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Title: Chimney-Pot Papers
Author: Brooks, Charles S. (Charles Stephen), 1878-1934
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Chimney-Pot Papers" ***

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Libraries.)



                          Chimney-Pot Papers



                        by Charles S. Brooks.


                      Illustrated with wood-cuts

                           by Fritz Endell.



                                 1920

                  New Haven: Yale University Press.

          London: Humphrey Milford: Oxford University Press



                         Copyright, 1919, by
                        Yale University Press.

                        First published, 1919.
                        Second printing, 1920.

                          Publisher's Note:

               The Yale University Press makes grateful
                 acknowledgment to the Editors of the
            _Unpopular Review_ and _The Century Magazine_
                   for permission to include in the
              present volume, essays of which they were
                       the original publishers.

       *       *       *       *       *



To Minerva, my Wife.

       *       *       *       *       *



Contents.


   I. The Chimney-Pots                                  11

  II. The Quest of the Lost Digamma                     19

 III. On a Rainy Morning                                35

  IV. "1917"                                            43

   V. On Going Afoot                                    47

  VI. On Livelihoods                                    68

 VII. The Tread of the Friendly Giants                  79

VIII. On Spending a Holiday                             89

  IX. Runaway Studies                                  109

   X. On Turning into Forty                            117

  XI. On the Difference between Wit and Humor          128

 XII. On Going to a Party                              136

XIII. On a Pair of Leather Suspenders                  146

 XIV. Boots for Runaways                               159

  XV. On Hanging a Stocking at Christmas               169

       *       *       *       *       *



The Chimney-Pots.


My windows look across the roofs of the crowded city and my thoughts
often take their suggestion from the life that is manifest at my
neighbors' windows and on these roofs.

Across the way, one story lower than our own, there dwells "with his
subsidiary parents" a little lad who has been ill for several weeks.
After his household is up and dressed I regularly discover him in bed,
with his books and toys piled about him. Sometimes his knees are
raised to form a snowy mountain, and he leads his paper soldiers up
the slope. Sometimes his kitten romps across the coverlet and pounces
on his wriggling toes; and again sleeps on the sunny window-sill. His
book, by his rapt attention, must deal with far-off islands and with
waving cocoanut trees. Lately I have observed that a yellow drink is
brought to him in the afternoon--a delicious blend of eggs and
milk--and by the zest with which he licks the remainder from his lips,
it is a prime favorite of his. In these last few days, however, I have
seen the lad's nose flat and eager on the window, and I know that he
is convalescent.

At another set of windows--now that the days are growing short and
there is need of lights--I see in shadowgraph against the curtains an
occasional domestic drama. Tonight, by the appearance of hurry and
the shifting of garments, I surmise that there is preparation for a
party. Presently, when the upstairs lights have disappeared, I shall
see these folk below, issuing from their door in glossy raiment. My
dear sir and madame, I wish you an agreeable dinner and--if your tooth
resembles mine--ice-cream for dessert.

The window of a kitchen, also, is opposite, and I often look on savory
messes as they ripen on the fire--a stirring with a long iron spoon.
This spoon is of such unusual length that even if one supped with the
devil (surely the fearful adage cannot apply to our quiet street) he
might lift his food in safety from the common pot.

A good many stories lower there is a bit of roof that is set with
wicker furniture and a row of gay plants along the gutter. Here every
afternoon exactly at six--the roof being then in shadow--a man appears
and reads his evening paper. Later his wife joins him and they eat
their supper from a tray. They are sunk almost in a well of buildings
which, like the hedge of a fairy garden, shuts them from all contact
with the world. And here they sit when the tray has been removed. The
twilight falls early at their level and, like cottagers in a valley,
they watch the daylight that still gilds the peaks above them.

There is another of these out-of-door rooms above me on a higher
building. From my lower level I can see the bright canvas and the
side of the trellis that supports it. Here, doubtless, in the cool
breeze of these summer evenings, honest folk sip their coffee and
watch the lights start across the city.

Thus, all around, I have glimpses of my neighbors--a form against the
curtains--a group, in the season, around the fire--the week's darning
in a rocker--an early nose sniffing at the open window the morning
airs.

But it is these roofs themselves that are the general prospect.

Close at hand are graveled surfaces with spouts and whirling vents and
chimneys. Here are posts and lines for washing, and a scuttle from
which once a week a laundress pops her head. Although her coming is
timed to the very hour--almost to the minute--yet when the scuttle
stirs it is with an appearance of mystery, as if one of the forty
thieves were below, boosting at the rocks that guard his cave. But the
laundress is of so unromantic and jouncing a figure that I abandon the
fancy when no more than her shoulders are above the scuttle. She is,
however, an amiable creature and, if the wind is right, I hear her
singing at her task. When clothespins fill her mouth, she experiments
with popular tunes. One of these wooden bipeds once slipped inside and
nearly strangled her.

In the distance, on the taller buildings, water tanks are lifted
against the sky. They are perched aloft on three fingers, as it were,
as if the buildings were just won to prohibition and held up their
water cups in the first excitement of a novice to pledge the cause.
Let hard liquor crouch and tremble in its rathskeller below the
sidewalk! In the basement let musty kegs roll and gurgle with hopeless
fear! _Der Tag!_ The roof, the triumphant roof, has gone dry.

This range of buildings with water tanks and towers stops my gaze to
the North. There is a crowded world beyond--rolling valleys of
humanity--the heights of Harlem--but although my windows stand on
tiptoe, they may not discover these distant scenes.

On summer days these roofs burn in the sun and spirals of heat arise.
Tar flows from the joints in the tin. Tar and the adder--is it not a
bright day that brings them forth? Now washing hangs limp upon the
line. There is no frisk in undergarments. These stockings that hang
shriveled and anæmic--can it be possible that they once trotted to a
lively tune, or that a lifted skirt upon a crosswalk drew the eye? The
very spouts and chimneys droop in the heavy sunlight. All the spinning
vents are still. On these roofs, as on a steaming altar, August
celebrates its hot midsummer rites.

But in winter, when the wind is up, the roofs show another aspect. The
storm, in frayed and cloudy garment, now plunges across the city. It
snaps its boisterous fingers. It pipes a song to summon rowdy
companions off the sea. The whirling vents hum shrilly to the tune.
And the tempests are roused, and the windy creatures of the hills make
answer. The towers--even the nearer buildings--are obscured. The sky
is gray with rain. Smoke is torn from the chimneys. Down below let a
fire be snug upon the hearth and let warm folk sit and toast their
feet! Let shadows romp upon the walls! Let the andirons wink at the
sleepy cat! Cream or lemon, two lumps or one. Here aloft is brisker
business. There is storm upon the roof. The tempest holds a carnival.
And the winds pounce upon the smoke as it issues from the chimney-pots
and wring it by the neck as they bear it off.

And sometimes it seems that these roofs represent youth, and its
purpose, its ambition and adventure. For, from of old, have not poets
lived in garrets? And are not all poets young even if their beards are
white? Round and round the poet climbs, up these bare creaking flights
to the very top. There is a stove to be lighted--unless the woodbox
fails--a sloping ceiling and a window huddled to the floor. The poet's
fingers may be numb. Although the inkpot be full, his stomach may be
empty. And yet from this window, lately, a poem was cast upward to the
moon. And youth and truth still rhyme in these upper rooms. Linda's
voice is still the music of a sonnet. Still do the roses fade, and
love is always like the constant stars. And once, this!--surely from a
garret:

    When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
    Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
    And think that I may never live to trace
    Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance--

Poor starved wretches are we who live softly in the lower stories,
although we are fat of body.

If a mighty pair of shears were to clip the city somewhere below these
windy gutters would there not be a dearth of poems in the spring? Who
then would be left to note the changing colors of the twilight and the
peaceful transit of the stars? Would gray beech trees in the winter
find a voice? Would there still be a song of water and of wind? Who
would catch the rhythm of the waves and the wheat fields in the
breeze? What lilts and melodies would vanish from the world! How stale
and flat the city without its roofs!

But it is at night that these roofs show best. Then, as below a
philosopher in his tower, the city spreads its web of streets, and its
lights gleam in answer to the lights above. Galileo in his
tower--Teufelsdröckh at his far-seeing attic window--saw this
glistening pageantry and had thoughts unutterable.

In this darkness these roofs are the true suburb of the world--the
outpost--the pleasant edge of our human earth turned up toward the
barren moon. Chimneys stand as sentinels on the border of the sky.
Pointed towers mark the passage of the stars. Great buildings are the
cliffs on the shores of night. A skylight shows as a pleasant signal
to guide the wandering skipper of the moon.



The Quest of the Lost Digamma.


Many years ago there was a club of college undergraduates which called
itself the Lost Digamma. The digamma, I am informed, is a letter that
was lost in prehistoric times from the Greek alphabet. A prudent
alphabet would have offered a reward at once and would have beaten up
the bushes all about, but evidently these remedies were neglected. As
the years went on the other letters gradually assumed its duties. The
philological chores, so to speak, night and morning, that had once
fallen to the digamma, they took upon themselves, until the very name
of the letter was all but lost.

Those who are practiced in such matters--humped men who blink with
learning--claim to discover evidence of the letter now and then in
their reading. Perhaps the missing letter still gives a false quantity
to a vowel or shifts an accent. It is remembered, as it were, by its
vacant chair. Or rather, like a ghost it haunts a word, rattling a
warning lest we disarrange a syllable. Its absence, however, in the
flesh, despite the lapse of time--for it went off long ago when the
mastodon still wandered on the pleasant upland--its continued absence
vexes the learned. They scan ancient texts for an improper syllable
and mark the time upon their brown old fingers, if possibly a jolting
measure may offer them a clue. Although it must appear that the
digamma--if it yet rambles alive somewhere beneath the moon--has by
this time grown a beard and is lost beyond recognition, still old
gentlemen meet weekly and read papers to one another on the progress
of the search. Like the old woman of the story they still keep a light
burning in their study windows against the wanderer's return.

Now it happened once that a group of undergraduates, stirred to
sympathy beyond the common usage of the classroom, formed themselves
into a club to aid in the search. It is not recorded that they were
the deepest students in the class, yet mark their zeal! On a rumor
arising from the chairman that the presence of the lost digamma was
suspected the group rushed together of an evening, for there was an
instinct that the digamma, like the raccoon, was easiest trapped at
night. To stay their stomachs against a protracted search, for their
colloquies sat late, they ordered a plentiful dinner to be placed
before them. Also, on the happy chance that success might crown the
night, a row of stout Tobies was set upon the board. If the prodigal
lurked without and his vagrant nose were seen at last upon the window,
then musty liquor, from a Toby's three-cornered hat, would be a
fitting pledge for his return.

I do not know to a certainty the place of these meetings, but I choose
to fancy that it was an upper room in a modest restaurant that went by
the name of Mory's--not the modern Mory's that affects the manners of
a club, but the original Temple Bar, remembered justly for its brown
ale and golden bucks.

There was, of course, a choice of places where the Lost Digamma might
have pushed its search. Waiving Billy's and the meaner joints
conferred on freshmen, there was, to be sure, the scholastic murk of
Traeger's--one room especially at the rear with steins around the
walls. There was Heublein's, also. Even the Tontine might rouse a
student. But I choose to consider that Mory's was the place.

Never elsewhere has cheese sputtered on toast with such hot delight.
Never have such fair round eggs perched upon the top. The hen who laid
the golden egg--for it could be none other than she who worked the
miracle at Mory's--must have clucked like a braggart when the smoking
dish came in. The dullest nose, even if it had drowsed like a Stoic
through the day, perked and quivered when the breath came off the
kitchen. Ears that before had never wiggled to the loudest noise came
flapping forward when the door was opened. Or maybe in those days your
wealth, huddled closely through the week, stretched on Saturday night
to a mutton chop with bacon on the side. This chop, named of the
southern downs, was so big that it curled like an anchovy to get upon
the plate. The sheep that bore it across the grassy moors must have
out-topped the horse. The hills must have shaken beneath his tread.
With what eagerness you squared your lean elbows for the feast, with
knife and fork turned upwards in your fists!

But chops in these modern days are retrograde. Sheep have fallen to a
decadent race. Cheese has lost its cunning. Someone, alas, as the
story says, has killed the hen that laid the golden egg. Mory's is
sunk and gone. Its faded prints of the Old Brick Row, its tables
carved with students' names, its brown Tobies in their three-cornered
hats, the brasses of the tiny bar, the rickety rooms themselves--these
rise from the past like genial ghosts and beckon us toward pleasant
memories.

Such was the zeal in those older days which the members of the Lost
Digamma spent upon their quest that belated pedestrians--if the legend
of the district be believed--have stopped upon the curb and have
inquired the meaning of the glad shouts that issued from the upper
windows, and they have gone off marveling at the enthusiasm attendant
on this high endeavor. It is rumored that once when the excitement of
the chase had gone to an unusual height and the students were beating
their Tobies on the table, one of them, a fellow of uncommon ardor,
lunging forward from his chair, got salt upon the creature's tail. The
exploit overturned the table and so rocked the house that Louis, who
was the guardian of the place, put his nose above the stairs and
cooled the meeting. Had it not been for his interference--he was a
good-natured fellow but unacquainted with the frenzy that marks the
scholar--the lost digamma might have been trapped, to the lasting
glory of the college.

As to the further progress of the club I am not informed. Doubtless it
ran an honorable course and passed on from class to class the
tradition of its high ambition, but never again was the lost digamma
so nearly in its grasp. If it still meets upon its midnight labors, a
toothless member boasts of that night of its topmost glory, and those
who have gathered to his words rap their stale unprofitable mugs upon
the table.

It would be unjust to assume that you are so poor a student as myself.
Doubtless you are a scholar and can discourse deeply of the older
centuries. You know the ancient works of Tweedledum and can
distinguish to a hair's breadth 'twixt him and Tweedledee. Learning is
candy on your tooth. Perhaps you stroke your sagacious beard and give
a nimble reason for the lightning. To you the hills have whispered how
they came, and the streams their purpose and ambition. You have
studied the first shrinkage of the earth when the plains wrinkled and
broke into mountain peaks. The mystery of the stars is to you as
familiar as your garter. If such depth is yours, I am content to sit
before you like a bucket below a tap.

At your banquet I sit as a poor relation. If the viands hold, I fork a
cold morsel from your dish....

But modesty must not gag me. I do myself somewhat lean towards
knowledge. I run to a dictionary on a disputed word, and I point my
inquiring nose upon the page like a careful schoolman. On a spurt I
pry into an uncertain date, but I lack the perseverance and the
wakefulness for sustained endeavor. To repair my infirmity, I
frequently go among those of steadier application, if haply their
devotion may prove contagious. It was but lately that I dined with a
group of the Cognoscenti. There were light words at first, as when a
juggler carelessly tosses up a ball or two just to try his hand before
he displays his genius--a jest or two, into which I entered as an
equal. In these shallow moments we waded through our soup. But we had
hardly got beyond the fish when the company plunged into greater
depth. I soon discovered that I was among persons skilled in those
economic and social studies that now most stir us. My neighbor on the
left offered to gossip with me on the latest evaluations and
eventuations--for such were her pleasing words--in the department of
knowledge dearest to her. While I was still fumbling for a response,
my neighbor on the right, abandoning her meat, informed me of the
progress of a survey of charitable organizations that was then under
way. By mischance, however, while flipping up the salad on my fork, I
dropped a morsel on the cloth, and I was so intent in manoeuvring
my plates and spoons to cover up the speck, that I lost a good part of
her improving discourse.

I was still, however, making a tolerable pretense of attention, when a
learned person across the table was sharp enough to see that I was a
novice in the gathering. For my improvement, therefore, he fixed his
great round glasses in my direction. In my confusion they seemed
burning lenses hotly focused on me. Under such a glare, he thought, my
tender sprouts of knowledge must spring up to full blossom.

When he had my attention, he proceeded to lay out the dinner into
calories, which I now discovered to be a kind of heat or nutritive
unit. He cast his appraisal on the meat and vegetables, and turned an
ear toward the pantry door if by chance he might catch a hint of the
dessert for his estimate, but by this time, being overwrought, I gave
up all pretense, and put my coarse attention on my plate.

Sometimes I fall on better luck. It was but yesterday that I sat
waiting for a book in the Public Library, when a young woman came and
sat beside me on the common bench. Immediately she opened a monstrous
note-book, and fell to studying it. I had myself been reading, but I
had held my book at a stingy angle against the spying of my neighbors.
As the young woman was of a more open nature, she laid hers out flat.
It is my weakness to pry upon another's book. Especially if it is old
and worn--a musty history or an essay from the past--I squirm and
edge myself until I can follow the reader's thumb.

At the top of each page she had written the title of a book, with a
space below for comment, now well filled. There were a hundred of
these titles, and all of them concerned John Paul Jones. She busied
herself scratching and amending her notes. The whole was thrown into
such a snarl of interlineation, was so disfigured with revision, and
the writing so started up the margins to get breath at the top, that I
wondered how she could possibly bring a straight narrative out of the
confusion. Yet here was a book growing up beneath my very nose. If in
a year's time--or perhaps in a six-month, if the manuscript is not
hawked too long among publishers--if when again the nights are raw, a
new biography of John Paul Jones appears, and you cut its leaves while
your legs are stretched upon the hearth, I bid you to recognize as its
author my companion on the bench. Although she did not have beauty to
rouse a bachelor, yet she had an agreeable face and, if a soft white
collar of pleasing fashion be evidence, she put more than a scholar's
care upon her dress.

I am not entirely a novice in a library. Once I gained admittance to
the Reading Room of the British Museum--no light task even before the
war. This was the manner of it. First, I went among the policemen who
frequent the outer corridors, and inquired for a certain office which
I had been told controlled its affairs. The third policeman had heard
of it and sent me off with directions. Presently I went through an
obscure doorway, traversed a mean hall with a dirty gas-jet at the
turn and came before a wicket. A dark man with the blood of a Spanish
inquisitor asked my business. I told him I was a poor student, without
taint or heresy, who sought knowledge. He stroked his chin as though
it were a monstrous improbability. He looked me up and down, but this
might have been merely a secular inquiry on the chance that I carried
explosives. He then dipped his pen in an ancient well (it was from
such a dusty fount that the warrant for Saint Bartholomew went forth),
then bidding me be careful in my answers, he cocked his head and shut
his less suspicious eye lest it yield to mercy.

He asked my name in full, middle name and all--as though villainy
might lurk in an initial--my hotel, my length of stay in London, my
residence in America, my occupation, the titles of the books I sought.
When he had done, I offered him my age and my weakness for French
pastry, in order that material for a monograph might be at hand if at
last I came to fame, but he silenced me with his cold eye. He now
thrust a pamphlet in my hands, and told me to sit alongside and read
it. It contained the rules that govern the use of the Reading Room. It
was eight pages long, and intolerably dry, and towards the end I
nodded. Awaking with a start, I was about to hold up my hands for the
adjustment of the thumb screws--for I had fallen on a nightmare--when
he softened. The Imperial Government was now pleased to admit me to
the Reading Room for such knowledge as might lie in my capacity.

The Reading Room is used chiefly by authors, gray fellows mostly,
dried and wrinkled scholars who come here to pilfer innocently from
antiquity. Among these musty memorial shelves, if anywhere, it would
seem that the dusty padding feet of the lost digamma might be heard.
In this room, perhaps, Christian Mentzelius was at work when he heard
the book-worm flap its wings.

Here sit the scholars at great desks with ingenious shelves and racks,
and they write all day and copy excerpts from the older authors. If
one of them hesitates and seems to chew upon his pencil, it is but
indecision whether Hume or Buckle will weigh heavier on his page. Or
if one of them looks up from his desk in a blurred near-sighted
manner, it is because his eyes have been so stretched upon the distant
centuries, that they can hardly focus on a room. If a scholar chances
to sneeze because of the infection, let it be his consolation that the
dust arises from the most ancient and respected authors! Pages move
silently about with tall dingy tomes in their arms. Other tomes, whose
use is past, they bear off to the shades below.

I am told that once in a long time a student of fresher complexion
gets in--a novitiate with the first scholastic down upon his cheek--a
tender stripling on his first high quest--a broth of a boy barely off
his primer--but no sooner is he set than he feels unpleasantly
conspicuous among his elders. Most of these youth bolt, offering to
the doorman as a pretext some neglect--a forgotten mission at a
book-stall--an errand with a tailor. Even those few who remain because
of the greater passion for their studies, find it to their comfort to
break their condition. Either they put on glasses or they affect a
limp. I know one persistent youth who was so consumed with desire for
history, yet so modest against exposure, that he bargained with a
beggar for his crutch. It was, however, the rascal's only livelihood.
This crutch and his piteous whimper had worked so profitably on the
crowd that, in consequence, its price fell beyond the student's purse.
My friend, therefore, practiced a palsy until, being perfect in the
part, he could take his seat without notice or embarrassment. Alas,
the need of these pretenses is short. Such is the contagion of the
place--a breath from Egypt comes up from the lower stacks--that a
youth's appearance, like a dyer's hand, is soon subdued to what it
works in. In a month or so a general dust has settled on him. Too
often learning is a Rip Van Winkle's flagon.

On a rare occasion I have myself been a student, and have plied my
book with diligence. Not long ago I spent a week of agreeable days
reading the many versions of Shakespeare that were played from the
Restoration through the eighteenth century. They are well known to
scholars, but the general reader is perhaps unfamiliar how Shakespeare
was perverted. From this material I thought that I might lay out an
instructive paper; how, for example, the whirling passion of Lear was
once wrought to soft and pleasant uses for a holiday. Cordelia is
rescued from the villains by the hero Kent, who cries out in a
transport, "Come to my arms, thou loveliest, best of women!" The scene
is laid in the woods, but as night comes on, Cordelia's old nurse
appears. A scandal is averted. Whereupon Kent marries Cordelia, and
they reign happily ever afterward. As for Lear, he advances into a
gentle convalescence. Before the week is out he will be sunning
himself on the bench beneath his pear tree and babbling of his early
days.

There were extra witches in Macbeth. Romeo and Juliet lived and the
quarreling families were united. Desdemona remained un-smothered to
the end. There was one stout author--but here I trust to memory--who
even attempted to rescue Hamlet and to substitute for the distant
rolling of the drum of Fortinbras, the pipes and timbrels of his happy
wedding. There is yet to be made a lively paper of these Shakespeare
tinkers of the eighteenth century.

And then John Timbs was to have been my text, who was an antiquary of
the nineteenth century. I had come frequently on his books. They are
seldom found in first-hand shops. More appropriately they are offered
where the older books are sold--where there are racks before the door
for the rakings of the place, and inside an ancient smell of leather.
If there are barrels in the basement, stocked and overflowing, it is
sure that a volume of Timbs is upon the premises.

I visited the Public Library and asked a sharp-nosed person how I
might best learn about John Timbs. I followed the direction of his
wagging thumb. The accounts of the encyclopedias are meager, a date of
birth and of death, a few facts of residence, the titles of his
hundred and fifty books, and little more. Some neglect him entirely;
skipping lightly from Timbrel to Timbuctoo. Indeed, Timbuctoo turned
up so often that even against my intention I came to a knowledge of
the place. It lies against the desert and exports ostrich feathers,
gums, salts and kola-nuts. Nor are timbrels to be scorned. They were
used--I quote precisely--"by David when he danced before the ark."
Surely not Noah's ark! I must brush up on David.

