Albert Bigelow Paine.

Peanut, the story of a boy online

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[Illustration: Frontispiece - Peanut]

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THE blackened stumps had been left—perhaps more easily to identify the
little clearing about the grave. From the ravine below, where the stage
passed, they were still visible, but the two-inch headboard,
weather-beaten by a year of sun and rain, was getting lost in a growth
of bushes. When pointed out by the driver as marking the “last hangout
of Blazer Sam,” who had “died with his boots on, and had two cuss-words
in his epitaph,” it could be discerned now with difficulty and there
were travelers, men mostly, who prevailed upon the somewhat garrulous
official to “let the horses blow a little while” they scaled the
mountain for a closer view. The epitaph itself was worth the climb.

A few of those who had made the steep ascent for that literary treat,
and to pay their respects to the grave of the notorious desperado,
highwayman, and general outlaw, had seen something dart away into the
bushes at their approach. As a rule, they had been too far off to tell
whether it was a coyote, a jack-rabbit, or a boy. Those who had obtained
the closer view usually agreed that it was a boy—a very thin boy of
about ten, with pale hair and no head-covering.

The stage-driver in due time acquired information. Those who had said it
was a boy were correct. When Blazer Sam had made his final exit in the
abrupt manner noted, and so taken his boots with him, he had left behind
the Rose of Texas, acquired long before in a poker game, and a little
waif known as Peanut, picked up like a stray kitten during one of the
Blazer’s devious wanderings. The name Peanut might have come from the
color of his hair, or from his small size and value. The driver did not
know. He had heard that the boy had been kindly treated by both the
Blazer and the Rose, and with the latter still occupied Sam’s little hut
in the woods above the clearing. The waif probably came out into the
opening to see the stage pass. Then again he might be “kinder lonesome
for Sam.”

The driver was right in at least one of these conjectures. Peanut was
indeed “lonesome for Sam.” He could remember very little preceding the
day six years before when Sam had brought him home to be company for the
Rose, during absences that had grown ever more prolonged as the years
passed and the outlaw’s field of labor had been found farther and yet
farther away from his cabin on the hillside. What Peanut did remember
was that he never had been hungry since that day. Also, the times when
Sam had come home. For whatever had been the source of Sam’s gains, he
had provided well for the Rose; and if, as was said, the hand of every
man was against him and his hand against every man you could not have
guessed it to see the small, lean hand of Peanut locked closely in his
own, and the two wandering over the mountain together in those days that
were now no more and would never more return. There remained to Peanut
only their memory and the barren comfort of a grave and an epitaph.

Yet these were much to the lonely child. When he had pushed through the
bushes to the grave he felt close to Sam, while the vigor of the
epitaph, which he could read, because this much the Rose had taught him,
was somehow satisfying. The last line afforded him special comfort. It
assured him that no one would ever dare to take Sam away.

It did not occur to him that there was anything objectionable in the
lines. He did not know that epitaphs are not so true, as a rule; while
as for the emphasis, it was of the sort he knew best. That he did not
use those words himself was only for the same reason that he did not
chew tobacco yet, or drink whisky. He had been assured by the Rose that
these luxuries were not for little boys, and he had been willing to
wait. He was glad, however, that Sam, who had indulged liberally in the
good things of life, could still have the best on his tombstone.

Portions of the inscription puzzled him. He did not know that there had
been a price on the outlaw’s head, and he wondered why the “greaser,”
referred to in line three, should want to kill Sam. Neither did he
realize that line two doubtless alluded to the Blazer’s slight valuation
of life in general, rather than to any disregard of his own particular
existence. Peanut failed to understand why it was that Sam had not cared
for life when by living he could come home now and then and show him the
trout brook, and make whistles for him, and visit the eagle’s nest in
the cliff. Why, once they had even found a cave, and in it a shot and
dying mother bear, with two little bears, that were now big bears and
still came to the cabin to be fed. When it rained they had sometimes run
for this cave, to build a fire at the mouth of it and to lie there and
watch the blaze and talk and play with the bears until the rain was
over. What was the reason, then, that Sam had not cared to live and have
all these things when he, Peanut, had cared for them so much?

He cared for them still. He could find his way to the brook and the
eagle’s nest, and to the cave where the bears were always glad to see
him, especially when he brought food. The innumerable squirrels and
birds and other wood-folk were his own; yet from them all he turned each
day to Sam’s grave, there to live over again those other days when Sam
had taught him the lore and kinship of the mountains, and when, hand in
hand, they had pushed through vines and leaves to visit the forest
people together.

