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Title: A Boy's Town
Author: Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920
Language: English
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Copyright, 1890, by WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS.

       *       *       *       *       *



          CHAPTER                                              PAGE
              I. EARLIEST EXPERIENCES                            1
             II. HOME AND KINDRED                               10
            III. THE RIVER                                      24
             IV. THE CANAL AND ITS BASIN                        36
             VI. SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS                           53
            VII. MANNERS AND CUSTOMS                            67
           VIII. PLAYS AND PASTIMES                             80
             IX. CIRCUSES AND SHOWS                             93
              X. HIGHDAYS AND HOLIDAYS                         110
             XI. MUSTERS AND ELECTIONS                         121
            XII. PETS                                          133
           XIII. GUNS AND GUNNING                              148
            XIV. FORAGING                                      161
             XV. MY BOY                                        171
            XVI. OTHER BOYS                                    183
           XVII. FANTASIES AND SUPERSTITIONS                   197
          XVIII. THE NATURE OF BOYS                            205
            XIX. THE TOWN ITSELF                               215
             XX. TRAITS AND CHARACTERS                         228
            XXI. LAST DAYS                                     237


  THE "FIRST LOCK"                                       _Facing p._ 2
  "THE PASSENGER IS A ONE-LEGGED MAN"                         "      8
  "RUN, RUN! THE CONSTABLE WILL CATCH YOU!"                   "     18
  "HE TOLD THEM THAT HE HAD GOT THEM NOW"                     "     44
      MENTIONED"                                              "     50
  KITE TIME                                                   "     92
  THE "BUTLER GUARDS"                                         "    122
  "ALL AT ONCE THERE THE INDIANS WERE"                        "    150
  FORAGING                                                    "    168
  "THE BEACON OF DEATH "                                      "    180
  "THE ARTIST SEEMED SATISFIED HIMSELF"                       "    220




I CALL it a Boy's Town because I wish it to appear to the reader as a
town appears to a boy from his third to his eleventh year, when he
seldom, if ever, catches a glimpse of life much higher than the middle
of a man, and has the most distorted and mistaken views of most things.
He may then indeed look up to the sky, and see heaven open, and angels
ascending and descending; but he can only grope about on the earth, and
he knows nothing aright that goes on there beyond his small boy's world.
Some people remain in this condition as long as they live, and keep the
ignorance of childhood, after they have lost its innocence; heaven has
been shut, but the earth is still a prison to them. These will not know
what I mean by much that I shall have to say; but I hope that the
ungrown-up children will, and that the boys who read _Harper's Young
People_ will like to know what a boy of forty years ago was like, even
if he had no very exciting adventures or thread-bare escapes; perhaps I
mean hair-breadth escapes; but it is the same thing--they have been used
so often. I shall try to describe him very minutely in his daily doings
and dreamings, and it may amuse them to compare these doings and
dreamings with their own. For convenience, I shall call this boy, my
boy; but I hope he might have been almost anybody's boy; and I mean him
sometimes for a boy in general, as well as a boy in particular.

[Illustration: THE "FIRST LOCK."]

It seems to me that my Boy's Town was a town peculiarly adapted for a
boy to be a boy in. It had a river, the great Miami River, which was as
blue as the sky when it was not as yellow as gold; and it had another
river, called the Old River, which was the Miami's former channel, and
which held an island in its sluggish loop; the boys called it The
Island; and it must have been about the size of Australia; perhaps it
was not so large. Then this town had a Canal, and a Canal-Basin, and a
First Lock and a Second Lock; you could walk out to the First Lock, but
the Second Lock was at the edge of the known world, and, when my boy was
very little, the biggest boy had never been beyond it. Then it had a
Hydraulic, which brought the waters of Old River for mill power through
the heart of the town, from a Big Reservoir and a Little Reservoir; the
Big Reservoir was as far off as the Second Lock, and the Hydraulic ran
under mysterious culverts at every street-crossing. All these streams
and courses had fish in them at all seasons, and all summer long they
had boys in them, and now and then a boy in winter, when the thin ice of
the mild Southern Ohio winter let him through with his skates. Then
there were the Commons; a wide expanse of open fields, where the cows
were pastured, and the boys flew their kites, and ran races, and
practised for their circuses in the tan-bark rings of the real circuses.

There were flocks of wild ducks on the Reservoirs and on Old River,
and flocks of kildees on the Commons; and there were squirrels in the
woods, where there was abundant mast for the pigs that ran wild in them,
and battened on the nuts under the hickory-trees. There were no other
nuts except walnuts, white and black; but there was no end to the small,
sweetish acorns, which the boys called chinquepins; they ate them, but I
doubt if they liked them, except as boys like anything to eat. In the
vast corn-fields stretching everywhere along the river levels there were
quails; and rabbits in the sumac thickets and turnip patches. There were
places to swim, to fish, to hunt, to skate; if there were no hills for
coasting, that was not so much loss, for there was very little snow, and
it melted in a day or two after it fell. But besides these natural
advantages for boys, there were artificial opportunities which the boys
treated as if they had been made for them; grist-mills on the river and
canal, cotton-factories and saw-mills on the Hydraulic, iron-founderies
by the Commons, breweries on the river-bank, and not too many
school-houses. I must not forget the market-house, with its public
market twice a week, and its long rows of market-wagons, stretching on
either side of High Street in the dim light of the summer dawn or the
cold sun of the winter noon.

The place had its brief history running back to the beginning of the
century. Mad Anthony Wayne encamped on its site when he went north to
avenge St. Clair's defeat on the Indians; it was at first a fort, and it
remained a military post until the tribes about were reduced, and a fort
was no longer needed. To this time belonged a tragedy, which my boy knew
of vaguely when he was a child. Two of the soldiers were sentenced to be
hanged for desertion, and the officer in command hurried forward the
execution, although an express had been sent to lay the case before the
general at another post. The offence was only a desertion in name, and
the reprieve was promptly granted, but it came fifteen minutes too late.

I believe nothing more memorable ever happened in my Boy's Town, as the
grown-up world counts events; but for the boys there, every day was full
of wonderful occurrence and thrilling excitement. It was really a very
simple little town of some three thousand people, living for the most
part in small one-story wooden houses, with here and there a brick house
of two stories, and here and there a lingering log-cabin, when my boy's
father came to take charge of its Whig newspaper in 1840. It stretched
eastward from the river to the Canal-Basin, with the market-house, the
county buildings, and the stores and hotels on one street, and a few
other stores and taverns scattering off on streets that branched from it
to the southward; but all this was a vast metropolis to my boy's fancy,
where he might get lost--the sum of all disaster--if he ventured away
from the neighborhood of the house where he first lived, on its
southwestern border. It was the great political year of "Tippecanoe and
Tyler too," when the grandfather of our President Harrison was elected
President; but the wild hard-cider campaign roared by my boy's little
life without leaving a trace in it, except the recollection of his
father wearing a linsey-woolsey hunting-shirt, belted at the waist and
fringed at the skirt, as a Whig who loved his cause and honored the good
old pioneer times was bound to do. I dare say he did not wear it often,
and I fancy he wore it then in rather an ironical spirit, for he was a
man who had slight esteem for outward shows and semblances; but it
remained in my boy's mind, as clear a vision as the long cloak of blue
broadcloth in which he must have seen his father habitually. This cloak
was such a garment as people still drape about them in Italy, and men
wore it in America then instead of an overcoat. To get under its border,
and hold by his father's hand in the warmth and dark it made around him
was something that the boy thought a great privilege, and that brought
him a sense of mystery and security at once that nothing else could ever
give. He used to be allowed to go as far as the street corner, to enjoy
it, when his father came home from the printing-office in the evening;
and one evening, never to be forgotten, after he had long been teasing
for a little axe he wanted, he divined that his father had something
hidden under his cloak. Perhaps he asked him as usual whether he had
brought him the little axe, but his father said, "Feel, feel!" and he
found his treasure. He ran home and fell upon the woodpile with it, in a
zeal that proposed to leave nothing but chips; before he had gone far he
learned that this is a world in which you can sate but never satisfy
yourself with anything, even hard work. Some of my readers may have
found that out, too; at any rate, my boy did not keep the family in
firewood with his axe, and his abiding association with it in after-life
was a feeling of weariness and disgust; so I fancy that he must have
been laughed at for it. Besides the surfeit of this little axe, he could
recall, when he grew up, the glory of wearing his Philadelphia suit,
which one of his grandmothers had brought him Over the Mountains, as
people said in those days, after a visit to her Pennsylvania German
kindred beyond the Alleghanies. It was of some beatified plaid in gay
colors, and when once it was put on it never was laid aside for any
other suit till it was worn out. It testified unmistakably to the boy's
advance in years beyond the shameful period of skirts; and no doubt it
commended him to the shadowy little girl who lived so far away as to be
even beyond the street-corner, and who used to look for him, as he
passed, through the palings of a garden among hollyhocks and

The Young People may have heard it said that a savage is a grown-up
child, but it seems to me even more true that a child is a savage. Like
the savage, he dwells on an earth round which the whole solar system
revolves, and he is himself the centre of all life on the earth. It has
no meaning but as it relates to him; it is for his pleasure, his use; it
is for his pain and his abuse. It is full of sights, sounds, sensations,
for his delight alone, for his suffering alone. He lives under a law of
favor or of fear, but never of justice, and the savage does not make a
crueller idol than the child makes of the Power ruling over his world
and having him for its chief concern. What remained to my boy of that
faint childish consciousness was the idea of some sort of supernal Being
who abode in the skies for his advantage and disadvantage, and made
winter and summer, wet weather and dry, with an eye single to him; of a
family of which he was necessarily the centre, and of that far, vast,
unknown Town, lurking all round him, and existing on account of him if
not because of him. So, unless I manage to treat my Boy's Town as a part
of his own being, I shall not make others know it just as he knew it.

Some of his memories reach a time earlier than his third year, and
relate to the little Ohio River hamlet where he was born, and where his
mother's people, who were river-faring folk, all lived. Every two or
three years the river rose and flooded the village; and his
grandmother's household was taken out of the second-story window in a
skiff; but no one minded a trivial inconvenience like that, any more
than the Romans have minded the annual freshet of the Tiber for the last
three or four thousand years. When the waters went down the family
returned and scrubbed out the five or six inches of rich mud they had
left. In the meantime, it was a godsend to all boys of an age to enjoy
it; but it was nothing out of the order of Providence. So, if my boy
ever saw a freshet, it naturally made no impression upon him. What he
remembered was something much more important, and that was waking up one
morning and seeing a peach-tree in bloom through the window beside his
bed; and he was always glad that this vision of beauty was his very
earliest memory. All his life he has never seen a peach-tree in bloom
without a swelling of the heart, without some fleeting sense that

          "Heaven lies about us in our infancy."

Over the spot where the little house once stood, a railroad has drawn
its erasing lines, and the house itself was long since taken down and
built up brick by brick in quite another place; but the blooming
peach-tree glows before his childish eyes untouched by time or change.
The tender, pathetic pink of its flowers repeated itself many long years
afterwards in the paler tints of the almond blossoms in Italy, but
always with a reminiscence of that dim past, and the little coal-smoky
town on the banks of the Ohio.


Perversely blended with that vision of the blooming peach is a glimpse
of a pet deer in the kitchen of the same little house, with his head up
and his antlers erect, as if he meditated offence. My boy might never
have seen him so; he may have had the vision at second hand; but it is
certain that there was a pet deer in the family, and that he was as
likely to have come into the kitchen by the window as by the door. One
of the boy's uncles had seen this deer swimming the Mississippi, far to
the southward, and had sent out a yawl and captured him, and brought him
home. He began a checkered career of uselessness when they were ferrying
him over from Wheeling in a skiff, by trying to help wear the pantaloons
of the boy who was holding him; he put one of his fore-legs in at the
watch-pocket; but it was disagreeable to the boy and ruinous to the
trousers. He grew very tame, and butted children over, right and left,
in the village streets; and he behaved like one of the family whenever
he got into a house; he ate the sugar out of the bowl on the table, and
plundered the pantry of its sweet cakes. One day a dog got after him,
and he jumped over the river-bank and broke his leg, and had to be shot.

Besides the peach-tree and the pet deer there was only one other thing
that my boy could remember, or seem to remember, of the few years before
he came to the Boy's Town. He is on the steamboat which is carrying the
family down the Ohio River to Cincinnati, on their way to the Boy's
Town, and he is kneeling on the window-seat in the ladies' cabin at the
stern of the boat, watching the rain fall into the swirling yellow river
and make the little men jump up from the water with its pelting drops.
He knows that the boat is standing still, and they are bringing off a
passenger to it in a yawl, as they used to do on the Western rivers when
they were hailed from some place where there was no wharf-boat. If they
were going down stream, they turned the boat and headed up the river,
and then with a great deal of scurrying about among the deck-hands, and
swearing among the mates, they sent the yawl ashore, and bustled the
passenger on board. In the case which my boy seemed to remember, the
passenger is a one-legged man, and he is standing in the yawl, with his
crutch under his arm, and his cane in his other hand; his family must be
watching him from the house. When the yawl comes alongside he tries to
step aboard the steamboat, but he misses his footing and slips into the
yellow river, and vanishes softly. It is all so smooth and easy, and it
is as curious as the little men jumping up from the rain-drops. What
made my boy think when he grew a man that this was truly a memory was
that he remembered nothing else of the incident, nothing whatever after
the man went down in the water, though there must have been a great and
painful tumult, and a vain search for him. His drowning had exactly the
value in the child's mind that the jumping up of the little men had,
neither more nor less.



