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| Home | Reading Room The New McGuffey Fourth Reader

The New McGuffey Fourth Reader
by William H. McGuffey, Compiler

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By Timothy S. Arthur

When and where, it matters not now to relate--but once upon a

time, as I was passing through a thinly peopled district of

country, night came down upon me almost unawares. Being on foot,

I could not hope to gain the village toward which my steps were

directed until a late hour; and I therefore preferred seeking

shelter and a night's lodging at the first humble dwelling that

presented itself.

Dusky twilight was giving place to deeper shadows, when I found

myself in the vicinity of a dwelling, from the small uncurtained

windows of which the light shone with a pleasant promise of good

cheer and comfort. The house stood within an inclosure, and a

short distance from the road along which I was moving with

wearied feet.

Turning aside, and passing through the ill-hung gate, I

approached the dwelling. Slowly the gate swung on its wooden

hinges, and the rattle of its latch, in closing, did not disturb

the air until I had nearly reached the porch in front of the

house, in which a slender girl, who had noticed my entrance,

stood awaiting my arrival.

A deep, quick bark answered, almost like an echo, the sound of

the shutting gate, and, sudden as an apparition, the form of an

immense dog loomed in the doorway. At the instant when he was

about to spring, a light hand was laid upon his shaggy neck,

and a low word spoken.

"Go in, Tiger," said the girl, not in a voice of authority, yet

in her gentle tones was the consciousness that she would be

obeyed; and, as she spoke, she lightly bore upon the animal with

her hand, and he turned away and disappeared within the dwelling.

"Who's that?" A rough voice asked the question; and now a heavy

looking man took the dog's place in the door.

"How far is it to G----?" I asked, not deeming it best to say, in

the beginning, that I sought a resting-place for the night.

"To G----!" growled the man, but not so harshly as at first.

"It's good six miles from here."

"A long distance; and I'm a stranger, and on foot," said I. "If

you can make room for me until morning, I will be very thankful."

I saw the girl's hand move quickly up his arm, until it rested on

his shoulder, and now she leaned to him still closer.

"Come in. We'll try what can be done for you." There was a change

in the man's voice that made me wonder. I entered a large room,

in which blazed a brisk fire. Before the fire sat two stout lads,

who turned upon me their heavy eyes, with no very welcome

greeting. A middle-aged woman was standing at a table, and two

children were amusing themselves with a kitten on the floor.

"A stranger, mother," said the man who had given me so rude a

greeting at the door; "and he wants us to let him stay all night."

The woman looked at me doubtingly for a few moments, and then

replied coldly, "We don't keep a public house."

"I'm aware of that, ma'am," said I; "but night has overtaken me,

and it's a long way yet to G----."

"Too far for a tired man to go on foot," said the master of the

house, kindly, "so it's no use talking about it, mother; we must

give him a bed."

So unobtrusively that I scarce noticed the movement, the girl had

drawn to her mother's side. What she said to her I did not hear,

for the brief words were uttered in a low voice; but I noticed,

as she spoke, one small; fair hand rested on the woman's hand.

Was there magic in that touch? The woman's repulsive aspect

changed into one of kindly welcome, and she said: "Yes, it's a

long way to G----. I guess we can find a place for him."

Many times more during that evening, did I observe the magic

power of that hand and voice--the one gentle yet potent as the

other. On the next morning, breakfast being over, I was preparing

to take my departure when my host informed me that if I would

wait for half an hour he would give me a ride in his wagon to G--

--, as business required him to go there. I was very well pleased

to accept of the invitation.

In due time the farmer's wagon was driven into the road before

the house, and I was invited to get in. I noticed the horse as a

rough-looking Canadian pony, with a certain air of stubborn

endurance. As the farmer took his seat by my side, the family

came to the door to see us off.

"Dick!" said the farmer in a peremptory voice, giving the rein a

quick jerk as he spoke. But Dick moved not a step. "Dick! you

vagabond! get up." And the farmer's whip cracked sharply by the

pony's ear.

It availed not, however, this second appeal. Dick stood firmly

disobedient. Next the whip was brought down upon him with an

impatient hand; but the pony only reared up a little. Fast and

sharp the strokes were next dealt to the number of half a dozen.

The man might as well have beaten the wagon, for all his end was


A stout lad now came out into the road, and, catching Dick by the

bridle, jerked him forward, using, at the same time, the

customary language on such occasions, but Dick met this new ally

with increased stubbornness, planting his fore feet more firmly

and at a sharper angle with the ground.

The impatient boy now struck the pony on the side of the head

with his clenched hand, and jerked cruelly at its bridle. It

availed nothing, however; Dick was not to be wrought upon by any

such arguments.

"Don't do so, John!" I turned my head as the maiden's sweet voice

reached my ear. She was passing through the gate into the road,

and, in the next moment, had taken hold of the lad and drawn him

away from the animal. No strength was exerted in this; she took

hold of his arm, and he obeyed her wish as readily as if he had

no thought beyond her gratification.

And now that soft hand was laid gently on the pony's neck, and a

single low word spoken. How instantly were the tense muscles

relaxed--how quickly the stubborn air vanished.

"Poor Dick!" said the maiden, as she stroked his neck lightly; or

softly patted it with a childlike hand. "Now, go along, you

provoking fellow!" she added, in a half-chiding, yet affectionate

voice, as she drew up the bridle.

The pony turned toward her, and rubbed his head against her arm

for an instant or two; then, pricking up his ears, he started off

at a light, cheerful trot, and went on his way as freely as if no

silly crotchet had ever entered his stubborn brain.

"What a wonderful power that hand possesses!" said I, speaking to

my companion, as we rode away.

He looked at me for a moment, as if my remark had occasioned

surprise. Then a light came into his countenance, and he said

briefly, "She's good! Everybody and everything loves her."

Was that, indeed, the secret of her power? Was the quality of her

soul perceived in the impression of her hand, even by brute

beasts? The father's explanation was doubtless the true one. Yet

have I ever since wondered, and still do wonder, at the potency

which lay in that maiden's magic touch. I have seen something of

the same power, showing itself in the loving and the good, but

never to the extent as instanced in her, whom, for want of a

better name, I must still call "Gentle Hand."


Vicinity, neighborhood.

Unobtrusively, not noticeably, modestly.

Repulsive, repelling, forbidding.

Potent, powerful, effective.

Host, one from whom another receives food, lodging, or entertainment.

Peremptory, commanding, decisive.

Availed, was of use, had effect.

Ally, a confederate, one who unites with another in some purpose.

Tense, strained to stiffness, rigid.

Relaxed, loosened.

Chiding, scolding, rebuking.

Crochet, a perverse fancy, a whim.

Instanced, mentioned as an example.



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