Timbs is matter for an engaging paper. His passion was London. He had
a fling at other subjects--a dozen books or so--but his graver hours
were given to the study of London. There is hardly a park or square or
street, palace, theatre or tavern that did not yield its secret to
him. Here and there an upstart building, too new for legend, may have
had no gossip for him, but all others John Timbs knew, and the
personages who lived in them. And he knew whether they were of sour
temper, whether they were rich or poor, and if poor, what shifts and
pretenses they practiced. He knew the windows of the town where the
beaux commonly ogled the passing beauties. He knew the chatter of the
theatres and of society. He traced the walls of the old city, and
explored the lanes. Unless I am much mistaken, there is not a fellow
of the _Dunciad_ to whom he has not assigned a house. Nor is any man
of deeper knowledge of the clubs and coffee-houses and taverns. One
would say that he had sat at Will's with Dryden, and that he had gone
to Button's arm in arm with Addison. Did Goldsmith journey to his
tailor for a plum-colored suit, you may be sure that Timbs tagged him
at the elbow. If Sam Johnson sat at the Mitre or Marlowe caroused in
Deptford, Timbs was of the company. There has scarcely been a play
acted in London since the days of Burbage which Timbs did not
chronicle.

But presently I gave up the study of John Timbs. Although I had
accumulated interesting facts about him, and had got so far as to lay
out several amusing paragraphs, still I could not fit them together to
an agreeable result. It was as though I could blow a melodious C upon
a horn, and lower down, after preparation, a dulcet G, but failed to
make a tune of them.

But although my studies so far have been unsuccessful, doubtless I
shall persist. Even now I have several topics in mind that may yet
serve for pleasant papers. If I fail, it will be my comfort that
others far better than myself achieve but a half success. Although the
digamma escapes our salt, somewhere he lurks on the lonely mountains.
And often when our lamps burn late, we fancy that we catch a waving of
his tail and hear him padding across the night. But although we lash
ourselves upon the chase and strain forward in the dark, the timid
beast runs on swifter feet and scampers off.



On a Rainy Morning.


A northeaster blew up last night and this morning we are lashed by
wind and rain. M---- foretold the change yesterday when we rode upon a
'bus top at nightfall. It was then pleasant enough and to my eye all
was right aloft. I am not, however, weather-wise. I must feel the
first patter of the storm before I hazard a judgment. To learn even
the quarter of a breeze--unless there is a trail of smoke to guide
me--I must hold up a wet finger. In my ignorance clouds sail across
the heavens on a whim. Like white sheep they wander here and there for
forage, and my suspicion of bad weather comes only when the tempest
has whipped them to a gallop. Even a band around the moon--which I am
told is primary instruction on the coming of a storm--stirs me chiefly
by its deeper mystery, as if astrology, come in from the distant
stars, lifts here a warning finger. But M---- was brought up beside
the sea, and she has a sailor's instinct for the weather. At the first
preliminary shifting of the heavens, too slight for my coarser senses,
she will tilt her nose and look around, then pronounce the coming of a
storm. To her, therefore, I leave all questions of umbrellas and
raincoats, and on her decision we go abroad.

Last night when I awoke I knew that her prophecy was right again, for
the rain was blowing in my face and slashing on the upper window. The
wind, too, was whistling along the roofs, with a try at chimney-pots
and spouts. It was the wolf in the fairy story who said he'd huff and
he'd puff, and he'd blow in the house where the little pig lived; yet
tonight his humor was less savage. Down below I heard ash-cans
toppling over all along the street and rolling to the gutters. It
lacks a few nights of Hallowe'en, but doubtless the wind's calendar is
awry and he is out already with his mischief. When a window rattles at
this season, it is the tick-tack of his roguish finger. If a chimney
is overthrown, it is his jest. Tomorrow we shall find a broken shutter
as his rowdy celebration of the night.

This morning is by general agreement a nasty day. I am not sure that I
assent. If I were the old woman at the corner who sells newspapers
from a stand, I would not like the weather, for the pent roof drops
water on her stock. Scarcely is the peppermint safe beyond the
splatter. Nor is it, I fancy, a profitable day for a street-organ man,
who requires a sunny morning with open windows for a rush of business.
Nor is there any good reason why a house-painter should be delighted
with this blustering sky, unless he is an idle fellow who seeks an
excuse to lie in bed. But except in sympathy, why is our elevator boy
so fiercely disposed against the weather? His cage is snug as long as
the skylight holds. And why should the warm dry noses of the city,
pressed against ten thousand windows up and down the streets, be flat
and sour this morning with disapproval?

It may savor of bravado to find pleasure in what is so commonly
condemned. Here is a smart fellow, you may say, who sets up a
paradox--a conceited braggart who professes a difference to mankind.
Or worse, it may appear that I try my hand at writing in a "happy
vein." God forbid that I should be such a villain! For I once knew a
man who, by reading these happy books, fell into pessimism and a sharp
decline. He had wasted to a peevish shadow and had taken to his bed
before his physician discovered the seat of his anæmia. It was only by
cutting the evil dose, chapter by chapter, that he finally restored
him to his friends. Yet neither supposition of my case is true. We who
enjoy wet and windy days are of a considerable number, and if our
voices are seldom heard in public dispute, it is because we are
overcome by the growling majority. You may know us, however, by our
stout boots, the kind of battered hats we wear, and our disregard of
puddles. To our eyes alone, the rain swirls along the pavements like
the mad rush of sixteenth notes upon a music staff. And to our ears
alone, the wind sings the rattling tune recorded.

Certainly there is more comedy on the streets on a wet and windy day
than there is under a fair sky. Thin folk hold on at corners. Fat folk
waddle before the wind, their racing elbows wing and wing. Hats are
whisked off and sail down the gutters on excited purposes of their
own. It was only this morning that I saw an artistocratic silk hat
bobbing along the pavement in familiar company with a stranger
bonnet--surely a misalliance, for the bonnet was a shabby one. But in
the wind, despite the difference of social station, an instant
affinity had been established and an elopement was under way.

Persons with umbrellas clamp them down close upon their heads and
proceed blindly like the larger and more reckless crabs that you see
in aquariums. Nor can we know until now what spirit for adventure
resides in an umbrella. Hitherto it has stood in a Chinese vase
beneath the stairs and has seemed a listless creature. But when a
November wind is up it is a cousin of the balloon, with an equal zest
to explore the wider precincts of the earth and to alight upon the
moon. Only persons of heavier ballast--such as have been fed on
sweets--plump pancake persons--can hold now an umbrella to the ground.
A long stowage of muffins and sugar is the only anchor.

At this moment beneath my window there is a dear little girl who
brings home a package from the grocer's. She is tugged and blown by
her umbrella, and at every puff of wind she goes up on tiptoe. If I
were writing a fairy tale I would make her the Princess of my plot,
and I would transport her underneath her umbrella in this whisking
wind to her far adventures, just as Davy sailed off to the land of
Goblins inside his grandfather's clock. She would be carried over
seas, until she could sniff the spice winds of the south. Then she
would be set down in the orchard of the Golden Prince, who presently
would spy her from his window--a mite of a pretty girl, all mussed and
blown about. And then I would spin out the tale to its true and happy
end, and they would live together ever after. How she labors at the
turn, hugging her paper bag and holding her flying skirts against her
knees! An umbrella, however, usually turns inside out before it gets
you off the pavement, and then it looks like a wrecked Zeppelin. You
put it in the first ash-can, and walk off in an attempt not to be
conspicuous.

Although the man who pursues his hat is, in some sort, conscious that
he plays a comic part, and although there is a pleasing relish on the
curb at his discomfort, yet it must not be assumed that all the humor
on the street rises from misadventure. Rather, it arises from a
general acceptance of the day and a feeling of common partnership in
the storm. The policeman in his rubber coat exchanges banter with a
cab-driver. If there is a tangle in the traffic, it comes nearer to a
jest than on a fairer day. A teamster sitting dry inside his hood,
whistles so cheerily that he can be heard at the farther sidewalk.
Good-naturedly he sets his tune as a rival to the wind.

It must be that only good-tempered persons are abroad--those whose
humor endures and likes the storm--and that when the swift dark clouds
drove across the world, all sullen folk scurried for a roof. And is it
not wise, now and then, that folk be thus parceled with their kind?
Must we wait for Gabriel's Trump for our division? I have been
told--but the story seems incredible--that that seemingly cursed
thing, the Customs' Wharf, was established not so much for our
nation's profit as in acceptance of some such general theory--in a
word, that all sour persons might be housed together for their
employment and society be rid of them. It is by an extension of this
obscure but beneficent division that only those of better nature go
abroad on these blustering November days.

There are many persons, of course, who like summer rains and boast of
their liking. This is nothing. One might as well boast of his appetite
for toasted cheese. Does one pin himself with badges if he plies an
enthusiastic spoon in an ice-cream dish? Or was the love of sack ever
a virtue, and has Falstaff become a saint? If he now sing in the Upper
Choir, the bench must sag. But persons of this turn of argument make a
point of their willingness to walk out in a June rain. They think it a
merit to go tripping across the damp grass to inspect their gardens.
Toasted cheese! Of course they like it. Who could help it? This is no
proof of merit. Such folk, at best, are but sisters in the
brotherhood.

And yet a November rain is but an August rain that has grown a beard
and taken on the stalwart manners of the world. And the November wind,
which piped madrigals in June and lazy melodies all the summer, has
done no more than learn brisker braver tunes to befit the coming
winter. If the wind tugs at your coat-tails, it only seeks a companion
for its games. It goes forth whistling for honest celebration, and who
shall begrudge it here and there a chimney if it topple it in sport?

Despite this, rainy weather has a bad name. So general is its evil
reputation that from of old one of the lowest circles of Hell has been
plagued with raw winds and covered thick with ooze--a testament to our
northern March--and in this villains were set shivering to their
chins. But the beginning of the distaste for rainy weather may be
traced to Noah. Certain it is that toward the end of his cruise, when
the passengers were already chafing with the animals--the kangaroos,
in particular, it is said, played leap-frog in the hold and disturbed
the skipper's sleep--certain it is while the heavens were still
overcast that Noah each morning put his head anxiously up through the
forward hatch for a change of sky. There was rejoicing from stem to
stern--so runs the legend--when at last his old white beard, shifting
from west to east, gave promise of a clearing wind. But from that day
to this, as is natural, there has persisted a stout prejudice against
wind and rain.

But this is not just. If a rainy day lacks sunshine, it has vigor for
a substitute. The wind whistles briskly among the chimney tops. There
is so much life on wet and windy days. Yesterday Nature yawned, but
today she is wide awake. Yesterday the earth seemed lolling idly in
the heavens. It was a time of celestial vacation and all the suns and
moons were vacant of their usual purpose. But today the earth whirls
and spins through space. Her gray cloud cap is pulled down across her
nose and she leans in her hurry against the storm. The heavens have
piped the planets to their work.

Yesterday the smoke of chimneys drifted up with tired content from
lazy roofs, but today the smoke is stretched and torn like a
triumphant banner of the storm.



"1917."


I dreamed last night a fearful dream and this morning even the
familiar contact of the subway has been unable to shake it from me.

I know of few things that are so momentarily tragical as awakening
from a frightful dream. Even if you know with returning consciousness
that it was a dream, it seems as if a part of it must have a basis in
fact. The death that was recorded--is it true or not? And in your mind
you grope among the familiar landmarks of your recollection to
discover where the true and the fictitious join.

But this dream of last night was so vivid that this morning I cannot
shake it from me.

I dreamed--ridiculously enough--that the whole world was at war, and
that big and little nations were fighting.

In my dream the round earth hung before me against the background of
the night, and red flames shot from every part.

I heard cries of anguish--men blinded by gases and crazed by
suffering. I saw women dressed in black--a long procession stretching
hideously from mist to mist--walking with erect heads, dry-eyed, for
grief had starved them of tears. I saw ships sinking and a thousand
arms raised for a moment above the waves. I saw children lying dead
among their toys.

And I saw boys throw down their books and tools and go off with glad
cries, and men I saw, grown gray with despair, staggering under heavy
weights.

There were millions of dead upon the earth that hung before me, and I
smelled the battlefield.

And I beheld one man--one hundred men--secure in an outlawed country--who
looked from far windows--men bitter with disappointment--men who blasphemed
of God, while their victims rotted in Flanders.

And in my dream it seemed that I did not have a sword, but that I,
too, looked upon the battle from a place where there were no flames. I
ran little errands for the war.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is the familiar window--that dull outline across the room. Here
is the accustomed door. The bed is set between. It was but a dream
after all. And yet how it has shaken me!

Of course the dream was absurd. No man--no nation certainly--could be
so mad. The whole whirling earth could not burn with fire. Until the
final trumpet, no such calamity is possible. Thank God, it was but a
dream, and I can continue today my peaceful occupation.

Calico, I'm told, is going up. I must protect our contracts.



On Going Afoot.


There is a tale that somewhere in the world there is a merry river
that dances as often as it hears sweet music. The tale is not precise
whether this river is neighbor to us or is a stream of the older
world. "It dances at the noise of musick," so runs the legend, "for
with musick it bubbles, dances and grows sandy." This tale may be the
conceit of one of those older poets whose verses celebrate the morning
and the freshness of the earth--Thomas Heywood could have written it
or even the least of those poets who sat their evenings at the
Mermaid--or the tale may arise more remotely from an old worship of
the god Pan, who is said to have piped along the streams. I offer my
credence to the earlier origin as the more pleasing. And therefore on
a country walk I observe the streams if by chance any of them shall
fit the tale. Not yet have I seen Pan puffing his cheeks with melody
on a streamside bank--by ill luck I squint short-sightedly--but I
often hear melodies of such woodsy composition that surely they must
issue from his pipe. The stream leaps gaily across the shallows that
glitter with sunlight, and I am tempted to the agreeable suspicion
that I have hit upon the very stream of the legend and that the god
Pan sits hard by in the thicket and beats his shaggy hoof in rhythm.
It is his song that the wind sings in the trees. If a bird sings in
the meadow its tune is pitched to Pan's reedy obligato.

Whether or not this is true, I confess to a love of a stream. This may
be merely an anæmic love of beauty, such as is commonly bred in
townsfolk on a holiday, or it may descend from braver ancestors who
once were anglers and played truant with hook and line. You may recall
that the milk-women of Kent told Piscator when he came at the end of
his day's fishing to beg a cup of red cow's milk, that anglers were
"honest, civil, quiet men." I have, also, a habit of contemplation,
which I am told is proper to an angler. I can lean longer than most
across the railing of a country bridge if the water runs noisily on
the stones. If I chance to come off a dusty road--unless hunger stirs
me to an inn--I can listen for an hour, for of all sounds it is the
most musical. When earth and air and water play in concert, which are
the master musicians this side of the moon, surely their harmony rises
above the music of the stars.

In a more familiar mood I throw stepping stones in the water to hear
them splash, or I cram them in a dam to thwart the purpose of the
stream, laying ever a higher stone when the water laps the top. I
scoop out the sand and stones as if a mighty shipping begged for
passage. Or I rest from this prodigious engineering upon my back and
watch the white traffic of the clouds across the summer sky. The roots
of an antique oak peep upon the flood as in the golden days of Arden.
Apple blossoms fall upon the water like the snow of a more kindly
winter. A gay leaf puts out upon the channel like a painted galleon
for far adventure. A twig sails off freighted with my drowsy thoughts.
A branch of a willow dips in the stream and writes an endless trail of
words in the running water. In these evil days when the whole fair
world is trenched and bruised with war, what wisdom does it send to
the valleys where men reside--what love and peace and gentleness--what
promise of better days to come--that it makes this eternal stream its
messenger!

And yet a stream is best if it is but an incident in travel--if it
break the dusty afternoon and send one off refreshed. Rather than a
place for fishing it invites one to bathe his feet. There are, indeed,
persons so careful of their health as to assert that cold water
endangers blisters. Theirs is a prudence to be neglected. Such persons
had better leave their feet at home safely slippered on the fender. If
one's feet go upon a holiday, is it fair that for fear of consequence
they be kept housed in their shoes? Shall the toes sit inside their
battered caravans while the legs and arms frisk outside? Is there such
torture in a blister--even if the prevention be sure--to outweigh the
pleasure of cold water running across the ankles?

It was but lately that I followed a road that lay off the general
travel through a pleasant country of hills and streams. As the road
was not a thoroughfare and journeyed no farther than the near-by town
where I was to get my supper, it went at a lazy winding pace. If a dog
barked it was in sleepy fashion. He yelped merely to check his
loneliness. There could be no venom on his drowsy tooth. The very cows
that fed along its fences were of a slower breed and more
contemplative whisk of tail than are found upon the thoroughfares.
Sheep patched the fields with gray and followed their sleepy banquet
across the hills.

The country was laid out with farms--orchards and soft fields of grain
that waved like a golden lake--but there were few farmhouses. In all
the afternoon I passed but one person, a deaf man who asked for
direction. When I cried out that I was a stranger, he held his hand to
his ear, but his mouth fell open as if my words, denied by deafness
from a proper portal, were offered here a service entrance. I spread
my map before him and he put an ample thumb upon it. Then inquiring
whether I had crossed a road with a red house upon it where his friend
resided, he thanked me and walked off with such speed as his years had
left him. Birds sang delightfully on the fences and in the field, yet
I knew not their names. Shall one not enjoy a symphony without precise
knowledge of the instrument that gives the tune? If an oboe sound a
melody, must one bestow a special praise, with a knowledge of its
function in the concert? Or if a trombone please, must one know the
brassy creature by its name? Rather, whether I listen to horns or
birds, in my ignorance I bestow loosely a general approbation; yet is
the song sweet.

All afternoon I walked with the sound of wind and water in my ears,
and at night, when I had gained my journey's end and lay in bed, I
heard beneath my window in the garden the music of a little runnel
that was like a faint and pleasant echo of my hillside walk. I fell
asleep to its soothing sound and its trickle made a pattern across my
dreams.

But perhaps you yourself, my dear sir, are addicted to these country
walks, either for an afternoon or for a week's duration with a
rucksack strapped across your back. If denied the longer outing, I
hope that at least it is your custom to go forth upon a holiday to
look upon the larger earth. Where the road most winds and dips and the
distance is of the finer purple, let that direction be your choice!
Seek out the region of the hills! Outposts and valleys here, with
smoke of suppers rising. Trains are so small that a child might draw
them with a string. Far-off hills are tumbled and in confusion, as if
a giant were roused and had flung his rumpled cloak upon the plain.

Or if a road and a stream seem close companions, tag along with them!
Like three cronies you may work the countryside together! There are
old mills with dams and mossy water wheels, and rumbling covered
bridges.

But chiefly I beg that you wander out at random without too precise
knowledge of where you go or where you shall get your supper. If you
are of a cautious nature, as springs from a delicate stomach or too
sheltered life, you may stuff a bar of chocolate in your pocket. Or an
apple--if you shift your other ballast--will not sag you beyond
locomotion. I have known persons who prize a tomato as offering both
food and drink, yet it is too likely to be damaged and squirt inside
the pocket if you rub against a tree. Instead, the cucumber is to be
commended for its coolness, and a pickle is a sour refreshment that
should be nibbled in turn against the chocolate.

Food oftentimes is to be got upon the way. There is a kind of cocoanut
bar, flat and corrugated, that may be had at most crossroads. I no
longer consider these a delicacy, but in my memory I see a boy
bargaining for them at the counter. They are counted into his dirty
palm. He stuffs a whole one in his mouth, from ear to ear. His bicycle
leans against the trough outside. He mounts, wabbling from side to
side to reach the pedals. Before him lie the mountains of the world.

Nor shall I complain if you hold roughly in your mind, subject to a
whim's reversal, an evening destination to check your hunger. But do
not bend your circuit back to the noisy city! Let your march end at
the inn of a country town! If it is but a station on your journey and
you continue on the morrow, let there be an ample porch and a rail to
rest your feet! Here you may sit in the comfortable twilight when
crammed with food and observe the town's small traffic. Country folk
come about, if you are of easy address, and engage you on their crops.
The village prophet strokes his wise beard at your request and,
squinting at the sky, foretells a storm. Or if the night is cold, a
fire is laid inside and a wrinkled board for the conduct of the war
debates upon the hearth. But so far as your infirmity permits, go
forth at random with a spirit for adventure! If the prospect pleases
you as the train slows down for the platform, cast a penny on your
knee and abide its fall!

Or if on principle you abhor a choice that is made wickedly on the
falling of a coin, let an irrelevant circumstance direct your
destination! I once walked outside of London, making my start at
Dorking for no other reason except that Sam Weller's mother-in-law had
once lived there. You will recall how the elder Mr. Weller in the hour
of his affliction discoursed on widows in the taproom of the Marquis
of Granby when the funeral was done, and how later, being pestered
with the Reverend Mr. Stiggins, he immersed him in the horse-trough to
ease his grief. All through the town I looked for red-nosed men who
might be descended from the reverend shepherd, and once when I passed
a horse-trough of uncommon size I asked the merchant at the corner if
it might not be the very place. I was met, however, by such a vacant
stare--for the fellow was unlettered--that to rouse him I bought a
cucumber from an open crate against the time of lunch, and I followed
my pursuit further in the town. The cucumber was of monstrous length
and thin. All about the town its end stuck out of my pocket
inquisitively, as though it were a fellow traveler down from London to
see the sights. But although I inquired for the Weller family, it
seems that they were dead and gone. Even the Marquis of Granby had
disappeared, with its room behind the bar where Mr. Stiggins drank
pineapple rum with water, _luke_, from the kettle on the hob.

We left Dorking and walked all afternoon through a pleasant sunny
country, up hill and down, to the town of Guildford. At four o'clock,
to break the journey, we laid out our lunch of bread and cheese and
cucumber, and rested for an hour. The place was a grassy bank along a
road above a fertile valley where men were pitching hay. Their shouts
were carried across the fields with an agreeable softness. Today,
doubtless, women work in those fields.

On another occasion we walked from Maidstone to Rochester on
pilgrimage to the inn where Alfred Jingle borrowed Mr. Winkle's coat
to attend the Assembly, when he made love to the buxom widow. War had
just been declared between Britain and Germany, and soldiers guarded
the roads above the town. At a tea-room in the outskirts army
officers ate at a neighboring table. Later, it is likely, they were in
the retreat from Mons: for the expeditionary force crossed the channel
within a week. Yet so does farce march along with tragedy that our
chief concern in Rochester was the old inn where the ball was held.

A surly woman who sat behind the cashier's wicket fixed me with her
eye. "Might we visit the ballroom?" I inquired. Evidently not, unless
we were stopping at the house. "Madame," I said, "perhaps you are
unaware that the immortal Mr. Pickwick once sojourned beneath your
roof." There was no response. "The celebrated Mr. Pickwick, G. C. M.
P. C.," I continued, "who was the discoverer of the sources of the
Hampstead Ponds." At this--for my manner was impressive--she fumbled
through the last few pages of her register and admitted that he might
have been once a patron of the house, but that he had now paid his
bill and gone.

I was about to question her about the poet Augustus Snodgrass, who had
been with Mr. Pickwick on his travels, when a waiter, a humorous
fellow with a vision of a sixpence, offered to be our guide. We
climbed the stairs and came upon the ballroom. It was a small room.
Three quadrilles must have stuffed it to the edge--a dingy place with
bare windows on a deserted innyard. At one end was a balcony that
would hold not more than three musicians. The candles of its former
brightness have long since burned to socket. Vanished are "Sir Thomas
Clubber, Lady Clubber and the Miss Clubbers!" Gone is the Honorable
Wilmot Snipe and all the notables that once crowded it! Vanished is
the punchbowl where the amorous Tracy Tupman drank too many cups of
negus on that memorable night. I gave the dirty waiter a sixpence and
came away.

