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Tess of the Storm Country   By: (1868-1957)

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Illustrations by Howard Chandler Christy

New York Grosset & Dunlap Publishers

Made in the United States of America

Copyright, 1909, by W. J. WATT & COMPANY




One September afternoon, not many years ago, three men sat on the banks of Cayuga Lake cleaning the fish they had caught in their nets the previous night. When they glanced up from their work, and looked beyond the southern borders of the lake, they could see, rising from the mantle of forestry, the towers and spires of Cornell University in Ithaca City. An observer would have noticed a sullen look of hatred pass unconsciously over their faces as their eyes lighted on the distant buildings, for the citizens of Ithaca were the enemies of these squatter fishermen and thought that their presence on the outskirts of the town besmirched its fair fame. Not only did the summer cottages of the townfolk that bordered the lake, look down disdainfully upon their neighbors, the humble shanties of the squatter fishermen, but their owners did all they could to drive the fishermen out of the land. None of the squatters were allowed to have the title of the property upon which their huts stood, yet they clung with death like tenacity to their homes, holding them through the rights of the squatter law, which conceded them the use of the land when once they raised a hut upon it. Sterner and sterner the authorities of Ithaca had made the game laws until the fishermen, to get the food upon which they lived, dared only draw their nets by night. In the winter whilst the summer residents were to be found again in the city, Nature herself made harder the lot of these squatters, by sealing the lake with thick ice, but they faced the bitter cold and frozen surroundings with stolid indifference.

A grim silence had reigned during which the three men had worked with feverish haste, driven on by the vicissitudes of their unwholesome lives. Moving his crooked legs upon the hot sand and closing a red lid over one white blind eye, Ben Letts spoke viciously.

"Tess air that cussed," said he, "that she keeps on saying fishes can feel when they gets cut. She air worse than that too."

"And she do say," put in Jake Brewer, grasping a large pickerel and thrusting his blade into its quivering body after removing the scales, "that it hurts her insides to see the critters wriggle under the knife. She air that bad too."

Ben Letts scratched his head tentatively.

"She ain't had no bringin' up," he resumed, again plying the sharp bladed knife to his scaly victims, "and they do say as how when she air in a tantrum she'll scratch her dad's face, jumpin' on his back like a cat. Orn air a fool, I say."

"So says I too," agreed Brewer; "no wonder his shoulders air humped. But you never hears as much as a grunt from him. He knows he ain't never give her no bringin's up, that's why."

"Some folks has give their kids bringin's up," interposed Ben Letts with a glance at the third man, who was industriously cleaning fish and had not yet spoken. "And they hain't turned out no better than Tessibel will."

At this the industrious one turned.

"I spose ye be a hittin' at my poor Myry, Ben," he muttered. "I spose ye be, but God'll some time let me kill the man, and then ye won't be hittin' at her no more, 'cause there won't be nothin' to hit at. It air dum hard to keep a girl from the wrong way, love her all ye will."

For an instant Ben Letts dropped his head.

"We always wondered who he was, but more wonder has been goin' on why ye ain't made no offer to find the fellow."

"Ain't had no time," said the desperate cleaner of fish; "had to get bread and beans, to say nothin' of bacon."

"But why didn't ye send the brat to the workhouse?" asked Jake.

"Satisfied" Longman, as he was called, shook his head... Continue reading book >>

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