AS the Boy's Town was, in one sense, merely a part of the boy, I think I
had better tell something about my boy's family first, and the
influences that formed his character, so that the reader can be a boy
with him there on the intimate terms which are the only terms of true
friendship. His great-grandfather was a prosperous manufacturer of Welsh
flannels, who had founded his industry in a pretty town called The Hay,
on the river Wye, in South Wales, where the boy saw one of his mills,
still making Welsh flannels, when he visited his father's birthplace a
few years ago. This great-grandfather was a Friend by Convincement, as
the Quakers say; that is, he was a convert, and not a born Friend, and
he had the zeal of a convert. He loved equality and fraternity, and he
came out to America towards the close of the last century to prospect
for these as well as for a good location to manufacture Welsh flannels;
but after being presented to Washington, then President, at
Philadelphia, and buying a tract of land somewhere near the District of
Columbia, his phantom rolls a shadowy barrel of dollars on board ship at
Baltimore, and sails back in the _Flying Dutchman_ to South Wales. I
fancy, from the tradition of the dollars, that he had made good affairs
here with the stock of flannels he brought over with him; but all is
rather uncertain about him, especially the land he bought, though the
story of it is pretty sure to fire some descendant of his in each new
generation with the wish to go down to Washington, and oust the people
there who have unrightfully squatted on the ancestral property. What is
unquestionable is that this old gentleman went home and never came out
here again; but his son, who had inherited all his radicalism, sailed
with his family for Boston in 1808, when my boy's father was a year old.
From Boston he passed to one Quaker neighborhood after another, in New
York, Virginia, and Ohio, setting up the machinery of woollen mills, and
finally, after much disastrous experiment in farming, paused at the
Boy's Town, and established himself in the drug and book business: drugs
and books are still sold together, I believe, in small places. He had
long ceased to be a Quaker, but he remained a Friend to every righteous
cause; and brought shame to his grandson's soul by being an abolitionist
in days when it was infamy to wish the slaves set free. My boy's father
restored his self-respect in a measure by being a Henry Clay Whig, or a
constitutional anti-slavery man. The grandfather was a fervent
Methodist, but the father, after many years of scepticism, had become a
receiver of the doctrines of Emanuel Swedenborg; and in this faith the
children were brought up. It was not only their faith, but their life,
and I may say that in this sense they were a very religious household,
though they never went to church, because it was the Old Church. They
had no service of the New Church, the Swedenborgians were so few in the
place, except when some of its ministers stopped with us on their
travels. My boy regarded these good men as all personally sacred, and
while one of them was in the house he had some relief from the fear in
which his days seem mostly to have been passed; as if he were for the
time being under the protection of a spiritual lightning-rod. Their
religion was not much understood by their neighbors of the Old Church,
who thought them a kind of Universalists. But the boy once heard his
father explain to one of them that the New Church people believed in a
hell, which each cast himself into if he loved the evil rather than the
good, and that no mercy could keep him out of without destroying him,
for a man's love was his very self. It made his blood run cold, and he
resolved that rather than cast himself into hell, he would do his poor
best to love the good. The children were taught when they teased one
another that there was nothing the fiends so much delighted in as
teasing. When they were angry and revengeful, they were told that now
they were calling evil spirits about them, and that the good angels
could not come near them if they wished while they were in that state.
My boy preferred the company of good angels after dark, and especially
about bedtime, and he usually made the effort to get himself into an
accessible frame of mind before he slept; by day he felt that he could
look out for himself, and gave way to the natural man like other boys. I
suppose the children had their unwholesome spiritual pride in being
different from their fellows in religion; but, on the other hand, it
taught them not to fear being different from others if they believed
themselves right. Perhaps it made my boy rather like it.

The grandfather was of a gloomy spirit, but of a tender and loving
heart, whose usual word with a child, when he caressed it, was "Poor
thing, poor thing!" as if he could only pity it; and I have no doubt
the father's religion was a true affliction to him. The children were
taken to visit their grandmother every Sunday noon, and then the father
and grandfather never failed to have it out about the New Church and the
Old. I am afraid that the father would sometimes forget his own
precepts, and tease a little; when the mother went with him she was
sometimes troubled at the warmth with which the controversy raged. The
grandmother seemed to be bored by it, and the boys, who cared nothing
for salvation in the abstract, no matter how anxious they were about the
main chance, certainly shared this feeling with her. She was a pale,
little, large-eyed lady, who always wore a dress of Quakerish plainness,
with a white kerchief crossed upon her breast; and her aquiline nose and
jutting chin almost met. She was very good to the children and at these
times she usually gave them some sugar-cakes, and sent them out in the
yard, where there was a young Newfoundland dog, of loose morals and no
religious ideas, who joined them in having fun, till the father came out
and led them home. He would not have allowed them to play where it could
have aggrieved any one, for a prime article of his religion was to
respect the religious feelings of others, even when he thought them
wrong. But he would not suffer the children to get the notion that they
were guilty of any deadly crime if they happened to come short of the
conventional standard of piety. Once, when their grandfather reported to
him that the boys had been seen throwing stones on Sunday at the body of
a dog lodged on some drift in the river, he rebuked them for the
indecorum, and then ended the matter, as he often did, by saying, "Boys,
consider yourselves soundly thrashed."

I should be sorry if anything I have said should give the idea that
their behavior was either fantastic or arrogant through their religion.
It was simply a pervading influence; and I am sure that in the father
and mother it dignified life, and freighted motive and action here with
the significance of eternal fate. When the children were taught that in
every thought and in every deed they were choosing their portion with
the devils or the angels, and that God himself could not save them
against themselves, it often went in and out of their minds, as such
things must with children; but some impression remained and helped them
to realize the serious responsibility they were under to their own
after-selves. At the same time, the father, who loved a joke almost as
much as he loved a truth, and who despised austerity as something
owlish, set them the example of getting all the harmless fun they could
out of experience. They had their laugh about nearly everything that was
not essentially sacred; they were made to feel the ludicrous as an
alleviation of existence; and the father and mother were with them on
the same level in all this enjoyment.

The house was pretty full of children, big and little. There were seven
of them in the Boy's Town, and eight afterwards in all; so that if there
had been no Boy's Town about them, they would still have had a Boy's
World indoors. They lived in three different houses--the Thomas house,
the Smith house, and the Falconer house--severally called after the
names of their owners, for they never had a house of their own. Of the
first my boy remembered nothing, except the woodpile on which he tried
his axe, and a closet near the front door, which he entered into one
day, with his mother's leave, to pray, as the Scripture bade. It was
very dark, and hung full of clothes, and his literal application of the
text was not edifying; he fancied, with a child's vague suspicion, that
it amused his father and mother; I dare say it also touched them. Of the
Smith house, he could remember much more: the little upper room where
the boys slept, and the narrow stairs which he often rolled down in the
morning; the front room where he lay sick with a fever, and was bled by
the doctor, as people used to be in those days; the woodshed where, one
dreadful afternoon, when he had somehow been left alone in the house, he
took it into his head that the family dog Tip was going mad; the window
where he traced the figure of a bull on greased paper from an engraving
held up against the light: none of them important facts, but such as
stick in the mind by the capricious action of memory, while far greater
events drop out of it. My boy's elder brother at once accused him of
tracing that bull, which he pretended to have copied; but their father
insisted upon taking the child's word for it, though he must have known
he was lying; and this gave my boy a far worse conscience than if his
father had whipped him. The father's theory was that people are more apt
to be true if you trust them than if you doubt them; I do not think he
always found it work perfectly; but I believe he was right.

My boy was for a long time very miserable about that bull, and the
experience taught him to desire the truth and honor it, even when he
could not attain it. Five or six years after, when his brother and he
had begun to read stories, they found one in the old _New York Mirror_
which had a great influence upon their daily conduct. It was called "The
Trippings of Tom Pepper; or, the Effects of Romancing," and it showed
how at many important moments the hero had been baulked of fortune by
his habit of fibbing. They took counsel together, and pledged themselves
not to tell the smallest lie, upon any occasion whatever. It was a
frightful slavery, for there are a great many times in a boy's life when
it seems as if the truth really could not serve him. Their great trial
was having to take a younger brother with them whenever they wanted to
go off with other boys; and it had been their habit to get away from him
by many little deceits which they could not practise now: to tell him
that their mother wanted him; or to send him home upon some errand to
his pretended advantage that had really no object but his absence. I
suppose there is now no boy living who would do this. My boy and his
brother groaned under their good resolution, I do not know how long; but
the day came when they could bear it no longer, though I cannot give
just the time or the terms of their backsliding. That elder brother had
been hard enough on my boy before the period of this awful reform: his
uprightness, his unselfishness, his truthfulness were a daily reproach
to him, and it did not need this season of absolute sincerity to
complete his wretchedness. Yet it was an experience which afterwards he
would not willingly have missed: for once in his little confused life he
had tried to practise a virtue because the opposite vice had been made
to appear foolish and mischievous to him; and not from any superstitious
fear or hope.

As far as I can make out, he had far more fears than hopes; and perhaps
every boy has. It was in the Smith house that he began to be afraid of
ghosts, though he never saw one, or anything like one. He never saw
even the good genius who came down the chimney and filled the children's
stockings at Christmas. He wished to see him; but he understood that St.
Nicholas was a shy spirit, and was apt to pass by the stockings of boys
who lay in wait for him. His mother had told him how the Peltsnickel
used to come with a bundle of rods for the bad children when the
Chriskingle brought the presents of the good ones, among his
grandmother's Pennsylvania German kindred; and he had got them all
somehow mixed up together. Then St. Nicholas, though he was so pleasant
and friendly in the poem about the night before Christmas, was known to
some of the neighbor boys as Santa Claus; they called it Centre Claws,
and my boy imagined him with large talons radiating from the pit of his
stomach. But this was all nothing to the notion of Dowd's spectacles,
which his father sometimes joked him about, and which were represented
by a pair of hollow, glassless iron rims which he had found in the
street. They may or may not have belonged to Dowd, and Dowd may have
been an Irishman in the neighborhood, or he may not; he may have died,
or he may not; but there was something in the mere gruesome mention of
his spectacles which related itself to all the boy had conceived of the
ghostly and ghastly, and all that was alarming in the supernatural; he
could never say in the least how or why. I fancy no child can ever
explain just why it is affected in this way or that way by the things
that are or are not in the world about it; it is not easy to do this for
one's self in after-life. At any rate, it is certain that my boy dwelt
most of his time amid shadows that were, perhaps, projected over his
narrow outlook from some former state of being, or from the gloomy
minds of long-dead ancestors. His home was cheerful and most happy, but
he peopled all its nooks and corners with shapes of doom and horror. The
other boys were not slow to find this out, and their invention supplied
with ready suggestion of officers and prisons any little lack of misery
his spectres and goblins left. He often narrowly escaped arrest, or
thought so, when they built a fire in the street at night, and suddenly
kicked it to pieces, and shouted, "Run, run! The constable will catch
you!" Nothing but flight saved my boy, in these cases, when he was
small. He grew bolder, after a while, concerning constables, but never
concerning ghosts; they shivered in the autumnal evenings among the tall
stalks of the corn-field that stretched, a vast wilderness, behind the
house to the next street, and they walked the night everywhere.


Yet nothing more tragical, that he could remember, really happened while
he lived in the Smith house than something he saw one bright sunny
morning, while all the boys were hanging on the fence of the next house,
and watching the martins flying down to the ground from their box in the
gable. The birds sent out sharp cries of terror or anger, and presently
he saw a black cat crouching in the grass, with half-shut eyes and an
air of dreamy indifference. The birds swept down in longer and lower
loops towards the cat, drawn by some fatal charm, or by fear of the
danger that threatened their colony from the mere presence of the cat;
but she did not stir. Suddenly she sprang into the air, and then darted
away with a martin in her mouth, while my boy's heart leaped into his
own, and the other boys rushed after the cat.

As when something dreadful happens, this seemed not to have happened;
but a lovely experience leaves a sense of enduring fact behind, and
remains a rich possession no matter how slight and simple it was. My
boy's mother has been dead almost a quarter of a century, but as one of
the elder children he knew her when she was young and gay; and his last
distinct association with the Smith house is of coming home with her
after a visit to her mother's far up the Ohio River. In their absence
the June grass, which the children's feet always kept trampled down so
low, had flourished up in purple blossom, and now stood rank and tall;
and the mother threw herself on her knees in it, and tossed and
frolicked with her little ones like a girl. The picture remains, and the
wonder of the world in which it was true once, while all the
phantasmagory of spectres has long vanished away.

The boy could not recall the family's removal to the Falconer house.
They were not there, and then they were there. It was a brick house, at
a corner of the principal street, and in the gable there were places for
mock-windows where there had never been blinds put, but where the
swallows had thickly built their nests. I dare say my boy might have
been willing to stone these nests, but he was not allowed, either he or
his mates, who must have panted with him to improve such an opportunity
of havoc. There was a real window in the gable from which he could look
out of the garret; such a garret as every boy should once have the use
of some time in his life. It was dim and low, though it seemed high, and
the naked brown rafters were studded with wasps' nests; and the rain
beat on the shingles overhead. The house had been occupied by a
physician, and under the eaves the children found heaps of phials full
of doctor's stuff; the garret abounded in their own family boxes and
barrels, but there was always room for a swing, which the boys used in
training for their circuses. Below the garret there were two unimportant
stories with chambers, dining-room, parlor, and so on; then you came to
the brick-paved kitchen in the basement, and a perfectly glorious
cellar, with rats in it. Outside there was a large yard, with five or
six huge old cherry-trees, and a garden plot, where every spring my boy
tried to make a garden, with never-failing failure.

The house gave even to him a sense of space unknown before, and he could
recall his mother's satisfaction in it. He has often been back there in
dreams, and found it on the old scale of grandeur; but no doubt it was a
very simple affair. The fortunes of a Whig editor in a place so
overwhelmingly democratic as the Boy's Town were not such as could have
warranted his living in a palace; and he must have been poor, as the
world goes now. But the family always lived in abundance, and in their
way they belonged to the employing class; that is, the father had men to
work for him. On the other hand, he worked with them; and the boys, as
they grew old enough, were taught to work with them, too. My boy grew
old enough very young; and was put to use in the printing-office before
he was ten years of age. This was not altogether because he was needed
there, I dare say, but because it was part of his father's Swedenborgian
philosophy that every one should fulfil a use; I do not know that when
the boy wanted to go swimming, or hunting, or skating, it consoled him
much to reflect that the angels in the highest heaven delighted in
uses; nevertheless, it was good for him to be of use, though maybe not
so much use.

If his mother did her own work, with help only now and then from a hired
girl, that was the custom of the time and country; and her memory was
always the more reverend to him, because whenever he looked back at her
in those dim years, he saw her about some of those household offices
which are so beautiful to a child. She was always the best and tenderest
mother, and her love had the heavenly art of making each child feel
itself the most important, while she was partial to none. In spite of
her busy days she followed their father in his religion and literature,
and at night, when her long toil was over, she sat with the children and
listened while he read aloud. The first book my boy remembered to have
heard him read was Moore's "Lalla Rookh," of which he formed but a vague
notion, though while he struggled after its meaning he took all its
music in, and began at once to make rhymes of his own. He had no
conception of literature except the pleasure there was in making it; and
he had no outlook into the world of it, which must have been pretty open
to his father. The father read aloud some of Dickens's Christmas
stories, then new; and the boy had a good deal of trouble with the
"Haunted Man." One rarest night of all, the family sat up till two
o'clock, listening to a novel that my boy long ago forgot the name of,
if he ever knew its name. It was all about a will, forged or lost, and
there was a great scene in court, and after that the mother declared
that she could not go to bed till she heard the end. His own first
reading was in history. At nine years of age he read the history of
Greece, and the history of Rome, and he knew that Goldsmith wrote them.
One night his father told the boys all about Don Quixote; and a little
while after he gave my boy the book. He read it over and over again; but
he did not suppose it was a novel. It was his elder brother who read
novels, and a novel was like "Handy Andy," or "Harry Lorrequer," or the
"Bride of Lammermoor." His brother had another novel which they
preferred to either; it was in Harper's old "Library of Select Novels,"
and was called "Alamance; or, the Great and Final Experiment," and it
was about the life of some sort of community in North Carolina. It
bewitched them, and though my boy could not afterwards recall a single
fact or figure in it, he could bring before his mind's eye every trait
of its outward aspect. It was at this time that his father bought an
English-Spanish grammar from a returned volunteer, who had picked it up
in the city of Mexico, and gave it to the boy. He must have expected him
to learn Spanish from it; but the boy did not know even the parts of
speech in English. As the father had once taught English grammar in six
lessons, from a broadside of his own authorship, he may have expected
the principle of heredity to help the boy; and certainly he did dig the
English grammar out of that blessed book, and the Spanish language with
it, but after many long years, and much despair over the difference
between a preposition and a substantive.

