne wasn't "going to have more gals than
boys, of the game would be all up."
Before starting on their witless expedition,
the party agreed that six of their number, three
boys and three girls, should advance nearest
the citadel, and under an imaginary flag ol
truce confer with the glum commander there-
of concerning the desired hemlock; not that
they had any possible expectation of a favor-
able reply, but, as Will had said, the thing
was worth trying for at any rate.
This potent argument inspired all with re-
quisite strength and courage as the children
hurried on in boisterous groups toward the
forest. Soon their steps became more stealthy
their voices subdued, as they marched on,^ up
and down, through the undulated wood. Now
and then a faint shriek from some startled
girl who felt "sure" that she saw Old Pop
rushine down unon them, called forth the
stifled reproaches of her companions; or the
reckless laugh of some very small youngster
who had insisted upon joining the expedition,
brought terrible hints of future rertibution for
the big boys. Save these episodes the invaders
pressed on in stealthy concert until the her-
mit's hill was reached.
Halting here, the main body settled in anx-
ious expectation, while three boys and three
girls, after the manner of Shem, Ham and Jap-
heth, and their wives—as represented in six-
penny arks—walked in pairs hand in hand up
"What shall we say to him?" whispered
Elsie Brown, the head girl to her companion.
"Say?" was the lucid response, "Why noth-
ing, only tell him we want it."
Oh, Will, that won't do at all. I believe
the old man hasn't heard a loving word for
years and years. It won't hurt us, I'm sure,
to talk kindly with him even if he refuses to
give us the tree."
"Humph! Lucky for us if he gives us a
chance," grunted Will, as he shuffled on. "I'm
gettin' a little skeery of this business, though
I started it myself. They say the old feller's
got a pair of double-barreled pistols to use at
a pinch, and I, for —"
"Blazes 1" cried the boy behind him, "There
he is! Now for it!"
Instinctively the deputation compacted it-
self as it neared the mute figure standing, stick
in hand, at the crown of the hill. Stern, almost
savage, not a gleam of encouragement in the
Will spoke first, out of breath as he was,
looking up to where the old man stood.
"We come to ask you, Old Pop—I mean, Mr.
Hermit—for that hemlock of yours to—"
"If you please, sir," put in Elsie, "for a
"We'll cut it down ourselves, sir," added the
rest, laughing between terror and ftin, "if
"If I'll," echoed the cross old fellow with
an ugly squeak. "Go along with ^you, or I'll
break every bone in your rascally little bodies,"
and suiting the action to the word, Old Pop
brandished his stick and rushed furiously to-
By this time curiosity or anxiety had
brought all the rest of the party close in the
rear, and when the enfants perdus precipitately
beat a retreat, the entire corps d'armee wisely
fefl in with the movement and laughing, and
screaming, performed a brilliant "double-
quick" across the hills.
In an instant one of the rear guard, looking
back, screamed out: "There! He's fallen—good
for hiin 1"
"Hi! Good for himl" echoed nearly all the
children, abating their speed not a whit, from
sheer love of excitement.
Elsie Brown heard their cry, and, tender-
hearted creature that she was, would have
paused from sympathy had it been even a bear
that had fallen and not a friendless old man.
"Girls—Will!" she cried, "See, he's hurt. He
doesn't get up. Oh, do go back I"
But the panting crowd had by this time
nearly forgotten the old man's-jnishap,
amidst the din of so many voices Elsie'
peal for help was unheard.
Will, whose inclination during the stampede
had drawn him closer and closer to the co-
quettish Jennie Todd, was quite out of hearing
and when Elsie turned toward the still pros-
trate man, none heeded her or dreamed that
she was not foremost among the scampers.
Without a thought of danger our sweet lit-
tle Samaritan hurried back to the spot where
Old Pop was lying; no stick in his listless
"Are you hurt?" whispered Elsie, bending
over him, but starting back with a shudder as
she saw his white lips, and the blood trickling
down over his furrowed cheek and long gray
There was no answer.
Recovering her self-possession in an instant
the noble-hearted child rushed into the hut for
water. Finding none, she seized an old earthen
pitcher, lacking both handle and spout, and
ran to the stream nearby. Around it ice lay
in the hollows. Holding with a firm clutch the
yellow leaves that had fallen there in the soft
Indian summer day, Elsie sprang over them,
never pausing, as at any other time she would
have done, to indulge in those blessed little
six-inch "slides" so dear to school girls; ere a
moment nau passed w bearing the .cy
water back to the injured man.
IIis .senses had returned, and he was trying
to rise as Esie approached.
"Ah1 You little ragamuffin," he growled,
looking drearily at her, "wait until I get at
you! You shall feel my big stick!"
"I am sorry, sir," said Elsie, never pausing,
but hurrying toward him, ffld even laying her
"Mechanically His Jagged Arm Full is Borne
Into the Hut."
hand on his shoulder. "I am very sorry, in-
deed I am. See, here is water; let me bathe
your head; you have cut it badly." (
"Here, none of your tricks," with a savage
scowl; "be off with you, or I'll pitch you down
the hill 1"
Elsie answered resolutely:
"No, you will not hurt a little girl like me,
I am sure. Come into the hut and when I have
bathed your wound and bound up your head
then I will go. It is cold out here even in the
He regarded her fixedlv for a moment, and
muttered, "It's cold in there, too. Go back—
go to your home, and let the old man die."
"But you are not going to die!" laughed
Elsie, shaking her hnad at him, though she
trembled all over at his strange manner. "You
have only a cut upon your temple, and you
couldn't die of that, even if you wanted to,"
and she began busily to gather the pieces of
broken branches that lay scattered on the side
of the hill.
"Here, let that wood alone!" cried the old
man, now upon his feet, yet looking at her
like one in a dream.
"Yes, in a moment," was Elsie's good-na-
tured teply, as she bustled into the hut with
her apron full. Old Pop lost not an instant
in stumbling in after her.
He sank- upon a rough board bench near the
hearthstone and watched her movements in
There was a few smoldering embers left.
Elsie scraped them together with a stick,
heaped first a few dried leaves, then the twigs
upon them and kneeling lower, blew with all
her little might into the midst, shutting her
eyes very tightly, for the ashes were flying
into her fac6.
Snap! Crack! The wood was in a blaze.
Placing two or three sticks upon the top, Elsie
rose with a business-like air.
"Ah, you are very pale and faint yet; you
must wear my cloak until the room is warm—
if it ever can get warm with all these cracks
in the roof," and she wrapped a coarse but
bright garment about his shoulders.
He pushed it uneasily away—no anger in
his manner; no kindness either. "I am not
cold; go home."
"Very soon I will," said the child, cheerily,
Here’s what’s next.
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Houx, N. P. The Mexia Weekly Herald (Mexia, Tex.), Vol. 12, Ed. 1 Thursday, December 14, 1911, newspaper, December 14, 1911; Mexia, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth302362/m1/2/: accessed April 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Gibbs Memorial Library.