I discourage the usual literary pilgrimage. Indeed, if there is a
rumor that Milton died in a neighboring town, or a treaty of
consequence was signed close by, choose another path! Let neither
Oliver Cromwell nor the Magna Carta deflect your course! One of my
finest walks was on no better advice than the avoidance of a
celebrated shrine. I was led along the swift waters of a river,
through several pretty towns, and witnessed the building of a lofty
bridge. For lunch I had some memorable griddlecakes. Finally I rode on
top of a rattling stage with a gossip for a driver, whose long finger
pointed out the sights upon the road.

But for the liveliest truancy, keep an eye out for red-haired and
freckled lads, and make them your counselors! Lads so spotted and
colored, I have found, are of unusual enterprise in knowing the best
woodland paths and the loftiest views. A yellow-haired boy, being of
paler wit, will suck his thumb upon a question. A touzled black
exhibits a sulky absorption in his work. An indifferent brown, at
best, runs for an answer to the kitchen. But red-haired and freckled
lads are alive at once. Whether or not their roving spirit, which is
the basis of their deeper and quicker knowledge, proceeds from the
magic of the pigment, the fact yet remains that such boys are surer
than a signpost to direct one to adventure. This truth is so general
that I have read the lives of the voyagers--Robinson Crusoe, Captain
Kidd and the worthies out of Hakluyt--if perhaps a hint might drop
that they too in their younger days were freckled and red-haired. Sir
Walter Raleigh--I choose at random--was doubtless called "Carrots" by
his playmates. But on making inquiry of a red-haired lad, one must
have a clear head in the tumult of his direction. I was once lost for
several hours on the side of Anthony's Nose above the Hudson because I
jumbled such advice. And although I made the acquaintance of a hermit
who dwelt on the mountain with a dog and a scarecrow for his garden--a
fellow so like him in garment and in feature that he seemed his
younger and cleaner brother--still I did not find the top or see the
clear sweep of the Hudson as was promised.

If it is your habit to inquire of distance upon the road, do not
quarrel with conflicting opinion! Judge the answer by the source!
Persons of stalwart limb commonly underestimate a distance, whereas
those of broken wind and stride stretch it greater than it is. But it
is best to take all answers lightly. I have heard of a man who spent
his rainy evenings on a walking trip in going among the soda clerks
and small merchants of the village, not for information, but to
contrast their ignorance. Aladdin's wicked uncle, when he inquired
direction to the mountain of the genii's cave, could not have been so
misdirected. Shoemakers, candy-men and peddlers of tinware--if such
modest merchants existed also on the curb in those magic days--must
have been of nicer knowledge or old Kazrac would never have found the
lamp. In my friend's case, on inquiry, a certain hotel at which we
aimed was both good and bad, open and shut, burned and unburned.

There is a legend of the Catholic Church about a certain holy chapel
that once leaped across the Alps. It seems gross superstition, yet
although I belong to a protesting church, I assert its likelihood. For
I solemnly affirm that on a hot afternoon I chased a whole village
that skipped quite as miraculously before me across the country. It
was a village of stout leg and wind and, as often as I inquired, it
still kept seven miles ahead. Once only I gained, by trotting on a
descent. Not until night when the village lay down to rest beside a
quiet river did I finally overtake it. And the next morning I arose
early in order to be off first upon my travels, and so keep the lively
rascal in the rear.

In my country walks I usually carry a book in the pocket opposite to
my lunch. I seldom read it, but it is a comfort to have it handy. I am
told that at one of the colleges, students of smaller application, in
order that they may truthfully answer as to the length of time they
have spent upon their books, do therefore literally sit upon a pile of
them, as on a stool, while they engage in pleasanter and more secular
reading. I do not examine this story closely, which rises, doubtless,
from the jealousy of a rival college. Rather, I think that these
students perch upon the books which presently they must read, on a
wise instinct that this preliminary contact starts their knowledge.
And therefore a favorite volume, even if unopened in the pocket, does
nevertheless by its proximity color and enhance the enjoyment of the
day. I have carried Howell, who wrote the "Familiar Letters," unread
along the countryside. A small volume of Boswell has grown dingy in my
pocket. I have gone about with a copy of Addison with long S's, but I
read it chiefly at home when my feet are on the fender.

I had by me once as I crossed the Devon moors a volume of "Richard
Feverel." For fifteen miles I had struck across the upland where there
is scarcely a house in sight--nothing but grazing sheep and wild
ponies that ran at my approach. Sometimes a marshy stream flowed down
a shallow valley, with a curl of smoke from a house that stood in the
hollow. At the edge of this moorland, I came into a shady valley that
proceeded to the ocean. My feet were pinched and tired when I heard
the sound of water below the road. I pushed aside the bushes and saw a
stream trickling on the rocks. I thrust my head into a pool until the
water ran into my ears, and then sat with my bare feet upon the cool
stones where the runnel lapped them, and read "Richard Feverel." To
this day, at the mention of the title, I can hear the pleasant brawl
of water and the stirring of the branches in the wind that wandered
down the valley.

Hazlitt tells us in a famous passage with what relish he once read
"The New Eloise" on a walking trip. "It was on the 10th of April,
1798," he writes, "that I sat down to a volume of the New Eloise, at
the inn at Llangollen, over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken." I
am quite unfamiliar with the book, yet as often as I read the
essay--which is the best of Hazlitt--I have been teased to buy it.
Perhaps this springs in part from my own recollection of Llangollen,
where I once stopped on a walking trip through Wales. The town lies on
the river Dee at the foot of fertile hills patched with fences, on
whose top there stand the ruins of Dinas Bran, a fortress of forgotten
history, although it looks grimly towards the English marches as if
its enemies came thence. Thrown across the river there is a peaked
bridge of gray stone, many centuries old, on which the village folk
gather at the end of day. I dined on ale and mutton of such excellence
that, for myself, a cold volume of the census--if I had fallen so
low--must have remained agreeably in memory. I recall that a
street-organ stopped beneath the window and played a merry tune--or
perhaps the wicked ale was mounting--and I paused in my onslaught
against the mutton to toss the musician a coin.

I applaud those who, on a walking trip, arise and begin their journey
in the dawn, but although I am eager at night to make an early start,
yet I blink and growl when the morning comes. I marvel at the poet who
was abroad so early that he was able to write of the fresh twilight on
the world--"Where the sandalled Dawn like a Greek god takes the
hurdles of the hills"--but for my own part I would have slept and
missed the sight. But an early hour is best, despite us lazybones, and
to be on the road before the dew is gone and while yet a mist arises
from the hollows is to know the journey's finest pleasure.

Persons of early hours assert that they feel a fine exaltation. I am
myself inclined to think, however, that this is not so much an
exaltation that arises from the beauty of the hour, as from a feeling
of superiority over their sleeping and inferior comrades. It is akin
to the displeasing vanity of those persons who walk upon a boat with
easy stomach while their companions lie below. I would discourage,
therefore, persons that lean toward conceit from putting a foot out of
bed until the second call. On the other hand, those who are of a
self-depreciative nature should get up with the worm and bird. A man
of my own acquaintance who was sunk in self-abasement for many years,
was roused to a salutary conceit by no other tonic.

And it is certain that to be off upon a journey with a rucksack
strapped upon you at an hour when the butcher boy takes down his
shutters is a high pleasure. Off you go through the village with
swinging arms. Off you go across the country. A farmer is up before
you and you hear his reaper across the field, and the neighing of his
horses at the turn. Where the hill falls sharp against the sky, there
he stands outlined, to wipe the sweat. And as your nature is, swift or
sluggish thoughts go through your brain--plots and vagrant fancies,
which later your pencil will not catch. It is in these earliest hours
while the dew still glistens that little lyric sentences leap into
your mind. Then, if at all, are windmills giants.

There are cool retreats where you may rest at noon, but Stevenson has
written of these. "You come," he writes, "to a milestone on a hill, or
some place where deep ways meet under trees; and off goes the
knapsack, and down you sit to smoke a pipe in the shade. You sink into
yourself, and the birds come round and look at you; and your smoke
dissipates upon the afternoon under the blue dome of heaven; and the
sun lies warm upon your feet, and the cool air visits your neck and
turns aside your open shirt. If you are not happy, you must have an
evil conscience."

And yet a good inn at night holds even a more tranquil joy. M---- and
I, who frequently walk upon a holiday, traversed recently a mountain
road to the north of West Point. During the afternoon we had scrambled
up Storm King to a bare rock above the Hudson. It was just such an
outlook as Rip found before he met the outlandish Dutchmen with their
ninepins and flagon. We lay here above a green world that was rimmed
with mountains, and watched the lagging sails and puffs of smoke upon
the river. It was late afternoon when we descended to the mountain
road that runs to West Point. During all the day there had been
distant rumbling of thunder, as though a storm mustered in a far-off
valley,--or perhaps the Dutchmen of the legend still lingered at their
game,--but now as the twilight fell the storm came near. It was six
o'clock when a sign-board informed us that we had seven miles to go,
and already the thunder sounded with earnest purpose. Far below in the
dusk we saw the lights of West Point. On a sudden, while I was still
fumbling for my poncho which was rolled inside my rucksack, the storm
burst upon us. We put up the umbrella and held the poncho against the
wind and driving rain. But the wind so whisked it about and the rain
was so eager to find the openings that presently we were drenched. In
an hour we came to West Point. Luckily the cook was up, and she
served us a hot dinner in our rooms with the washstand for a table.
When we started there was a piece of soap in the dish, but I think we
ate it in our hunger. I recall that there was one course that foamed
up like custard and was not upon the bill. It was a plain room with
meager furniture, yet we fell asleep with a satisfaction beyond the
Cecils in their lordly beds. I stirred once when there was a clamor in
the hall of guests returning from a hop at the Academy--a prattle of
girls' voices--then slept until the sun was up.

But my preference in lodgings is the low sagging half-timbered
building that one finds in the country towns of England. It has leaned
against the street and dispensed hospitality for three hundred years.
It is as old a citizen as the castle on the hill. It is an inn where
Tom Jones might have spent the night, or any of the rascals out of
Smollett. Behind the wicket there sits a shrewish female with a cold
eye towards your defects, and behind her there is a row of bells which
jangle when water is wanted in the rooms. Having been assigned a room
and asked the hour of dinner, you mount a staircase that rises with a
squeak. There is a mustiness about the place, which although it is
unpleasant in itself, is yet agreeable in its circumstance. A long
hall runs off to the back of the house, with odd steps here and there
to throw you. Your room looks out upon a coach-yard, and as you wash
you overhear a love-passage down below.

In the evening you go forth to see the town. If it lies on the ocean,
you walk upon the mole and watch the fisher folk winding up their
nets, or sitting with tranquil pipes before their doors. Maybe a booth
has been set up on the parade that runs along the ocean, and a husky
fellow bids you lay out a sixpence for the show, which is the very
same, he bawls, as was played before the King and the Royal Family.
This speech is followed by a fellow with a trombone, who blows himself
very red in the face.

But rather I choose to fancy that it is an inland town, and that there
is a quieter traffic on the streets. Here for an hour after dinner,
while darkness settles, you wander from shop to shop and put your nose
upon the glass, or you engage the lamplighter as he goes his rounds,
for any bit of news.

Once in such a town when the night brought rain, for want of other
employment, I debated divinity with a rigid parson, and until a late
hour sat in the thick curtain of his attack. It was at an inn of one
of the midland counties of England, a fine old weathered building,
called "The King's Arms." In the tap--for I thrust my thirsty head
inside--was an array of old pewter upon the walls, and two or three
prints of prize fighters of former days. But it was in the parlor the
parson engaged me. In the corner of the room there was a timid
fire--of the kind usually met in English inns--imprisoned behind a
grill that had been set up stoutly to confine a larger and rowdier
fire. My antagonist was a tall lank man of pinched ascetic face and
dark complexion, with clothes brushed to shininess, and he belonged to
a brotherhood that lived in one of the poorer parts of London along
the wharves. His sojourn at the inn was forced. For two weeks in the
year, he explained, each member was cast out of the conventual
buildings upon the world. This was done in penance, as the members of
more rigid orders in the past were flagellants for a season. So here
for a whole week had he been sitting, for the most part in rainy
weather, busied with the books that the inn afforded--advertising
booklets of the beauties of the Alps--diagrams of steamships--and
peeking out of doors for a change of sky.

It was a matter of course that he should engage me in conversation. He
was as lonesome for a chance to bark as a country dog. Presently when
I dissented from some point in his creed, he called me a heretic, and
I with gentlest satire asked him if the word yet lived. But he was not
angry, and he told me of his brotherhood. It had a branch in America,
and he bade me, if ever I met any of its priests, to convey to them
his warm regards. As for America, it was, he said, too coldly ethical,
and needed most a spiritual understanding; to which judgment I
assented. I wonder now whether the war will bring that understanding.
Maybe, unless blind hatred smothers it.

This priest was a mixture of stern and gentle qualities, and seemed to
be descended from those earlier friars that came to England in cord
and gown, and went barefoot through the cities to minister comfort and
salvation to the poor and wretched. When the evening was at last
spent, by common consent we took our candles on the landing, where,
after he inculcated a final doctrine of his church with waving finger,
he bade me good night, with a wish of luck for my journey on the
morrow, and sought his room.

My own room lay down a creaking hallway. When undressed, I opened my
window and looked upon the street. All lights were out. At last the
rain had ceased, and now above the housetops across the way, through a
broken patch of cloud, a star appeared with a promise of a fair
tomorrow.



On Livelihoods.


Somewhere in his letters, I think, Stevenson pronounces street paving
to be his favorite occupation. I fancy, indeed,--and I have ransacked
his life,--that he never applied himself to its practice for an actual
livelihood. That was not necessary. Rather, he looked on at the curb
in a careless whistling mood, hands deep in the pockets of his breeks,
in a lazy interval between plot and essay. The sunny morning had
dropped its golden invitation through his study windows, and he has
wandered forth to see the world. Let my heroes--for thus I interpret
him at his desk as the sunlight beckoned--let my heroes kick their
heels in patience! Let villains fret inside the inkpot! Down, sirs,
down, into the glossy magic pool, until I dip you up! Pirates--for
surely such miscreants lurked among his papers--let pirates, he cries,
save their red oaths until tomorrow! My hat! My stick!

It was thus, then, as an amateur that Stevenson looked on street
paving--the even rows of cobbles, the nice tapping to fit the stones
against the curb, the neat joint around the drain. And yet,
unpardonably, he neglects the tarpot; and this seems the very soul of
the business, the finishing touch--almost culinary, as when a cook
pours on a chocolate sauce.

I remember pleasantly when our own street was paved. There had been
laid a waterpipe, deep down where the earth was yellow--surely gold
was near--and several of us young rascals climbed in and out in the
twilight when work was stopped. By fits we were both mountaineers and
miners. There was an agreeable gassy smell as if we neared the lower
regions. Here was a playground better than the building of a barn,
even with its dizzy ladders and the scaffolding around the chimney. Or
we hid in the great iron pipes that lay along the gutters, and
followed our leader through them home from school. But when the pipes
were lowered into place and the surface was cobbled but not yet
sanded, then the tarpot yielded gum for chewing. At any time after
supper a half dozen of us--blacker daubs against the darkness--might
have been seen squatting on the stones, scratching at the tar.
Blackjack, bought at the corner, had not so full a flavor. But one had
to chew forward in the mouth--lightly, lest the tar adhere forever to
the teeth.

And yet I am not entirely in accord with Stevenson in his preference.

And how is it, really, that people fall into their livelihoods? What
circumstance or necessity drives them? Does choice, after all, always
yield to a contrary wind and run for any port? Is hunger always the
helmsman? How many of us, after due appraisal of ourselves, really
choose our own parts in the mighty drama?--first citizen or second,
with our shrill voices for a moment above the crowd--first citizen or
second--brief choristers, except for vanity, against a painted scene.
How runs the rhyme?--rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief; doctor,
lawyer, merchant, chief! And a robustious fellow with great voice, and
lace and sword, strutting forward near the lights.

Meditating thus, I frequently poke about the city in the end of
afternoon "when the mind of your man of letters requires some
relaxation." I peer into shop windows, not so much for the wares
displayed as for glimpses of the men and women engaged in their
disposal. I watch laborers trudging home with the tired clink of their
implements and pails. I gaze into cellarways where tailor and cobbler
sit bent upon their work--needle and peg, their world--and through
fouled windows into workrooms, to learn which livelihoods yield the
truest happiness. For it is, on the whole, a whistling rather than a
grieving world, and like little shouts among the hills is laughter
echoed in the heart.

I can well understand how one can become a baker or even a small
grocer with a pencil behind his ear. I could myself honestly recommend
an apple--an astrachan for sauces--or, in the season, offer asparagus
with something akin to enthusiasm. Cranberries, too, must be an
agreeable consort of the autumn months when the air turns frosty. I
would own a cat with a dusty nose to rub along the barrels and sleep
beneath the stove. I would carry dried meats in stock were it only for
the electric slicing machine. And whole cheeses! Or to a man of
romantic mind an old brass shop may have its lure. To one of musty
turn, who would sit apart, there is something to be said for the
repair of violins and 'cellos. At the least he sweetens discord into
melody.

But I would not willingly keep a second-hand bookshop. It is too
cluttered a business. There is too free a democracy between good and
bad. It was Dean Swift who declared that collections of books made him
melancholy, "where the best author is as much squeezed and as obscure
as a porter at a coronation." Nor is it altogether reassuring for one
who is himself by way of being an author to view the certain neglect
that awaits him when attics are cleared at last. There is too leathery
a smell upon the premises, a thick deposit of mortality. I draw a deep
breath when I issue on the street, grateful for the sunlight and the
wind. However, I frequently put my head in at Pratt's around the
corner, sometimes by chance when the family are assembled for their
supper in one of the book alcoves. They have swept back a litter of
historians to make room for the tray of dishes. To cut them from the
shop they have drawn a curtain in front of their nook, but I can hear
the teapot bubbling on the counter. There is, also, a not unsavory
smell which, if my old nose retains its cunning, is potato stew,
fetched up from the kitchen. If you seek Gibbon now, Pratt's face will
show like a withered moon between the curtains and will request you to
call later when the dishes have been cleared.

No one works in cleaner produce than carpenters. They are for the most
part a fatherly whiskered tribe and they eat their lunches neatly from
a pail, their backs against the wall, their broad toes upturned. I
look suspiciously on painters, however, who present themselves for
work like slopped and shoddy harlequins, and although I have myself
passed a delightful afternoon painting a wooden fence at the foot of
the garden--and been scraped afterwards--I would not wish to be of
their craft.

But perhaps one is of restless habit and a peripatetic occupation may
be recommended. For a bachelor of small expense, at a hazard, a
wandering fruit and candy cart offers the venture and chance of
unfamiliar journeys. There is a breed of lollypop on a stick that
shows a handsome profit when the children come from school. Also, at
this minute, I hear below me on the street the flat bell of the
scissors-grinder. I know not what skill is required, yet it needs a
pretty eye and even foot. The ragman takes to an ancestral business
and chants the ancient song of his fathers. When distance has somewhat
muffled its nearer sharpness, the song bears a melody unparalleled
among tradesmen's cries. Window glass, too, is hawked pleasantly from
house to house and requires but a knife and putty. In the spring the
vegetable vender, standing in his wagon, utters melodious sounds that
bring the housewives to their windows. Once, also, by good luck, I
fell into acquaintance with a fellow who peddled brooms and dustpans
along the countryside. He was hung both front and back with cheap
commodities--a necklace of scrubbing brushes--tins jangling against
his knees. A very kitchen had become biped. A pantry had gone on
pilgrimage. Except for dogs, which seemed maddened by his strange
appearance, it was, he informed me, an engaging livelihood for a man
who chafed indoors. Or for one of dreamy disposition the employment of
a sandwich man, with billboards fore and aft, offers a profitable
repose. Sometimes several of these philosophers journey together up
the street in a crowded hour, one behind another with slow
introspective step, as befits their high preoccupation.

Or one has an ear, and the street-organ commends itself. Observe the
musician at the corner, hat in hand and smiling! Let but a curtain
stir and his eye will catch it. He hears a falling penny as 'twere any
nightingale. His tunes are the herald of the gaudy spring. His are the
dancing measures of the sunlight. And is anyone a surer judge of human
nature? He allows dyspeptics to slink along the fence. Those of
bilious aspect may go their ways unchallenged. Spare me those, he
says, who have not music in their souls: they are fit for treasons,
stratagems, and spoils. It was with a flute that the poet Goldsmith
starved his way through France. Yet the flute is a cold un-stirring
instrument. He would have dined the oftener had he pitched upon a
street-organ.

But in this Christmas season there is a man goes up and down among the
shoppers blowing shrill tunes upon a pipe. A card upon his hat
announces that it is music makes the home and that one of his
marvelous implements may be bought for the trifling and altogether
insignificant sum of ten cents. A reticule across his stomach bulges
with his pipes. He seems to manipulate the stops with his fingers, but
I fancy that he does no more than sing into the larger opening. Yet
his gay tune sounds above the traffic.

I have wondered where such seasonal professions recruit themselves.
The eyeglass man still stands at his corner with his tray. He is,
moreover, too sodden a creature to play upon a pipe. Nor is there any
dwindling of shoe-lace peddlers. The merchants of popcorn have not
fallen off in number, and peanuts hold up strong. Rather, these
Christmas musicians are of the tribe which at other festivals sell us
little flags and bid us show our colors. They come from country fairs
and circuses. All summer long they bid us gather for the fat man, or
they cry up the beauties of a Turkish harem. If some valiant fellow in
a painted tent is about to swallow glass, they are his horn and drum
to draw the crowd. I once knew a side-show man who bent iron bars
between his teeth and who summoned stout men from his audience to
swing upon the bar, but I cannot believe that he has discharged the
bawling rascal at his door. I rather choose to think that the piper
was one of those self-same artists who, on lesser days, squeeze comic
rubber faces in their fingers, or make the monkey climb its
predestined stick.

Be this as it may, presently the piper hit on a persuasive tune and I
abandoned all thought of the Noah's ark--my errand of the morning for
my nephew--and joined the crowd that followed him. Hamelin Town was
come again. But street violins I avoid. They suggest mortgages and
unpaid rent.

But with the world before him why should a man turn dentist? He must
have been a cruel fellow from his rattle. When did his malicious
ambition first sprout up towards molars and bicuspids? Or who would
scheme to be a plumber? He is a cellarer--alas, how shrunk from former
days! Or consider the tailor! Perhaps you recall Elia's estimate. "Do
you ever see him," he asks, "go whistling along the foot-path like a
carman, or brush through a crowd like a baker, or go smiling to
himself like a lover?"

