Two Old Boys by Pauline Shackleford Colyar

Walter's two grandfathers were a pair of jolly chums, as boys. There is plenty of humour in this tale of a turkey hunt.
"DAY after to-morrow will be Thanksgiving," said Walter, taking his seat beside Grandpa Davis on the top step of the front gallery.

"And no turkey for dinner, neither," retorted Grandma Davis, while her bright steel needles clicked in and out of the sock she was knitting.

The old man was smoking his evening pipe, and sat for a moment with his eyes fixed meditatively upon the blue hills massed in the distance.

"Have we got so pore as all that, Mother?" he asked, after a while, glancing over his shoulder at his wife, who was rocking to and fro just back of him.

"I'm obleeged to own to the truth," answered the old lady dejectedly. "What with the wild varmints in the woods and one thing an' another, I'm about cleaned out of all the poultry I ever had. It's downright disheartenin'."

"Well, then," asserted Grandpa Davis, with an unmirthful chuckle, "it don't appear to me as we've got so powerful much to be thankful about this year."

"Why, Grandpa!" cried Walter, in shocked surprise, "I never did hear you talk like that before."

"Never had so much call to do it, mebbe," interposed the old man cynically.

The last rays of the setting sun touched the two silvered heads, and rested there like a benediction, before disappearing below the horizon.

Silence had fallen upon the little group, and a bullfrog down in the fishpond was croaking dismally.

"Why don't you go hunting, and try to kill you a turkey for Thanksgiving?" ventured Walter, slipping his arm insinuatingly through his grandfather's. "I saw a great big flock of wild ones down on the branch last week, and I got right close up to them before they flew."

"I reckon there ought to be a smart sight of game round and about them cane brakes along that branch," said the old man slowly, as though thinking aloud. "It used to be ahead of any strip of woods in all these parts, when me and Dick was boys. But nobody ain't hunted there, to my knowledge, not sence me and him fell out."

"I wish you and Grandpa Dun were friends," sighed Walter. "It does seem too bad to have two grandpas living right side by side, and not speaking."

"I ain't got no ill-will in my heart for Dick," replied Grandpa Davis, "but he is too everlastin' hard-headed to knock under, and I'll be blamed if I go more'n halfway toward makin' up."

"That's just exactly what Grandpa Dun says about you," Walter assured him very earnestly.

"Wouldn't wonder if he did," said the old man pointedly. "Dick is always ben a mighty hand to talk, and he'd drap dead in his tracks if he couldn't get in the last word."

Be this as it might, the breach had begun when the Davis cattle broke down the worm fence and demolished the Dun crop of corn, and it widened when the Dun hogs found their way through an old water gap and rooted up a field of the Davis sweet potatoes. Several times similar depredations were repeated, and then shotguns were used on both sides with telling effect. The climax was reached when John Dun eloped with Rebecca, the only child of the Davises.

The young couple were forbidden their respective homes, though the farm they rented was scarce half a mile away, and the weeks rolled into months without sign of their parents relenting.

When Walter was born, however, the two grandmothers stole over, without their husbands' knowledge, and mingled their tears in happy communion over the tiny blue-eyed mite.

It was a memorable day at each of the houses when the sturdy little fellow made his way, unbidden and unattended, to pay his first call, and ever afterward (though they would not admit it, even to themselves) the grandfathers watched for his coming, and vied with each other in trying to win the highest place in his young affections.

He had inherited characteristics of each of his grandsires, and possessed the bold, masterful manner which was common to them both. "Say, Grandpa," he urged, "go hunting to-morrow and try to kill a turkey for Thanksgiving, won't you? I know grandma would feel better to have one, and if you make a cane caller, like papa does, I'll bet you can get a shot at one sure."

The old man did not commit himself about going, but when Walter saw him surreptitiously take down his gun from the pegs on the wall across which it had lain for so many years, and begin to rub the barrels and oil the hammers, he went home satisfied that he had scored another victory.

Perhaps nothing less than his grandson's pleading could have induced Grandpa Davis to visit again the old hunting-ground which had been so dear to him in bygone days, which was so rich in hallowed memories. It seemed almost a desecration of the happy past to hunt there now alone.

The first cold streaks of dawn were just stealing into the sky the next morning when, accoutred with shot-pouch, powder-flask, and his old double-barrelled gun, Grandpa Davis made his way toward the branch. A medley of bird notes filled the air, long streamers of gray moss floated out from the swaying trees, and showers of autumn leaves fluttered down to earth. Some of the cows were grazing outside the pen, up to their hocks in lush, fresh grass, while others lay on the ground contentedly chewing their cuds. All of them raised their heads and looked at him as he passed them by.

How like old times it was to be up at daybreak for a hunt! The long years seemed suddenly to have rolled away, leaving him once more a boy. He almost wondered why Dick had not whistled to him as he used to do. Dick was an early riser, and somehow always got ready before he did.

There was an alertness in the old man's face and a spring in his step as he lived over in thought the joyous days of his childhood. The clouds were flushed with pink when he came in sight of the big water oak on the margin of the stream, and recollected how he and Dick had loved to go swimming in the deep, clear water beneath its shade.

"We used to run every step of the way," he soliloquized, laughing, "unbuttonin' as we went, chuck our clothes on the bank, and 'most break our necks tryin' to git in the water fust. I've got half a notion to take a dip this mornin', if it wasn't quite so cool," he went on, but a timely twinge of rheumatism brought him to his senses, and he seated himself on the roots of a convenient tree.

Cocking his gun, he laid it across his knees, and waited there motionless, imitating the yelp of a turkey the while. Three or four small canes, graduated in size, and fitted firmly one into the other, enabled him to make the note, and so expert had he become by long practice that the deception was perfect.

After a pause he repeated the call; then came another pause, another call, and over in the distance there sounded an answer. How the blood coursed through the old man's veins as he listened! There it was again. It was coming nearer, but very slowly. He wondered how many were in the flock, and called once more. This time, to his surprise, an answer came from a different direction—a long, rasping sound, a sort of cross between a cock's crow and a turkey's yelp.

He started involuntarily, and very cautiously peeped around. Hardly twenty steps from him another gray head protruded itself from the bole of another tree, and Grandpa Davis and Grandpa Dun looked into each other's eyes.

"I'll be double-jumped-up if that ain't Dick!" cried Grandpa Davis, under his breath. "And there ain't a turkey as ever wore a feather that he could fool. A minute more, and he'll spile the fun. Dick," he commanded, "stop that racket, and sneak over here by me," beckoning mysteriously. "Sh-h-h! they are answerin' ag'in. Down on your marrow-bones whilst I call."

Flattening himself upon the ground as nearly as he could, and creeping behind the undergrowth, Grandpa Dun made his way laboriously to the desired spot. He had never excelled in calling turkeys, but he was a far better shot than Grandpa Davis.

Without demur the two old boys fell naturally into the rôle of former days. Breathless and excited, they crouched there, waiting for the fateful moment. Their nerves were tense, their eyes dilated, and their hearts beating like trip-hammers.

Grandpa Davis had continued to call, and now the answer was very near.

"Gimme the first shot, Billy," whispered Grandpa Dun. "I let you do the callin'; and, besides, you know you never could hit nothin' that wasn't as big as the side of a meetin'-house."

Before Grandpa Davis had time to reply, there came the "put-put-put" which signals possible danger. A stately gobbler raised his head to reconnoitre; two guns were fired almost simultaneously, and, with a whir and a flutter, the flock disappeared in the cane brake.

The two old boys bounded over the intervening sticks and stumps with an agility that Walter himself might have envied, and bending over the prostrate gobbler exclaimed in concert: "Ain't he a dandy, though!"

They examined him critically, cutting out his beard as a trophy, and measured the spread of his wings.

"But he's yourn, after all, Dick," said Grandpa Davis ruefully. "These here ain't none of my shot, so I reckon I must have missed him."

