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Old Daddy Deering: The Country Fiddler
by [?]

“I wish I was your age, young man,” he said ruefully, as he rose. “I’d knock the heads o’ these young scamps t’gether–yessir!–I could do it, too!”.

“Talk’s a good dog, uncle,” said a young man.

The old man turned on him so ferociously that he fled.

“Run, condemn yeh! I own y’ can beat me at that.”

His face was not unpleasant, though his teeth were mainly gone, and his skin the color of leather and wrinkled as a pan of cream. His eyes had a certain sparkle of fun that belied his rasping voice, which seemed to have the power to lift a boy clean off his feet. His frame was bent and thin, but of great height and breadth, bony and tough as hickory. At some far time vast muscles must have rolled on those giant limbs, but toil had bent and stiffened him.

“Never been sick a day ‘n my life; no, sir!” he said, in his rapid, rasping, emphatic way, as they were riding across the stubble to dinner. “And by gol! I c’n stand as long at the tail of a stacker as any man, sir. Dummed if I turn my hand for any man in the State; no, sir; no, sir! But if I do two men’s works, I am goin’ to have two men’s pay–that’s all, sir!”

Jennings laughed and said: “All right, uncle. I’ll send another man up there this afternoon.”

The old man seemed to take a morbid delight in the hard and dirty places, and his endurance was marvelous. He could stand all day at the tail of a stacker, tirelessly pushing the straw away with an indifferent air, as if it were all mere play.

He measured the grain the next day, because it promised to be a noisier and dustier job than working in the straw, and it was in this capacity that Milton came to know and to hate him, and to associate him with that most hated of all tasks, the holding of sacks. To a twelve-year-old boy it seems to be the worst job in the world.

All day while the hawks wheel and dip in the glorious air, and the trees glow like banks of roses; all day, while the younger boys are tumbling about the sunlit straw, to be forced to stand holding sacks, like a convict, was maddening. Daddy, whose rugged features, bent shoulders and ragged cap loomed through the suffocating, blinding dust, necessarily came to seem like the jailer who held the door to freedom.

And when the dust and noise and monotony seemed the very hardest to bear the old man’s cackling laugh was sure to rise above the howl of the cylinder.

“Nem mind, sonny! Chaff ain’t pizen; dust won’t hurt ye a mite.” And when Milton was unable to laugh the old man tweaked his ear with his leathery thumb and finger.

Then he shouted long, disconnected yarns, to which Milton could make neither head nor tail, and which grew at last to be inaudible to him, just as the steady boom and snarl of the great machine did. Then he fell to studying the old man’s clothes, which were a wonder to him. He spent a good deal of time trying to discover which were the original sections of the coat, and especially of the vest, which was ragged and yellow with age, with the cotton-batting working out; and yet Daddy took the greatest care of it, folding it carefully and putting it away during the heat of the day out of reach of the crickets.

One of his peculiarities, as Mrs. Jennings learned on the second day, was his habit of coming to breakfast. But he always earned all he got, and more too; and, as it was probable that his living at home was frugal, Mrs. Jennings smiled at his thrift, and quietly gave him his breakfast if he arrived late, which was not often.

He had bought a little farm not far away, and settled down into a mode of life which he never afterward changed. As he was leaving at the end of the third day, he said: