Chapter IV [second half]
"Daniel in the Wood-Pile"
[The first half of the chapter, containing the story of a mischievous dog belonging to the Gates family, has been omitted. With the dog properly trained, young Roundtop and Squaretop Gates are in search of another diversion and turn to their visiting neighbor, Teddy. ]
"But we must have something to do."
"Count yer toes."
"Oh, Teddy! " with great disgust.
"Tell stories, thin," mimicking [the boys' older sister] Dear's very tone, for story-telling was Dear's remedy for all sorts of minor troubles among the children, and he, himself, had often been her most breathless auditor. In fact, the thing Teddy liked best, next to eating, was story-telling.
" We can't tell stories to-day."
" Yes, yer can. Tell about some of them Bible fellers," and Teddy arranged himself comfortably, drawing up his feet and clasping his hands under his hatless head, mentally counting the rafters in the barn, while he waited for the Tops to begin; for it always took them both to tell one story.
Now the Gates children knew nothing about ghost-stories, and very little about fairy-stories, but they were well acquainted with Bible stories, Pilgrim's Progress stories, and Paradise Lost stories; and Teddy, listening with a critic's ear, had pronounced the Bible stories best of all. The Tops knew by experience that when Teddy had made up his mind for a Bible story, they would get nothing more out of him till the story had been told. They held a whispered consultation, and Roundtop, in Dear's fashion, began:--
" A great while ago, in one of the Bible countries, there lived a king with a long name--"
" Stop! " cried Squaretop, who was a stickler for accuracy. " It wasn't the king with a long name in this story; it was the king with the short name -- Darius."
" A king named Darius," resumed Roundtop, " and he had a hired man who was over all his other hired men, and his name was Daniel. He was one of the Hebrew children, and he was a great man."
" Yes," said Teddy, whose imagination had began to take fire;, "he was a great man--tall an' sthrong--that tall he cud no stand in this barn; his head wud bust the ridge-pole, shure!"
"It doesn't say any such thing!" interrupted Squaretop, emphatically.
" Yes, it does, me lad."
"No, it doesn't. It says the king made him a great man."
" That manes the same thing."
" No, it doesn't," persisted Squaretop, puzzled to explain himself.
" Onyhow, it's in me moind that way," said Teddy, conclusively. " Go on, Roundtop."
" And all the other hired men hated Daniel because the king liked him; and they got together and made a law, and got the king to sign it, ' the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not,' that if any man should ask any thing of any one but the king for thirty days, he should be thrown into the lions' den. They did it because they knew that Daniel asked things of the Lord every day."
" There, now, don't yer see he was a big man, bigger nor any of 'em?" said Teddy, triumphantly. "They cud hev' killed him theysel's, with jist no bother at all, if he had been a small man, small as theysel's. Go on, Roundtop."
" And Daniel he knew all about it, but he wasn't afraid, and--"
" Course he wasn't -- he was that big an' sthrong an' tall."
" He wasn't afraid, because he knew the Lord would take care of him," interposed Squaretop.
" Go on, Roundtop."
" He wasn't afraid, not one bit, and he went right into his bedroom, and opened the window towards Jerusalem, and kneeled right down there, and prayed three times a day just as he always had, and the men they saw him."
" Yes, an' it's mesel' knows how they saw him, so Oi does. They got holt of the windersill, an' hauled theysel's up, and peeked in -- the spalpeens! Go on, Roundtop."
" They saw him, and they went right off and told the king, and they got the law he had signed, ' the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not,' and showed it to him, and the king felt bad -- awful bad, 'cause he didn't want Daniel all chawed up; and he worked all day to save him, and he couldn't; and when it came night, the men they got hold of Daniel, and they hauled him to the lions' den, and they took off the cover and shoved him in, -- right in among the great big hungry lions; and there he was, and he couldn't get away, for they put a stone on him."
" ' Put a stone on the mouth of the den,'" corrected Squaretop, but Roundtop, swept along by the story and his own vivid imagination, was past heeding interruption.
