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Long Jim
by [?]

Jim met me at the station. I knew it was Jim when I caught sight of him loping along the platform, craning his neck, his head on one side as if in search of someone. He had the same stoop in his shoulders; the same long, disjointed, shambling body–six feet and more of it–that had earned him his soubriquet.

“Guess you be him,” he said, recognizing me as easily, his face breaking suddenly into a broad smile as I stepped on to the platform. “Old man ‘lowed I’d know ye right away, but I kind o’ mistrusted till I see ye stop and look ‘raound same’s if ye’d lost the trail. I’ll take them traps and that bag if ye don’t mind,” and he relieved me of my sketch-kit and bag. “Buck-board’s right out here behind the freight shed,” and he pointed across the track. “Old mare’s kinder skeery o’ the engine, so I tied her a piece off.”

He was precisely the man I had expected to find–even to his shaggy gray hair matted close about his ears, wrinkled, leathery face, and long, scrawny neck. He wore the same rough, cowhide boots and the very hat I had seen so often reproduced–such a picturesque slouch of a hat with that certain cant to the rim which betokens long usage and not a little comfort, especially on balsam boughs with the sky for a covering, and only the stars to light one to bed.

I had heard all these several details and appointments described ever so minutely by an enthusiastic brother brush who had spent the preceding summer with old man Marvin–Jim’s employer–but he had forgotten to mention, or had failed to notice, the peculiar softness of Jim’s voice and his timid, shrinking eyes–the eyes of a dog rather than those of a man–not cowardly eyes, nor sneaking eyes–more the eyes of one who had suffered constantly from sudden, unexpected blows, and who shrank from your gaze and dodged it as does a hound that misunderstands a gesture.

“Old man’s been ‘spectin’ ye for a week,” Jim rambled on as he led the way to the shed, hitching up his one leather suspender that kept the brown overalls snug up under his armpits. “P’raps ye expected him to meet ye,” he continued, “but ye don’t know him. He ain’t that kind. He won’t go even for Ruby.”

“Who’s Ruby?” The brother brush had not mentioned him. “Mr. Marvin’s son?”

“No, she’s Mother Marvin’s girl. She’s away to Plymouth to school. Stand here a minute till I back up the buck-board.”

The buck-board is the only vehicle possible over these mountain-roads. It is the volante of the Franconia range, and rides over everything from a bowlder to a wind-slash. This particular example differed only in being a trifle more rickety and mud-bespattered than any I had seen; and the mare had evidently been foaled to draw it–a fur-coated, moth-eaten, wisp-tailed beast, tied to the shafts with clothes-lines and scraps of deerhide–a quadruped that only an earthquake could have shaken into nervousness. And yet Jim backed her into position as carefully as if she had felt her harness for the first time, handing me the reins until he strapped my belongings to the hind axle, calling “Whoa, Bess!” every time she rested a tired muscle. Then he lifted one long leg over the dash-board and took the seat beside me.

It was my first draught of a long holiday; my breathing-spell; my time for loose neckties and flannel shirts and a kit slung over my shoulder crammed with brushes and color-tubes; my time for loafing and inviting my soul. It felt inexpressibly delightful to be once more out in the open–out under the wide sweep of the sky; rid of the choke of narrow streets; exempt of bens, mails, and telegrams, and free of him who knocks, enters, and sits–and sits–and sits. And it was the Indian summer of the year; when the air is spicy with the smoke of burning leaves and the mountains are lost in the haze; when the unshaven cornfields are dotted with yellow pumpkins and under low-branched trees the apples lie in heaps; when the leaves are aflame and the round sun shines pink through opalescent clouds.