All this went along with great and continued political excitement, and
with some glimpses of the social problem. It was very simple then;
nobody was very rich, and nobody was in want; but somehow, as the boy
grew older, he began to discover that there were differences, even in
the little world about him; some were higher and some were lower. From
the first he was taught by precept and example to take the side of the
lower. As the children were denied oftener than they were indulged, the
margin of their own abundance must have been narrower than they ever
knew then; but if they had been of the most prosperous, their bent in
this matter would have been the same. Once there was a church festival,
or something of that sort, and there was a good deal of the provision
left over, which it was decided should be given to the poor. This was
very easy, but it was not so easy to find the poor whom it should be
given to. At last a hard-working widow was chosen to receive it; the
ladies carried it to her front door and gave it her, and she carried it
to her back door and threw it into the alley. No doubt she had enough
without it, but there were circumstances of indignity or patronage
attending the gift which were recognized in my boy's home, and which
helped afterwards to make him doubtful of all giving, except the
humblest, and restive with a world in which there need be any giving at



IT seems to me that the best way to get at the heart of any boy's town
is to take its different watercourses and follow them into it.

The house where my boy first lived was not far from the river, and he
must have seen it often before he noticed it. But he was not aware of it
till he found it under the bridge. Without the river there could not
have been a bridge; the fact of the bridge may have made him look for
the river; but the bridge is foremost in his mind. It is a long wooden
tunnel, with two roadways, and a foot-path on either side of these;
there is a toll-house at each end, and from one to the other it is about
as far as from the Earth to the planet Mars. On the western shore of the
river is a smaller town than the Boy's Town, and in the perspective the
entrance of the bridge on that side is like a dim little doorway. The
timbers are of a hugeness to strike fear into the heart of the boldest
little boy; and there is something awful even about the dust in the
roadways; soft and thrillingly cool to the boy's bare feet, it lies
thick in a perpetual twilight, streaked at intervals by the sun that
slants in at the high, narrow windows under the roof; it has a certain
potent, musty smell. The bridge has three piers, and at low water
hardier adventurers than he wade out to the middle pier; some heroes
even fish there, standing all day on the loose rocks about the base of
the pier. He shudders to see them, and aches with wonder how they will
get ashore. Once he is there when a big boy wades back from the middle
pier, where he has been to rob a goose's nest; he has some loose silver
change in his wet hand, and my boy understands that it has come out of
one of the goose eggs. This fact, which he never thought of questioning,
gets mixed up in his mind with an idea of riches, of treasure-trove, in
the cellar of an old house that has been torn down near the end of the

On the bridge he first saw the crazy man who belongs in every boy's
town. In this one he was a hapless, harmless creature, whom the boys
knew as Solomon Whistler, perhaps because his name was Whistler, perhaps
because he whistled; though when my boy met him midway of the bridge, he
marched swiftly and silently by, with his head high and looking neither
to the right nor to the left, with an insensibility to the boy's
presence that froze his blood and shrivelled him up with terror. As his
fancy early became the sport of playfellows not endowed with one so
vivid, he was taught to expect that Solomon Whistler would get him some
day, though what he would do with him when he had got him his anguish
must have been too great even to let him guess. Some of the boys said
Solomon had gone crazy from fear of being drafted in the war of 1812;
others that he had been crossed in love; but my boy did not quite know
then what either meant. He only knew that Solomon Whistler lived at the
poor-house beyond the eastern border of the town, and that he ranged
between this sojourn and the illimitable wilderness north of the town on
the western shore of the river. The crazy man was often in the boy's
dreams, the memories of which blend so with the memories of real
occurrences: he could not tell later whether he once crossed the bridge
when the footway had been partly taken up, and he had to walk on the
girders, or whether he only dreamed of that awful passage. It was quite
fearful enough to cross when the footway was all down, and he could see
the blue gleam of the river far underneath through the cracks between
the boards. It made his brain reel; and he felt that he took his life in
his hand whenever he entered the bridge, even when he had grown old
enough to be making an excursion with some of his playmates to the farm
of an uncle of theirs who lived two miles up the river. The farmer gave
them all the watermelons they wanted to eat, and on the way home, when
they lay resting under the sycamores on the river-bank, Solomon Whistler
passed by in the middle of the road, silent, swift, straight onward. I
do not know why the sight of this afflicted soul did not slay my boy on
the spot, he was so afraid of him; but the crazy man never really hurt
any one, though the boys followed and mocked him as soon as he got by.

The boys knew little or nothing of the river south of the bridge, and
frequented mainly that mile-long stretch of it between the bridge and
the dam, beyond which there was practically nothing for many years;
afterwards they came to know that this strange region was inhabited.
Just above the bridge the Hydraulic emptied into the river with a
heart-shaking plunge over an immense mill-wheel; and there was a cluster
of mills at this point, which were useful in accumulating the waters
into fishing-holes before they rushed through the gates upon the wheel.
The boys used to play inside the big mill-wheel before the water was
let into the Hydraulic, and my boy caught his first fish in the pool
below the wheel. The mills had some secondary use in making flour and
the like, but this could not concern a small boy. They were as simply a
part of his natural circumstance as the large cottonwood-tree which hung
over the river from a point near by, and which seemed to have always an
oriole singing in it. All along there the banks were rather steep, and
to him they looked very high. The blue clay that formed them was full of
springs, which the boys dammed up in little ponds and let loose in
glassy falls upon their flutter-mills. As with everything that boys do,
these mills were mostly failures; the pins which supported the wheels
were always giving way; and though there were instances of boys who
started their wheels at recess and found them still fluttering away at
noon when they came out of school, none ever carried his enterprise so
far as to spin the cotton blowing from the balls of the cottonwood-tree
by the shore, as they all meant to do. They met such disappointments
with dauntless cheerfulness, and lightly turned from some bursting
bubble to some other where the glory of the universe was still mirrored.
The river shore was strewn not only with waste cotton, but with drift
which the water had made porous, and which they called smoke-wood. They
made cigars for their own use out of it, and it seemed to them that it
might be generally introduced as a cheap and simple substitute for
tobacco; but they never got any of it into the market, not even the
market of that world where the currency was pins.

The river had its own climate, and this climate was of course much such
a climate as the boys, for whom nature intended the river, would have
chosen. I do not believe it was ever winter there, though it was
sometimes late autumn, so that the boys could have some use for the
caves they dug at the top of the bank, with a hole coming through the
turf, to let out the smoke of the fires they built inside. They had the
joy of choking and blackening over these flues, and they intended to
live on corn and potatoes borrowed from the household stores of the boy
whose house was nearest. They never got so far as to parch the corn or
to bake the potatoes in their caves, but there was the fire, and the
draft was magnificent. The light of the red flames painted the little,
happy, foolish faces, so long since wrinkled and grizzled with age, or
mouldered away to dust, as the boys huddled before them under the bank,
and fed them with the drift, or stood patient of the heat and cold in
the afternoon light of some vast Saturday waning to nightfall.

The river-climate, with these autumnal intervals, was made up of a
quick, eventful springtime, followed by the calm of a cloudless summer
that seemed never to end. But the spring, short as it was, had its great
attractions, and chief of these was the freshet which it brought to the
river. They would hear somehow that the river was rising, and then the
boys, who had never connected its rise with the rains they must have
been having, would all go down to its banks and watch the swelling
waters. These would be yellow and thick, and the boiling current would
have smooth, oily eddies, where pieces of drift would whirl round and
round, and then escape and slip down the stream. There were saw-logs and
whole trees with their branching tops, lengths of fence and hen-coops
and pig-pens; once there was a stable; and if the flood continued, there
began to come swollen bodies of horses and cattle. This must have meant
serious loss to the people living on the river-bottoms above, but the
boys counted it all gain. They cheered the objects as they floated by,
and they were breathless with the excitement of seeing the men who
caught fence-rails and cord-wood, and even saw-logs, with iron prongs at
the points of long poles, as they stood on some jutting point of shore
and stretched far out over the flood. The boys exulted in the turbid
spread of the stream, which filled its low western banks and stole over
their tops, and washed into all the hollow places along its shores, and
shone among the trunks of the sycamores on Delorac's Island, which was
almost of the geographical importance of The Island in Old River. When
the water began to go down their hearts sank with it; and they gave up
the hope of seeing the bridge carried away. Once the river rose to
within a few feet of it, so that if the right piece of drift had been
there to do its duty, the bridge might have been torn from its piers and
swept down the raging tide into those unknown gulfs to the southward.
Many a time they went to bed full of hope that it would at least happen
in the night, and woke to learn with shame and grief in the morning that
the bridge was still there, and the river was falling. It was a little
comfort to know that some of the big boys had almost seen it go,
watching as far into the night as nine o'clock with the men who sat up
near the bridge till daylight: men of leisure and public spirit, but not
perhaps the leading citizens.

There must have been a tedious time between the going down of the flood
and the first days when the water was warm enough for swimming; but it
left no trace. The boys are standing on the shore while the freshet
rushes by, and then they are in the water, splashing, diving, ducking;
it is like that; so that I do not know just how to get in that period of
fishing which must always have come between. There were not many fish in
that part of the Miami; my boy's experience was full of the ignominy of
catching shiners and suckers, or, at the best, mudcats, as they called
the yellow catfish; but there were boys, of those who cursed and swore,
who caught sunfish, as they called the bream; and there were men who
were reputed to catch at will, as it were, silvercats and river-bass.
They fished with minnows, which they kept in battered tin buckets that
they did not allow you even to touch, or hardly to look at; my boy
scarcely breathed in their presence; when one of them got up to cast his
line in a new place, the boys all ran, and then came slowly back. These
men often carried a flask of liquid that had the property, when taken
inwardly, of keeping the damp out. The boys respected them for their
ability to drink whiskey, and thought it a fit and honorable thing that
they should now and then fall into the river over the brinks where they
had set their poles.

But they disappear like persons in a dream, and their fishing-time
vanishes with them, and the swimming-time is in full possession of the
river, and of all the other waters of the Boy's Town. The river, the
Canal Basin, the Hydraulic and its Reservoirs, seemed all full of boys
at the same moment; but perhaps it was not the same, for my boy was
always in each place, and so he must have been there at different times.
Each place had its delights and advantages, but the swimming-holes in
the river were the greatest favorites. He could not remember when he
began to go into them, though it certainly was before he could swim.
There was a time when he was afraid of getting in over his head; but he
did not know just when he learned to swim, any more than he knew when he
learned to read; he could not swim, and then he could swim; he could not
read, and then he could read; but I dare say the reading came somewhat
before the swimming. Yet the swimming must have come very early, and
certainly it was kept up with continual practice; he swam quite as much
as he read; perhaps more. The boys had deep swimming-holes and shallow
ones; and over the deep ones there was always a spring-board, from which
they threw somersaults, or dived straight down into the depths, where
there were warm and cold currents mysteriously interwoven. They believed
that these deep holes were infested by water-snakes, though they never
saw any, and they expected to be bitten by snapping-turtles, though this
never happened. Fiery dragons could not have kept them out;
gallynippers, whatever they were, certainly did not; they were believed
to abound at the bottom of the deep holes; but the boys never stayed
long in the deep holes, and they preferred the shallow places, where the
river broke into a long ripple (they called it riffle) on its gravelly
bed, and where they could at once soak and bask in the musical rush of
the sunlit waters. I have heard people in New England blame all the
Western rivers for being yellow and turbid; but I know that after the
spring floods, when the Miami had settled down to its summer business
with the boys, it was as clear and as blue as if it were spilled out of
the summer sky. The boys liked the riffle because they could stay in so
long there, and there were little landlocked pools and shallows, where
the water was even warmer, and they could stay in longer. At most
places under the banks there was clay of different colors, which they
used for war-paint in their Indian fights; and after they had their
Indian fights they could rush screaming and clattering into the riffle.
When the stream had washed them clean down to their red sunburn or their
leathern tan, they could paint up again and have more Indian fights.

I do not know why my boy's associations with Delorac's Island were
especially wild in their character, for nothing more like outlawry than
the game of mumble-the-peg ever occurred there. Perhaps it was because
the boys had to get to it by water that it seemed beyond the bounds of
civilization. They might have reached it by the bridge, but the temper
of the boys on the western shore was uncertain; they would have had to
run the gauntlet of their river-guard on the way up to it; and they
might have been friendly or they might not; it would have depended a
good deal on the size and number of the interlopers. Besides, it was
more glorious to wade across to the island from their side of the river.
They undressed and gathered their clothes up into a bundle, which they
put on their heads and held there with one hand, while they used the
other for swimming, when they came to a place beyond their depth. Then
they dressed again, and stretched themselves under the cottonwood-trees
and sycamores, and played games and told stories, and longed for a gun
to kill the blackbirds which nested in the high tops, and at nightfall
made such a clamor in getting to roost that it almost deafened you.

My boy never distinctly knew what formed that island, but as there was a
mill there, it must have been made by the mill-race leaving and
rejoining the river. It was enough for him to know that the island was
there, and that a parrot--a screaming, whistling, and laughing parrot,
which was a Pretty Poll, and always Wanted a Cracker--dwelt in a pretty
cottage, almost hidden in trees, just below the end of the island. This
parrot had the old Creole gentleman living with it who owned the island,
and whom it had brought from New Orleans. The boys met him now and then
as he walked abroad, with a stick, and his large stomach bowed in front
of him. For no reason under the sun they were afraid of him; perhaps
they thought he resented their parleys with the parrot. But he and the
parrot existed solely to amuse and to frighten them; and on their own
side of the river, just opposite the island, there were established some
small industries for their entertainment and advantage, on a branch of
the Hydraulic. I do not know just what it was they did with a
mustard-mill that was there, but the turning-shop supplied them with a
deep bed of elastic shavings just under the bank, which they turned
somersaults into, when they were not turning them into the river.