Often when it was bright and warm he stayed by the grave most of the
day, and sometimes, with his face down in the grass, he would talk to
Sam. When it stormed he crept under the bushes and felt a deep
commiseration for the lonely mound with the rain pelting down upon it.
There had been times in winter, when the snow was deepest, that he could
not go at all. On these days he moped in the house with the Rose, who
since Sam’s death had supplied their meager wants by doing mending and
an occasional washing for the mining-camp below. She had grown rather
fat and silent and spent most of her days playing solitaire and telling
her own fortune with a greasy pack of cards, which diversions did not
appeal to Peanut.

But in supposing that Peanut had come out into the clearing to see the
stage pass, the driver had been wholly wrong. Sam had never cared for
the stage or for people. In fact, he had rather avoided those things,
Peanut thought, and he knew Sam always had good reasons for what he did.
When the boy saw strangers climbing the steep hill to visit the grave he
fled hastily into the bushes, where, lying hid, he watched to see that
they did not carry anything away save perhaps an occasional
walking-stick or a handful of goldenrod. When they laughed and talked
loudly he was fiercely angry, and thought he understood why it was that
Sam had preferred the society of the quiet wood-folk.

With those of his own age Peanut had had but one experience. Twice the
Rose had prevailed upon him to go with her to the mining-camp, and on
the last of these occasions a boy—the only one in the camp—had defrauded
him of his best whistle and of such other valuables as had been upon his
person at the time. He had received in exchange some yellow ore, which
the boy had insisted was gold, but which the Rose declared to be slag,
and worthless. It was his first experience with deception.

Peanut had refused to go to the camp again.

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ONE day in late August the stage stopped to let a woman climb the hill.
Women visited the grave now and then, and Miss Cynthia Schofield, age
thirty-four, a teacher in a Chicago public institution of learning, was
just the one to improve such an opportunity. For Miss Schofield was
progressive in the matter of acquiring knowledge. She spent each summer
in some elemental region, of which she made numerous photographs and
notes. These she used later in certain illustrated evening lectures
called “In-gatherings,” given by Miss Schofield for the benefit of
persons with fewer opportunities; also for the purpose of adding a
trifle to her own modest income. She was “doing the mines” this year,
and her present destination was the camp, two miles farther down. The
desperado’s grave and history would make a picturesque addition to her

The climb was harder than it appeared from below. Being the only
passenger, the driver had told her to take her time, and more than once
she leaned against a boulder to look down into the dark ravine made
famous by some of Blazer’s earlier exploits. She recognized the artistic
value of the fact that his last resting-place overlooked the scene of
his former depredations. She must certainly bring this out well in her
lecture, and as she toiled upward she was forming in her mind certain
phrases, with a view to this result. Then she pushed gently between two
small cedars into the opening where the grave was.

At first glance she saw only some bushes and fireweed about the
blackened stumps, and the riotous mass of goldenrod which possessed one
corner of the little clearing. Then just by the goldenrod she saw the
grave, and paused, for, face down upon it, asleep, lay a meager barefoot
boy with faded hair.

Miss Schofield was, first of all, the artist. She had anticipated
nothing so rich in value as this, and with deft hands she adjusted the
camera and secured the range. There came a sharp click, and the outlaw’s
grave, the goldenrod, the fireweed, the black stumps, and the faded
sleeping boy had been added to her store of choice in-gatherings.

There had been still another result. The snap of the shutter had
brought the light figure to its feet, like some spry wood creature as
suddenly disturbed. An instant more and he would have darted away into
the bushes; only, Miss Schofield spoke just then, and with
persuasiveness—the result of long pedagogical training.

“Don’t go! Oh, please don’t!” she pleaded, gently. “_Please_ wait. I
want so much to speak to you.”

Peanut had no particular reason for being afraid of women. The only one
he had studied at close range had been kind to him to the point of
indulgence. There was something in the voice of this one that held him
fast. The woman came a step closer. She seemed young and beautiful to

“_Please_ tell me your name,” she said.


“Oh, that is what they call you, perhaps. Your real name, I mean.”

The boy made no reply at first to this comment. He seemed gathering
something from the mists of memory.

“Sam told me that it used to be—longer than that,” he ventured at last,
very slowly. “He told me once that it was Philip—Nutt, but he said P.
was the same as Philip, and that he thought Peanut fit me better.”

Panic seemed about to return, as the result of this long speech, and
once more it required the soothing diplomacy of Miss Schofield to detain

“How very nice,” she said. “And now won’t you please tell me where you
live, and about Sam and the grave?”

Again Peanut hesitated. Then he pointed behind him.

“I live up there; and Sam, he—why he’s in the grave, and dam the man
that moves his bones.”