" Put a stone on him, and the king he sealed it with his own signet, and the men they sealed with their signet, so he couldn't get away, and the king he hollered down through a hole,--
" ' Now, Daniel,' says he, ' the Lord, whom thou servest continually, he will preserve thee.' But the king he didn't believe it after all; he was awful 'fraid the lions would chew Daniel all up, and he went back to his house, and he didn't have any supper that night, and he wouldn't let the fiddlers fiddle on their fiddles, and he didn't sleep any either, and just as soon as the morning came he run as hard as he could go, and when he got to the lions' den he cried like every thing, and he said,--
"'O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?'"
By this time Roundtop was on his feet, very white about the mouth, his eyes flashing, his voice ringing, gesticulating unconsciously. Teddy, too, was up, leaning forward, listening with bated breath, and Squaretop alone remained on the barn floor, when Round- top, reaching the climax, pealed out, --
"'Then said Daniel unto the king, 'O King, live forever!'"
They all drew a convulsive breath, and there was a considerable pause before Teddy, recovering himself, dropped on the barn floor, saying,--
"Go on, Roundtop!" and Roundtop resumed, in quite a different tone,--
"You see, Daniel was all right -- he wasn't chawed up at all. The Lord sent his angel to shut the lions' mouths so they couldn't hurt Daniel, and -- "
" An' mesel' knows how that was done, too, so Oi does," said Teddy, leaning on his bare elbow. "The angel was that stiddy and wise loike he had his pockits full of muzzles, such as Misthur Gates made for the little dorg, an' he clapped 'em on the lions' jaws 'fore they cud say a worrud for theysel's, an' there he had 'em all toight an' sthrong. Course they cudn't hurt Daniel."
" Now, Teddy," said Squaretop, getting up at last, " you mustn't say such things; it's wicked. The angel didn't have any muzzles; he just shut their mouths, --the Bible says so."
"Whativer do Oi care?" says Teddy. " Go on, Roundtop."
" And the king was as glad as he could be, and he had them take Daniel out quick, and he looked him all over, and found he wasn't hurt any, because he believed in God. And then the king had all those hired men who hated Daniel thrown into the lions' den, -- pitched right in; and the lions broke their bones before they got to the bottom of the den."
" There!" said Squaretop, contemptuously, to Teddy. " You see, they didn't have any muzzles on; they couldn't have broken their bones if they had."
" Did yer 'spose, me lad," said Teddy, shutting one eye, " the angel was that foolish to leave his muzzles on them lions whin he moight want 'em again his self some toime? No, indade! he had 'em all in his pockits "fore Daniel was half out of the den. An' now," said he, letting himself gently down on his back and contemplating the rafters anew, " what koind of a place cud that lions', den hev been ? "
Squaretop wouldn't have answered if he could. Roundtop had his own ideas of a lions' den; a large dim place where you couldn't see the sides, like the place under the shop floor where the cog-wheels ate each other and growled and growled all day long. Somehow he always thought of Daniel when he lay and watched the cogwheels grinding on and on; but for some inexplicable reason he never said so to any one, least of all would he have said so to Teddy, and Teddy would probably have had no further light on the matter of a lions' den, but for Luke, who happened to come into the barn looking for a rake, and, hearing something about Daniel, muttered --
" Daniel's in the wood-pile --
Don't you hear him holler?
Haul him out, haul him out,
And I'll give ye half a dollar!"
" That's it, me lad!" said Teddy, after a moment's consideration. " That's it, shure! Daniel's in the wood-pile. Come on, Tops! " and he sprang up, as soon as Luke was out of earshot, and started for the wood-pile, the Tops following, as usual, wherever Teddy led.
The Gates' wood-pile, early in summer, was a serious affair,-- more than half as large as the wood-house in which the winter's wood, sawed and seasoned, had been carefully packed away. It was a young mountain of white-birch, alder, and chestnut, with a sprinkling of oak and maple, cut into stove-length and thrown up, cone-like, to season for immediate use. Teddy walked around this wood-pile with the eye of an architect, and decided not to have his lions' den open from the top; it would take too long to dig to the bottom of that tall pile; and, beside, it would attract Mrs. Gates' attention, and then probably there would be no lions' den "at all, at all."