I wonder what sign the boys who read this have for challenging or
inviting one another to go in swimming. The boys in the Boy's Town used
to make the motion of swimming with both arms; or they held up the
forefinger and middle-finger in the form of a swallow-tail; they did
this when it was necessary to be secret about it, as in school, and when
they did not want the whole crowd of boys to come along; and often when
they just pretended they did not want some one to know. They really had
to be secret at times, for some of the boys were not allowed to go in at
all; others were forbidden to go in more than once or twice a day; and
as they all _had_ to go in at least three or four times a day, some
sort of sign had to be used that was understood among themselves alone.
Since this is a true history, I had better own that they nearly all, at
one time or other, must have told lies about it, either before or after
the fact, some habitually, some only in great extremity. Here and there
a boy, like my boy's elder brother, would not tell lies at all, even
about going in swimming; but by far the greater number bowed to their
hard fate, and told them. They promised that they would not go in, and
then they said that they had not been in; but Sin, for which they had
made this sacrifice, was apt to betray them. Either they got their
shirts on wrong side out in dressing, or else, while they were in, some
enemy came upon them and tied their shirts. There are few cruelties
which public opinion in the boys' world condemns, but I am glad to
remember, to their honor, that there were not many in that Boy's Town
who would tie shirts; and I fervently hope that there is no boy now
living who would do it. As the crime is probably extinct, I will say
that in those wicked days, if you were such a miscreant, and there was
some boy you hated, you stole up and tied the hardest kind of a knot in
one arm or both arms of his shirt. Then, if the Evil One put it into
your heart, you soaked the knot in water, and pounded it with a stone.

I am glad to know that in the days when he was thoughtless and senseless
enough, my boy never was guilty of any degree of this meanness. It was
his brother, I suppose, who taught him to abhor it; and perhaps it was
his own suffering from it in part; for he, too, sometimes shed bitter
tears over such a knot, as I have seen hapless little wretches do,
tearing at it with their nails and gnawing at it with their teeth,
knowing that the time was passing when they could hope to hide the fact
that they had been in swimming, and foreseeing no remedy but to cut off
the sleeve above the knot, or else put on their clothes without the
shirt, and trust to untying the knot when it got dry.

There must have been a lurking anxiety in all the boys' hearts when they
went in without leave, or, as my boy was apt to do, when explicitly
forbidden. He was not apt at lying, I dare say, and so he took the
course of open disobedience. He could not see the danger that filled the
home hearts with fear for him, and he must have often broken the law and
been forgiven, before Justice one day appeared for him on the river-bank
and called him away from his stolen joys. It was an awful moment, and it
covered him with shame before his mates, who heartlessly rejoiced, as
children do, in the doom which they are escaping. That sin, at least, he
fully expiated; and I will whisper to the Young People here at the end
of the chapter, that somehow, soon or late, our sins do overtake us, and
insist upon being paid for. That is not the best reason for not sinning,
but it is well to know it, and to believe it in our acts as well as our
thoughts. You will find people to tell you that things only happen so
and so. It may be; only, I know that no good thing ever happened to
happen to me when I had done wrong.



THE canal came from Lake Erie, two hundred miles to the northward, and
joined the Ohio River twenty miles south of the Boy's Town. For a time
my boy's father was collector of tolls on it, but even when he was old
enough to understand that his father held this State office (the canal
belonged to the State) because he had been such a good Whig, and
published the Whig newspaper, he could not grasp the notion of the
distance which the canal-boats came out of and went into. He saw them
come and he saw them go; he did not ask whence or whither; his wonder,
if he had any about them, did not go beyond the second lock. It was hard
enough to get it to the head of the Basin, which left the canal half a
mile or so to the eastward, and stretched down into the town, a sheet of
smooth water, fifteen or twenty feet deep, and a hundred wide; his sense
ached with, the effort of conceiving of the other side of it. The Basin
was bordered on either side near the end by pork-houses, where the pork
was cut up and packed, and then lay in long rows of barrels on the
banks, with other long rows of salt-barrels, and yet other long rows of
whiskey-barrels; cooper-shops, where the barrels were made, alternated
with the pork-houses. The boats brought the salt and carried away the
pork and whiskey; but the boy's practical knowledge of them was that
they lay there for the boys to dive off of when they went in swimming,
and to fish under. The water made a soft tuck-tucking at the sterns of
the boat, and you could catch sunfish, if you were the right kind of a
boy, or the wrong kind; the luck seemed to go a good deal with boys who
were not good for much else. Some of the boats were open their whole
length, with a little cabin at the stern, and these pretended to be for
carrying wood and stone, but really again were for the use of the boys
after a hard rain, when they held a good deal of water, and you could
pole yourself up and down on the loose planks in them. The boys formed
the notion at times that some of these boats were abandoned by their
owners, and they were apt to be surprised by their sudden return. A
feeling of transgression was mixed up with the joys of this kind of
navigation; perhaps some of the boys were forbidden it. No limit was
placed on their swimming in the Basin, except that of the law which
prohibited it in the daytime, as the Basin was quite in the heart of the
town. In the warm summer nights of that southerly latitude, the water
swarmed with laughing, shouting, screaming boys, who plunged from the
banks and rioted in the delicious water, diving and ducking, flying and
following, safe in the art of swimming which all of them knew. They
turned somersaults from the decks of the canal-boats; some of the boys
could turn double somersaults, and one boy got so far as to turn a
somersault and a half; it was long before the time of electric lighting,
but when he struck the water there came a flash that seemed to illumine
the universe.

I am afraid that the Young People will think I am telling them too much
about swimming. But in the Boy's Town the boys really led a kind of
amphibious life, and as long as the long summer lasted they were almost
as much in the water as on the land. The Basin, however, unlike the
river, had a winter as well as a summer climate, and one of the very
first things that my boy could remember was being on the ice there, when
a young man caught him up into his arms, and skated off with him almost
as far away as the canal. He remembered the fearful joy of the
adventure, and the pride, too; for he had somehow the notion that this
young fellow was handsome and fine, and did him an honor by his
notice--so soon does some dim notion of worldly splendor turn us into
snobs! The next thing was his own attempt at skating, when he was set
down from the bank by his brother, full of a vainglorious confidence in
his powers, and appeared instantly to strike on the top of his head.
Afterwards he learned to skate, but he did not know when, any more than
he knew just the moment of learning to read or to swim. He became
passionately fond of skating, and kept at it all day long when there was
ice for it, which was not often in those soft winters. They made a very
little ice go a long way in the Boy's Town; and began to use it for
skating as soon as there was a glazing of it on the Basin. None of them
ever got drowned there; though a boy would often start from one bank and
go flying to the other, trusting his speed to save him, while the thin
sheet sank and swayed, but never actually broke under him. Usually the
ice was not thick enough to have a fire built on it; and it must have
been on ice which was just strong enough to bear that my boy skated all
one bitter afternoon at Old River, without a fire to warm by. At first
his feet were very cold, and then they gradually felt less cold, and at
last he did not feel them at all. He thought this very nice, and he told
one of the big boys. "Why, your feet are frozen!" said the big boy, and
he dragged off my boy's skates, and the little one ran all the long mile
home, crazed with terror, and not knowing what moment his feet might
drop off there in the road. His mother plunged them in a bowl of
ice-cold water, and then rubbed them with flannel, and so thawed them
out; but that could not save him from the pain of their coming to: it
was intense, and there must have been a time afterwards when he did not
use his feet.

His skates themselves were of a sort that I am afraid boys would smile
at nowadays. When you went to get a pair of skates forty or fifty years
ago, you did not make your choice between a Barney & Berry and an Acme,
which fastened on with the turn of a screw or the twist of a clamp. You
found an assortment of big and little sizes of solid wood bodies with
guttered blades turning up in front with a sharp point, or perhaps
curling over above the toe. In this case they sometimes ended in an
acorn; if this acorn was of brass, it transfigured the boy who wore that
skate; he might have been otherwise all rags and patches, but the brass
acorn made him splendid from head to foot. When you had bought your
skates, you took them to a carpenter, and stood awe-strickenly about
while he pierced the wood with strap-holes; or else you managed to bore
them through with a hot iron yourself. Then you took them to a saddler,
and got him to make straps for them; that is, if you were rich, and your
father let you have a quarter to pay for the job. If not, you put
strings through, and tied your skates on. They were always coming off,
or getting crosswise of your foot, or feeble-mindedly slumping down on
one side of the wood; but it did not matter, if you had a fire on the
ice, fed with old barrels and boards and cooper's shavings, and could
sit round it with your skates on, and talk and tell stories, between
your flights and races afar; and come whizzing back to it from the
frozen distance, and glide, with one foot lifted, almost among the

Beyond the pork-houses, and up farther towards the canal, there were
some houses under the Basin banks. They were good places for the
fever-and-ague which people had in those days without knowing it was
malaria, or suffering it to interfere much with the pleasure and
business of life; but they seemed to my boy bowers of delight,
especially one where there was a bear, chained to a weeping-willow, and
another where there was a fishpond with gold-fish in it. He expected
this bear to get loose and eat him, but that could not spoil his
pleasure in seeing the bear stand on his hind-legs and open his red
mouth, as I have seen bears do when you wound them up by a keyhole in
the side. In fact, a toy bear is very much like a real bear, and safer
to have round. The boys were always wanting to go and look at this bear,
but he was not so exciting as the daily arrival of the Dayton packet. To
my boy's young vision this craft was of such incomparable lightness and
grace as no yacht of Mr. Burgess's could rival. When she came in of a
summer evening her deck was thronged with people, and the captain stood
with his right foot on the spring-catch that held the tow-rope. The
water curled away on either side of her sharp prow, that cut its way
onward at the full rate of five miles an hour, and the team came
swinging down the tow-path at a gallant trot, the driver sitting the
hindmost horse of three, and cracking his long-lashed whip with loud
explosions, as he whirled its snaky spirals in the air. All the boys in
town were there, meekly proud to be ordered out of his way, to break and
fly before his volleyed oaths and far before his horses' feet; and
suddenly the captain pressed his foot on the spring and released the
tow-rope. The driver kept on to the stable with unslackened speed, and
the line followed him, swishing and skating over the water, while the
steersman put his helm hard aport, and the packet rounded to, and swam
softly and slowly up to her moorings. No steamer arrives from Europe now
with such thrilling majesty.

The canal-boatmen were all an heroic race, and the boys humbly hoped
that some day, if they proved worthy, they might grow up to be drivers;
not indeed packet-drivers; they were not so conceited as that; but
freight-boat drivers, of two horses, perhaps, but gladly of one. High or
low, the drivers had a great deal of leisure, which commended their
calling to the boyish fancy; and my boy saw them, with a longing to
speak to them, even to approach them, never satisfied, while they amused
the long summer afternoon in the shade of the tavern by a game of skill
peculiar to them. They put a tack into a whiplash, and then, whirling it
round and round, drove it to the head in a target marked out on the
weather-boarding. Some of them had a perfect aim; and in fact it was a
very pretty feat, and well worth seeing.

Another feat, which the pioneers of the region had probably learned from
the Indians, was throwing the axe. The thrower caught the axe by the end
of the helve, and with a dextrous twirl sent it flying through the air,
and struck its edge into whatever object he aimed at--usually a tree.
Two of the Basin loafers were brothers, and they were always quarrelling
and often fighting. One was of the unhappy fraternity of town-drunkards,
and somehow the boys thought him a finer fellow than the other, whom
somehow they considered "mean," and they were always of his side in
their controversies. One afternoon these brothers quarrelled a long
time, and then the sober brother retired to the doorway of a pork-house,
where he stood, probably brooding upon his injuries, when the drunkard,
who had remained near the tavern, suddenly caught up an axe and flung
it; the boys saw it sail across the corner of the Basin, and strike in
the door just above his brother's head. This one did not lose an
instant; while the axe still quivered in the wood, he hurled himself
upon the drunkard, and did that justice on him which he would not ask
from the law, perhaps because it was a family affair; perhaps because
those wretched men were no more under the law than the boys were.

I do not mean that there was no law for the boys, for it was manifest to
their terror in two officers whom they knew as constables, and who may
have reigned one after another, or together, with full power of life and
death over them, as they felt; but who in a community mainly so peaceful
acted upon Dogberry's advice, and made and meddled with rogues as little
as they could. From time to time it was known among the boys that you
would be taken up if you went in swimming inside of the corporation
line, and for a while they would be careful to keep beyond it; but this
could not last; they were soon back in the old places, and I suppose no
arrests were ever really made. They did, indeed, hear once that Old
Griffin, as they called him, caught a certain boy in the river before
dark, and carried him up through the town to his own home naked. Of
course no such thing ever happened; but the boys believed it, and it
froze my boy's soul with fear; all the more because this constable was a
cabinet-maker and made coffins; from his father's printing-office the
boy could hear the long slide of his plane over the wood, and he could
smell the varnish on the boards.

I dare say Old Griffin was a kindly man enough, and not very old; and I
suppose that the other constable, as known to his family and friends,
was not at all the gloomy headsman he appeared to the boys. When he
became constable (they had not the least notion how a man became
constable) they heard that his rule was to be marked by unwonted
severity against the crime of going in swimming inside the corporation
line, and so they kept strictly to the letter of the law. But one day
some of them found themselves in the water beyond the First Lock, when
the constable appeared on the tow-path, suddenly, as if he and his horse
had come up out of the ground. He told them that he had got them now,
and he ordered them to come along with him; he remained there amusing
himself with their tears, their prayers, and then vanished again. Heaven
knows how they lived through it; but they must have got safely home in
the usual way, and life must have gone on as before. No doubt the man
did not realize the torture he put them to; but it was a cruel thing;
and I never have any patience with people who exaggerate a child's
offence to it, and make it feel itself a wicked criminal for some little
act of scarcely any consequence. If we elders stand here in the place of
the Heavenly Father towards those younger children of His, He will not
hold us guiltless when we obscure for them the important difference
between a great and a small misdeed, or wring their souls, fear-clouded
as they always are, with a sense of perdition for no real sin.

[Illustration: THE SIX-MILE LEVEL.]




THERE were two branches of the Hydraulic: one followed the course of the
Miami, from some unknown point to the northward, on the level of its
high bank, and joined the other where it emptied into the river just
above the bridge. This last came down what had been a street, and it
must have been very pretty to have these two swift streams of clear
water rushing through the little town, under the culverts, and between
the stone walls of its banks. But what a boy mainly cares for in a thing
is _use_, and the boys tried to make some use of the Hydraulic, since it
was there to find what they could do with it. Of course they were aware
of the mills dotted along its course, and they knew that it ran them;
but I do not believe any of them thought that it was built merely to run
flour-mills and saw-mills and cotton-mills. They did what they could to
find out its real use, but they could make very little of it. The
current was so rapid that it would not freeze in winter, and in summer
they could not go in swimming in it by day, because it was so public,
and at night the Basin had more attractions. There was danger of cutting
your feet on the broken glass and crockery which people threw into the
Hydraulic, and though the edges of the culverts were good for jumping
off of, the boys did not find them of much practical value. Sometimes
you could catch sunfish in the Hydraulic, but it was generally too
swift, and the only thing you could depend upon was catching crawfish.
These abounded so that if you dropped a string with a bit of meat on it
into the water anywhere, you could pull it up again with two or three
crawfish hanging to it. The boys could not begin to use them all for
bait, which was the only use their Creator seemed to have designed them
for; but they had vaguely understood that people somewhere ate them, or
something like them, though they had never known even the name of
lobsters; and they always intended to get their mothers to have them
cooked for them. None of them ever did.