Miss Schofield had been unprepared for this. Her emotion, however, was
mistaken by Peanut for incredulity. “I can show it to you on the board,”
he insisted, eagerly.

The woman came up close, now, and followed where his wisp of a finger
pointed. As he indicated each line, he repeated it with a sort of
monotonous tenderness, laying special emphasis on the last.

“Here lies the body of Blazer Sam,
For life he didn’t care a dam—
He was plugged by a greaser unbeknowns,
And dam the man that moves his bones.”

Miss Schofield’s look of concern became one of sympathetic
understanding. The waif turned to her.

“You didn’t want to take Sam away, anyhow, did you?”

“Oh, no indeed! I don’t want to take any one away—” She hesitated and
looked down into the wistful face before her. “At least, not Sam,” she
qualified. “I have already taken a picture of the grave and you shall
have one of them. Tell me, Philip, whom you live with, so I shall know
how to send it.”

The sound of his name thus spoken may have awakened a sort of dignity in
the waif.

“I live with the Rose of Texas,” he said, gravely. “Me an’ Sam both did,
till Sam was plugged by a greaser unbeknowns, and—”

Miss Schofield interrupted rather hastily.

“Never mind the next line, Philip. I remember it. Just a moment—”

She had taken out her note-book and was puzzling over the proper entry.
“Philip Nutt, alias Peanut, Care of the Rose of Texas, former
housekeeper for Blazer Sam.” It seemed a doubtful combination to intrust
to the mail service. Then her face lighted with a sudden resolution.

“Show me just where you live, Philip.”

The boy turned and pointed up the mountain.

“That big spruce grows by the house. It’s on the rocks behind it.”

“I see, Philip. I can find it easily. I must be going now, for the stage
is waiting, but I shall stop a day or two at the mines below here. I
will come to-morrow and learn just how to send the picture. Good-by till
then, Philip.”

She took his thin brown hand in her own soft palm. The mother instinct
welled up strong. She hungered to gather him to her breast, but he was
already drawing back rather fearfully. A step away she turned to wave
another good-by.

Peanut had disappeared among the bushes.

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THE Rose of Texas sat in the open door of her cabin. The Rose might have
been beautiful once—it is proper to give any woman past middle age the
benefit of this possibility—and there may have been a time when the Rose
had deserved her name and been fully equal in value to the Colt .44,
three ponies, and five hundred dollars in gold which Sam had stacked up
against her, and so, with the aid of three other knaves, attached her to
his household. On a stone a few feet distant sat Peanut, in deep
reverie. The Rose was first to break the silence.

“I reckon it’s the best thing for you, Peanut,” she said, and there was
a sort of resolute hopelessness in her voice. “It’ll be mighty lonesome,
of course, without you, but when you get so you can write you can send
me a letter now and then. I guess I can read ’em. I ain’t tried any for
a good while, but if you make ’em plain, mebbe I can spell ’em out. It’s
a good chance, Peanut, an’ I don’t s’pose you’d ever get another. Then
you’ll learn figgerin’, too.”

“What’s that, Rose? What’s figgerin’?”

“Why, it’s like writin’, only it’s countin’, on paper. It’s to keep
folks from cheatin’ you, in a trade.”

Peanut recalled his experience with the boy at the mines. The boy
probably knew about figgerin’.

“How long does it take to learn figgerin’, Rose?”

“Oh, I dun’no’. Mebbe a year.”

“Then can I come back to you—an’ the bears, an’ Sam’s grave?”

“You won’t want to. You’ll be learnin’ other things an’ seein’ new
places an’ fine folks. You won’t want to come back to the hills, even if
you could. But you can write, an’ you’ll have a picter of Sam’s grave,
like the kind she showed us to-day. She seems like she’d be mighty good
to you, an’ I reckon you’ll have to go, Peanut.”

“But I’m comin’ back, Rose, when I’ve learnt figgerin’ an’ seen all the
places. I’m comin’ back to locate a mine an’ make money for us. You
can’t stay here always alone. An’ our bears would forgit me if I was
gone too long. You’ll feed ’em jest the same, won’t you, Rose, when I
ain’t here?”

The woman’s voice broke a little as she assured him that the big brown
bears that lumbered down the mountain every day for refuse should still
be cared for in his absence.