Certainly I would not wish to be a bookkeeper and sit bent all day
over another's wealth. I would not want to bring in on lifted fingers
the meats which another eats. Nor would I choose to be a locksmith,
which is a kind of squint-eyed business, up two dismal stairs and at
the rear. A gas lamp flares at the turn. A dingy staircase mounts into
a thicker gloom. The locksmith consorts with pawnbrokers, with cheap
sign-makers and with disreputable doctors; yet he is not of them. For
there adheres to him a sort of romance. He is a creature of another
time, set in our midst by the merest chance. The domestic cat,
descended from the jungle, is not more shrunk. Keys have fallen on
evil days. Observe the mighty row of them hung discarded along his
boxes! Each one is fit to unlock a castle. Warwick itself might yield
to such a weight of metal--rusty now, disused, quite out of fashion,
displaced by a race of dwarfs. In the old prints, see how the London
'prentice runs with his great key in the dawn to take down his
master's shutter! In a musty play, observe the jailor at the dungeon
door! Without massive keys jingling at the belt the older drama must
have been a weakling. Only lovers, then, dared to laugh at locksmiths.
But now locksmiths sit brooding on the past, shriveled to mean uses,
ready for paltry kitchen jobs.

And the undertaker, what shall we say of him? That black coat with the
flower! That mournful smile! That perfect grief! And yet, I am told,
undertakers, after hours, go singing home to supper, and spend their
evenings at the movies like us rougher folk. It was David Copperfield,
you recall, who dined with an undertaker and his family--in the room,
no doubt, next to the coffin storage--and he remarked at the time how
cheerfully the joint went round. One of this sober cloth, moreover,
has confided to me that they let themselves loose, above all
professions, in their reunions and conventions. If an unusual riot
issues from the door and a gay fellow goes walking on the table it is
sure that either lawyers or undertakers sit inside.

For myself, if I were to become a merchant, I would choose a shop at a
four-corners in the country, and I would stock from shoe-laces to
plows. There is no virtue in keeping store in the city. It is merely
by favor that customers show themselves. Candidly, your competitor can
better supply their wants. This is not so at the four-corners. Nor is
anyone a more influential citizen than a country merchant. He sets the
style in calicoes. He judges between check and stripe. His decision
against a high heel flattens the housewives by an inch. But if I kept
such a country store, I would provide an open fire and, when the
shadows lengthened, an easy chair or two for gossips.

I was meditating lately on these strange preferences in livelihoods
and was gazing through the city windows for any clue when I was
reminded of a tempting scheme that Wee Jessie--a delightful
Scots-woman of my acquaintance--has planned for several of us.

We are to be traveling merchants for a season, with a horse and wagon
or a motor. My own preference is a motor, and already I see a vehicle
painted in bright colors and opening up behind as spacious as a waffle
cart. There will be windows all around for the display of goods. It is
not quite fixed what we shall sell. Wee Jessie leans toward bonnets
and little millinery odds and ends. I am for kitchen tins. M----
inclines toward drygoods, serviceable fabrics. It is thought that we
shall live on the roof while on tour, with a canvas to draw on wet
nights. We shall possess a horn--on which Wee Jessie once practiced in
her youth--to gather up the crowd when we enter a village.

Fancy us, therefore, my dear sir, as taking the road late this coming
spring in time to spread the summer's fashions. And if you hear our
horn at twilight in your village--a tune of more wind than melody,
unless Jessie shall cure her imperfections--know that on the morrow,
by the pump, we shall display our wares.



The Tread of the Friendly Giants.


    When our Babe he goeth walking in his garden,
    Around his tinkling feet the sunbeams play.

It has been my fortune to pass a few days where there lives a dear
little boy of less than three. My first knowledge of him every morning
is the smothered scuffling through the partition as he reluctantly
splashes in his bath. Here, unless he mend his caution, I fear he will
never learn to play the porpoise at the Zoo. Then there is a wee
tapping at my door. It is a fairy sound as though Mustard-seed were in
the hall. Or it might be Pease-blossom rousing up Cobweb in the play,
to repel the red-hipped humble-bee. It is so slight a tapping that if
I sleep with even one ear inside the covers I will not hear it.

The little lad stands in the dim passage to greet me, fully dressed,
to reproach me with my tardiness. He is a mite of a fellow, but he is
as wide awake and shiny as though he were a part of the morning and
had been wrought delicately out of the dawn's first ray. Indeed, I
choose to fancy that the sun, being off hurriedly on broader business,
has made him his agent for the premises. Particularly he assists in
this passage at my bedroom door where the sleepy Night, which has not
yet caught the summons, still stretches and nods beyond the turn. It
is so dark here on a winter's morning when the nursery door is shut
that even an adventuring sunlight, if it chanced to clamber through
the window, would blink and falter in the hazard of these turns. But
the sun has sent a substitute better than himself: for is there not a
shaft of light along the floor? It can hardly fall from the window or
anywhere from the outside world.

The little lad stands in the passage demanding that I get up. "Get up,
lazybones!" he says. Pretty language to his elders! He speaks soberly,
halting on each syllable of the long and difficult word. He is so
solemn that the jest is doubled. And now he runs off, jouncing and
stiff-legged to his nursery. I hear him dragging his animals from his
ark, telling them all that they are lazybones, even his barking dog
and roaring lion. Noah, when he saw on that first morning that his ark
was grounded on Ararat, did not rouse his beasts so early to leave the
ship.

Later I meet the lad at breakfast, locked in his high chair. In these
riper hours of day there is less of Cobweb in his composition. He is
now every inch a boy. He raps his spoon upon his tray. He hurls food
in the general direction of his mouth. If an ear escape the assault it
is gunnery beyond the common. He is bibbed against misadventure. This
morning he yearns loudly for muffins, which he calls "bums." He
chooses those that are unusually brown with a smudge of the
cooking-tin, and these he calls "dirty bums."

Such is my nephew--a round-cheeked, blue-eyed rogue who takes my thumb
in all his fingers when we go walking. His jumpers are slack behind
and they wag from side to side in an inexpressibly funny manner, but
this I am led to believe springs not from any special genius but is
common to all children. It is only recently that he learned to walk,
for although he was forward with his teeth and their early sprouting
ran in gossip up the street, yet he lagged in locomotion. Previously
he advanced most surely on his seat--his slider, as he called
it--throwing out his legs and curling them in under so as to draw him
after. By this means he attained a fine speed upon a slippery floor,
but he chafed upon a carpet. His mother and I agreed that this was
quite an unusual method and that it presaged some rare talent for his
future, as the scorn of a rattle is said to predict a judge. It was
during one of these advances across the kitchen floor where the boards
are rough that an accident occurred. As he excitedly put it, with a
fitting gesture to the rear, he got a sliver in his slider. But now he
goes upon his feet with a waddle like a sailor, and he wags his slider
from side to side.

Sometimes we play at hide-and-seek and we pop out at one another from
behind the sofa. He lacks ingenuity in this, for he always hides in
the same place. I have tempted him for variety to stow himself in the
woodbox. Or the pantry would hold him if he squeezed in among the
brooms. Nor does my ingenuity surpass his, for regularly in a certain
order I shake the curtains at the door and spy under the table. I stir
the wastebasket and peer within the vases, although they would hardly
hold his shoe. Then when he is red-hot to be found and is already
peeking impatiently around the sofa, at last I cry out his discovery
and we begin all over again.

I play ball with him and bounce it off his head, a game of more mirth
in the acting than in the telling. Or we squeeze his animals for the
noises that they make. His lion in particular roars as though lungs
were its only tenant. But chiefly I am fast in his friendship because
I ride upon his bear. I take the door at a gallop. I rear at the turn.
I fall off in my most comical fashion. Sometimes I manage to kick over
his blocks; at which we call it a game, and begin again. He has named
the bear in my honor.

We start all of our games again just as soon as we have finished them.
That is what a game is. And if it is worth playing at all, it is worth
endless repetition. If I strike a rich deep tone upon the Burmese
gong, I must continue to strike upon it until I can draw his attention
to something else. Once, the cook, hearing the din, thought that I
hinted for my dinner. Being an obliging creature, she fell into such a
flurry and so stirred her pans to push the cooking forward, that
presently she burned the meat.

Or if I moo like a cow, I must moo until sunset. I rolled off the sofa
once to distract him when the ugly world was too much with him.
Immediately he brightened from his complaint and demanded that I do it
once more. And lately, when a puppy bounced out of the house next door
and, losing its footing, rolled heels over head to the bottom of the
steps, at once he pleaded for an encore. To him all the world's a
stage.

My nephew observes me closely to see what kind of fellow I am. I study
him, too. He watches me over the top of his mug at breakfast and I
stare back at him over my coffee cup. If I wrinkle my nose, he
wrinkles his. If I stick out my tongue, he sticks his out, too. He
answers wink with wink. When I pet his woolly lamb, however, he seems
to wonder at my absurdity. When I wind up his steam engine, certainly
he suspects that I am a novice. He shows a disregard of my castles,
and although I build them on the windy vantage of a chair, with dizzy
battlements topping all the country, he brushes them into ruin.

Sometimes I fancy that his glance is mixed with scorn, and that he
considers my attempts to amuse him as rather a silly business. I
wonder what he thinks about when he looks at me seriously. I cannot
doubt his wisdom. He seems to resemble a philosopher who has traveled
to us from a distant world. If he cast me a sentence from Plato, I
would say, "Master, I listen." Is it Greek he speaks, or a dark
language from a corner of the sky? He has a far-off look as though he
saw quite through these superficial affairs of earth. His eyes have
borrowed the color of his wanderings and they are as blue as the
depths beyond the moon. And I think of another child, somewhat older
than himself, whose tin soldiers these many years are rusted, a
thoughtful silent child who was asked, once upon a time, what he did
when he got to bed. "Gampaw," he replied, "I lies and lies, Gampaw,
and links and links, 'til I know mos' everysin'." The snow of a few
winters, the sun of summer, the revolving stars and seasons--until
this lad now serves in France.

My nephew, although he too roams these distant spaces of philosophic
thought and brings back strange unexpected treasure, has not arrived
at the age of mere terrestrial exploration. He is quite ignorant of
his own house and has no curiosity about the back stairs--the back
stairs that go winding darkly from the safety of the kitchen. Scarcely
is the fizzing of dinner lost than a new strange world engulfs one.
He is too young to know that a doorway in the dark is the portal of
adventure. He does not know the mystery and the twistings of the
cellar, or the shadows of the upper hallway and the dim hollows that
grow and spread across the twilight.

Dear lad, there is a sunny world beyond the garden gate, cities and
rolling hills and far-off rivers with white sails going up and down.
There are wide oceans, and ships with tossing lights, and islands set
with palm trees. And there are stars above your roof for you to wonder
at. But also, nearer home, there are gentle shadows on the stairs, a
dim cellar for the friendly creatures of your fancy, and for your
exalted mood there is a garret with dark corners. Here, on a braver
morning, you may push behind the trunks and boxes and come to a land
unutterable where the furthest Crusoe has scarcely ventured. Or in a
more familiar hour you may sit alongside a window high above the town.
Here you will see the milkman on his rounds with his pails and long
tin dipper. And these misty kingdoms that open so broadly on the world
are near at hand. They are yours if you dare to go adventuring for
them.

Soon your ambition will leap its nursery barriers. No longer will you
be content to sit inside this quiet room and pile your blocks upon the
floor. You will be off on discovery of the long trail that lies along
the back hall and the pantry where the ways are dark. You will wander
in search of the caverns that lie beneath the stairs when the night
has come. You will trudge up steps and down for any lurking ocean on
which to sail your pirate ships. Already I see you gazing with wistful
eyes into the spaces beyond the door--into the days of your great
adventure. In your thought is the patter and scurry of new creation.
It is almost fairy time for you. The tread of the friendly giants,
still far off, is sounding in the dark....

Dear little lad, in this darkness may there be no fear! For these
shadows of the twilight--which too long have been chased like common
miscreants with lamp and candle--are really friendly beings and they
wait to romp with you. Because thieves have walked in darkness, shall
darkness be called a thief? Rather, let the dark hours take their
repute from the countless gracious spirits that are abroad--the
quieter fancies that flourish when the light has gone--the gentle
creatures that leave their hiding when the sun has set. When a rug
lies roughened at close of day, it is said truly that a fairy peeps
from under to learn if at last the house is safe. And they hide in the
hallway for the signal of your coming, yet so timid that if the fire
is stirred they scamper beyond the turn. They huddle close beneath the
stairs that they may listen to your voice. They come and go on tiptoe
when the curtain sways, in the hope that you will follow. With their
long thin shadowy fingers they beckon for you beneath the sofa.

The time is coming when you can no longer resist their invitation,
when you will leave your woolly lamb and your roaring lion on this
dull safe hearth and will go on pilgrimage. The back stairs sit
patient in the dark for your hand upon the door. The great dim garret
that has sat nodding for so many years will smile at last at your
coming. It has been lonely so long for the glad sound of running feet
and laughter. It has been childless so many years.

But once children's feet played there and romped through the short
winter afternoons. A rope hung from post to post and furnished forth a
circus. Here giant swings were hazarded. Here children hung from the
knees until their marbles and other wealth dropped from their pockets.
And for less ambitious moments there were toys--

    The little toy dog is covered with dust,
    But sturdy and stanch he stands;
    And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
    And his musket moulds in his hands.
    Time was when the little toy dog was new,
    And the soldier was passing fair;
    And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
    Kissed them and put them there.

And now Little Boy Blue again climbs the long stairs. He stretches up
on tiptoe to turn the door-knob at the top. He listens as a prudent
explorer should. Cook rattles her tins below, but it is a far-off
sound as from another world. Somewhere, doubtless, the friendly
milkman's bell goes jingling up the street. There is a distant barking
of familiar dogs. Will it not be better to return to the safe regions
and watch the traffic from the window? But here, beckoning, is the
great adventure.

The brave die is cast. He advances with outstretched arms into the
darkness. Suddenly, behind him, the door swings shut. The sound of
cooking-tins is lost. Silence. Silence, except for branches scratching
on the roof. But the garret hears the sound of feet, and it rouses
itself and rubs its dusky eyes.

But when darkness thickens and the sunlight has vanished from the
floor, then comes the magic hour. The garret then tears from its eyes
the blind bandage of the day. Strange creatures lift their heads. And
now, as you wait expectant, there comes a mysterious sound from the
darkest corner. Is it a mouse that stirs? Rather, it seems a far-off
sound, as though a blind man, tapping with his stick, walked on the
margin of the world. The noise comes near. It gains in volume. It is
close at hand. Dear lad, you have come upon the magic hour. It is the
tread of the friendly giants that is sounding in the dark....



On Spending a Holiday.


At a party lately a worn subject came under discussion.

Our host lives in a triangular stone-paved courtyard tucked off from
the thoroughfare but with the rattle of the elevated railway close at
hand. The building is of decent brick, three stories in height, and it
exhibits to the courtyard a row of identical doorsteps. The entrance
to the courtyard is a swinging shutter between buildings facing on the
street, and it might seem a mystery--like the apple in the
dumpling--how the building inside squeezed through so narrow an
entrance. Yet here it is, with a rubber plant in one corner and a
trellis for imaginary vines in the other.

In this courtyard, _Pomander Walk_ might be acted along the stoops.
For a necessary stage property--you recall, of course, the lamplighter
with his ladder in the second act!--there is a gas lamp of old design
in the middle of the enclosure, up near the footlights, as it were.
From the stoops the main comedy might proceed, with certain business
at the upper windows--the profane Admiral with the timber leg popping
his head out of one, the mysterious fat man--in some sort the villain
of the piece--putting his head out of another to woo the buxom widow
at a third. And then the muffin man! In the twilight when the lamp is
lighted and the heroine at last is in the hero's arms, there would be
a pleasant crunching of muffins at all the windows as the curtain
falls.

But I shall not drop even a hint as to the location of this courtyard.
Many persons think that New York City is but a massive gridiron, and
they are ignorant of the nooks and quirks and angles of the lower
town. Enough that the Indian of a modest tobacconist guards the
swinging shutter of the entrance to the courtyard.

Here we sat in the very window I had designed for the profane Admiral,
and talked in the quiet interval between trains.

One of our company--a man whom I shall call Flint--was hardy enough to
say that he never employed his leisure in going to the country--that a
walk about the city streets was his best refreshment. Flint's
livelihood is cotton. He is a dumpish sort of person who looks as if
he needed exercise, but he has a sharp clear eye. At first his remark
fell on us as a mere perversity, as of one who proclaims a humorous
whim. And yet he adhered tenaciously to his opinion, urging smooth
pavements against mud, the study of countless faces against the song
of birds and great buildings against cliffs.

Another of our company opposed him in this--Colum, who chafes as an
accountant. Colum is a gentle dreamy fellow who likes birds. All
winter he saves his tobacco tins which, in his two weeks' vacation in
the country, he sets up in trees as birdhouses. He confesses that he
took up with a certain brand of tobacco because its receptacle is
popular with wrens. Also he cultivated a taste for waffles--which at
first by a sad distortion of nature he lacked--for no other reason
except that syrup may be bought in pretty log-cabin tins particularly
suited for bluebirds. If you chance to breakfast with him, he urges
the syrup on you with pleasant and insistent hospitality. With
satisfaction he drains a can. By June he has a dozen of these empty
cabins on the shelf alongside his country boots. Time was when he was
lean of girth--as becomes an accountant, who is hinged dyspeptically
all day across his desk--but by this agreeable stowage he has now
grown to plumpness. When in the country Colum rises early in order to
stretch the pleasures of the day, and he walks about before breakfast
from tree to tree to view his feathered tenants. He has even acquired,
after much practice, the knack of chirping--a hissing conjunction of
the lips and teeth--which he is confident wins the friendly attention
of the birds.

Flint heard Colum impatiently, and interrupted before he was done.
"Pooh!" he said. "There's mud in the country, and not much of any
plumbing, and in the morning it's cold until you light a fire."

"Of course," said Colum. "But I love it. Perhaps you remember, Flint,
the old willow stump out near the road. I put a Barking Dog on top of
it, and now there's a family of wrens inside."

"Nonsense," said Flint. "There is too much climate in the
country--much more than in town. It's either too hot or too cold. And
it's lonely. As for you, Colum, you're sentimental about your
birdhouses. And you dislike your job. You like the country merely
because it is a symbol of a holiday. It is freedom from an irksome
task. It means a closing of your desk. But if you had to live in the
country, you would grumble in a month's time. Even a bullfrog--and he
is brought up to it, poor wretch--croaks at night."

Colum interrupted. "That's not true, Flint. I know I'd like it--to
live on a farm and keep chickens. Sometimes in winter, or more often
in spring, I can hardly wait for summer and my two weeks. I look out
of the window and I see a mirage--trees and hills." Colum sighed.
"It's quite wonderful, that view, but it unsettles me for my ledger."

"That's it," broke in Flint. "Your sentimentality spoils your
happiness. You let two weeks poison the other fifty. It's immoral."

Colum was about to retort, when he was anticipated by a new speaker.
It was Quill, the journalist, who has long thin fingers and
indigestion. At meals he pecks suspiciously at his plate, and he eats
food substitutes. Quill runs a financial supplement, or something of
that kind, to a daily paper. He always knows whether Steel is strong
and whether Copper is up or down. If you call on him at his office, he
glances at you for a moment before he knows you. Yet in his slippers
he grows human.

"I like the country, too," he interposed, "and no one ever said that I
am sentimental." He tapped his head. "I'm as hard as nails up here."
Quill cracked his knuckles in a disagreeable habit he has, and
continued: "I have a shack on the West Shore, and I go there
week-ends. My work is so confining that if I didn't get to the country
once in a while, I would play out in a jiffy. I'm a nervous frazzle--a
nervous frazzle--by Saturday noon. But I lie on the grass all Sunday,
and if nobody snaps at me and I am let alone, by Monday morning I am
fit again."

"You must be like Antæus."

This remark came from Wurm, our host. Wurm is a bookish fellow who
wears great rimmed glasses. He spends much of his time in company
thinking up apposite quotations and verifying them. He has worn out
two Bartlett's. Wurm is also addicted to maps and dictionaries, and is
a great reader of special articles. Consequently his mind is a pound
for stray collarless facts; or rather, in its variety of contents, it
more closely resembles a building contractor's back yard--odd
salvage--rejected doors--a job of window-frames--a pile of bricks for
chipping--discarded plumbing--broken junk gathered here and there.
Mr. Aust himself, a building contractor who once lived on our
street--a man of no broad fame--quite local--surely unknown to
you--did not collect so wide a rubbish.

However, despite these qualities, Wurm is rather a pleasant and
harmless bit of cobweb. For a livelihood, he sits in a bank behind a
grill. At noon he eats his lunch in his cage, and afterwards with a
rubber band he snaps at the flies. In the hunting season he kills in a
day as many as a dozen of these pests' and ranges them in his pen
tray. On Saturday afternoon he rummages in Malkan's and the
second-hand bookshops along Fourth Avenue. To see Wurm in his most
characteristic pose, is to see him on a ladder, with one leg
outstretched, far off his balance, fumbling for a title with his
finger tips. Surely, in these dull alcoves, gravity nods on its job.
Then he buys a sour red apple at the corner and pelts home to dinner.
This is served him on a tin tray by his stout landlady who comes
puffing up the stairs. It is a bit of pleasant comedy that whatever
dish is served happens to be the very one of which he was thinking as
he came out of the bank. By this innocent device he is popular with
his landlady and she skims the milk for him.

Wurm rapped his pipe bowl on the arm of his chair. "You must be like
Antæus," he replied.

"Like what?" asked Flint.

"Antæus--the fellow who wrestled with Hercules. Each time that Antæus
was thrown against the earth his strength was doubled. He was finally
in the way of overcoming Hercules, when Hercules by seizing him around
the middle lifted him off the ground. By this strategy he deprived him
of all contact with the earth, and presently Antæus weakened and was
vanquished."

"That's me," said Quill, the journalist. "If I can't get back to my
shack on Sunday, I feel that Hercules has me, too, around the middle."

"Perhaps I can find the story," said Wurm, his eye running toward the
bookshelves.

"Don't bother," said Flint.

There was now another speaker--Flannel Shirt, as we called him--who
had once been sated with formal dinners and society, and is now
inclined to cry them down. He leans a bit toward socialism and free
verse. He was about to praise the country for its freedom from
sordidness and artificiality, when Flint, who had heard him before,
interrupted.

"Rubbish!" he cried out. "All of you, but in different ways, are
slaves to an old tradition kept up by Wordsworth, who would himself,
doubtless, have moved to London except for the steepness of the rents.
You all maintain that you like the country, yet on one excuse or
another you live in the city and growl about it. There isn't a
commuter among you. Honest folk, these commuters, with marrow in their
bones--a steak in a paper bag--the sleet in their faces on the
ferryboat. I am the only one who admits that he lives in the city
because he prefers it. The country is good enough to read about--I
like it in books--but I choose to sit meantime with my feet on a city
fender."

Here Wurm broke in again. "I see, Flint," he said, "that you have been
reading Leslie Stephen."

Flint denied it.

"Well, anyway, you have quoted him. Let me read you a bit of his essay
on 'Country Books.'"

Flint made a grimace. "Wurm always has a favorite passage."

Wurm went to a shelf and took down a volume. He blew off the dust and
smoothed its sides. "Listen to this!" he said. "Picked up the volume
at Schulte's, on the twenty-five cent table. 'A love of the country is
taken,'" he read, "'I know not why, to indicate the presence of all
the cardinal virtues.... We assert a taste for sweet and innocent
pleasures and an indifference to the feverish excitements of
artificial society. I, too, like the country,...' (you'll like this,
Flint) 'but I confess--to be duly modest--that I love it best in
books. In real life I have remarked that it is frequently damp and
rheumatic, and most hated by those who know it best.... Though a
cockney in grain, I love to lean upon the farmyard gate; to hear Mrs.
Poyser give a bit of her mind to the squire; to be lulled into a
placid doze by the humming of Dorlecote Mill; to sit down in Dandie
Dinmont's parlour ... or to drop into the kitchen of a good old
country inn, and to smoke a pipe with Tom Jones or listen to the
simple-minded philosophy of Parson Adams.'"