They could sometimes, under high favor of fortune, push a dog into the
Hydraulic, or get him to jump in after a stick; and then have the
excitement of following him from one culvert to another, till he found a
foothold and scrambled out. Once my boy saw a chicken cock sailing
serenely down the currant; he was told that he had been given brandy,
and that brandy would enable a chicken to swim; but probably this was
not true. Another time, a tremendous time, a boy was standing at the
brink of a culvert, when one of his mates dared another to push him in.
In those days the boys attached peculiar ideas of dishonor to taking a
dare. They said, and in some sort they believed, that a boy who would
take a dare would steal sheep. I do not now see why this should follow.
In this case, the high spirit who was challenged felt nothing base in
running up behind his unsuspecting friend and popping him into the
water, and I have no doubt the victim considered the affair in the right
light when he found that it was a dare. He drifted under the culvert,
and when he came out he swiftly scaled the wall below, and took after
the boy who had pushed him in; of course this one had the start. No
great harm was done; everybody could swim, and a boy's summer costume in
that hot climate was made up of a shirt and trousers and a straw hat; no
boy who had any regard for his social standing wore shoes or stockings,
and as they were all pretty proud, they all went barefoot from April
till October.

The custom of going barefoot must have come from the South, where it
used to be so common, and also from the primitive pioneer times which
were so near my boy's time, fifty years ago. The South characterized the
thinking and feeling of the Boy's Town, far more than the North. Most of
the people were of Southern extraction, from Kentucky or Virginia, when
they were not from Pennsylvania or New Jersey. There might have been
other New England families, but the boys only knew of one--that of the
blacksmith whose shop they liked to haunt. His children were heard to
dispute about an animal they had seen, and one of them said, "Tell ye
'twa'n't a squeerrel; 'twas a maouse;" and the boys had that for a
by-word. They despised Yankees as a mean-spirited race, who were stingy
and would cheat; and would not hit you if you told them they lied. A
person must always hit a person who told him he lied; but even if you
called a Yankee a _fighting_ liar (the worst form of this insult), he
would not hit you, but just call you a liar back. My boy long accepted
these ideas of New England as truly representative of the sectional
character. Perhaps they were as fair as some ideas of the West which he
afterwards found entertained in New England; but they were false and
stupid all the same.

If the boys could do little with the Hydraulic, they were at no loss in
regard to the Reservoirs, into which its feeding waters were gathered
and held in reserve, I suppose, against a time of drought. There was the
Little Reservoir first, and then a mile beyond it the Big Reservoir, and
there was nearly always a large flat boat on each which was used for
repairing the banks, but which the boys employed as a pleasure-barge. It
seemed in some natural way to belong to them, and yet they had a feeling
of something clandestine in pushing out on the Reservoir in it. Once
they filled its broad, shallow hold with straw from a neighboring
oatfield, and spent a long golden afternoon in simply lying under the
hot September sun, in the middle of the Reservoir, and telling stories.
My boy then learned, for the first time, that there was such a book as
the "Arabian Nights;" one of the other boys told stories out of it, and
he inferred that the sole copy in existence belonged to this boy. He
knew that they all had school-books alike, but it did not occur to him
that a book which was not a Reader or a Speller was ever duplicated.
They did nothing with their boat except loll in it and tell stories, and
as there was no current in the Reservoir, they must have remained pretty
much in the same place; but they had a sense of the wildest adventure,
which mounted to frenzy, when some men rose out of the earth on the
shore, and shouted at them, "Hello, there! What are you doing with that
boat?" They must have had an oar; at any rate, they got to the opposite
bank, and, springing to land, fled somewhere into the vaguest past.

The boys went in swimming in the Little Reservoir when they were not in
the River or the Basin; and they fished in the Big Reservoir, where the
sunfish bit eagerly. There were large trees standing in the hollow which
became the bed of the Reservoir, and these died when the water was let
in around them, and gave the stretch of quiet waters a strange, weird
look; about their bases was the best kind of place for sunfish, and even
for bass. Of course the boys never caught any bass; that honor was
reserved for men of the kind I have mentioned. It was several years
before the catfish got in, and then they were mud-cats; but the boys had
great luck with sunfish there and in the pools about the flood-gates,
where there was always some leakage, and where my boy once caught a
whole string of live fish which had got away from some other boy,
perhaps weeks before; they were all swimming about, in a lively way, and
the largest hungrily took his bait. The great pleasure of fishing in
these pools was that the waters were so clear you could see the fat,
gleaming fellows at the bottom, nosing round your hook, and going off
and coming back several times before they made up their minds to bite.
It seems now impossible that my boy could ever have taken pleasure in
the capture of these poor creatures. I know that there are grown people,
and very good, kind men, too, who defend and celebrate the sport, and
value themselves on their skill in it; but I think it tolerable only in
boys, who are cruel because they are thoughtless. It is not probable
that any lower organism

          "In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
           As when a giant dies,"

but still, I believe that even a fish knows a dumb agony from the barbs
of the hook which would take somewhat from the captor's joy if he could
but realize it.


There was, of course, a time when the Hydraulic and the Reservoirs were
not where they afterwards appeared always to have been. My boy could
dimly recall the day when the water was first let into the Hydraulic,
and the little fellows ran along its sides to keep abreast of the
current, as they easily could; and he could see more vividly the tumult
which a break in the embankment of the Little Reservoir caused. The
whole town rushed to the spot, or at least all the boys in it did, and a
great force of men besides, with shovels and wheelbarrows, and bundles
of brush and straw, and heavy logs, and heaped them into the crevasse,
and piled earth on them. The men threw off their coats and all joined in
the work; a great local politician led off in his shirt-sleeves; and it
was as if my boy should now see the Emperor of Germany in his
shirt-sleeves pushing a wheelbarrow, so high above all other men had
that exalted Whig always been to him. But the Hydraulic, I believe, was
a town work, and everybody felt himself an owner in it, and hoped to
share in the prosperity which it should bring to all. It made the people
so far one family, as every public work which they own in common always
does; it made them brothers and equals, as private property never does.

Of course the boys rose to no such conception of the fact before their
eyes. I suspect that in their secret hearts they would have been glad to
have seen that whole embankment washed away, for the excitement's sake,
and for the hope of catching the fish that would be left flopping at the
bottom of the Reservoir when the waters were drained out, I think that
these waters were brought somehow from Old River, but I am not sure
how. Old River was very far away, and my boy was never there much, and
knew little of the weird region it bounded. Once he went in swimming in
it, but the still, clear waters were strangely cold, and not like those
of the friendly Miami. Once, also, when the boys had gone into the vast
woods of that measureless continent which they called the Island, for
pawpaws or for hickory-nuts, or maybe buckeyes, they got lost; and while
they ran about in terror, they heard the distant lowing and bellowing of
cattle. They knew somehow, as boys know everything, that the leader of
the herd, which ranged those woods in a half-savage freedom, was a
vicious bull, and as the lowing and bellowing sounded nearer, they
huddled together in the wildest dismay. Some were for running, some for
getting over a fence near by; but they could not tell which side of the
fence the herd was on. In the primitive piety of childhood my boy
suggested prayer as something that had served people in extremity, and
he believed that it was the only hope left. Another boy laughed, and
began to climb a tree; the rest, who had received my boy's suggestion
favorably, instantly followed his example; in fact, he climbed a tree
himself. The herd came slowly up, and when they reached the boys' refuge
they behaved with all the fury that could have been expected--they
trampled and tossed the bags that held the pawpaws or buckeyes or
hickory-nuts; they gored the trees where the boys hung trembling; they
pawed and tossed the soft earth below; and then they must have gone
away, and given them up as hopeless. My boy never had the least notion
how he got home; and I dare say he was very young when he began these
excursions to the woods.

In some places Old River was a stagnant pool, covered with thick green
scum, and filled with frogs. The son of one of the tavern-keepers was
skilled in catching them, and I fancy supplied them to his father's
table; the important fact was his taking them, which he did by baiting a
cluster of three hooks with red flannel, and dropping them at the end of
a fish-line before a frog. The fated croaker plunged at the brilliant
bait, and was caught in the breast; even as a small boy, my boy thought
it a cruel sight. The boys pretended that the old frogs said, whenever
this frog-catching boy came in sight, "Here comes Hawkins!--here comes
Hawkins! Look out!--look out!" and a row of boys, perched on a log in
the water, would sound this warning in mockery of the frogs or their
foe, and plump one after another in the depths, as frogs follow their
leader in swift succession. They had nothing against Hawkins. They all
liked him, for he was a droll, good-natured fellow, always up to some
pleasantry. One day he laughed out in school. "Was that you laughed,
Henry?" asked the teacher, with unerring suspicion. "I was only smiling,
Mr. Slack." "The next time, see that you don't smile so loud," said Mr.
Slack, and forgave him, as any one who saw his honest face must have
wished to do. They called him Old Hawkins, for fondness; and while my
boy shuddered at him for his way of catching frogs, he was in love with
him for his laughing eyes and the kindly ways he had, especially with
the little boys.



MY boy had not a great deal to do with schools after his docile
childhood. When he began to run wild with the other boys he preferred
their savage freedom; and he got out of going to school by most of the
devices they used. He had never quite the hardihood to play truant, but
he was subject to sudden attacks of sickness, which came on about
school-time and went off towards the middle of the forenoon or afternoon
in a very strange manner. I suppose that such complaints are unknown at
the present time, but the Young People's fathers can tell them how much
suffering they used to cause among boys. At the age when my boy was
beginning to outgrow them he was taken into his father's
printing-office, and he completed his recovery and his education there.
But all through the years when he lived in the Boy's Town he had
intervals of schooling, which broke in upon the swimming and the
skating, of course, but were not altogether unpleasant or unprofitable.

They began, as they are apt to do, with lessons in a private house,
where a lady taught several other children, and where he possibly
learned to read; though he could only remember being set on a platform
in punishment for some forgotten offence. After that he went to school
in the basement of a church, where a number of boys and girls were
taught by a master who knew how to endear study at least to my boy.
There was a garden outside of the schoolroom; hollyhocks grew in it, and
the boys gathered the little cheeses, as they called the seed-buttons
which form when the flowers drop off, and ate them, because boys will
eat anything, and not because they liked them. With the fact of this
garden is mixed a sense of drowsy heat and summer light, and that is
all, except the blackboard at the end of the room and a big girl doing
sums at it; and the wonder why the teacher smiled when he read in one of
the girls' compositions a phrase about forging puddings and pies; my boy
did not know what forging meant, so he must have been very young. But he
had a zeal for learning, and somehow he took a prize in geography--a
science in which he was never afterwards remarkable. The prize was a
little history of Lexington, Mass., which the teacher gave him, perhaps
because Lexington may have been his native town; but the history must
have been very dryly told, for not a fact of it remained in the boy's
mind. He was vaguely disappointed in the book, but he valued it for the
teacher's sake whom he was secretly very fond of, and who had no doubt
won the child's heart by some flattering notice. He thought it a great
happiness to follow him, when the teacher gave up this school, and took
charge of one of the public schools; but it was not the same there; the
teacher could not distinguish him in that multitude of boys and girls.
He did himself a little honor in spelling, but he won no praise, and he
disgraced himself then as always in arithmetic. He sank into the common
herd of mediocrities; and then, when his family went to live in another
part of the town, he began to go to another school. He had felt that the
teacher belonged to him, and it must have been a pang to find him so
estranged. But he was a kind man, and long afterwards he had a friendly
smile and word for the boy when they met; and then all at once he ceased
to be, as men and things do in a boy's world.

The other school was another private school; and it was doubtless a
school of high grade in some things, for it was called the Academy. But
there was provision for the youngest beginners in a lower room, and for
a while my boy went there. Before school opened in the afternoon, the
children tried to roast apples on the stove, but there never was time,
and they had to eat them half raw. In the singing-class there was a boy
who wore his hair so enviably long that he could toss it on his neck as
he wheeled in the march of the class round the room; his father kept a
store and he brought candy to school. They sang "Scotland's burning!
Pour on water" and "Home, home! Dearest and happiest home!" No doubt
they did other things, but none of them remained in my boy's mind; and
when he was promoted to the upper room very little more was added. He
studied Philosophy, as it was called, and he learned, as much from the
picture as the text, that you could not make a boat go by filling her
sail from bellows on board; he did not see why. But he was chiefly
concerned with his fears about the Chemical Room, where I suppose some
chemical apparatus must have been kept, but where the big boys were
taken to be whipped. It was a place of dreadful execution to him, and
when he was once sent to the Chemical Boom, and shut up there, because
he was crying, and because, as he explained, he could not stop crying
without a handkerchief, and he had none with him, he never expected to
come out alive.

In fact, as I have said, he dwelt in a world of terrors; and I doubt if
some of the big boys who were taken there to be whipped underwent so
much as he in being merely taken to the place where they had been
whipped. At the same time, while he cowered along in the shadow of
unreal dangers, he had a boy's boldness with most of the real ones, and
he knew how to resent an indignity even at the hands of the teacher who
could send him to the Chemical Room at pleasure. He knew what belonged
to him as a small boy of honor, and one thing was, not to be tamely put
back from a higher to a lower place in his studies. I dare say that boys
do not mind this now; they must have grown ever so much wiser since my
boy went to school; but in his time, when you were put back, say from
the Third Reader to the Second Reader, you took your books and left
school. That was what the other boys expected of you, and it was the
only thing for you to do if you had the least self-respect, for you were
put back to the Second Reader after having failed to read the Third, and
it was a public shame which nothing but leaving that school could wipe
out. The other boys would have a right to mock you if you did not do it;
and as soon as the class was dismissed you went to your desk as
haughtily as you could, and began putting your books and your slate and
your inkstand together, with defiant glances at the teacher; and then
when twelve o'clock came, or four o'clock, and the school was let out,
you tucked the bundle under your arm and marched out of the room, with
as much majesty as could be made to comport with a chip hat and bare
feet; and as you passed the teacher you gave a twist of the head that
was meant to carry dismay to the heart of your enemy. I note all these
particulars carefully, so as to show the boys of the present day what
fools the boys of the past were; though I think they will hardly believe
it. My boy was once that kind of fool; but not twice. He left school
with all his things at twelve o'clock, and he returned with them at one;
for his father and mother did not agree with him about the teacher's
behavior in putting him back. No boy's father and mother agreed with him
on this point; every boy returned in just the same way; but somehow the
insult had been wiped out by the mere act of self-assertion, and a boy
kept his standing in the world as he could never have done if he had not
left school when he was put back.