Accordingly he began operations at the base of the pile, on the side farthest from the kitchen door, and, with Roundtop and Squaretop as " hired men," to do the lifting and carrying and piling, Teddy soon pulled out wood enough to leave a cone-like space open to the ground. This was carefully enlarged, so as not to bring the overhanging pile down upon their heads, and the lions' den was complete.
When [their father] Harvey Gates, in response to the tin horn, came up to his dinner, he heard, as he approached the house, sounds of muffled roaring, growling, and barking, proceeding apparently from the heart of the wood-pile. Suspecting Teddy to be somewhere about, he stopped to investigate. The entrance to the den had been purposely concealed; but Harvey Gates, looking between the interlacing sticks of wood, saw Teddy on his knees in the center of the den, his eyes closed, his hands uplifted, and his lips moving, while Roundtop, Squaretop, and Dandy Lion [the dog] went slowly circling around him, on all-fours, Roundtop roaring, Squaretop growling, and Dandy Lion frisking and barking to the best of his ability.
A momentary lull in the indescribable concert enabled Harvey Gates to hear something about " thy servant Daniel " who is " that tall and sthrong," coupled with an admonition to the lions to " growl as hard as iver ye can," which doubled him up with silent laughter. He was not a selfish man, and, stepping out from behind the wood-pile, he signaled Mrs. Gates, who was standing in the kitchen door-way wondering why Harvey was so late. She went hurriedly in obedience to the signal, expecting some evil tidings.
" What upon earth are they doing? " asked she, in a loud whisper, looking between the sticks of wood.
" I fear you are forgetting your Bible-history, Jane. Don't you see what they are doing?"
" No, I don't."
"It is a tableau,-- Daniel in the lions' den, -- and Teddy is Daniel."
" You don't mean to say that these children, after all my training, are playing Bible stories? "
" Looks like it: hear the lions growl! "
" But, Harvey, this must be stopped right off! "
"Why? Because it isn't right; it's wicked -- it isn't respectful."
"I don't think Daniel would object; and if he doesn't, why should we?"
" Harvey Gates, you are every whit as crazy as those children are, and sometimes I believe you are not a day older! To think of my children playing Bible stories, and their father looking on and laughing! what do you suppose my father, good old Presbyterian, would say?"
" I guess he would say it was worth looking at; and after all, Jane, what is the difference between telling Bible stories and playing Bible stories?"
" There is a great difference, I can tell you -- a great difference." And, after another long look between the sticks of wood -- " That boy isn't praying, is he?"
" What boy?"
" I hope so."
" You hope so ? Why, Harvey Gates, it is shocking! If that boy is doing any thing of the kind, he is only 'making believe ' pray."
"Well, Jane, perhaps he never even 'made believe' pray before, and perhaps it will help him to remember that there is such a thing as prayer, and to pray when he sorely needs to pray, sometime," said he, looking in her eyes, with a sweet solemnity that always silenced if it did not convince her. Uncertain and perplexed, she turned to go into the house, and as he came up beside her, she said, gently,--
" I don't want to say or do any thing uncharitable, but I can't bear to have my children grow up without reverencing the Bible and the good men in it, and it doesn't seem to me that making ' tableaux,' as you call it, is the right way to reverence the Bible."
" Don't be troubled, Jane. They are learning to love the Bible, and if they love it, they will surely reverence it all the days of their lives."
" But I wish you would put a stop to their playing Bible stories. I can't think it is right. Some dreadful thing will come of it, yet."
And when, some days later, Harvey Gates, ever watchful, found that Teddy had tired of playing Daniel in the woodpile, and had turned his attention to the Hebrew children, making a fiery furnace in the side of the wood-pile, and, taking Roundtop and Squaretop and Dandy Lion for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and had put them in the fiery furnace, and was about to light the wood-pile under them, he, too, thought it was time to stop playing Bible stories, at least for the present, and prepared a fish-fry instead.
Josephine R. Baker, Roundtop and Squaretop: The Gates Twins
Boston and Chicago: Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, 1887.
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