"You hit on a good one then," said Flint. "And now as I was saying--"

Wurm interposed. "Just a moment, Flint! You think that that quotation
supports your side of the discussion. Not at all. It shows merely that
sometimes we get greater reality from books than we get from life.
Leslie Stephen liked the real country, also. In his holidays he
climbed the Swiss mountains--wrote a book about them--it's on that top
shelf. Don't you remember how he loved to roll stones off a cliff? And
as a pedestrian he was almost as famous as George Borrow--walked the
shirt off his back before his college trustees and all that sort of
thing. But he got an even sharper reality from books. He liked the
city, too, but in many a mood, there's no doubt about it, he preferred
to walk to Charing Cross with Doctor Johnson in a book, rather than to
jostle on the actual pavement outside his door."

"Speed up, Wurm!" This from Quill, the journalist. "Inch along, old
caterpillar!"

"As far as I am concerned," Wurm continued, "I would rather go with
Charles and Mary Lamb to see _The Battle of Hexham_ in their gallery
than to any show in Times Square. I love to think of that fine old
pair climbing up the stairs, carefully at the turn, lest they tread on
a neighbor's heels. Then the pleasant gallery, with its great lantern
to light their expectant faces!"

Wurm's eyes strayed again wistfully to his shelves. Flint stayed him.
"And so you think that it is possible to see life completely in a
mirror."

"By no means," Wurm returned. "We must see it both ways. Nor am I, as
you infer, in any sense like the Lady of Shalott. A great book cannot
be compared to a mirror. There is no genius in a mirror. It merely
reflects the actual, and slightly darkened. A great book shows life
through the medium of an individuality. The actual has been lifted
into truth. Divinity has passed into it through the unobstructed
channel of genius."

Here Flint broke in. "Divinity--genius--the Swiss Alps--_The Battle of
Hexham_--what have they to do with Quill's shack out in Jersey or
Colum's dirty birdhouses? You jump the track, Wurm. When everybody is
heading for the main tent, you keep running to the side-shows."

Quill, the journalist, joined the banter. "You remind me, Wurm--I hate
to say it--of what a sea captain once said to me when I tried to loan
him a book. 'Readin',' he said, 'readin' rots the mind.'"

It was Colum's turn to ask a question. "What do _you_ do, Flint," he
asked, "when you have a holiday?"

"Me? Well, I don't run off to the country as if the city were afire
and my coat-tails smoked. And I don't sentimentalize on the evils of
society. And I don't sit and blink in the dark, and moon around on a
shelf and wear out books. I go outdoors. I walk around and look at
things--shop windows and all that, when the merchants leave their
curtains up. I walk across the bridges and spit off. Then there's the
Bronx and the Battery, with benches where one may make acquaintances.
People are always more communicative when they look out on the water.
The last time I sat there an old fellow told me about himself, his
wife, his victrola and his saloon. I talk to a good many persons,
first and last, or I stand around until they talk to me. So many
persons wear blinders in the city. They don't know how wonderful it
is. Once, on Christmas Eve, I pretended to shop on Fourteenth Street,
just to listen to the crowd on its final round--mother's carpet
sweeper, you understand, or a drum for the heir. A crowd on Christmas
is different--it's gayer--reckless--it's an exalted Saturday night.
Afterwards I heard Midnight Mass at the Russian Cathedral. Then there
are always ferryboats--the band on the boat to Staten Island--God!
What music! Tugs and lights. I would like to know a tug--intimately.
If more people were like tugs we'd have less rotten politics. Wall
Street on a holiday is fascinating. No one about. Desolate. But full
of spirits."

Flint took a fresh cigar. "Last Sunday morning I walked in Central
Park. There were all manner of toy sailboats on the pond--big and
little--thirty of them at the least--tipping and running in the
breeze. Grown men sail them. They set them on a course, and then they
trot around the pond and wait for them. Presently I was curious. A man
upward of fifty had his boat out on the grass and was adjusting the
rigging.

"'That's quite a boat,' I began.

"'It's not a bad tub,' he answered.

"'Do you hire it from the park department?' I asked.

"'No!' with some scorn.

"'Where do you buy them?'

"'We don't buy them.'

"'Then how--?' I started.

"'We make 'em--nights.'

"He resumed his work. The boat was accurately and beautifully
turned--hollow inside--with a deck of glossy wood. The rudder was
controlled by finest tackle and hardware. Altogether, it was as
delicately wrought as a violin.

"'It's this way!'--its builder and skipper laid down his pipe--'There
are about thirty of us boys who are dippy about boats. We can't afford
real boats, so we make these little ones. Daytimes I am an interior
decorator. This is a thirty-six. Next winter--if my wife will stand
the muss (My God! How it litters up the dining-room!) I am going to
build a forty-two. All of the boys bring out a new boat each spring!'
The old fellow squinted at his mast and tightened a cord. Then he
continued. 'If you are interested, come around any Sunday morning
until the pond is frozen. And if you want to try your hand at a boat
this winter, just ask any of us boys and we will help you. Your first
boat or two will be sad--_Ju-das!_ But you will learn.'"

Flint was interrupted by Quill. "Isn't that rather a silly occupation
for grown men?"

"It's not an occupation," said Flint. "It's an avocation, and it isn't
silly. Any one of us would enjoy it, if he weren't so self-conscious.
And it's more picturesque than golf and takes more skill. And what
courtesy! These men form what is really a club--a club in its
primitive and true sense. And I was invited to be one of them."

Flannel Shirt broke in. "By George, that _was_ courtesy. If you had
happened on a polo player at his club--a man not known to you--he
wouldn't have invited you to come around and bring your pony for
instruction."

"It's not an exact comparison, is it, Old Flannel Shirt?"

"No, maybe not."

There was a pause. It was Flint who resumed. "I rather like to think
of that interior decorator littering up his dining-room every
night--clamps and glue-pots on the sideboard--hardly room for the
sugar-bowl--lumber underneath--and then bringing out a new boat in
the spring."

Wurm looked up from the couch. "Stevenson," he said, "should have
known that fellow. He would have found him a place among his Lantern
Bearers."

Flint continued. "From the pond I walked down Fifth Avenue."

"It's Fifth Avenue," said Flannel Shirt, "everything up above
Fifty-ninth Street--and what it stands for, that I want to get away
from."

"Easy, Flannel Shirt," said Flint. "Fifth Avenue doesn't interest me
much either. It's too lonely. Everybody is always away. The big stone
buildings aren't homes: they are points of departure, as somebody
called them. And they were built for kings and persons of spacious
lives, but they have been sublet to smaller folk. Or does no one live
inside? You never see a curtain stir. There is never a face at a
window. Everything is stone and dead. One might think that a Gorgon
had gone riding on a 'bus top, and had thrown his cold eye upon the
house fronts." Flint paused. "How can one live obscurely, as these
folk do, in the twilight, in so beautiful a shell? Even a crustacean
sometimes shows his nose at his door. And yet what a wonderful street
it would be if persons really lived there, and looked out of their
windows, and sometimes, on clear days, hung their tapestries and rugs
across the outer walls. Actually," added Flint, "I prefer to walk on
the East Side. It is gayer."

"There is poverty, of course," he went on after a moment, "and
suffering. But the streets are not depressing. They have fun on the
East Side. There are so many children and there is no loneliness. If
the street is blessed with a standpipe, it seems designed as a post
for leaping. Any vacant wall--if the street is so lucky--serves for a
game. There is baseball on the smooth pavement, or if one has a piece
of chalk, he can lay out a kind of hopscotch--not stretched out, for
there isn't room, but rolled up like a jelly cake. One must hop to the
middle and out again. Or perhaps one is an artist and with a crayon he
spends his grudge upon an enemy--these drawings can be no likeness of
a friend. Or love guides the chalky fingers. And all the time
slim-legged girls sit on curb and step and act as nursemaids to the
younger fry."

"But, my word, what smells!"

"Yes, of course, and not very pleasant smells. Down on these streets
we can learn what dogs think of us. But every Saturday night on Grand
Street there is a market. I bought a tumbler of little nuts from an
old woman. They aren't much good to eat--wee nuts, all shell--and they
still sit in the kitchen getting dusty. It was raining when I bought
them and the woman's hair was streaked in her face, but she didn't
mind. There were pent roofs over all the carts. Everything on God's
earth was for sale. On the cart next to my old woman's, there was
hardware--sieves, cullenders--kitchen stuff. And on the next, wearing
gear, with women's stockings hung on a rope at the back. A girl came
along carrying a pair of champagne-colored shoes, looking for
stockings to match. Quite a belle. Somebody's girl. Quill, go down
there on a Saturday night. It will make a column for your paper. I
wonder if that girl found her stockings. A black-eyed Italian.

"But what I like best are the windows on the East Side. No one there
ever says that his house is his castle. On the contrary it is his
point of vantage--his outlook--his prospect. His house front never
dozes. Windows are really windows, places to look out of--not openings
for household exhibits--ornamental lamps or china things--at every
window there is a head--somebody looking on the world. There is a
pleasant gossip across the fire-escapes--a recipe for onions--a hint
of fashion--a cure for rheumatism. The street bears the general life.
The home is the street, not merely the crowded space within four
walls. The street is the playground and the club--the common stage,
and these are the galleries and boxes. We come again close to the
beginning of the modern theatre--an innyard with windows round about.
The play is shinny in the gutters. Venders come and go, selling fruit
and red suspenders. An ice wagon clatters off, with a half-dozen
children on its tailboard."

Flint flecked his ashes on the floor. "I wonder," he said at length,
"that those persons who try to tempt these people out of the congested
city to farms, don't see how falsely they go about it. They should
reproduce the city in miniature--a dozen farmhouses must be huddled
together to make a snug little town, where all the children may play
and where the women, as they work, may talk across the windows. They
must build villages like the farming towns of France.

"But where can one be so stirred as on the wharves? From here even the
narrowest fancy reaches out to the four watery corners of the earth.
No nose is so green and country-bred that it doesn't sniff the spices
of India. Great ships lie in the channel camouflaged with war. If we
could forget the terror of the submarine, would not these lines and
stars and colors appear to us as symbols of the strange mystery of the
far-off seas?

"Or if it is a day of sailing, there are a thousand barrels, oil
maybe, ranged upon the wharf, standing at fat attention to go aboard.
Except for numbers it might appear--although I am rusty at the
legend--that in these barrels Ali Baba has hid his forty thieves for
roguery when the ship is out to sea. Doubtless if one knocked upon a
top and put his ear close upon a barrel, he would hear a villain's
guttural voice inside, asking if the time were come.

"Then there are the theatres and parks, great caverns where a subway
is being built. There are geraniums on window-sills, wash hanging on
dizzy lines (cotton gymnasts practicing for a circus), a roar of
traffic and shrill whistles, men and women eating--always eating.
There has been nothing like this in all the ages. Babylon and Nineveh
were only villages. Carthage was a crossroads. It is as though all the
cities of antiquity had packed their bags and moved here to a common
spot."

"Please, Flint," this from Colum, "but you forget that the faces of
those who live in the country are happier. That's all that counts."

"Not happier--less alert, that's all--duller. For contentment, I'll
wager against any farmhand the old woman who sells apples at the
corner. She polishes them on her apron with--with spit. There is an
Italian who peddles ice from a handcart on our street, and he never
sees me without a grin. The folk who run our grocery, a man and his
wife, seem happy all the day. No! we misjudge the city and we have
done so since the days of Wordsworth. If we prized the city rightly,
we would be at more pains to make it better--to lessen its suffering.
We ought to go into the crowded parts with an eye not only for the
poverty, but also with sympathy for its beauty--its love of
sunshine--the tenderness with which the elder children guard the
younger--its love of music--its dancing--its naturalness. If we had
this sympathy we could help--_ourselves_, first--and after that,
maybe, the East Side."

Flint arose and leaned against the chimney. He shook an accusing
finger at the company. "You, Colum, ruin fifty weeks for the sake of
two. You, Quill, hypnotize yourself into a frazzle by Saturday noon
with unnecessary fret. You peck over your food too much. A little
clear unmuddled thinking would straighten you out, even if you didn't
let the ants crawl over you on Sunday afternoon. Old Flannel Shirt is
blinded by his spleen against society. As for Wurm, he doesn't count.
He's only a harmless bit of mummy-wrapping."

"And what are you, Flint?" asked Quill.

"Me? A rational man, I hope."

"You--you are an egotist. That's what you are."

"Very well," said Flint. "It's just as you say."

There was a red flash from the top of the Metropolitan Tower. Flint
looked at his watch. "So?" he said, "I must be going."

And now that our party is over and I am home at last, I put out the
light and draw open the curtains. Tomorrow--it is to be a holiday--I
had planned to climb in the Highlands, for I, too, am addicted to the
country. But perhaps--perhaps I'll change my plan and stay in town.
I'll take a hint from Flint. I'll go down to Delancey Street and watch
the chaffering and buying. What he said was true. He overstated his
position, of course. Most propagandists do, being swept off in the
current of their swift conviction. One should like both the city and
the country; and the liking for one should heighten the liking for the
other. Any particular receptiveness must grow to be a general
receptiveness. Yet, in the main, certainly, Flint was right. I'll try
Delancey Street, I concluded, just this once.

Thousands of roofs lie below me, for I live in a tower as of
Teufelsdröckh. And many of them shield a bit of grief--darkened rooms
where sick folk lie--rooms where hope is faint. And yet, as I believe,
under these roofs there is more joy than grief--more contentment and
happiness than despair, even in these grievous times of war. If Quill
here frets himself into wakefulness and Colum chafes for the coming of
the summer, also let us remember that in the murk and shadows of these
rooms there are, at the least, thirty sailors from Central Park--one
old fellow in particular who, although the hour is late, still putters
with his boat in the litter of his dining-room. Glue-pots on the
sideboard! Clamps among the china, and lumber on the hearth! And down
on Grand Street, snug abed, dreaming of pleasant conquest, sleeps the
dark-eyed Italian girl. On a chair beside her are her champagne boots,
with stockings to match hung across the back.



Runaway Studies.


In my edition of "Elia," illustrated by Brock, whose sympathetic pen,
surely, was nibbed in days contemporary with Lamb, there is a sketch
of a youth reclining on a window-seat with a book fallen open on his
knees. He is clad in a long plain garment folded to his heels which
carries a hint of a cathedral choir but which, doubtless, is the
prescribed costume of an English public school. This lad is gazing
through the casement into a sunny garden--for the artist's vague
stippling invites the suspicion of grass and trees. Or rather, does
not the intensity of his regard attest that his nimble thoughts have
jumped the outmost wall? Already he journeys to those peaks and lofty
towers that fringe the world of youth--a dizzy range that casts a
magic border on his first wide thoughts, to be overleaped if he seek
to tread the stars.

And yet it seems a sleepy afternoon. Flowers nod upon a shelf in the
idle breeze from the open casement. On the warm sill a drowsy sunlight
falls, as if the great round orb of day, having labored to the top of
noon, now dawdled idly on the farther slope. A cat dozes with lazy
comfort on the window-seat. Surely, this is the cat--if the old story
be believed--the sleepiest of all her race, in whose dull ear the
mouse dared to nest and breed.

This lad, who is so lost in thought, is none other than Charles Lamb,
a mere stripling, not yet grown to his black small-clothes and sober
gaiters, a shrill squeak of a boy scarcely done with his battledore.
And here he sits, his cheek upon his palm, and dreams of the future.

But Lamb himself has written of this window-seat. Journeying northward
out of London--in that wonderful middle age of his in which the Elia
papers were composed--journeying northward he came once on the great
country house where a part of his boyhood had been spent. It had been
but lately given to the wreckers, "and the demolition of a few weeks,"
he writes, "had reduced it to--an antiquity."

"Had I seen those brick-and-mortar knaves at their process of
destruction," he continues, "at the plucking of every pannel I should
have felt the varlets at my heart. I should have cried out to them to
spare a plank at least out of that cheerful storeroom, in whose hot
window-seat I used to sit and read Cowley, with the grass-plat before,
and the hum and flappings of that one solitary wasp that ever haunted
it about me--it is in mine ears now, as oft as summer returns...."

I confess to a particular enjoyment of this essay, with its memory of
tapestried bedrooms setting forth upon their walls "the unappeasable
prudery of Diana" under the peeping eye of Actæon; its echoing
galleries once so dreadful when the night wind caught the candle at
the turn; its hall of family portraits. But chiefly it is this
window-seat that holds me--the casement looking on the garden and its
southern sun-baked wall--the lad dreaming on his volume of Cowley, and
leaping the garden border for the stars. These are the things that I
admit most warmly to my affection.

It is not in the least that I am a lover of Cowley, who seems an
unpleasantly antiquated author. I would choose, instead, that the
youthful Elia were busy so early with one of his favorite
Elizabethans. He has himself hinted that he read "The Vicar of
Wakefield" in later days out of a tattered copy from a circulating
library, yet I would willingly move the occasion forward, coincident
to this. And I suspect that the artist Brock is also indifferent to
Cowley: for has he not laid two other volumes handy on the shelf for
the sure time when Cowley shall grow dull? Has he not even put Cowley
flat down upon his face, as if, already neglected, he had slipped from
the lad's negligent fingers--as if, indeed, Elia's far-striding
meditation were to him of higher interest than the stiff measure of
any poet?

I recall a child, dimly through the years, that lay upon the rug
before the fire to read his book, with his chin resting on both his
hands. His favorite hour was the winter twilight before the family
came together for their supper, for at that hour the lamplighter went
his rounds and threw a golden string of dots upon the street. He drove
an old thin horse and he stood on the seat of the cart with
up-stretched taper. But when the world grew dark the flare of the fire
was enough for the child to read, for he lay close against the hearth.
And as the shadows gathered in the room, there was one story chiefly,
of such intensity that the excitement of it swept through his body and
out into his waving legs. Perhaps its last copy has now vanished off
the earth. It dealt with a deserted house on a lonely road, where
chains clanked at midnight. Lights, too, seemingly not of earth,
glimmered at the windows, while groans--such was the dark fancy of the
author--issued from a windy tower. But there was one supreme chapter
in which the hero was locked in a haunted room and saw a candle at a
chink of the wall. It belonged to the villain, who nightly played
there a ghostly antic to frighten honest folk from a buried treasure.

And in summer the child read on the casement of the dining-room with
the window up. It was the height of a tall man from the ground, and
this gave it a bit of dizziness that enhanced the pleasure. This sill
could be dully reached from inside, but the approach from the outside
was riskiest and best. For an adventuring mood this window was a kind
of postern to the house for innocent deception, beyond the eye of both
the sitting-room and cook. Sometimes it was the bridge of a lofty
ship with a pilot going up and down, or it was a lighthouse to mark a
channel. It was as versatile as the kitchen step-ladder which--on
Thursday afternoons when the cook was out--unbent from its sober
household duties and joined him as an equal. But chiefly on this sill
the child read his books on summer days. His cousins sat inside on
chairs, starched for company, and read safe and dimpled authors, but
his were of a vagrant kind. There was one book, especially, in which a
lad not much bigger than himself ran from home and joined a circus. A
scolding aunt was his excuse. And the child on the sill chafed at his
own happy circumstance which denied him these adventures.

In a dark room in an upper story of the house there was a great box
where old books and periodicals were stored. No place this side of
Cimmeria had deeper shadows. Not even the underground stall of the
neighbor's cow, which showed a gloomy window on the garden, gave quite
the chill. It was only on the brightest days that the child dared to
rummage in this box. The top of it was high and it was blind fumbling
unless he stood upon a chair. Then he bent over, jack-knife fashion,
until the upper part of him--all above the legs--disappeared. In the
obscurity--his head being gone--it must have seemed that Solomon lived
upon the premises and had carried out his ugly threat in that old
affair of the disputed child. Then he lifted out the papers--in
particular a set of _Leslie's Weekly_ with battle pictures of the
Civil War. Once he discovered a tale of Jules Verne--a journey to the
center of the earth--and he spread its chapters before the window in
the dusty light.

But the view was high across the houses of the city to a range of
hills where tall trees grew as a hedge upon the world. And it was the
hours when his book lay fallen that counted most, for then he built
poems in his fancy of ships at sea and far-off countries.

It is by a fine instinct that children thus neglect their books,
whether it be Cowley or Circus Dick. When they seem most truant they
are the closest rapt. A book at its best starts the thought and sends
it off as a happy vagrant. It is the thought that runs away across the
margin that brings back the richest treasure.

But all reading in childhood is not happy. It chanced that lately in
the long vacation I explored a country school for boys. It stood on
the shaded street of a pretty New England village, so perched on a
hilltop that it looked over a wide stretch of lower country. There
were many marks of a healthful outdoor life--a football field and
tennis courts, broad lawns and a prospect of distant woodland for a
holiday excursion. It was on the steps of one of the buildings used
for recitation that I found a tattered dog-eared remnant of _The
Merchant of Venice_. So much of its front was gone that at the very
first of it Shylock had advanced far into his unworthy schemes.
Evidently the book, by its position at the corner of the steps, had
been thrown out immediately at the close of the final class, as if
already it had been endured too long.

In the stillness of the abandoned school I sat for an hour and read
about the choosing of the caskets. The margins were filled with
drawings--one possibly a likeness of the teacher. Once there was a
figure in a skirt--straight, single lines for legs--_Jack's
girl_--scrawled in evident derision of a neighbor student's amatory
weakness. There were records of baseball scores. Railroads were drawn
obliquely across the pages, bending about in order not to touch the
words, with a rare tunnel where some word stood out too long. Here and
there were stealthy games of tit-tat-toe, practiced, doubtless, behind
the teacher's back. Everything showed boredom with the play. What
mattered it which casket was selected! Let Shylock take his pound of
flesh! Only let him whet his knife and be quick about it! All's one.
It's at best a sad and sleepy story suited only for a winter's day.
But now spring is here--spring that is the king of all the seasons.

A bee comes buzzing on the pane. It flies off in careless truantry.
The clock ticks slowly like a lazy partner in the teacher's dull
conspiracy. Outside stretches the green world with its trees and
hills and moving clouds. There is a river yonder with swimming-holes.
A dog barks on a distant road.

Presently the lad's book slips from his negligent fingers. He places
it face down upon the desk. It lies disregarded like that volume of
old Cowley one hundred years ago. His eyes wander from the black-board
where the _Merchant's_ dry lines are scanned and marked.

          ´        ´       ´     ´     ´
    _In sooth, I know not why I am so sad._

And then ... his thoughts have clambered through the window. They have
leaped across the schoolyard wall. Still in his ears he hears the
jogging of the _Merchant_--but the sound grows dim. Like that other
lad of long ago, his thoughts have jumped the hills. Already, with
giddy stride, they are journeying to the profound region of the stars.

[Illustration]



On Turning Into Forty.


The other day, without any bells or whistles, I slipped off from the
thirties. I felt the same sleepiness that morning. There was no
apparent shifting of the grade.