The Hydraulic ran alongside of the Academy, and at recess the boys had a
good deal of fun with it, one way and another, sailing shingles with
stones on them, and watching them go under one end of the culvert and
come out of the other, or simply throwing rocks into the water. It does
not seem very exciting when you tell of it, but it really was exciting;
though it was not so exciting as to go down to the mills, where the
Hydraulic plunged over that great wheel into the Miami. A foot-bridge
crossed it that you could jump up and down on and almost make touch the
water, and there were happier boys, who did not go to school, fishing
there with men who had never gone. Sometimes the schoolboys ventured
inside of the flour-mill and the iron-foundry, but I do not think this
was often permitted; and, after all, the great thing was to rush over to
the river-bank, all the boys and girls together, and play with the
flutter-mills till the bell rang. The market-house was not far off, and
they went there sometimes when it was not market-day, and played among
the stalls; and once a girl caught her hand on a meat-hook. My boy had a
vision of her hanging from it; but this was probably one of those grisly
fancies that were always haunting him, and no fact at all. The bridge
was close by the market-house, but for some reason or no reason the
children never played in the bridge. Perhaps the toll-house man would
not let them; my boy stood in dread of the toll-house man; he seemed to
have such a severe way of taking the money from the teamsters.

Some of the boys were said to be the beaux of some of the girls. My boy
did not know what that meant; in his own mind he could not disentangle
the idea of bows from the idea of arrows; but he was in love with the
girl who caught her hand on the meat-hook, and secretly suffered much on
account of her. She had black eyes, and her name long seemed to him the
most beautiful name for a girl; he said it to himself with flushes from
his ridiculous little heart. While he was still a boy of ten he heard
that she was married; and she must have been a great deal older than he.
In fact he was too small a boy when he went to the Academy to remember
how long he went there, and whether it was months or years; but probably
it was not more than a year. He stopped going there because the teacher
gave up the school to become a New Church minister; and as my boy's
father and mother were New Church people, there must have been some
intimacy between them and the teacher, which he did not know of. But he
only stood in awe, not terror, of him; and he was not surprised when he
met him many long years after, to find him a man peculiarly wise,
gentle, and kind. Between the young and the old there is a vast gulf,
seldom if ever bridged. The old can look backward over it, but they
cannot cross it, any more than the young, who can see no thither side.

The next school my boy went to was a district school, as they called a
public school in the Boy's Town. He did not begin going there without
something more than his usual fear and trembling; for he had heard free
schools and pay schools talked over among the boys, and sharply
distinguished: in a pay school the teacher had only such powers of
whipping as were given him by the parents, and they were always strictly
limited; in a free school the teacher whipped as much and as often as he
liked. For this reason it was much better to go to a pay school; but you
had more fun at a free school, because there were more fellows; you must
balance one thing against another. The boy who philosophized the matter
in this way was a merry, unlucky fellow, who fully tested the advantages
and disadvantages of the free-school system. He was one of the
best-hearted boys in the world, and the kindest to little boys; he was
always gay and always in trouble, and forever laughing, when he was not
crying under that cruel rod. Sometimes he would not cry; but when he was
caught in one of his frequent offences and called up before the
teacher's desk in the face of the whole school, and whipped over his
thinly jacketed shoulders, he would take it without wincing, and go
smiling to his seat, and perhaps be called back and whipped more for
smiling. He was a sort of hero with the boys on this account, but he was
too kind-hearted to be proud, and mingled with the rest on equal terms.
One awful day, just before school took up in the afternoon, he and
another boy went for a bucket of drinking-water; it always took two
boys. They were gone till long after school began, and when they came
back the teacher called them up, and waited for them to arrive slowly at
his desk while he drew his long, lithe rod through his left hand. They
had to own that they had done wrong, and they had no excuse but the one
a boy always has--they forgot. He said he must teach them not to forget,
and their punishment began; surely the most hideous and depraving sight,
except a hanging, that could be offered to children's eyes. One of them
howled and shrieked, and leaped and danced, catching his back, his arms,
his legs, as the strokes rained upon him, imploring, promising, and
getting away at last with a wild effort to rub himself all over all at
once. When it came the hero's turn, he bore it without a murmur, and as
if his fortitude exasperated him, the teacher showered the blows more
swiftly and fiercely upon him than before, till a tear or two did steal
down the boy's cheek. Then he was sent to his seat, and in a few minutes
he was happy with a trap for catching flies which he had contrived in
his desk.

No doubt they were an unruly set of boys, and I do not suppose the
teacher was a hard man, though he led the life of an executioner, and
seldom passed a day without inflicting pain that a fiend might shrink
from giving. My boy lived in an anguish of fear lest somehow he should
come under that rod of his; but he was rather fond of the teacher, and
so were all the boys. The teacher took a real interest in their studies,
and if he whipped them well, he taught them well; and at most times he
was kind and friendly with them. Anyway, he did not blister your hand
with a ruler, as some teachers did, or make you stand bent forward from
the middle, with your head hanging down, so that the blood all ran into
it. Under him my boy made great advances in reading and writing, and he
won some distinction in declamation; but the old difficulties with the
arithmetic remained. He failed to make anything out of the parts of
speech in his grammar; but one afternoon, while he sat in his stocking
feet, trying to ease the chilblains which every boy used to have from
his snow-soaked boots, before the days of india-rubbers, he found
something in the back of his grammar which made him forget all about the
pain. This was a part called Prosody, and it told how to make verses;
explained the feet, the accents, the stanzas--everything that had
puzzled him in his attempts to imitate the poems he had heard his father
read aloud. He was amazed; he had never imagined that such a science
existed, and yet here it was printed out, with each principle reduced to
practice. He conceived of its reasons at the first reading, so that I
suppose nature had not dealt so charily with him concerning the rules of
prosody as the rules of arithmetic; and he lost no time in applying them
in a poem of his own. The afternoon air was heavy with the heat that
quivered visibly above the great cast-iron wood stove in the centre of
the schoolroom; the boys drowsed in their seats, or hummed sleepily over
their lessons; the chilblains gnawed away at the poet's feet, but heaven
had opened to him, and he was rapt far from all the world of sense. The
music which he had followed through those poems his father read was no
longer a mystery; he had its key, its secret; he might hope to wield its
charm, to lay its spell upon others. He wrote his poem, which was
probably a simple, unconscious imitation of something that had pleased
him in his school-reader, and carried it proudly home with him. But
here he met with that sort of disappointment which more than any other
dismays and baffles authorship; a difference in the point of view. His
father said the verses were well made, and he sympathized with him in
his delight at having found out the way to make them, though he was not
so much astonished as the boy that such a science as prosody should
exist. He praised the child's work, and no doubt smiled at it with the
mother; but he said that the poem spoke of heaven as a place in the sky,
and he wished him always to realize that heaven was a _state_ and not a
_place_, and that we could have it in this world as well as the next.
The boy promised that he would try to realize heaven as a state; but at
the bottom of his heart he despaired of getting that idea into poetry.
Everybody else who had made poetry spoke of heaven as a place; they even
called it a land, and put it in the sky; and he did not see how he was
to do otherwise, no matter what Swedenborg said. He revered Swedenborg;
he had a religious awe of the seer's lithograph portrait in a
full-bottom wig which hung in the front-room, but he did not see how
even Swedenborg could have helped calling heaven a place if he had been
making poetry.

The next year, or the next quarter, maybe, there was a new teacher; they
seem to have followed each other somewhat as people do in a dream; they
were not there, and then they were there; but, however the new one came,
the boys were some time in getting used to his authority. It appeared to
them that several of his acts were distinctly tyrannical, and were
encroachments upon rights of theirs which the other teacher, with all
his severity, had respected. My boy was inspired by the common mood to
write a tragedy which had the despotic behavior of the new teacher for
its subject, and which was intended to be represented by the boys in the
hayloft of a boy whose father had a stable without any horse in it. The
tragedy was written in the measure of the "Lady of the Lake," which was
the last poem my boy had heard his father reading aloud; it was very
easy kind of verse. At the same time, the boys were to be dressed as
Roman conspirators, and one of them was to give the teacher a petition
to read, while another plunged a dagger into his vitals, and still
another shouted, "Strike, Stephanos, strike!" It seemed to my boy that
he had invented a situation which he had lifted almost bodily out of
Goldsmith's history; and he did not feel that his lines,

          "Come one, come all! This rock shall flee
           From its firm base as soon as we,"

were too closely modelled upon Scott's lines,

          "Come one, come all! This rock shall fly
           From its firm base as soon as I."

The tragedy was never acted. There may have been some trouble about the
hayloft; for the boy whose father owned the stable was to have got the
use of it without his father's knowing it; and the poet found that the
boys themselves scarcely entered into the spirit of his work. But after
that there came a real tragedy, which most of them had part in without
realizing it, and that was their persecution of a teacher until he had
to give up the school. He must have come next after that usurper, but at
any rate the word had been passed round, even before school took up the
first morning he began, that he was to be resisted to the death. He
could not have had any notion of what was in the air, for in that
opening speech to the school which a new teacher always used to make, he
talked to the boys in the friendliest manner, and with more sense and
reason than they could feel, though I hope they felt some secret shame
for the way they meant to behave. He took up some old, dry rods, which
he had lying on his desk, and which he said he had found in it, and he
told them he hoped never to use such a thing as a rod in that school,
and never to strike any boy a blow. He broke the rods into small pieces
and put them into the stove, and called the school to order for the
studies before it. But the school never came to order, either then or
afterwards. As soon as the teacher took his seat, the whispering and
giggling, the scuffling and pushing began. The boys passed notes to the
girls and held up their slates with things written on them to make the
girls laugh; and they threw chewed-paper balls at one another. They
asked to go out, and they stayed out as long as they pleased, and came
back with an easy air, as if they had done nothing. They would not
study; they did not care how much they missed in the class, and they
laughed when they had to go to the foot. They made faces at the teacher
and mocked him when his back was turned; they even threw paper wads at

It went on day after day till the school became a babel. The teacher
tried reasoning, and such mild punishment as standing up in the middle
of the floor, and keeping in after school. One big boy whom he stood up
winked at the girls and made everybody titter; another whom he bade stay
after school grabbed his hat and ran out of the room. The fellows played
hookey as much as they wanted to, and did not give any excuse for being
late, or for not coming at all. At last, when the teacher was driven
desperate, and got in a rod (which he said he was ashamed to use, but
they left him no hope of ruling them by reason), the big boys fought
him, and struck back when he began to whip them. This gentle soul had
not one friend among all those little savages, whom he had given no
cause to hate, but only cause to love him. None of them could have told
why they used him so ill, for nobody knew; only, the word had gone out
that you were not to mind him, but to mock him and fight him; nobody
knew where the word first came from.

Not even my boy, I grieve to say, was the poor man's friend, though he
too had received only kindness from him. One day, when the teacher had
set him his copy, and found him doing it badly as he came by, he gave
him a slight tap on his head with his penknife, and addressed him some
half-joking reproof. This fired my boy's wicked little heart with
furious resentment; he gathered up his books after school, and took them
home; a good many other boys had done it, and the school was dwindling.
He was sent back with his books the next morning, and many other parents
behaved as wisely as his. One of the leading men in the town, whose mere
presence in the schoolroom sent a thrill of awe through the fellows,
brought his son in after such an escapade, and told the teacher that he
had just given him a sound thrashing, and he hoped the teacher would
give him another. But the teacher took the hand of the snivelling
wretch, and called him affectionately by name, and said they would try
to get along without that, and sent him to his seat forgiven. It ought
to have touched a heart of stone, but in that barbarous republic of boys
there was no gratitude. Sometimes they barred the teacher out by
nailing the doors and windows; and at last he gave up the school.

But even then his persecution did not end. The word went out that you
were not to speak to him if you met him; and if he spoke to you, you
were not to say anything back. One day he came up to my boy where he sat
fishing for crawfish in the Hydraulic, with his bare legs dangling over
the edge of a culvert, and, unawed by this august figure, asked him
pleasantly what luck he had. The boy made no sign of seeing or hearing
him, and he ignored some other kindly advances. I hope the teacher
thought it merely his shyness. The boy went home and told, gleefully,
how he had refused to speak to Old Manton; but here he met his reward.
He was made to feel how basely rude he had been, and to tingle with a
wholesome shame. There was some talk of sending him to the teacher, to
ask his forgiveness; but this was given up for fear of inflicting pain
where possibly none had been felt. I wish now the boy could have gone to
him, for perhaps the teacher is no longer living.



I SOMETIMES wonder how much these have changed since my boy's time. Of
course they differ somewhat from generation to generation, and from East
to West and North to South, but not so much, I believe, as grown people
are apt to think. Everywhere and always the world of boys is outside of
the laws that govern grown-up communities, and it has its unwritten
usages, which are handed down from old to young, and perpetuated on the
same level of years, and are lived into and lived out of, but are
binding, through all personal vicissitudes, upon the great body of boys
between six and twelve years old. No boy can violate them without losing
his standing among the other boys, and he cannot enter into their world
without coming under them. He must do this, and must not do that; he
obeys, but he does not know why, any more than the far-off savages from
whom his customs seem mostly to have come. His world is all in and
through the world of men and women, but no man or woman can get into it
any more than if it were a world of invisible beings. It has its own
ideals and superstitions, and these are often of a ferocity, a
depravity, scarcely credible in after-life. It is a great pity that
fathers and mothers cannot penetrate that world; but they cannot, and it
is only by accident that they can catch some glimpse of what goes on in
it. No doubt it will be civilized in time, but it will be very slowly;
and in the meanwhile it is only in some of its milder manners and
customs that the boy's world can be studied.

The first great law was that, whatever happened to you through another
boy, whatever hurt or harm he did you, you were to right yourself upon
his person if you could; but if he was too big, and you could not hope
to revenge yourself, then you were to bear the wrong, not only for that
time, but for as many times as he chose to inflict it. To tell the
teacher or your mother, or to betray your tormentor to any one outside
of the boys' world, was to prove yourself a cry-baby, without honor or
self-respect, and unfit to go with the other fellows. They would have
the right to mock you, to point at you, and call "E-e-e, e-e-e, e-e-e!"
at you, till you fought them. After that, whether you whipped them or
not there began to be some feeling in your favor again, and they had to

Every boy who came to town from somewhere else, or who moved into a new
neighborhood, had to fight the old residents. There was no reason for
this, except that he was a stranger, and there appeared to be no other
means of making his acquaintance. If he was generally whipped he became
subject to the local tribe, as the Delawares were to the Iroquois in the
last century; if he whipped the other boys, then they adopted him into
their tribe, and he became a leader among them. When you moved away from
a neighborhood you did not lose all your rights in it; you did not have
to fight when you went back to see the boys, or anything; but if one of
them met you in your new precincts you might have to try conclusions
with him; and perhaps, if he was a boy who had been in the habit of
whipping you, you were quite ready to do so. When my boy's family left
the Smith house, one of the boys from that neighborhood came up to see
him at the Falconer house, and tried to carry things with a high hand,
as he had always done. Then my boy fought him, quite as if he were not a
Delaware and the other boy not an Iroquois, with sovereign rights over
him. My boy was beaten, but the difference was that, if he had not been
on new ground, he would have been beaten without daring to fight. His
mother witnessed the combat, and came out and shamed him for his
behavior, and had in the other boy, and made them friends over some
sugar-cakes. But after that the boys of the Smith neighborhood
understood that my boy would not be whipped without fighting. The home
instruction was all against fighting; my boy was taught that it was not
only wicked, but foolish; that if it was wrong to strike, it was just as
wrong to strike back; that two wrongs never made a right, and so on. But
all this was not of the least effect with a hot temper amid the trials
and perplexities of life in the Boy's Town.