“She’s comin’ in the mornin’,” the Rose continued, “an’ if yer goin’,
you want to be ready. Put on yer winter shoes an’ yer hat an’ yer other
shirt. ’Tain’t much of a outfit, but it’s more’n you come with, an’
she’s goin’ to pervide fur you. I’ve got a little scrap o’ money,
though, Peanut, an’ I want you to take it along. You ain’t to spend it
unless somethin’ happens an’ she ain’t there. She’ll pervide when she
is. Jest keep it so you know where it is. If you ever get lost, er need
anything when she ain’t at home, then use it, but keep it as long as you

The woman’s hand had gone down to the hem of her skirt and under her
knee. It came up holding a small roll of currency.

“There’s ten dollars here, Peanut; it won’t buy much, but it would go a
long ways if you was lost and hungry. Keep it in the little sack, with
Sam’s ambertype an’ the last whistle he made you, an’ don’t let the sack
out o’ yer hands.”

The boy took the money curiously. He had never possessed any before. He
opened the bills and looked first at one, then at the other. He went
into the cabin presently and deposited them in a small buckskin bag
which Sam had given him for his treasures. When Miss Schofield appeared
next morning he was sitting stiffly in his winter shoes and hat, his
wet, faded hair plastered close, the little bag concealed about his
neck. He was quite ready.

The Rose was wiping her eyes as she saw them pass down the mountain in
the direction of Sam’s grave. She was wondering what she was going to do
without Peanut. She did not realize that perhaps Cynthia Schofield was
wondering equally what she was going to do _with_ him—what was to be the
outcome of the philanthropic impulse and heart hunger that had led her
into taking the pathetic little creature by her side, away from his
beloved hills, to begin a new development in a strange atmosphere and
amid alien surroundings.

But if Miss Schofield had any misgivings as to the wisdom of her
undertaking, she was upheld by the thought that her purpose was
altogether righteous, and would be justified by results. The fact that
as they passed Sam’s grave Peanut flung himself upon it and wept, and
refused to be comforted, only strengthened her belief that he would one
day glorify her for having removed him from the influence of former

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IT having developed that at some former period Blazer Sam had been known
by the surname Hopkins, Miss Schofield had agreed with the Rose that the
latter should receive her mail under the very respectable superscription
of Mrs. Rose Hopkins, and at the camp post-office arrangements had been
made to this end. Miss Schofield had further agreed to write. Also that
Peanut should write as soon as he was able to do so.

If the Rose went oftener to the camp now, and, bringing home heavier
bundles, filled longer days with harder work, it may have been only that
she was providing for an old age that could not be far distant, or very
luxurious at best.

If the mail service possessed a new attraction for her, she did not show
it. Her years of lonely secretive life had been not without their
effect. She made no inquiries for letters, and seemed rather surprised
when one day in September the storekeeper, who was also postmaster, laid
a sealed envelope with her package of coffee on the counter.

Both the address and the letter were printed—type-written. The Rose did
not understand this process, and was deeply grateful to Miss Schofield
for taking extra pains to make the reading easy. It was not a long
letter, telling only of her safe arrival in Chicago with Philip, and the
fact that he was already at school, where he would learn very fast. Her
friends thought a great deal of her “little mountain boy,” but she was
trying not to let them spoil him. She wished to keep his nature as fresh
and beautiful as the mountains themselves, adding only such education as
would make him understand the higher life, and such knowledge of the
world as would fit him to take his part in it by and by. Philip had sent
greetings to “Rose and the bears.” He would write before long, himself.
He could already shape the letters, and was at his work constantly. If
the Rose needed anything, she was of course to let Miss Schofield know.
Meantime, she remained, etc., etc.

On the whole it was a satisfactory missive. Peanut was safe and
remembered her. He was learning to write, and would send, by and by,
letters of his own. To the Rose of Texas the type-written sheet
containing these assurances became of more value than all her former
possessions. She pinned it against the cabin wall where she could see it
and pause before it as she passed in her work.

Only, in one sentence of the letter there was a pang. She had called him
_her_ “little mountain boy.” The Rose wondered vaguely if this meant
that she herself had surrendered all claim. The sentence about the
“higher life” rather pleased her. She took it to mean a more pretentious
mode of living. If Peanut should visit her by and by he would probably
come in a buggy, wearing a high hat such as she had seen on rich mine
speculators. She resolved to make an effort herself to live up to this
higher life and so preserve something of her claim on Peanut.

She recalled a tradition that women of the higher life did not drink
whisky—at least not regularly. She would give up her toddies—by degrees,
of course—but in time enough to do without them almost altogether when
Peanut arrived. In the matter of clothes, she had noticed that those
worn by Miss Schofield had been quite plain, not at all like her own
gaudy finery of former years. She would get some very plain clothes,
gradually, as she could earn the money, and have them ready for Peanut’s

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Online LibraryAlbert Bigelow PainePeanut, the story of a boy → online text (page 1 of 3)