I am conscious, maybe, that my agility is not what it was fifteen
years ago. I do not leap across the fences. But I am not yet comic.
Yonder stout man waddles as if he were a precious bombard. He strains
at his forward buttons. Unless he mend his appetite, his shoes will be
lost below his waistcoat. Already their tops and hulls, like battered
caravels, disappear beneath his fat horizon. With him I bear no
fellowship. But although nature has not stuffed me with her sweets to
this thick rotundity; alas, despite of tubes and bottles, no shadowy
garden flourishes on my top--waving capillary grasses and a prim path
between the bush. Rather, I bear a general parade and smooth pleasance
open to the glimpses of the moon.

And so at last I have turned into the forties. I remember now how
heedlessly I had remarked a small brisk clock ticking upon the shelf
as it counted the seconds--paying out to me, as it were, for my
pleasure and expense, the brief coinage of my life. I had heard, also,
unmindful of the warning, a tall and solemn clock as I lay awake,
marking regretfully the progress of the night. And I had been told
that water runs always beneath the bridge, that the deepest roses
fade, that Time's white beard keeps growing to his knee. These phrases
of wisdom I had heard and others. But what mattered them to me when my
long young life lay stretched before me? Nor did the revolving stars
concern me--nor the moon, spring with its gaudy brush, nor gray-clad
winter. Nor did I care how the wind blew the swift seasons across the
earth. Let Time's horses gallop, I cried. Speed! The bewildering peaks
of youth are forward. The inn for the night lies far across the
mountains.

But the seconds were entered on the ledger. At last the gray penman
has made his footing. The great page turns. I have passed out of the
thirties.

I am not given to brooding on my age. It is only by checking the years
on my fingers that I am able to reckon the time of my birth. In the
election booth, under a hard eye, I fumble the years and invite
suspicion. Eighteen hundred and seventy-eight, I think it was. But
even this salient fact--this milepost on my eternity--I remember most
quickly by the recollection of a jack-knife acquired on my tenth
birthday. By way of celebration on that day, having selected the
longest blade, I cut the date--1888--in the kitchen woodwork with
rather a pretty flourish when the cook was out. The swift events that
followed the discovery--the dear woman paddled me with a great spoon
through the door--fastened the occurrence in my memory.

It was about the year of the jack-knife that there lived in our
neighborhood a bad boy whose name was Elmer. I would have quite
forgotten him except that I met him on the pavement a few weeks ago.
He was the bully of our street--a towering rogue with red hair and one
suspender. I remember a chrome bandage which he shifted from toe to
toe. This lad was of larger speech than the rest of us and he could
spit between his teeth. He used to snatch the caps of the younger boys
and went off with our baseball across the fences. He was wrapped, too,
in mystery, and it was rumored--softly from ear to ear--that once he
had been arrested and taken to the station-house.

And yet here he was, after all these years, not a bearded brigand with
a knife sticking from his boot, but a mild undersized man, hat in
hand, smiling at me with pleasant cordiality. His red hair had faded
to a harmless carrot. From an overtopping rascal he had dwindled to my
shoulder. It was as strange and incomprehensible as if the broken
middle-aged gentleman, my familiar neighbor across the street who nods
all day upon his step, were pointed out to me as Captain Kidd retired.
Can it be that all villains come at last to a slippered state? Does
Dick Turpin of the King's highway now falter with crutch along a
garden path? And Captain Singleton, now that his last victim has
walked the plank--does he doze on a sunny bench beneath his pear tree?
Is no blood or treasure left upon the earth? Do all rascals lose their
teeth? "Good evening, Elmer," I said, "it has been a long time since
we have met." And I left him agreeable and smiling.

No, certainly I do not brood upon my age. Except for a gift I forget
my birthday. It is only by an effort that I can think of myself as
running toward middle age. If I meet a stranger, usually, by a
pleasant deception, I think myself the younger, and because of an
old-fashioned deference for age I bow and scrape in the doorway for
his passage.

Of course I admit a suckling to be my junior. A few days since I
happened to dine at one of the Purple Pups of our Greenwich Village.
At my table, which was slashed with yellow and blue in the fashion of
these places, sat a youth of seventeen who engaged me in conversation.
Plainly, even to my blindness, he was younger than myself. The milk
was scarcely dry upon his mouth. He was, by his admission across the
soup, a writer of plays and he had received already as many as three
pleasant letters of rejection. He flared with youth. Strange gases and
opinion burned in his speech. His breast pocket bulged with
manuscript, for reading at a hint.

I was poking at my dumpling when he asked me if I were a socialist.
No, I replied. Then perhaps I was an anarchist or a Bolshevist, he
persisted. N-no, I answered him, sadly and slowly, for I foresaw his
scorn. He leaned forward across the table. Begging my pardon for an
intrusion in my affairs, he asked me if I were not aware that the
world was slipping away from me. God knows. Perhaps. I had come
frisking to that restaurant. I left it broken and decrepit. The
youngster had his manuscripts and his anarchy. He held the wriggling
world by its futuristic tail. It was not my world, to be sure, but it
was a gay world and daubed with color.

And yet, despite this humiliating encounter, I feel quite young.
Something has passed before me that may be Time. The summers have come
and gone. There is snow on the pavement where I remember rain. I see,
if I choose, the long vista of the years, with diminishing figures,
and tin soldiers at the start. Yet I doubt if I am growing older. To
myself I seem younger than in my twenties. In the twenties we are
quite commonly old. We bear the whole weight of society. The world has
been waiting so long for us and our remedies. In the twenties we scorn
old authority. We let Titian and Keats go drown themselves. We are
skeptical in religion, and before our unrelenting iron throne
immortality and all things of faith plead in vain. Although I can show
still only a shabby inventory, certainly I would not exchange myself
for that other self in the twenties. I have acquired in these last few
years a less narrow sympathy and a belief that some of my colder
reasons may be wrong. Nor would I barter certain knacks of
thoughts--serious and humorous--for the renewed ability to leap across
a five-foot bar. I am less fearful of the world and its accidents. I
have less embarrassment before people. I am less moody. I tack and
veer less among my betters for some meaner profit. Surely I am growing
younger.

I seem to remember reading a story in which a scientist devised a
means of reversing the direction of the earth. Perhaps an explosion of
gases backfired against the east. Perhaps he built a monstrous lever
and contrived the moon to be his fulcrum. Anyway, here at last was the
earth spinning backward in its course--the spring preceding
winter--the sun rising in the west--one o'clock going before
twelve--soup trailing after nuts--the seed-time following upon the
harvest. And so it began to appear--so ran the story--that human life,
too, was reversed. Persons came into the world as withered grandames
and as old gentlemen with gold-headed canes, and then receded like
crabs backward into their maturity, then into their adolescence and
babyhood. To return from a protracted voyage was to find your younger
friends sunk into pinafores. But the story was really too ridiculous.

But in these last few years no doubt I do grow younger. The great
camera of the Master rolls its moving pictures backward. Perhaps I am
only thirty-eight now that the direction is reversed.

[Illustration]

I wonder what you thought, my dear X----, when we met recently at
dinner. We had not seen one another very often in these last few
years. Our paths have led apart and we have not been even at shouting
distance across the fields. It is needless to remind you, I hope, that
I once paid you marked attention. It began when we were boy and girl.
Our friends talked, you will recall. You were then less than a year
younger than myself, although no doubt you have since lost distance.
What a long time I spent upon my tie and collar--a stiff high collar
that almost touched my ears! Some other turn of fortune's
wheel--circumstance--a shaft of moonlight (we were young, my dear)--a
white frock--your acquiescence--who knows?

I jilted you once or twice for other girls--nothing formal, of
course--but only when you had jilted me three or four times. We once
rowed upon a river at night. Did I take your hand, my dear? If I
listen now I can hear the water dripping from the oar. There was
darkness--and stars--and youth (yourself, white-armed, the symbol of
its mystery). Yes, perhaps I am older now.

Was it not Byron who wrote?

    I am ashes where once I was fire,
    And the soul in my bosom is dead;
    What I loved I now merely admire,
    And my heart is as gray as my head.

I cannot pretend ever to have had so fierce a passion, but at least my
fire still burns and with a cheery blaze. But you will not know this
love of mine--unless, of course, you read this page--and even so, you
can only suspect that I write of you, because, my dear, to be quite
frank, I paid attention to several girls beside yourself.

Yes, they say that I have come to the top of the hill and that
henceforth the view is back across my shoulder. I am counseled that
with a turn of the road I had best sit with my back to the horses, for
the mountains are behind. A little while and the finer purple will be
showing in the west. Yet a little while, they say, and the bewildering
peaks of youth will be gray and cold.

Perhaps some of the greener pleasures are mine no longer. Certainly,
last night I went to the Winter Garden, but left bored after the first
act; and I had left sooner except for climbing across my neighbors. I
suppose there are young popinjays who seriously affirm that Ziegfeld's
Beauty Chorus is equal to the galaxy of loveliness that once pranced
at Weber and Field's when we came down from college on Saturday night.
At old Coster and Bial's there was once a marvelous beauty who swung
from a trapeze above the audience and scandalously undressed herself
down to the fifth encore and her stockings. And, really, are there
plays now as exciting as the _Prisoner of Zenda_, with its great fight
upon the stairs--three men dead and the tables overturned--Red
Rudolph, in the end, bearing off the Princess? Heroes no longer wear
cloak and sword and rescue noble ladies from castle towers.

And Welsh rabbit, that was once a passion and the high symbol of
extravagance, in these days has lost its finest flavor. In vain do we
shake the paprika can. Pop-beer and real beer, its manly cousin, have
neither of them the old foaming tingle when you come off the water.
Yes, already, I am told, I am on the long road that leads down to the
quiet inn at the mountain foot. I am promised, to be sure, many wide
prospects, pleasant sounds of wind and water, and friendly greetings
by the way. There will be a stop here and there for refreshments, a
pause at the turn where the world shows best, a tightening of the
brake. Get up, Dobbin! Go 'long! And then, tired and nodding, at last,
we shall leave the upland and enter the twilight where all roads end.

A pleasant picture, is it not--a grandfather in a cap--yourself, my
dear sir, hugging your cold shins in the chimney corner? Is it not a
brave end to a stirring business? Life, you say, is a journey up and
down a hill--aspirations unattained and a mild regret, castles at
dawn, a brisk wind for the noontide, and at night, at best, the lights
of a little village, the stir of water on the stones, and silence.

Is this true? Or do we not reiterate a lie? I deny old age. It is a
false belief, a bad philosophy dimming the eyes of generations. Men
and women may wear caps, but not because of age. In each one's heart,
if he permit, a child keeps house to the very end. If Welsh rabbit
lose its flavor, is it a sign of decaying power? I have yet to know
that a relish for Shakespeare declines, or the love of one's friends,
or the love of truth and beauty. Youth does not view the loftiest
peaks. It is at sunset that the tallest castles rise.

My dear sir--you of seventy or beyond--if no rim of mountains
stretches up before you, it is not your age that denies you but the
quality of your thought. It has been said of old that as a man thinks
so he is, but who of us has learned the lesson?

The journey has neither a beginning nor an end. Now is eternity. Our
birth is but a signpost on the road--our going hence, another post to
mark transition and our progress. The oldest stars are brief lamps
upon our way. We shall travel wisely if we see peaks and castles all
the day, and hold our childhood in our hearts. Then, when at last the
night has come, we shall plant our second post upon a windy height
where it will be first to catch the dawn.



On the Difference Between Wit and Humor.


I am not sure that I can draw an exact line between wit and humor.
Perhaps the distinction is so subtle that only those persons can
decide who have long white beards. But even an ignorant man, so long
as he is clear of Bedlam, may have an opinion.

I am quite positive that of the two, humor is the more comfortable and
more livable quality. Humorous persons, if their gift is genuine and
not a mere shine upon the surface, are always agreeable companions
and they sit through the evening best. They have pleasant mouths
turned up at the corners. To these corners the great Master of
marionettes has fixed the strings and he holds them in his nimblest
fingers to twitch them at the slightest jest. But the mouth of a
merely witty man is hard and sour until the moment of its discharge.
Nor is the flash from a witty man always comforting, whereas a
humorous man radiates a general pleasure and is like another candle in
the room.

I admire wit, but I have no real liking for it. It has been too often
employed against me, whereas humor is always an ally. It never points
an impertinent finger into my defects. Humorous persons do not sit
like explosives on a fuse. They are safe and easy comrades. But a
wit's tongue is as sharp as a donkey driver's stick. I may gallop the
faster for its prodding, yet the touch behind is too persuasive for
any comfort.

Wit is a lean creature with sharp inquiring nose, whereas humor has a
kindly eye and comfortable girth. Wit, if it be necessary, uses malice
to score a point--like a cat it is quick to jump--but humor keeps the
peace in an easy chair. Wit has a better voice in a solo, but humor
comes into the chorus best. Wit is as sharp as a stroke of lightning,
whereas humor is diffuse like sunlight. Wit keeps the season's
fashions and is precise in the phrases and judgments of the day, but
humor is concerned with homely eternal things. Wit wears silk, but
humor in homespun endures the wind. Wit sets a snare, whereas humor
goes off whistling without a victim in its mind. Wit is sharper
company at table, but humor serves better in mischance and in the
rain. When it tumbles wit is sour, but humor goes uncomplaining
without its dinner. Humor laughs at another's jest and holds its
sides, while wit sits wrapped in study for a lively answer. But it is
a workaday world in which we live, where we get mud upon our boots and
come weary to the twilight--it is a world that grieves and suffers
from many wounds in these years of war: and therefore as I think of my
acquaintance, it is those who are humorous in its best and truest
meaning rather than those who are witty who give the more profitable
companionship.

And then, also, there is wit that is not wit. As someone has written:

    Nor ever noise for wit on me could pass,
    When thro' the braying I discern'd the ass.

I sat lately at dinner with a notoriously witty person (a really witty
man) whom our hostess had introduced to provide the entertainment. I
had read many of his reviews of books and plays, and while I confess
their wit and brilliancy, I had thought them to be hard and
intellectual and lacking in all that broader base of humor which aims
at truth. His writing--catching the bad habit of the time--is too
ready to proclaim a paradox and to assert the unusual, to throw aside
in contempt the valuable haystack in a fine search for a paltry
needle. His reviews are seldom right--as most of us see the right--but
they sparkle and hold one's interest for their perversity and
unexpected turns.

In conversation I found him much as I had found him in his
writing--although, strictly speaking, it was not a conversation, which
requires an interchange of word and idea and is turn about. A
conversation should not be a market where one sells and another buys.
Rather, it should be a bargaining back and forth, and each person
should be both merchant and buyer. My rubber plant for your victrola,
each offering what he has and seeking his deficiency. It was my friend
B---- who fairly put the case when he said that he liked so much to
talk that he was willing to pay for his audience by listening in his
turn.

But this was a speech and a lecture. He loosed on us from the cold
spigot of his intellect a steady flow of literary allusion--a practice
which he professes to hold in scorn--and wit and epigram. He seemed
torn from the page of Meredith. He talked like ink. I had believed
before that only people in books could talk as he did, and then only
when their author had blotted and scratched their performance for a
seventh time before he sent it to the printer. To me it was an
entirely new experience, for my usual acquaintances are good common
honest daytime woollen folk and they seldom average better than one
bright thing in an evening.

At first I feared that there might be a break in his flow of speech
which I should be obliged to fill. Once, when there was a slight
pause--a truffle was engaging him--I launched a frail remark; but it
was swept off at once in the renewed torrent. And seriously it does
not seem fair. If one speaker insists--to change the figure--on laying
all the cobbles of a conversation, he should at least allow another to
carry the tarpot and fill in the chinks. When the evening was over,
although I recalled two or three clever stories, which I shall botch
in the telling, I came away tired and dissatisfied, my tongue dry with
disuse.

Now I would not seek that kind of man as a companion with whom to be
becalmed in a sailboat, and I would not wish to go to the country with
him, least of all to the North Woods or any place outside of
civilization. I am sure that he would sulk if he were deprived of an
audience. He would be crotchety at breakfast across his bacon.
Certainly for the woods a humorous man is better company, for his
humor in mischance comforts both him and you. A humorous man--and here
lies the heart of the matter--a humorous man has the high gift of
regarding an annoyance in the very stroke of it as another man shall
regard it when the annoyance is long past. If a humorous person falls
out of a canoe he knows the exquisite jest while his head is still
bobbing in the cold water. A witty man, on the contrary, is sour until
he is changed and dry: but in a week's time when company is about, he
will make a comic story of it.

My friend A---- with whom I went once into the Canadian woods has
genuine humor, and no one can be a more satisfactory comrade. I do not
recall that he said many comic things, and at bottom he was serious as
the best humorists are. But in him there was a kind of joy and
exaltation that lasted throughout the day. If the duffle were piled
too high and fell about his ears, if the dinner was burned or the tent
blew down in a driving storm at night, he met these mishaps as though
they were the very things he had come north to get, as though without
them the trip would have lacked its spice. This is an easy philosophy
in retrospect but hard when the wet canvas falls across you and the
rain beats in. A---- laughed at the very moment of disaster as another
man will laugh later in an easy chair. I see him now swinging his axe
for firewood to dry ourselves when we were spilled in a rapids; and
again, while pitching our tent on a sandy beach when another storm had
drowned us. And there is a certain cry of his (dully, _Wow!_ on paper)
expressive to the initiated of all things gay, which could never issue
from the mouth of a merely witty man.

Real humor is primarily human--or divine, to be exact--and after that
the fun may follow naturally in its order. Not long ago I saw Louis
Jouvet of the French Company play Sir Andrew Ague-Cheek. It was a most
humorous performance of the part, and the reason is that the actor
made no primary effort to be funny. It was the humanity of his
playing, making his audience love him first of all, that provoked the
comedy. His long thin legs were comical and so was his drawling talk,
but the very heart and essence was this love he started in his
audience. Poor fellow! How delightfully he smoothed the feathers in
his hat! How he feared to fight the duel! It was easy to love such a
dear silly human fellow. A merely witty player might have drawn as
many laughs, but there would not have been the catching at the heart.

As for books and the wit or humor of their pages, it appears that wit
fades, whereas humor lasts. Humor uses permanent nutgalls. But is
there anything more melancholy than the wit of another generation? In
the first place, this wit is intertwined with forgotten circumstance.
It hangs on a fashion--on the style of a coat. It arose from a
forgotten bit of gossip. In the play of words the sources of the pun
are lost. It is like a local jest in a narrow coterie, barren to an
outsider. Sydney Smith was the most celebrated wit of his day, but he
is dull reading now. Blackwood's at its first issue was a witty daring
sheet, but for us the pages are stagnant. I suppose that no one now
laughs at the witticisms of Thomas Hood. Where are the wits of
yesteryear? Yet the humor of Falstaff and Lamb and Fielding remains
and is a reminder to us that humor, to be real, must be founded on
humanity and on truth.



On Going to a Party.


Although I usually enjoy a party when I have arrived, I seldom
anticipate it with pleasure. I remain sour until I have hung my hat. I
suspect that my disorder is general and that if any group of formal
diners could be caught in preparation midway between their tub and
over-shoes, they would be found a peevish company who might be
expected to snap at one another. Yet look now at their smiling faces!
With what zest they crunch their food! How cheerfully they clatter on
their plates! Who would suspect that yonder smiling fellow who strokes
his silky chin was sullen when he fixed his tie; or that this pleasant
babble comes out of mouths that lately sulked before their mirrors?

I am not sure from what cause my own crustiness proceeds. I am of no
essential unsociability. Nor is it wholly the masquerade of
unaccustomed clothes. I am deft with a bow-knot and patient with my
collar. It may be partly a perversity of sex, inasmuch as we men are
sometimes "taken" by our women folk. But chiefly it comes from an
unwillingness to pledge the future, lest on the very night my own
hearth appear the better choice. Here we are, with legs stretched for
comfort toward the fire--easy and unbuttoned. Let the rain beat on the
glass! Let chimneys topple! Let the wind whistle to its shrill
companions of the North! But although I am led growling and reluctant
to my host's door--with stiffened paws, as it were, against the
sill--I usually enjoy myself when I am once inside. To see me across
the salad smiling at my pretty neighbor, no one would know how
churlish I had been on the coming of the invitation.

I have attended my share of formal dinners. I have dined with the
magnificent H----s and their Roman Senator has announced me at the
door; although, when he asked my name in the hall, I thought at first
in my ignorance that he gave me directions about my rubbers. No one
has faced more forks and knives, or has apportioned his implements
with nicer discrimination among the meats. Not once have I been forced
to stir my after-dinner coffee with a soup spoon. And yet I look back
on these grand occasions with contentment chiefly because they are
past. I am in whole agreement with Cleopatra when she spoke
slightingly of her salad days--surely a fashionable afternoon affair
at a castle on the river Nile--when, as she confessed, she was young
and green in judgment.

It is usually a pleasure to meet distinguished persons who, as a rule,
are friendly folk who sit in peace and comfort. But if they are lugged
in and set up stiffly at a formal dinner they are too much an
exhibition. In this circumstance they cannot be natural and at their
best. And then I wonder how they endure our abject deference and
flabby surrender to their opinions. Would it not destroy all interest
in a game of bowling if the wretched pins fell down before the hit
were made? It was lately at a dinner that our hostess held in
captivity three of these celebrated lions. One of them was a famous
traveler who had taken a tiger by its bristling beard. The second was
a popular lecturer. The third was in distemper and crouched quietly at
her plate. The first two are sharp and bright and they roared to
expectation. But I do not complain when lions take possession of the
cage, for it reduces the general liability of talk, and a common man,
if he be industrious, may pluck his bird down to the bone in peace.

A formal reception is even worse than a dinner. One stands around with
stalled machinery. Good stout legs, that can go at a trot all day,
become now weak and wabbly. One hurdles dispiritedly over trailing
skirts. One tries in conversation to think of the name of a play he
has just seen, but it escapes him. It is, however, so nearly in his
grasp, that it prevents him from turning to another topic. Benson, the
essayist, also disliked formal receptions and he quotes Prince Hal in
their dispraise. "Prithee, Ned," says the Prince--and I fancy that he
has just led a thirsty Duchess to the punchbowl, and was now in the
very act of escaping while her face was buried in the cup--"Prithee,
Ned," he says, "come out of this fat room, and lend me thy hand to
laugh a little!" And we can imagine these two enfranchised rogues,
easy at heart, making off later to their Eastcheap tavern, and the
passing of a friendly cup. But now, alas, today, all of the rooms of
the house are fat and thick with people. There is a confusion of
tongues as when work on the tower of Babel was broken off. There is no
escape. If it were one's good luck to be a waiter, one could at least
console himself that it was his livelihood.

The furniture has been removed from all the rooms in order that more
persons may be more uncomfortable. Or perhaps the chairs and tables,
like rats in a leaky ship, have scuttled off, as it were, now that
fashion has wrecked the home. A friend of mine, J----, resents these
entertainments. No sooner, recently, did he come into such a bare
apartment where, in happier days his favorite chair had stood, than he
hinted to the guests that the furniture had been sold to meet the
expenses of the day. This sorry jest lasted him until, on whispering
to a servant, he learned that the chairs had been stored in an upper
hall. At this he proposed that the party reassemble above, where at
least they might sit down and be comfortable. When I last saw J----
that evening he was sitting at the turn of the stairs behind an exotic
shrubbery, where he had found a vagrant chair that had straggled
behind the upper emigration.