"I knowed you would, Billy, afore your fired," Grandpa Dun replied, with mock gravity, "but that don't cut no figger. He's big enough for us to go halvers and both have plenty. More'n that, you done the callin' anyhow."

Then they laughed, and as they looked into one another's faces, each seemed to realize for the first time that his quondam chum was an old man.

A moment before they had been two rollicking boys off on a lark together—playing hooky, perhaps—and in the twinkling of an eye some wicked fairy had waved her wand and metamorphosed them into Walter's two grandfathers, who had not spoken to each other since years before the lad was born.

Yet the humour of the situation was irresistible after all, and, without knowing just how it happened, or which made the first advance, Dick and Billy found themselves still laughing until the tears coursed down their furrowed cheeks, and shaking hands with as much vigour as though each one had been working a pump handle.

"I'll tell you what it is, Billy," said Dick at last; "you all come over to my house, and we'll eat him together on Thanksgivin'."

"See here, Dick," suggested Billy, abstracting a nickel from his trousers' pocket; "heads at your house, and tails at mine."

"All right," came the hearty response.

Billy tossed the coin into the air: it struck a twig and hid itself among the fallen leaves, where they sought it in vain.

"'Tain't settled yet," announced Dick; "but lemme tell you what let's do. S'posin' we all go over to-morrow—it'll be Thanksgivin', you know—and eat him at John's house."

"Good!" cried Billy, with beaming face. "You always did have a head for thinkin' up things, Dick, and this here'll sorter split the difference, and ease matters so as——"

"Yes, and our two old women can draw straws, if they've got a mind to, and see which of them is obligated to make the fust call," interrupted Dick.

"Jist heft him, old feller," urged one of them.

"Ain't he a whopper, though!" exclaimed the other.

"Have a chaw, Dick?" asked Billy, offering his plug of tobacco.

"Don't keer if I do," acquiesced Dick, biting off a goodly mouthful.

Seating themselves upon a fallen hickory log, they chewed and expectorated, recalling old times, and enjoying their laugh with the careless freedom of their childhood days.

"Dick, do your ricolleck the fight you and a coon had out on the limb of that tree over yonder, one night?" queried Billy, nudging his companion in the ribs. "He come mighty nigh gittin' the best of you."

"He tore one sleeve out of my jacket, and mammy gimme a beatin' besides," giggled Dick. "And say, Billy, wasn't it fun the day we killed old man Lee's puddle ducks for wild ones? I don't believe I ever run as fast in my life."

"And, Dick, do you remember the night your pappy hung the saddle up on the head of the bed to keep you from ridin' the old gray mare to singin' school, and you rid her, bareback, anyway? You ricolleck you was stoopin' over, blowin' the fire, next mornin', when he seen the hairs on your britches, an' come down on you with the leather strop afore you knowed it."

Thus one adventure recalled another, and the two old boys laughed uproariously, clapping their hands and holding their sides, while the sun climbed up among the treetops.

"Ain't we ben two old fools to stay mad all this time?" asked one of them, and the other readily agreed that they had, as they once more grasped hands before parting.

Walter had arranged the Thanksgiving surprise for his parents, but when he brought home the big gobbler he was unable longer to keep the secret, and divulged his share in what had happened.

"I didn't really believe either one of them could hit a turkey," he confided to his father, "but I wanted to have them meet once more, for I knew if they did they would make friends."

The parlour was odorous with late fall roses next morning, the table set, and Walter and his parents in gala attire, when two couples, walking arm in arm, appeared upon the stretch of white road leading up to the front gate.

One couple was slightly in advance of the other, and Grandpa Davis, who was behind, whispered to his wife:

"Listen, Mary, Dick is actually tryin' to sing, and he never could turn a tune, but somehow it does warm up my heart to hear him: seems like old times ag'in."

After dinner was over—and such a grand dinner it was—Grandpa Davis voiced the sentiment of the rest of the happy family party when he announced, quite without warning:

"Well, this here has ben the thankfulles' Thanksgivin' I ever seen, and I hope the good Lord will spar' us all for yet a few more."