There were some boys of such standing as bullies and such wide fame that
they could range all neighborhoods of the town not only without fear of
being molested, or made to pass under the local yoke anywhere, but with
such plenary powers of intimidation that the other boys submitted to
them without question. My boy had always heard of one of these bullies,
whose very name, Buz Simpson, carried terror with it; but he had never
seen him, because he lived in the unknown region bordering on the river
south of the Thomas house. One day he suddenly appeared, when my boy was
playing marbles with some other fellows in front of the Falconer house,
attended by two or three other boys from below the Sycamore Grove. He
was small and insignificant, but such was the fear his name inspired
that my boy and his friends cowered before him, though some of them were
no mean fighters themselves. They seemed to know by instinct that this
was Buz Simpson, and they stood patiently by while he kicked their
marbles out of the ring and broke up their game, and, after staying
awhile to cover them with ignominy and insult, passed on with his
retainers to other fields of conquest. If it had been death to resist
him, they could not have dreamed less of doing so; and though this
outrage took place under my boy's own windows, and a single word would
have brought efficient aid (for the mere sight of any boy's mother could
put to flight a whole army of other boys), he never dreamed of calling
for help.

That would have been a weakness which would not only have marked him
forever as a cry-baby, but an indecorum too gross for words. It would
have been as if, when once the boys were playing trip at school, and a
big boy tripped him, and he lay quivering and panting on the ground, he
had got up as soon as he could catch his breath and gone in and told the
teacher; or as if, when the fellows were playing soak-about, and he got
hit in the pit of the stomach with a hard ball, he had complained of the
fellow who threw it. There were some things so base that a boy could not
do them; and what happened out of doors, and strictly within the boy's
world, had to be kept sacredly secret among the boys. For instance, if
you had been beguiled, as a little boy, into being the last in the game
of snap-the-whip, and the snap sent you rolling head over heels on the
hard ground, and skinned your nose and tore your trousers, you could cry
from the pain without disgrace, and some of the fellows would come up
and try to comfort you; but you were bound in honor not to appeal to the
teacher, and you were expected to use every device to get the blood off
you before you went in, and to hide the tear in your trousers. Of
course, the tear and the blood could not be kept from the anxious eyes
at home, but even there you were expected not to say just what boys did

They were by no means the worst boys who did such things, but only the
most thoughtless. Still, there was a public opinion in the Boy's Town
which ruled out certain tricks, and gave the boys who played them the
name of being "mean." One of these was boring a hole in the edge of your
school-desk to meet a shaft sunk from the top, which you filled with
slate-pencil dust. Then, if you were that kind of boy, you got some
little chap to put his eye close to the shaft, with the hope of seeing
Niagara Falls, and set your lips to the hole in the edge, and blew his
eye full of pencil-dust. This was mean; and it was also mean to get some
unsuspecting child to close the end of an elderwood tube with his thumb,
and look hard at you, while you showed him Germany. You did this by
pulling a string below the tube, and running a needle into his thumb. My
boy discovered Germany in this way long before he had any geographical
or political conception of it.

I do not know why, if these abominable cruelties were thought mean, it
was held lawful to cover a stone with dust and get a boy, not in the
secret, to kick the pile over with his bare foot. It was perfectly good
form, also, to get a boy, if you could, to shut his eyes, and then lead
him into a mud-puddle or a thicket of briers or nettles, or to fool him
in any heartless way, such as promising to pump easy when he put his
mouth to the pump-spout, and then coming down on the pump-handle with a
rush that flooded him with water and sent him off blowing the tide from
his nostrils like a whale. Perhaps these things were permitted because
the sight of the victim's suffering was so funny. Half the pleasure in
fighting wasps or bumble-bees was in killing them and destroying their
nests; the other half was in seeing the fellows get stung. If you could
fool a fellow into a mass-meeting of bumble-bees, and see him lead them
off in a steeple-chase, it was right and fair to do so. But there were
other cases in which deceit was not allowable. For instance, if you
appeared on the playground with an apple, and all the boys came whooping
round, "You know _me_, Jimmy!" "You know your uncle!" "You know your
grandfather!" and you began to sell out bites at three pins for a
lady-bite and six pins for a hog-bite, and a boy bought a lady-bite and
then took a hog-bite, he was held in contempt, and could by no means
pass it off for a good joke on you; it was considered mean.

In the Boy's Town there was almost as much stone-throwing as there was
in Florence in the good old times. There was a great abundance of the
finest kind of pebbles, from the size of a robin's egg upward, smooth
and shapely, which the boys called rocks. They were always stoning
something, birds, or dogs, or mere inanimate marks, but most of the time
they were stoning one another. They came out of their houses, or
front-yards, and began to throw stones, when they were on perfectly good
terms, and they usually threw stones in parting for the day. They
stoned a boy who left a group singly, and it was lawful for him to throw
stones back at the rest, if the whim took him, when he got a little way
off. With all this stone-throwing, very little harm was done, though now
and then a stone took a boy on the skull, and raised a lump of its own
size. Then the other boys knew, by the roar of rage and pain he set up,
that he had been hit, and ran home and left him to his fate.

Their fights were mostly informal scuffles, on and off in a flash, and
conducted with none of the ceremony which I have read of concerning the
fights of English boys. It was believed that some of the fellows knew
how to box, and all the fellows intended to learn, but nobody ever did.
The fights sprang usually out of some trouble of the moment; but at
times they were arranged to settle some question of moral or physical
superiority. Then one boy put a chip on his shoulder and dared the other
to knock it off. It took a great while to bring the champions to blows,
and I have known the mere preparatory insults of a fight of this kind to
wear out the spirit of the combatants and the patience of the
spectators, so that not a blow was struck, finally, and the whole affair
fell through.

Though they were so quarrelsome among themselves, the boys that my boy
went with never molested girls. They mostly ignored them; but they would
have scorned to hurt a girl almost as much as they would have scorned to
play with one. Of course while they were very little they played with
girls; and after they began to be big boys, eleven or twelve years old,
they began to pay girls some attention; but for the rest they simply
left them out of the question, except at parties, when the games
obliged them to take some notice of the girls. Even then, however, it
was not good form for a boy to be greatly interested in them; and he had
to conceal any little fancy he had about this girl or that unless he
wanted to be considered soft by the other fellows. When they were having
fun they did not want to have any girls around; but in the back-yard a
boy might play teeter or seesaw, or some such thing, with his sisters
and their friends, without necessarily losing caste, though such things
were not encouraged. On the other hand, a boy was bound to defend them
against anything that he thought slighting or insulting; and you did not
have to verify the fact that anything had been said or done; you merely
had to hear that it had. It once fell to my boy to avenge such a
reported wrong from a boy who had not many friends in school, a timid
creature whom the mere accusation frightened half out of his wits, and
who wildly protested his innocence. He ran, and my boy followed with the
other boys after him, till they overtook the culprit and brought him to
bay against a high board fence; and there my boy struck him in his
imploring face. He tried to feel like a righteous champion, but he felt
like a brutal ruffian. He long had the sight of that terrified, weeping
face, and with shame and sickness of heart he cowered before it. It was
pretty nearly the last of his fighting; and though he came off victor,
he felt that he would rather be beaten himself than do another such act
of justice. In fact, it seems best to be very careful how we try to do
justice in this world, and mostly to leave retribution of all kinds to
God, who really knows about things; and content ourselves as much as
possible with mercy, whose mistakes are not so irreparable.

The boys had very little to do with the inside of one another's houses.
They would follow a boy to his door, and wait for him to come out; and
they would sometimes get him to go in and ask his mother for crullers or
sugar-cakes; when they came to see him they never went indoors for him,
but stood on the sidewalk and called him with a peculiar cry, something
like "E-oo-we, e-oo-we!" and threw stones at trees, or anything, till he
came out. If he did not come, after a reasonable time, they knew he was
not there, or that his mother would not let him come. A fellow was kept
in that way, now and then. If a fellow's mother came to the door the
boys always ran.

The mother represented the family sovereignty; the father was seldom
seen, and he counted for little or nothing among the outside boys. It
was the mother who could say whether a boy might go fishing or in
swimming, and she was held a good mother or not according as she
habitually said yes or no. There was no other standard of goodness for
mothers in the boy's world, and could be none; and a bad mother might be
outwitted by any device that the other boys could suggest to her boy.
Such a boy was always willing to listen to any suggestion, and no boy
took it hard if the other fellows made fun when their plan got him into
trouble at home. If a boy came out after some such experience with his
face wet, and his eyes red, and his lips swollen, of course you had to
laugh; he expected it, and you expected him to stone you for laughing.

When a boy's mother had company, he went and hid till the guests were
gone, or only came out of concealment to get some sort of shy lunch. If
the other fellows' mothers were there, he might be a little bolder, and
bring out cake from the second table. But he had to be pretty careful
how he conformed to any of the usages of grown-up society. A fellow who
brushed his hair, and put on shoes, and came into the parlor when there
was company, was not well seen among the fellows; he was regarded in
some degree as a girl-boy; a boy who wished to stand well with other
boys kept in the wood-shed, and only went in as far as the kitchen to
get things for his guests in the back-yard. Yet there were mothers who
would make a boy put on a collar when they had company, and disgrace him
before the world by making him stay round and help; they acted as if
they had no sense and no pity; but such mothers were rare.

Most mothers yielded to public opinion and let their boys leave the
house, and wear just what they always wore. I have told how little they
wore in summer. Of course in winter they had to put on more things. In
those days knickerbockers were unknown, and if a boy had appeared in
short pants and long stockings he would have been thought dressed like a
circus-actor. Boys wore long pantaloons, like men, as soon as they put
off skirts, and they wore jackets or roundabouts such as the English
boys still wear at Eton. When the cold weather came they had to put on
shoes and stockings, or rather long-legged boots, such as are seen now
only among lumbermen and teamsters in the country. Most of the fellows
had stoga boots, as heavy as iron and as hard; they were splendid to
skate in, they kept your ankles so stiff. Sometimes they greased them to
keep the water out; but they never blacked them except on Sunday, and
before Saturday they were as red as a rusty stove-pipe. At night they
were always so wet that you could not get them off without a boot-jack,
and you could hardly do it anyway; sometimes you got your brother to
help you off with them, and then he pulled you all round the room. In
the morning they were dry, but just as hard as stone, and you had to
soap the heel of your woollen sock (which your grandmother had knitted
for you, or maybe some of your aunts) before you could get your foot in,
and sometimes the ears of the boot that you pulled it on by would give
way, and you would have to stamp your foot in and kick the toe against
the mop-board. Then you gasped and limped round, with your feet like
fire, till you could get out and limber your boots up in some water
somewhere. About noon your chilblains began.

My boy had his secret longing to be a dandy, and once he was so taken
with a little silk hat at the hat-store that he gave his father no peace
till he got it for him. But the very first time he wore it the boys made
fun of it, and that was enough. After that he wore it several times with
streaming tears; and then he was allowed to lay it aside, and compromise
on an unstylish cap of velvet, which he had despised before. I do not
know why a velvet cap was despised, but it was; a cap with a tassel was
babyish. The most desired kind of cap was a flat one of blue broadcloth,
with a patent-leather peak, and a removable cover of oil-cloth, silk if
you were rich, cotton if you were poor; when you had pulled the top of
such a cap over on one side, you were dressed for conquest, especially
if you wore your hair long. My boy had such a cap, with a silk oil-cloth
cover, but his splendor was marred by his short hair.

At one time boots with long, sharp-pointed toes were the fashion, and he
so ardently desired a pair of these that fate granted his prayer, but
in the ironical spirit which fate usually shows when granting a person's
prayers. These boots were of calf-skin, and they had red leather tops,
which you could show by letting your pantaloon-legs carelessly catch on
the ears; but the smallest pair in town was several sizes too large for
my boy. The other boys were not slow to discover the fact, and his
martyrdom with these boots began at once. But he was not allowed to give
them up as he did the silk hat; he had to wear them out. However, it did
not take long to wear out a pair of boots in the Boy's Town. A few
weeks' scuffling over the gravelly ground, or a single day's steady
sliding made them the subjects for half-soling, and then it was a
question of only a very little time.

A good many of the boys, though, wore their boots long after they were
worn out, and so they did with the rest of their clothes. I have tried
to give some notion of the general distribution of comfort which was
never riches in the Boy's Town; but I am afraid that I could not paint
the simplicity of things there truly without being misunderstood in
these days of great splendor and great squalor. Everybody had enough,
but nobody had too much; the richest man in town might be worth twenty
thousand dollars. There were distinctions among the grown people, and no
doubt there were the social cruelties which are the modern expression of
the savage spirit otherwise repressed by civilization; but these were
unknown among the boys. Savages they were, but not that kind of savages.
They valued a boy for his character and prowess, and it did not matter
in the least that he was ragged and dirty. Their mothers might not allow
him the run of their kitchens quite so freely as some other boys, but
the boys went with him just the same, and they never noticed how little
he was washed and dressed. The best of them had not an overcoat; and
underclothing was unknown among them. When a boy had buttoned up his
roundabout, and put on his mittens, and tied his comforter round his
neck and over his ears, he was warmly dressed.



ABOUT the time fate cursed him with a granted prayer in those boots, my
boy was deep in the reading of a book about Grecian mythology which he
found perpetually fascinating; he read it over and over without ever
thinking of stopping merely because he had already been through it
twenty or thirty times. It had pictures of all the gods and goddesses,
demigods and heroes; and he tried to make poems upon their various
characters and exploits. But Apollo was his favorite, and I believe it
was with some hope of employing them in a personation of the god that he
coveted those red-topped sharp-toed calf-skin boots. He had a notion
that if he could get up a chariot by sawing down the sides of a
store-box for the body, and borrowing the hind-wheels of the baby's
willow wagon, and then, drawn by the family dog Tip at a mad gallop,
come suddenly whirling round the corner of the school-house, wearing
spangled circus-tights and bearing Apollo's bow and shaft, while a
silken scarf which he had seen in a bureau-drawer at home blew gallantly
out behind him, it would have a fine effect with the boys. Some of the
fellows wished to be highway robbers and outlaws; one who intended to be
a pirate afterwards got so far in a maritime career as to invent a
steam-engine governor now in use on the seagoing steamers; my boy was
content to be simply a god, the god of poetry and sunshine. He never
realized his modest ambition, but then boys never realize anything;
though they have lots of fun failing.