The very envelope that contains a formal invitation bears a forbidding
look. It is massive and costly to the eye. It is much larger than a
letter, unless, perhaps, one carries on a correspondence with a giant
from Brobdingnag. You turn it round and round with sad premonition.
The very writing is coldly impersonal without the pinch of a more
human hand. It practices a chill anonymity as if it contains a warrant
for a hanging. At first you hope it may be merely an announcement from
your tailor, inasmuch as commerce patterns its advertisements on these
social forms. I am told that there was once a famous man--a
distinguished novelist--who so disliked formal parties but was so
timid at their rejection that he took refuge in the cellar whenever
one of these forbidding documents arrived, until he could forge a
plausible excuse; for he believed that these colder and more barren
rooms quickened his invention. The story goes that once when he was in
an unusually timid state he lacked the courage to break the seal and
so spent an uneasy morning upon the tubs, to the inconvenience of the
laundress who thought that he fretted upon the plot. At last, on
tearing off the envelope, he found to his relief that it was only a
notice for a display of haberdashery at a fashionable shop. In his
gratitude at his escape he at once sought his desk and conferred a
blushing heiress on his hero.

But perhaps there are persons of an opposite mind who welcome an
invitation. Even the preliminary rummage delights them when their
clothes are sent for pressing and their choice wavers among their
plumage. For such persons the superscription on the envelope now seems
written in the spacious hand of hospitality.

But of informal dinners and the meeting of friends we can all approve
without reserve. I recall, once upon a time, four old gentlemen who
met every week for whist. Three of them were of marked eccentricity.
One of them, when the game was at its pitch, reached down to the rungs
of his chair and hitched it first to one side and then to the other,
mussing up the rugs. The second had the infirmity of nodding his head
continuously. Even if he played a trivial three spot, he sat on the
decision and wagged his beard up and down like a judge. The third
sucked his teeth and thereby made hissing noises. Later in the evening
there would be served buttermilk or cider, and the sober party would
adjourn at the gate. But there were two young rascals who practiced
these eccentricities and after they had gone to bed, for the
exquisite humor of it, they nodded their heads, too, and sucked their
teeth with loud hissing noises.

No one entertains more pleasantly than the S---- family and no one is
more informal. If you come on the minute for your dinner, it is likely
that none of the family is about. After a search J---- is found in a
flannel shirt in his garden with a watering-can. "Hello!" he says in
surprise. "What time is it? Have you come already for dinner?"

"For God's sake," you reply--for I assume you to be of familiar and
profane manners--"get up and wash yourself! Don't you know that you
are giving a party?"

J---- affects to be indignant. "Who is giving this party, anyway?" he
asks. "If it's yours, you run it!" And then he leads you to the house,
where you abuse each other agreeably as he dresses.

Once a year on Christmas Eve they give a general party. This has been
a custom for a number of years and it is now an institution as fixed
as the night itself. Invitations are not issued. At most a rumor goes
abroad to the elect that nine o'clock is a proper time to come, when
the children, who have peeked for Santa Claus up the chimney, have at
last been put to bed. There is a great wood fire in the sitting-room
and, by way of andirons, two soldiers of the Continental Army keep up
their endless march across the hearth. The fireplace is encircled by a
line of leather cushions that rest upon the floor, like a window-seat
that has undergone amputation of all its legs.

But the center of the entertainment is a prodigious egg-nog that rises
from the dining table. I do not know the composition of the drink, yet
my nose is much at fault if it includes aught but eggs and whiskey. At
the end of the table J---- stands with his mighty ladle. It is his
jest each year--for always there is a fresh stranger who has not heard
it--it is his jest that the drink would be fair and agreeable to the
taste if it were not for the superfluity of eggs which dull the
mixture.

No one, even of a sour prohibition, refuses his entreaty. My aunt, who
speaks against the Demon, once appeared at the party. She came
sniffing to the table. "Ought I to take it, John?" she asked.

"Mildest thing you ever drank," said John, and he ladled her out a
cup.

My aunt smelled it suspiciously.

"It's eggs," said John.

"Eggs?" said my aunt, "What a funny smell they have!" She said this
with a facial expression not unlike that of Little Red Ridinghood,
when she first saw the old lady with the long nose and sharp eyes.

"Nothing bad, I hope," said John.

"N-no," said my aunt slowly, and she took a sip.

"Of course the eggs spoil it a little," said John.

"It's very good," said my aunt, as she took another sip.

Then she put down her glass, but only when it was empty. "John," she
said, "you are a rogue. You would like to get me tipsy." And at this
she moved out of danger. Little Red Ridinghood escaped the wolf as
narrowly. But did Little Red Ridinghood escape? Dear me, how one
forgets!

But in closing I must not fail to mention an old lady and gentleman,
both beyond eighty, who have always attended these parties. They have
met old age with such trust and cheerfulness, and they are so eager at
a jest, that no one of all the gathering fits the occasion half so
well. And to exchange a word with them is to feel a pleasant contact
with all the gentleness and mirth that have lodged with them during
the space of their eighty years. The old gentleman is an astronomer
and until lately, when he moved to a newer quarter of the town, he had
behind his house in a proper tower a telescope, through which he
showed his friends the moon. But in these last few years his work has
been entirely mathematical and his telescope has fallen into disorder.
His work finds a quicker comment among scientists of foreign lands
than on his own street.

It is likely that tonight he has been busy with the computation of the
orbit of a distant star up to the very minute when his wife brought in
his tie and collar. And then arm and arm they have set out for the
party, where they will sit until the last guest has gone.

Alas, when the party comes this Christmas, only one of these old
people will be present, for the other with a smile lately fell
asleep.

[Illustration]



On a Pair of Leather Suspenders.


Not long since I paid a visit to New Haven before daylight of a winter
morning. I had hoped that my sleeper from Washington might be late and
I was encouraged in this by the trainman who said that the dear old
thing commonly went through New Haven at breakfast time. But it was
barely three o'clock when the porter plucked at me in my upper berth.
He intruded, happily, on a dream in which the train came rocking
across the comforter.

Three o'clock, if you approach it properly through the evening, is
said to have its compensations. There are persons (with a hiccough)
who pronounce it the shank of the evening, but as an hour of morning
it has few apologists. It is the early bird that catches the worm; but
this should merely set one thinking before he thrusts out a foot into
the cold morning, whether he may justly consider himself a bird or a
worm. If no glad twitter rises to his lips in these early hours, he
had best stay unpecked inside his coverlet.

It is hard to realize that other two-legged creatures like myself are
habitually awake at this hour. In a wakeful night I may have heard the
whistles and the clank of far-off wheels, and I may have known dimly
that work goes on; yet for the most part I have fancied that the
world, like a river steamboat in a fog, is tied at night to its shore:
or if it must go plunging on through space to keep a schedule, that
here and there a light merely is set upon a tower to warn the planets.

A locomotive was straining at its buttons, and from the cab a smoky
engineer looked down on me. A truck load of boxes rattled down the
platform. Crates of affable familiar hens were off upon a journey,
bragging of their families. Men with flaring tapers tapped at wheels.
The waiting-room, too, kept, as it were, one eye open to the night.
The coffee-urn steamed on the lunch counter, and sandwiches sat inside
their glass domes and looked darkly on the world.

It was the hour when "the tired burglar seeks his bed." I had thought
of dozing in a hotel chair until breakfast, but presently a flood
appeared in the persons of three scrub women. The fountains of the
great deep were opened and the waters prevailed.

It still lacked an hour or so of daylight. I remembered that there
used to be a humble restaurant and kitchen on wheels--to the vulgar, a
dog-wagon--up toward York Street. This wagon, once upon a time, had
appeased our appetites when we had been late for chapel and Commons.
As an institution it was so trite that once we made of it a fraternity
play. I faintly remember a pledge to secrecy--sworn by the moon and
the seven wandering stars--but nevertheless I shall divulge the plot.
It was a burlesque tragedy in rhyme. Some eighteen years ago, it
seems, Brabantio, the noble Venetian Senator, kept this same
dog-wagon--he and his beautiful daughter Desdemona. Here came Othello,
Iago and Cassio of the famous class of umpty-ump.

The scene of the drama opens with Brabantio flopping his dainties on
the iron, chanting to himself a lyric in praise of their tender
juices. Presently Othello enters and when Brabantio's back is turned
he makes love to Desdemona--a handsome fellow, this Othello, with the
manner of a hero and curled moustachios. Exit Othello to a nine
o'clock, Ladd on Confusions. Now the rascal Iago enters--myself! with
flowing tie. He hates Othello. He glowers like a villain and
soliloquizes:

    In order that my vengeance I may plot
    Give me a dog, and give it to me hot!

That was the kind of play. Finally, Desdemona is nearly smothered but
is returned at last to Othello's arms. Iago meets his deserts. He is
condemned to join [Greek: Delta, Kappa, Epsilon], a rival fraternity.
But the warm heart of Desdemona melts and she intercedes to save him
from this horrid end. In mercy--behind the scenes--his head is chopped
off. Then all of us, heroines and villains, sat to a late hour around
the fire and told one another how the real stage thirsted for us. We
drank lemonade mostly but we sang of beer--one song about

    Beer, beer, glorious beer!
    Fill yourself right up to here!

accompanied with a gesture several inches above the head. As the
verses progressed it was customary to stand on chairs and to reach up
on tiptoe to show the increasing depth.

But the dog-wagon has now become a gilded unfamiliar thing, twice its
former size and with stools for a considerable company. I questioned
the proprietor whether he might be descended from the noble Brabantio,
but the dull fellow gave no response. The wagon has passed to meaner
ownership.

Across the street Vanderbilt Hall loomed indistinctly. To the ignorant
it may be necessary to explain that its courtyard is open to Chapel
Street, but that an iron grill stretches from wing to wing and keeps
out the town. This grill is high enough for Hagenbeck, and it used to
be a favorite game with us to play animal behind it for the street's
amusement. At the hour when the crowd issued from the matinée at the
Hyperion Theatre, our wittiest students paced on all fours up and down
behind this grill and roared for raw beef. E---- was the wag of the
building and he could climb up to a high place and scratch himself
like a monkey--an entertainment of more humor than elegance. Elated
with success, he and a companion later chartered a street-organ--a
doleful one-legged affair--and as man and monkey they gathered pennies
out Orange Street.

I turned into the dark Campus by Osborn Hall. It is as ugly a building
as one could meet on a week's journey, and yet by an infelicity all
class pictures are taken on its steps. Freshman courses are given in
the basement--a French class once in particular. Sometimes, when we
were sunk dismally in the irregular verbs, bootblacks and old-clothes
men stopped on the street and grinned down on us. And all the dreary
hour, as we sweated with translation, above us on the pavement the
feet and happy legs of the enfranchised went by the window.

Yale is a bad jumble of architecture. It is amazing how such
incongruous buildings can lodge together. Did not the Old Brick Row
cry out when Durfee was built? Surely the Gothic library uttered a
protest against its newer adjunct. And are the Bicentennial buildings
so beautiful? At best we have exchanged the fraudulent wooden
ramparts of Alumni Hall for the equally fraudulent inside columns of
these newer buildings. It is a mercy that there is no style and
changing fashion in elm trees. As Viola might have remarked about the
Campus: it were excellently done, if God did all.

Presently in the dark I came on the excavations for the Harkness
quadrangle. So at last Commons was gone. In that old building we ate
during our impoverished weeks. I do not know that we saved much, for
we were driven to extras, but the reckoning was deferred. There was a
certain tutti-frutti ice-cream, rich in ginger, that has now vanished
from the earth. Or chocolate èclairs made the night stand out. I
recall that one could seldom procure a second helping of griddlecakes
except on those mornings when there were ants in the syrup. Also, I
recall that sometimes there was a great crash of trays at the pantry
doors, and almost at the instant two old Goodies, harnessed ready with
mops and pails, ran out and sponged up the wreckage.

And Pierson Hall is gone, that was once the center of Freshman life.
Does anybody remember _The Voice_? It was a weekly paper issued in the
interest of prohibition. I doubt if we would have quarreled with it
for this, but it denounced Yale and held up in contrast the purity of
Oberlin. Oberlin! And therefore we hated it, and once a week we burned
its issue in the stone and plaster corridors of Pierson.

There was once a residence at the corner of York and Library where
Freshmen resided. The railing of the stairs wabbled. The bookcase door
lacked a hinge. Three out of four chairs were rickety. The bath-tub,
which had been the chemical laboratory for some former student, was
stained an unhealthy color. If ever it shall appear that Harlequin
lodged upon the street, here was the very tub where he washed his
clothes. Without caution the window of the bedroom fell out into the
back yard. But to atone for these defects, up through the scuttle in
the hall there was an airy perch upon the roof. Here Freshmen might
smoke their pipes in safety--a privilege denied them on the
street--and debate upon their affairs. Who were hold-off men! Who
would make [Greek: Boulê!] Or they invented outrageous names for the
faculty. My dear Professor Blank, could you hear yourself described by
these young cubs through their tobacco smoke, your learned ears, so
alert for dactyl and spondee, would grow red.

Do Scott's boys, I wonder, still gather clothes for pressing around
the Campus? Do they still sell tickets--sixteen punches for a
dollar--five punches to the suit? On Monday mornings do colored
laundresses push worn baby-carts around to gather what we were pleased
to call the "dirty filth"? And do these same laundresses push back
these self-same carts later in the week with "clean filth" aboard? Are
stockings mended in the same old way, so that the toes look through
the open mesh? Have college sweeps learned yet to tuck in the sheets
at the foot? Do old-clothes men--Fish-eye? Do you remember him?--do
old-clothes men still whine at the corner, and look you up and down in
cheap appraisal? Pop Smith is dead, who sold his photograph to
Freshmen, but has he no successor? How about the old fellow who sold
hot chestnuts at football games--"a nickel a bush"--a rare contraction
meant to denote a bushel--in reality fifteen nuts and fifteen worms.
Does George Felsburg still play the overture at Poli's, reading his
newspaper the while, and do comic actors still jest with him across
the footlights?

Is it still ethical to kick Freshmen on the night of Omega Lambda Chi?
Is "nigger baby" played on the Campus any more? The loser of this
precious game, in the golden days, leaned forward against the wall
with his coat-tails raised, while everybody took a try at him with a
tennis ball. And, of course, no one now plays "piel." A youngster will
hardly have heard of the game. It was once so popular that all the
stone steps about the college showed its marks. And next year we heard
that the game had spread to Harvard.

Do students still make for themselves oriental corners with Bagdad stripes
and Turkish lamps? Do the fair fingers of Farmington and Northampton still
weave the words "'Neath the Elms" upon sofa pillows? Do Seniors still bow
the President down the aisle of Chapel? Do students still get out their
Greek with "trots"? It was the custom for three or four lazy students to
gather together and summon up a newsy to read the trot, while they, lolling
with pipes on their Morris chairs, fumbled with the text and interlined it
against a loss of memory. Let the fair-haired goddess Juno speak! Ulysses,
as he pleases, may walk on the shore of the loud-sounding sea. Thereafter
in class one may repose safely on his interlineation and snap at flies with
a rubber band. This method of getting a lesson was all very well except
that the newsy halted at the proper name. A device was therefore hit on of
calling all the gods and heroes by the name of Smith. Homeric combat then
ran like this: _the heart of Smit was black with anger and he smote Smit
upon the brazen helmet. And the world grew dark before his eyes, and he
fell forward like a tower and bit the dust and his armor clanked about him.
But at evening, from a far-off mountain top the white-armed goddess
Smit-Smit_ (Pallas-Athena) _saw him, and she felt compash--compassion for
him._

And I suppose that students still sing upon the fence. There was a
Freshman once, in those early nights of autumn when they were still a
prey to Sophomores, who came down Library Street after his supper at
Commons. He wondered whether the nights of hazing were done and was
unresolved whether he ought to return to his room and sit close.
Presently he heard the sound of singing. It came from the Campus, from
the fence. He was greener than most Freshmen and he had never heard
men sing in four-part harmony. With him music had always been a single
tune, or at most a lost tenor fumbled uncertainly for the pitch. Any
grunt had been a bass. And so the sound ravished him. In the open air
and in the dark the harmony was unparalleled. He stole forward, still
with one eye open for Sophomores, and crouched in the shadowy angle of
North Middle. Now the song was in full chorus and the branches of the
elms swayed to it, and again a bass voice sang alone and the others
hummed a low accompaniment.

Occasionally, across the Campus, someone in passing called up to a
window, "Oh, Weary Walker, stick out your head!" And then, after a
pause, satirically, when the head was out, "Stick it in again!" On the
stones there were the sounds of feet--feet with lazy purpose--loud
feet down wooden steps, bound for pleasure. At the windows there were
lights, where dull thumbs moved down across a page. Let A equal B to
find our Z. And let it be quick about it, before the student nod! And
to the Freshman, crouching in the shadow, it seemed at last that he
was a part of this life, with its music, its voices, its silent elms,
the dim buildings with their lights, the laughter and the glad feet
sounding in the dark.

I came now, rambling on this black wintry morning, before the sinister
walls of Skull and Bones.

I sat on a fence and contemplated the building. It is as dingy as ever
and, doubtless, to an undergraduate, as fearful as ever. What rites
and ceremonies are held within these dim walls! What awful
celebrations! The very stones are grim. The chain outside that swings
from post to post is not as other chains, but was forged at midnight.
The great door has a black spell upon it. It was on such a door,
iron-bound and pitiless, that the tragic Ygraine beat in vain for
mercy.

It is a breach of etiquette for an undergraduate in passing even to
turn and look at Bones. Its name may not be mentioned to a member of
the society, and one must look furtively around before pronouncing it.
Now as I write the word, I feel a last vibration of the fearful
tremor.

Seniors compose its membership--fifteen or so, and membership is
ranked as the highest honor of the college. But in God's name, what is
all this pother? Are there not already enough jealousies without this
one added? Does not college society already fall into enough locked
coteries without this one? No matter how keen is the pride of
membership, it does not atone for the disappointments and the
heart-burnings of failure. It is hinted obscurely for expiation that
it and its fellow societies do somehow confer a benefit on the college
by holding out a reward for hard endeavor. This is the highest goal.
I distrust the wisdom of the judges. There is an honester repute to be
gained in the general estimate of one's fellows. These societies cut
an unnatural cleavage across the college. They are the source of
dishonest envy and of mean lick-spittling. For three years, until the
election is announced, there is much playing for position. A favored
fellow, whose election is certain, is courted by others who stand on a
slippery edge, because it is known that in Senior elections one is
rated by his association. And is it not preposterous that fifteen
youngsters should set themselves above the crowd, wear obscure jewelry
and wrap themselves in an empty and pretentious mystery?

But what has this rambling paper to do with a pair of leather
suspenders? Nothing. Nothing much. Only, after a while, just before
the dawn, I came in front of the windows of a cheap haberdasher. And I
recalled how I had once bought at this very shop a pair of leather
suspenders. They were the only ones left--it was hinted that Seniors
bought them largely--and they were a bargain. The proprietor blew off
the dust and slapped them and dwelt upon their merits. They would last
me into middle age and were cheap. There was, I recall, a kind of
tricky differential between the shoulders to take up the slack on
either side. Being a Freshman I was prevailed upon, and I bought them
and walked to Morris Cove while they creaked and fretted. And here was
the very shop, arising in front of me as from times before the flood.
With it there arose, too, a recollection of my greenness and timidity.
And mingled with all the hours of happiness of those times there were
hours, also, of emptiness and loneliness--hours when, newcome to my
surroundings, for fear of rebuff I walked alone.

The night still lingers. These dark lines of wall and tree and tower
are etched by Time with memories to burn the pattern. The darkness
stirs strangely, like waters in the solemn bowl when a witch reads off
the future. But the past is in this darkness, and the December wind
this night has roused up the summer winds of long ago. In that cleft
is the old window. Here are the stairs, wood and echoing with an
almost forgotten tread. A word, a phrase, a face, shows for an instant
in the shadows. Here, too, in memory, is a pageantry of old custom
with its songs and uproar, victory with its fires and dance.

Forms, too, I see bent upon their books, eager or dull, with intent or
sleepy finger on the page. And I hear friendly cries and the sound of
many feet across the night.

Dawn at last--a faint light through the elms. From the Chapel tower
the bells sound the hour and strike their familiar melody. Dawn. And
now the East in triumphal garment scatters my memories, born of night,
before its flying wheel.

[Illustration]



Boots for Runaways.


Not long ago, having come through upon the uppers of my shoes, I
wrapped the pair in a bit of newspaper and went around the corner into
Sixth Avenue to find a cobbler. This is not difficult, for there are
at least three cobblers to the block, all of them in basements four or
five steps below the sidewalk. Cobblers and little tailors who press
and repair clothing, small grocers and delicatessen venders--these are
the chief commerce of the street. I passed my tailor's shop, which is
next to the corner. He is a Russian Jew who came to this country
before the great war. Every Thursday, when he takes away my off suit,
I ask him about the progress of the Revolution. At first I found him
hopeful, yet in these last few months his opinions are a little
broken. His shop consists of a single room, with a stove to heat his
irons and a rack for clothes. It is so open to the street that once
when it was necessary for me to change trousers he stood between me
and the window with one foot against the door by way of moratorium on
his business. His taste in buttons is loud. Those on my dinner coat
are his choice--great round jewels that glisten in the dark.

Next to my tailor, except for a Chinese laundry with a damp celestial
smell, is a delicatessen shop with a pleasant sound of French across
the counter. Here are sausages, cut across the middle in order that no
one may buy the pig, as it were, in its poke. Potato salad is set out
each afternoon in a great bowl with a wooden spoon sticking from its
top. Then there is a baked bean, all brown upon the crust, which is
housed with its fellows in a cracked baking dish and is not to be
despised. There is also a tray of pastry with whipped cream oozing
agreeably from the joints, and a pickle vat as corrective to these
sweets. But behind the shop is the bakery and I can watch a wholesome
fellow, with his sleeves tucked up, rolling pasties thin on a great
white table, folding in nuts and jellies and cutting them deftly for
the oven.

Across the street there resides a mender of musical instruments. He
keeps dusty company with violins and basses that have come to broken
health. When a trombone slips into disorder, it seeks his sanitarium.
Occasionally, as I pass, I catch the sound of a twanging string, as
if at last a violin were convalescent. Or I hear a reedy nasal upper
note, and I know that an oboe has been mended of its complaint and
that in these dark days of winter it yearns for a woodside stream and
the return of spring. It seems rather a romantic business tinkering
these broken instruments into harmony.

Next door there is a small stationer--a bald-headed sort of business,
as someone has called it. Ruled paper for slavish persons, plain
sheets for bold Bolshevists.

Then comes our grocer. There is no heat in the place except what comes
from an oil stove on which sits a pan of steaming water. Behind the
stove with his twitching ear close against it a cat lies at all hours
of the day. There is an engaging smudge across his nose, as if he had
been led off on high adventure to the dusty corners behind the apple
barrel. I bend across the onion crate to pet him, and he stretches his
paws in and out rhythmically in complete contentment. He walks along
the counter with arched back and leans against our purchases.

Next our grocer is our bootblack, who has set up a sturdy but shabby
throne to catch the business off the "L." How majestically one sits
aloft here with outstretched toe, for all the world like the Pope
offering his saintly toe for a sinner's kiss. The robe pontifical, the
triple crown! Or, rather, is this not a secular throne, seized once in
a people's rising? Here is a use for whatever thrones are discarded
by this present war. Where the crowd is thickest at quitting
time--perhaps where the subway brawls below Fourteenth Street--there I
would set the German Kaiser's seat for the least of us to clamber on.

