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Old Daddy Deering: The Country Fiddler
by [?]

Like Scotland’s harper,
Or Irish piper, with his droning lays,
Before the spread of modern life and light
The country fiddler slowly disappears.



They were threshing on Farmer Jennings’ place when Daddy made his very characteristic appearance. Milton, a boy of thirteen, was gloomily holding sacks for the measurer, and the glory of the October day was dimmed by the suffocating dust, and poisoned by the smarting beards and chaff which had worked their way down his neck. The bitterness of the dreaded task was deepened also by contrast with the gambols of his cousin Billy, who was hunting rats with Growler amid the last sheaves of the stack bottom. The piercing shrieks of Billy, as he clapped his hands in murderous glee, mingled now and again with the barking of the dog.

The machine seemed to fill the world with its snarling boom, which became a deafening yell when the cylinder ran empty for a moment. It was nearly noon, and the men were working silently, with occasional glances toward the sun to see how near dinner-time it was. The horses, dripping with sweat, and with patches of foam under their harness, moved round and round steadily to the cheery whistle of the driver.

The wild, imperious song of the bell-metal cog-wheel had sung into Milton’s ears till it had become a torture, and every time he lifted his eyes to the beautiful far-off sky, where the clouds floated like ships, a lump of rebellious anger rose in his throat. Why should he work in this choking dust and deafening noise while the hawks could sail and sweep from hill to hill with nothing to do but play?

Occasionally his uncle, the feeder, smiled down upon him, his face black as a negro, great goggles of glass and wire-cloth covering his merry eyes. His great good-nature shone out in the flash of his white teeth, behind his dusky beard, and he tried to encourage Milton with his smile. He seemed tireless to the other hands. He was so big and strong. He had always been Milton’s boyish hero. So Milton crowded back the tears that came into his eyes, and would not let his uncle see how childish he was.

A spectator riding along the road would have remarked upon the lovely setting for this picturesque scene–the low swells of prairie, shrouded with faint, misty light from the unclouded sky, the flaming colors of the trees, the faint sound of cow-bells, and the cheery sound of the machine. But to be a tourist and to be a toiler in a scene like this are quite different things.

They were anxious to finish the setting by noon, and so the feeder was crowding the cylinder to its limit, rolling the grain in with slow and apparently effortless swaying from side to side, half-buried in the loose yellow straw. But about eleven o’clock the machine came to a stand, to wait while a broken tooth was being replaced, and Milton fled from the terrible dust beside the measuring-spout, and was shaking the chaff out of his clothing, when he heard a high, snappy, nasal voice call down from the straw-pile. A tall man, with a face completely masked in dust, was speaking to Mr. Jennings:

“Say, young man, I guess you’ll haf to send another man up here. It’s poorty stiff work f’r two; yes, sir, poorty stiff.”

“There, there! I thought you’d cry ‘cavy,'” laughed Mr. Jennings. “I told you it wasn’t the place for an old man.”

“Old man,” snarled the figure in the straw. “I ain’t so old but I can daown you, sir–yessir, condemmit, yessir!”

“I’m your man,” replied Jennings, smiling up at him.

The man rolled down the side of the stack, disappearing in a cloud of dust and chaff. When he came to light, Milton saw a tall, gaunt old man of sixty years of age, or older. Nothing could be seen but a dusty expanse of face, ragged beard, and twinkling, sharp little eyes. His color was lost, his eyes half hid. Without waiting for ceremony, the men clinched. The crowd roared with laughter, for though Jennings was the younger, the older man was a giant still, and the struggle lasted for some time. He made a gallant fight, but his breath gave out, and he lay at last flat on his back.