I took my shoes out of their wrapper. The cobbler is old and wrinkled
and so bent that one might think that Nature aimed to contrive a hoop
of him but had botched the full performance. He scratched my name upon
the soles and tossed them into the pile. There were big and little
shoes, some with low square heels and others with high thin heels as
if their wearers stood tiptoe with curiosity. It is a quality, they
say, that marks the sex. On the bench were bits of leather, hammers,
paring-knives, awls, utensils of every sort.

On arriving home I found an old friend awaiting me. B---- has been
engaged in a profitable business for fifteen years or so and he has
amassed a considerable fortune. Certainly he deserves it, for he has
been at it night and day and has sacrificed many things to it. He has
kept the straight road despite all truant beckoning. But his too close
application has cramped his soul. His organization and his profits,
his balance sheets and output have seemed to become the whole of him.

But for once I found that B---- was in no hurry and we talked more
intimately than in several years. I discovered soon that his hard
busyness was no more than a veneer and that his freer self still
lived, but in confinement. At least he felt the great lack in his
life, which had been given too much to the piling up of things, to the
sustaining of position--getting and spending. Yet he could see no end.
He was caught in the rich man's treadmill, only less horrible than
that of the poor man with its cold and hunger.

Afterwards, when he had gone, I fell into a survey of certain other
men of my acquaintance. Some few of them are rich also, and they heap
up for themselves a pile of material things until they stifle in the
midst. They run swiftly and bitterly from one appointment to another
in order that they may add a motor to their stable. If they lie awake
at night, they plan a new confusion for the morrow. They are getting
and spending always. They have been told many times that some day they
will die and leave their wealth, yet they labor ceaselessly to
increase their pile. It is as if one should sweat and groan to load a
cart, knowing that soon it goes off on another road. And yet not one
of these persons will conceive that I mean him. He will say that
necessity keeps him at it. Or he will cite his avocations to prove he
is not included. But he plays golf fretfully with his eye always on
the score. He drives his motor furiously to hold a schedule. Yet in
his youth many of these prosperous fellows learned to play upon a
fiddle, and they dreamed on college window-seats. They had time for
friendliness before they became so busy holding this great world by
its squirming tail.

Or perhaps they are not so _very_ wealthy. If so, they work the
harder. To support their wives and children? By no means. To support
the pretense that they are really wealthy, to support a neighbor's
competition. It is this competition of house and goods that keeps
their noses on the stone. Expenditure always runs close upon their
income, and their days are a race to keep ahead.

I was thinking rather mournfully of the hard and unnecessary condition
of these persons, when I fell asleep. And by chance, these unlucky
persons, my boots and my cobbler, even the oboe mender, all of them
somehow got mixed in my dream.

It seems that there was a cobbler once, long ago, who kept a shop
quite out of the common run and marvelous in its way. It stood in a
shadowy city over whose dark streets the buildings toppled, until
spiders spun their webs across from roof to roof. And to this cobbler
the god Mercury himself journeyed to have wings sewed to his flying
shoes. High patronage. And Atalanta, too, came and held out her swift
foot for the fitting of a running sandal. But perhaps the cobbler's
most famous customer was a well-known giant who ordered of him his
seven-league boots. These boots, as you may well imagine, were of
prodigious size, and the giant himself was so big that when he left
his order he sat outside on the pavement and thrust his stockinged
foot in through the window for the cobbler to get his measure.

[Illustration]

I was laughing heartily at this when I observed that a strange
procession was passing by the cobbler's door. First there was a man
who was burdened with a great tinsel box hung with velvet, in which
were six plush chairs. After him came another who was smothered with
rugs and pictures. A third carried upon his back his wife, a great fat
creature, who glittered with jewels. Behind him he dragged a dozen
trunks, from which dangled brocades and laces. This was all so absurd
that in my mirth I missed what followed, but it seemed to be a long
line of weary persons, each of whom staggered under the burden of an
unworthy vanity.

As I laughed the night came on--a dull hot night of summer. And in the
shop I saw the cobbler on his bench, an old and wrinkled man like a
dwarf in a fairy tale. There was a sign now above his door. "Boots for
Runaways," it read. About its margin were pictures of many kinds of
boots--a shoe of a child who runs to seek adventure, Atalanta's
sandals, and sturdy boots that a man might wear.

And now I saw a man coming in the dark with tired and drooping head.
In both hands he clutched silver pieces that he had gathered in the
day. When he was opposite the cobbler's shop, the great sign caught
his eye. He wagged his head as one who comes upon the place he seeks.
"Have you boots for me?" he asked, with his head thrust in the door.

"For everyone who needs them," was the cobbler's answer.

"My body is tired," the man replied, "and my soul is tired."

"For what journey do you prepare?" the cobbler asked.

The man looked ruefully at his hands which were still tightly clenched
with silver pieces.

"Getting and spending," said the cobbler slowly.

"It has been my life." As the man spoke he banged with his elbow on
his pocket and it rattled dully with metal.

"Do you want boots because you are a coward?" the cobbler asked. "If
so, I have none to sell."

"A coward?" the man answered, and he spoke deliberately as one in deep
thought. "All my life I have been a coward, fearing that I might not
keep even with my neighbors. Now, for the first time, I am brave."

He kicked off his shoe and stretched out his foot. The cobbler took
down from its nail his tape line and measured him. And the twilight
deepened and the room grew dark.

And the man went off cheerily. And with great strides he went into the
windy North. But to the South in a slow procession, I saw those others
who bore the weary burden of their wealth, staggering beneath their
load of dull possessions--their opera boxes, their money-chests and
stables, their glittering houses, their trunks of silks and laces, and
on their backs their fat wives shining in the night with jewels.



On Hanging a Stocking at Christmas.


As Christmas is, above all, a holiday for children, it is proper in
its season to consider with what regard they hold its celebration. But
as no one may really know the secrets of childhood except as he
retains the recollection of his own, it is therefore in the well of
memory that I must dip my pen. The world has been running these many
years with gathering speed like a great wheel upon a hill, and I must
roll it backward to the heights to see how I fared on the night and
day of Christmas.

I can remember that for a month before the day I computed its
distance, not only in hours and minutes but even in seconds, until the
answer was scrawled across my slate. Now, when I multiply 24 x 60 x
60, the resulting 86,400 has an agreeable familiarity as the amount I
struck off each morning. At bedtime on Christmas Eve I had still
36,000 impatient seconds yet to wait, for I considered that Christmas
really started at six o'clock in the morning.

There was, of course, a lesser celebration on Christmas Eve when we
hung our stockings. There were six of them, from mother's long one to
father's short one. Ours, although built on womanish lines, lacked the
greater length and they were, consequently, inferior for the purpose
of our greed; but father's were woefully short, as if fashioned to the
measure of his small expectancy. Even a candy cane came peeping from
the top, as if curiosity had stirred it to look around.

Finally, when the stockings were hung on the knobs of the mantel, we
went up the dark stairs to bed. At the landing we saw the last glimmer
from the friendly sitting-room. The hall clock ticked solemnly in the
shadow below with an air of firmness, as much as to say that it would
not be hurried. Fret as we might, those 36,000 seconds were not to be
jostled through the night.

In the upper hall we looked from a window upon the snowy world.
Perhaps we were too old to believe in Santa Claus, but even so, on
this magic night might not a skeptic be at fault--might there not be a
chance that the discarded world had returned to us? Once a year,
surely, reason might nod and drowse. Perhaps if we put our noses on
the cold glass and peered hard into the glittering darkness, we might
see the old fellow himself, muffled to his chin in furs, going on his
yearly errands. It was a jingling of sleigh bells on the street that
started this agreeable suspicion, but, alas, when the horse appeared,
manifestly by his broken jogging gait he was only an earthly creature
and could not have been trusted on the roof. Or the moon, sailing
across the sky, invited the thought that tonight beyond the accustomed
hour and for a purpose it would throw its light across the roofs to
mark the chimneys.

Presently mother called up from the hall below. Had we gone to bed?
Reluctantly now we began to thumb the buttons. Off came our clothes,
both shirts together tonight for better speed in dressing. And all the
night pants and drawers hung as close neighbors, one within the other,
with stockings dangling at the ends, for quick resumption. We slipped
shivering into the cold sheets. Down below the bed, by special
permission, stood the cook's clock, wound up tight for its explosion
at six o'clock.

Then came silence and the night....

Presently, all of a sudden, Brrr--! There arose a deafening racket in
the room. Had the reindeer come afoul of the chimney? Had the loaded
sleigh crashed upon the roof? Were pirates on the stairs? We awoke
finally, and smothered the alarm in the pillows. A match! The gas! And
now a thrill went through us. Although it was still as black as ink
outside, at last the great day of all the year had come.

It was, therefore, before the dawn that we stole downstairs in our
stockings--dressed loosely and without too great precision in our
hurry. Buttons that lay behind were neglected, nor did it fret us if a
garment came on twisted. It was a rare tooth that felt the brush this
morning, no matter how it was coddled through the year.

We carried our shoes, but this was not entirely in consideration for
the sleeping house. Rather, our care proceeded from an enjoyment of
our stealth; for to rise before the dawn when the lamps were still
lighted on the street and issue in our stockings, was to taste
adventure. It had not exactly the zest of burglary, although it was of
kin: nor was it quite like the search for buried treasure which we
played on common days: yet to slink along the hallway on a pitch-black
Christmas morning, with shoes dangling by the strings, was to realize
a height of happiness unequaled.

Quietly we tiptoed down the stairs on whose steep rail we had so often
slid in the common light of day, now so strangely altered by the
shadows. Below in the hall the great clock ticked, loudly and with
satisfaction that its careful count was done and its seconds all
despatched. There was a gurgle in its throat before it struck the
hour, as some folk clear their throats before they sing.

As yet there was not a blink of day. The house was as black as if it
practiced to be a cave, yet an instinct instructed us that now at
least darkness was safe. There were frosty patterns on the windows of
the sitting-room, familiar before only on our bedroom windows. Here in
the sitting-room arose dim shapes which probably were its accustomed
furniture, but which to our excited fancy might be sleds and
velocipedes.

We groped for a match. There was a splutter that showed red in the
hollow of my brother's hand.

After the first glad shock, it was our habit to rummage in the general
midden outside our stockings. If there was a drum upon the heap,
should not first a tune be played--softly lest it rouse the house? Or
if a velocipede stood beside the fender, surely the restless creature
chafed for exercise and must be ridden a few times around the room. Or
perhaps a sled leaned against the chair (it but rested against the
rigors of the coming day) and one should feel its runners to learn
whether they are whole and round, for if flat and fixed with screws it
is no better than a sled for girls with feet tucked up in front. On
such a sled, no one trained to the fashions of the slide would deign
to take a belly-slammer, for the larger boys would cry out with scorn
and point their sneering mittens.

The stocking was explored last. It was like a grab-bag, but glorified
and raised to a more generous level. On meaner days shriveled
grab-bags could be got at the corner for a penny--if such mild fortune
fell your way--mere starvelings by comparison--and to this shop you
had often trotted after school when learning sat heaviest on your
soul. If a nickel had accrued to you from the sale of tintags, it was
better, of course, to lay it out in pop; but with nothing better than
a penny, there was need of sharp denial. How you lingered before the
horehound jar! Coltsfoot, too, was but a penny to the stick and
pleased the palate. Or one could do worse than licorice. But finally
you settled on a grab-bag. You roused an old woman from her knitting
behind the stove and demanded that a choice of grab-bags be placed
before you. Then, like the bearded phrenologist at the side-show of
the circus, you put your fingers on them to read their humps. Perhaps
an all-day sucker lodged inside--a glassy or an agate--marbles best
for pugging--or a brass ring with a ruby.

Through the year these bags sufficed, but the Christmas stocking was a
deeper and finer mystery. In the upper leg were handkerchiefs from
grand-mother--whose thoughts ran prudentially on noses--mittens and a
cap--useful presents of duller purpose--things that were due you
anyway and would have come in the course of time. But down in the
darker meshes of the stocking, when you had turned the corner of the
heel, there were the sweet extras of life--a mouth-organ, a baseball,
a compass and a watch.

Some folk have a Christmas tree instead of hanging their stockings,
but this is the preference of older folk rather than the preference of
children. Such persons wish to observe a child's enjoyment, and this
is denied them if the stocking is opened in the dawn. Under a pretense
of instruction they sit in an absurd posture under the tree; but they
do no more than read the rules and are blind to the obscurer uses of
the toys. As they find occasion, the children run off and play in a
quieter room with some old and broken toy.

Who can interpret the desires of children? They are a race apart from
us. At times, for a moment, we bring them to attention; then there is
a scurry of feet and they are gone. Although they seem to sit at table
with us, they are beyond a frontier that we cannot pass. Their words
are ours, but applied to foreign uses. If we try to follow their
truant thoughts, like the lame man of the story we limp behind a
shooting star. We bestow on them a blind condescension, not knowing
how their imagination outclimbs our own. And we cramp them with our
barren learning.

I assert, therefore, that it is better to find one's presents in the
dawn, when there is freedom. In all the city, wherever there are
lights, children have taken a start upon the day. Then, although the
toys are strange, there is adventure in prying at their uses. If one
commits a toy to a purpose undreamed of by its maker, it but rouses
the invention to further discovery. Once on a dark and frosty
Christmas morning, I spent a puzzling hour upon a coffee-grinder--a
present to my mother--in a delusion that it was a rare engine destined
for myself. It might have been a bank had it possessed a slot for
coins. A little eagle surmounted the top, yet this was not a
sufficient clue. The handle offered the hope that it was a music-box,
but although I turned it round and round, and noises issued from its
body quite foreign to my other toys, yet I could not pronounce it
music. With sails it might have been a windmill. I laid it on its side
and stood it on its head without conclusion. It was painted red, and
that gave it a wicked look, but no other villainy appeared. To this
day as often as I pass a coffee-grinder in a grocer's shop I turn its
handle in memory of my perplexing hour. And even if one remains
unschooled to the uses of the toys, their discovery in the dawn while
yet the world lies fast asleep, is far beyond their stale performance
that rises with the sun.

And yet I know of an occurrence, to me pathetic, that once attended
such an early discovery. A distant cousin of mine--a man really not
related except by the close bond of my regard--was brought up many
years ago by an uncle of austere and miserly nature. Such goodness as
this uncle had once possessed was cramped into a narrow and smothering
piety. He would have dimmed the sun upon the Sabbath, could he have
reached up tall enough. He had no love in his heart, nor mirth. My
cousin has always loved a horse and even in his childhood this love
was strong. And so, during the days that led up to Christmas when
children speculate upon their desires and check them on their fingers,
he kept asking his uncle for a pony. At first, as you might know, his
uncle was stolid against the thought, but finally, with many winks
and nods--pleasantries beyond his usual habit--he assented.

Therefore in the early darkness of the day, the child came down to
find his gift. First, probably, he went to the stable and climbing on
the fence he looked through the windows for an unaccustomed form
inside the stalls. Next he looked to see whether the pony might be
hitched to the post in front of the house, in the manner of the family
doctor. The search failing and being now somewhat disturbed with
doubt, he entered his nursery on the slim chance that the pony might
be there. The room was dark and he listened on the sill, if he might
hear him whinny. Feeling his way along the hearth he came on nothing
greater than his stocking which was tied to the andiron. It bulged and
stirred his curiosity. He thrust in his hand and coming on something
sticky, he put his fingers in his mouth. They were of a delightful
sweetness. He now paused in his search for the pony and drawing out a
huge lump of candy he applied himself. But the day was near and he had
finished no more than half, when a ray of light permitted him to see
what he ate. It was a candy horse--making good the promise of his
uncle. This and a Testament had been stuffed inside his stocking. The
Testament was wrapped in tissue, but the horse was bitten to the
middle. It had been at best but a poor substitute for what he wanted,
yet his love was so broad that it included even a sugar horse; and
this, alas, he had consumed unknowing in the dark. And even now when
the dear fellow tells the story after these many years have passed,
and comes to the sober end with the child crying in the twilight of
the morning, I realize as not before that there should be no Christmas
kept unless it be with love and mirth.

It was but habit that we hung our stockings at the chimney--the piano
would have done as well--for I retain but the slightest memory of a
belief in Santa Claus: perhaps at most, as I have hinted, a far-off
haze of wonder while looking through the window upon the snowy sky--at
night a fancied clatter on the roof, if I lay awake. And therefore in
a chimney there was no greater mystery than was inherent in any hole
that went off suspiciously in the dark. There was a fearful cave
beneath the steps that mounted from the rear to the front garret. This
was wrapped in Cimmerian darkness--which is the strongest pigment
known--and it extended from its mouth beyond the furthest stretch of
leg. To the disillusioned, indeed, this cave was harmless, for it
merely offset the lower ceiling of the bathroom below; yet to us it
was a cave unparalleled. Little by little we ventured in, until in
time we could sit on the snug joists inside with the comfortable
feeling of pirates. Presently we hit on the device of hanging a row of
shining maple-syrup tins along the wall outside where they were caught
by the dusty sunlight, which was thus reflected in on us. By the light
of these dim moons the cave showed itself to be the size of a library
table. And here, also, we crouched on dark and cloudy days when the
tins were in eclipse, and found a dreadful joy when the wind scratched
upon the roof.

In the basement, also, there was a central hall that disappeared
forever under an accumulation of porch chairs and lumber. Here was no
light except what came around two turns from the laundry. Even Annie
the cook, a bold venturesome person, had never quite penetrated to a
full discovery of this hallway. A proper approach into the darkness
was on hands and knees, and yet there were barrels and boxes to
overcome. Therefore, as we were bred to these broader discoveries, a
mere chimney in the sitting-room, which arose safely from the fenders,
was but a mild and pleasant tunnel to the roof.

And if a child believes in Santa Claus and chimneys, and that his
presents are stored in a glittering kingdom across the wintry hills,
he will miss the finer pleasure of knowing that they are hidden
somewhere in his own house. For myself, I would not willingly forego
certain dizzy ascents to the topmost shelves of the storeroom, where,
with my head close under the ceiling and my foot braced against the
wall, I have examined suspicious packages that came into the house by
stealth. As likely as not, at the ringing of the door-bell, we had
been whisked into a back room. Presently there was a foot sounding on
the stairs and across the ceiling. Then we were released. But
something had arrived.

Thereafter we found excitement in rummaging in unlikely places--a wary
lifting of summer garments laid away, for a peek beneath--a journey on
one's stomach under the spare-room bed--a pilgrimage around the cellar
with a flaring candle--furtive explorations of the storeroom. And when
we came to a door that was locked--Aha! Here was a puzzle and a
problem! We tried every key in the house, right side up and upside
down. Bluebeard's wife, poor creature,--if I read the tale
aright,--was merely seeking her Christmas presents around the house
before the proper day.

The children of a friend of mine, however, have been brought up to a
belief in Santa Claus, and on Christmas Eve they have the pretty
custom of filling their shoes with crackers and scraps of bread by way
of fodder for the reindeer. When the shoes are found empty in the
morning, but with crumbs about--as though the hungry reindeer spilled
them in their haste--it fixes the deception.

But if one must have a Christmas tree, I recommend the habit of some
friends of mine. In front of their home, down near the fence, is a
trim little cedar. T---- connects this with electric wires and hangs
on it gayly colored lamps. Every night for a week, until the new year,
these lights shine across the snow and are the delight of travelers on
the road. The Christmas stars, it seems, for this hallowed season
have come to earth.

We gave the family dinner. On my mother fell the extra labor, but we
took the general credit. All the morning the relatives arrived--thin
and fat. But if one of them bore a package or if his pockets sagged,
we showed him an excessive welcome. Sometimes there was a present
boxed and wrapped to a mighty bulk. From this we threw off thirty
papers and the bundle dwindled, still no gift appeared. In this lay
the sweetness of the jest, for finally, when the contents were
shriveled to a kernel, in the very heart of it there lay a bright
penny or common marble.

All this time certain savory whiffs have been blowing from the
kitchen. Twice at least my mother has put her head in at the door to
count the relatives. And now when the clock on the mantel strikes
two--a bronze Lincoln deliberating forever whether he will sign the
Emancipation Bill--the dining-room door is opened.

The table was drawn out to prodigious length and was obliquely set
across the room. As early as yesterday the extra leaves had been
brought from the pantry, and we had all taken part in fitting them
together. Not to disturb the larger preparation, our supper and
breakfast had been served in the kitchen. And even now to eat in the
kitchen, if the table is set before the window and there is a flurry
of snow outside, is to feel pleasantly the proximity of a great
occasion.

The Christmas table was so long and there were so many of us, that a
few of the chairs were caught in a jog of the wall and had no proper
approach except by crawling on hands and knees beneath it. Each year
it was customary to request my maiden aunt, a prim lady who bordered
on seventy and had limbs instead of legs, to undertake the passage.
Each year we listened for the jest and shouted with joy when the
request was made. There were other jests, too, that were dear to us
and grew better with the years. My aunt was reproved for boisterous
conduct, and although she sat as silent as a mouse, she was always
warned against the cider. Each year, also, as soon as the dessert
appeared, there was a demand that a certain older cousin tell the
Judge West story. But the jest lay in the demand instead of in the
story, for although there was a clamor of applause, the story was
never told and it teases me forever. Then another cousin, who
journeyed sometimes to New York, usually instructed us in the latest
manner of eating an orange in the metropolis. But we disregarded his
fashionable instruction, and peeled ours round and round.

The dinner itself was a prodigious feast. The cook-stove must have
rested and panted for a week thereafter. Before long, Annie got so red
bringing in turkeys and cranberry sauce--countless plates heaped and
toppling with vegetables and meats--that one might think she herself
was in process to become a pickled beet and would presently enter on a
platter.

In the afternoon we rested, but at night there was a dance, for which
my maiden aunt played the piano. The dear good soul, whose old brown
fingers were none too limber, had skill that scarcely mounted to the
speed of a polka, but she was steady at a waltz. There was one
tune--bink a bunk bunk, bink a bunk bunk--that went around and around
with an agreeable monotony even when the player nodded. There was a
legend in the family that once she fell asleep in the performance, and
that the dancers turned down the lights and left the room; to her
amazement when presently she awoke, for she thought she had outsat the
party.

My brother and I had not advanced to the trick of dancing and we built
up our blocks in the corner of the room in order that the friskier
dancers might kick them over as they passed. Chief in the performance
was the Judge West cousin who, although whiskered almost into middle
age, had a merry heart and knew how to play with children. Sometimes,
by consent, we younger fry sat beneath the piano, which was of an old
square pattern, and worked the pedals for my aunt, in order that her
industry might be undivided on the keys. It is amazing what a variety
we could cast upon the waltz, now giving it a muffled sound, and
presently offering the dancers a prolonged roaring.

Midway in the evening, when the atrocities of dinner were but mildly
remembered, ice-cream was brought in. It was not hard as at dinner,
but had settled to a delicious softness, and could be mushed upon a
spoon. Then while the party again proceeded, and my aunt resumed her
waltz, we were despatched upstairs.

On the bed lay our stockings, still tied with string, that had been
stuffed with presents in the dawn. But the morning had now sunk into
immeasurable distance and seemed as remote as Job himself. And all
through the evening, as we lay abed and listened to the droning piano
below, we felt a spiritual hollowness because the great day had
passed.

[Illustration]


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