In the Boy's Town they had regular games and plays, which came and went
in a stated order. The first thing in the spring as soon as the frost
began to come out of the ground, they had marbles which they played till
the weather began to be pleasant for the game, and then they left it
off. There were some mean-spirited fellows who played for fun, but any
boy who was anything played for keeps: that is, keeping all the marbles
he won. As my boy was skilful at marbles, he was able to start out in
the morning with his toy, or the marble he shot with, and a commy, or a
brown marble of the Lowest value, and come home at night with a
pocketful of white-alleys and blood-alleys, striped plasters find
bull's-eyes, and crystals, clear and clouded. His gambling was not
approved of at home, but it was allowed him because of the hardness of
his heart, I suppose, and because it was not thought well to keep him up
too strictly; and I suspect it would have been useless to forbid his
playing for keeps, though he came to have a bad conscience about it
before he gave it up. There were three kinds of games at marbles which
the boys played: one with a long ring marked out on the ground, and a
base some distance off, which you began to shoot from; another with a
round ring, whose line formed the base; and another with holes, three or
five, hollowed in the earth at equal distances from each other, which
was called knucks. You could play for keeps in all these games; and in
knucks, if you won, you had a shot or shots at the knuckles of the
fellow who lost, and who was obliged to hold them down for you to shoot
at. Fellows who were mean would twitch their knuckles away when they saw
your toy coming, and run; but most of them took their punishment with
the savage pluck of so many little Sioux. As the game began in the raw
cold of the earliest spring, every boy had chapped hands, and nearly
every one had the skin worn off the knuckle of his middle finger from
resting it on the ground when he shot. You could use a knuckle-dabster
of fur or cloth to rest your hand on, but it was considered effeminate,
and in the excitement you were apt to forget it, anyway. Marbles were
always very exciting, and were played with a clamor as incessant as that
of a blackbird roost. A great many points were always coming up: whether
a boy took-up or edged beyond the very place where his toy lay when he
shot; whether he knuckled down, or kept his hand on the ground in
shooting; whether, when another boy's toy drove one marble against
another and knocked both out of the ring, he holloed "Fen doubs!" before
the other fellow holloed "Doubs!" whether a marble was in or out of the
ring, and whether the umpire's decision was just or not. The gambling
and the quarrelling went on till the second-bell rang for school, and
began again as soon as the boys could get back to their rings when
school let out. The rings were usually marked on the ground with a
stick, but when there was a great hurry, or there was no stick handy,
the side of a fellow's boot would do, and the hollows for knucks were
always bored by twirling round on your boot-heel. This helped a boy to
wear out his boots very rapidly, but that was what his boots were made
for, just as the sidewalks were made for the boys' marble-rings, and a
citizen's character for cleverness or meanness was fixed by his
walking round or over the rings. Cleverness was used in the Virginia
sense for amiability; a person who was clever in the English sense was

There were many games of ball. Two-cornered cat was played by four boys:
two to bat, and two behind the batters to catch and pitch.
Three-cornered cat was, I believe, the game which has since grown into
base-ball, and was even then sometimes called so. But soak-about was the
favorite game at school, and it simply consisted of hitting any other
boy you could with the ball when you could get it. Foot-ball was always
played with a bladder, and it came in season with the cold weather when
the putting up of beef began; the business was practically regarded by
the boys as one undertaken to supply them with bladders for foot-balls.

When the warm weather came on in April, and the boys got off their shoes
for good, there came races, in which they seemed to fly on wings. Life
has a good many innocent joys for the human animal, but surely none so
ecstatic as the boy feels when his bare foot first touches the breast of
our mother earth in the spring. Something thrills through him then from
the heart of her inmost being that makes him feel kin with her, and
cousin to all her dumb children of the grass and trees. His blood leaps
as wildly as at that kiss of the waters when he plunges into their arms
in June; there is something even finer and sweeter in the rapture of the
earlier bliss. The day will not be long enough for his flights, his
races; he aches more with regret than with fatigue when he must leave
the happy paths under the stars outside, and creep into his bed. It is
all like some glimpse, some foretaste of the heavenly time when the
earth and her sons shall be reconciled in a deathless love, and they
shall not be thankless, nor she a step-mother any more.

About the only drawback to going barefoot was stumping your toe, which
you were pretty sure to do when you first took off your shoes and before
you had got used to your new running weight. When you struck your toe
against a rock, or anything, you caught it up in your hand, and hopped
about a hundred yards before you could bear to put it to the ground.
Then you sat down, and held it as tight as you could, and cried over it,
till the fellows helped you to the pump to wash the blood off. Then, as
soon as you could, you limped home for a rag, and kept pretty quiet
about it so as to get out again without letting on to your mother.

With the races came the other plays which involved running, like
hide-and-go-whoop, and tag, and dog-on-wood, and horse, which I dare say
the boys of other times and other wheres know by different names. The
Smith-house neighborhood was a famous place for them all, both because
there were such lots of boys, and because there were so many sheds and
stables where you could hide, and everything. There was a town pump
there for you, so that you would not have to go into the house for a
drink when you got thirsty, and perhaps be set to doing something; and
there were plenty of boards for teeter and see-saw; and somehow that
neighborhood seemed to understand boys, and did not molest them in any
way. In a vacant lot behind one of the houses there was a whirligig,
that you could ride on and get sick in about a minute; it was splendid.
There was a family of German boys living across the street, that you
could stone whenever they came out of their front gate, for the simple
and sufficient reason that they were Dutchmen, and without going to the
trouble of a quarrel with them. My boy was not allowed to stone them;
but when he was with the other fellows, and his elder brother was not
along, he could not help stoning them.

There were shade trees all along that street, that you could climb if
you wanted to, or that you could lie down under when you had run
yourself out of breath, or play mumble-the-peg. My boy distinctly
remembered that under one of these trees his elder brother first
broached to him that awful scheme of reform about fibbing, and applied
to their own lives the moral of "The Trippings of Tom Pepper;" he
remembered how a conviction of the righteousness of the scheme sank into
his soul, and he could not withhold his consent. Under the same tree,
and very likely at the same time, a solemn conclave of boys, all the
boys there were, discussed the feasibility of tying a tin can to a dog's
tail, and seeing how he would act. They had all heard of the thing, but
none of them had seen it; and it was not so much a question of whether
you ought to do a thing that on the very face of it would be so much
fun, and if it did not amuse the dog as highly as anybody, could
certainly do him no harm, as it was a question of whose dog you should
get to take the dog's part in the sport. It was held that an old dog
would probably not keep still long enough for you to tie the can on; he
would have his suspicions; or else he would not run when the can was
tied on, but very likely just go and lie down somewhere. The lot finally
fell to a young yellow dog belonging to one of the boys, and the owner
at once ran home to get him, and easily lured him back to the other boys
with flatteries and caresses. The flatteries and caresses were not
needed, for a dog is always glad to go with boys, upon any pretext, and
so far from thinking that he does them a favor, he feels himself greatly
honored. But I dare say the boy had a guilty fear that if his dog had
known why he was invited to be of that party of boys, he might have
pleaded a previous engagement. As it was, he came joyfully, and allowed
the can to be tied to his tail without misgiving. If there had been any
question with the boys as to whether he would enter fully into the
spirit of the affair, it must have been instantly dissipated by the
dog's behavior when he felt the loop tighten on his tail, and looked
round to see what the matter was. The boys hardly had a chance to cheer
him before he flashed out of sight round the corner, and they hardly had
time to think before he flashed into sight again from the other
direction. He whizzed along the ground, and the can hurtled in the air,
but there was no other sound, and the cheers died away on the boys'
lips. The boy who owned the dog began to cry, and the other fellows
began to blame him for not stopping the dog. But he might as well have
tried to stop a streak of lightning; the only thing you could do was to
keep out of the dog's way. As an experiment it was successful beyond the
wildest dreams of its projectors, though it would have been a sort of
relief if the dog had taken some other road, for variety, or had even
reversed his course. But he kept on as he began, and by a common impulse
the boys made up their minds to abandon the whole affair to him. They
all ran home and hid, or else walked about and tried to ignore it. But
at this point the grown-up people began to be interested; the mothers
came to their doors to see what was the matter. Yet even the mothers
were powerless in a case like that, and the enthusiast had to be left
to his fate. He was found under a barn at last, breathless, almost
lifeless, and he tried to bite the man who untied the can from his tail.
Eventually he got well again, and lived to be a solemn warning to the
boys; he was touchingly distrustful of their advances for a time, but he
finally forgot and forgave everything. They did not forget, and they
never tried tying a tin can to a dog's tail again, among all the things
they tried and kept trying. Once was enough; and they never even liked
to talk of it, the sight was so awful. They were really fond of the dog,
and if they could have thought he would take the matter so seriously,
they would not have tried to have that kind of fun with him. It cured
them of ever wanting to have that kind of fun with any dog.

As the weather softened, tops came in some weeks after marbles went out,
and just after foot-races were over, and a little before swimming began.
At first the boys bought their tops at the stores, but after a while the
boy whose father had the turning-shop on the Hydraulic learned to turn
their tops, and did it for nothing, which was cheaper than buying tops,
especially as he furnished the wood, too, and you only had to get the
wire peg yourself. I believe he was the same boy who wanted to be a
pirate and ended by inventing a steam-governor. He was very ingenious,
and he knew how to turn a top out of beech or maple that would outspin
anything you could get in a store. The boys usually chose a firm, smooth
piece of sidewalk, under one of the big trees in the Smith neighborhood,
and spun their tops there. A fellow launched his top into the ring, and
the rest waited till it began to go to sleep, that is, to settle in one
place, and straighten up and spin silently, as if standing still. Then
any fellow had a right to peg at it with his top, and if he hit it, he
won it; and if he split it, as sometimes happened, the fellow that owned
it had to give him a top. The boys came with their pockets bulged out
with tops, but before long they had to go for more tops to that boy who
could turn them. From this it was but another step to go to the shop
with him and look on while he turned the tops; and then in process of
time the boys discovered that the smooth floor of the shop was a better
place to fight tops than the best piece of sidewalk. They would have
given whole Saturdays to the sport there, but when they got to holloing
too loudly the boy's father would come up, and then they would all run.
It was considered mean in him, but the boy himself was awfully clever,
and the first thing the fellows knew they were back there again. Some
few of the boys had humming-tops; but though these pleased by their
noise, they were not much esteemed, and could make no head against the
good old turnip-shaped tops, solid and weighty, that you could wind up
with a stout cotton cord, and launch with perfect aim from the flat
button held between your fore finger and middle finger. Some of the boys
had a very pretty art in the twirl they gave the top, and could control
its course, somewhat as a skilful pitcher can govern that of a

I do not know why a certain play went out, but suddenly the fellows who
had been playing ball, or marbles, or tops, would find themselves
playing something else. Kites came in just about the time of the
greatest heat in summer, and lasted a good while; but could not have
lasted as long as the heat, which began about the first of June, and
kept on well through September; no play could last so long as that, and
I suppose kite-flying must have died into swimming after the Fourth of
July. The kites were of various shapes: bow kites, two-stick kites, and
house kites. A bow kite could be made with half a barrel hoop carried
over the top of a cross, but it was troublesome to make, and it did not
fly very well, and somehow it was thought to look babyish; but it was
held in greater respect than the two-stick kite, which only the smallest
boys played with, and which was made by fastening two sticks in the form
of a cross. Any fellow more than six years old who appeared on the
Commons with a two-stick kite would have been met with jeers, as a kind
of girl. The favorite kite, the kite that balanced best, took the wind
best, and flew best, and that would stand all day when you got it up,
was the house kite, which was made of three sticks, and shaped nearly in
the form of the gable of a gambrel-roofed house, only smaller at the
base than at the point where the roof would begin. The outline of all
these kites was given, and the sticks stayed in place by a string
carried taut from stick to stick, which was notched at the ends to hold
it; sometimes the sticks were held with a tack at the point of crossing,
and sometimes they were mortised into one another; but this was apt to
weaken them. The frame was laid down on a sheet of paper, and the paper
was cut an inch or two larger, and then pasted and folded over the
string. Most of the boys used a paste made of flour and cold water; but
my boy and his brother could usually get paste from the printing-office;
and when they could not they would make it by mixing flour and water
cream-thick, and slowly boiling it. That was a paste that would hold
till the cows came home, the boys said, and my boy was courted for his
skill in making it. But after the kite was pasted, and dried in the sun,
or behind the kitchen stove, if you were in very much of a hurry (and
you nearly always were), it had to be hung, with belly-bands and
tail-bands; that is, with strings carried from stick to stick over the
face and at the bottom, to attach the cord for flying it and to fasten
on the tail by. This took a good deal of art, and unless it were well
done the kite would not balance, but would be always pitching and
darting. Then the tail had to be of just the right weight; if it was too
heavy the kite kept sinking, even after you got it up where otherwise it
would stand; if too light, the kite would dart, and dash itself to
pieces on the ground. A very pretty tail was made by tying twists of
paper across a string a foot apart, till there were enough to balance
the kite; but this sort of tail was apt to get tangled, and the best
tail was made of a long streamer of cotton rags, with a gay tuft of
dog-fennel at the end. Dog-fennel was added or taken away till just the
right weight was got; and when this was done, after several experimental
tests, the kite was laid flat on its face in the middle of the road, or
on a long stretch of smooth grass; the bands were arranged, and the tail
stretched carefully out behind, where it would not catch on bushes. You
unwound a great length of twine, running backward, and letting the twine
slip swiftly through your hands till you had run enough out; then you
seized the ball, and with one look over your shoulder to see that all
was right, started swiftly forward. The kite reared itself from the
ground, and, swaying gracefully from side to side, rose slowly into the
air, with its long tail climbing after it till the fennel tuft swung
free. If there was not much surface wind you might have to run a little
way, but as soon as the kite caught the upper currents it straightened
itself, pulled the twine taut, and steadily mounted, while you gave it
more and more twine; if the breeze was strong, the cord burned as it ran
through your hands; till at last the kite stood still in the sky, at
such a height that the cord holding it sometimes melted out of sight in
the distance.

If it was a hot July day the sky would be full of kites, and the Commons
would be dotted over with boys holding them, or setting them up, or
winding them in, and all talking and screaming at the tops of their
voices under the roasting sun. One might think that kite-flying, at
least, could be carried on quietly and peaceably; but it was not.
Besides the wild debate of the rival excellences of the different kites,
there were always quarrels from getting the strings crossed; for, as the
boys got their kites up, they drew together for company and for an
easier comparison of their merits. It was only a mean boy who would try
to cross another fellow's string; but sometimes accidents would happen;
two kites would become entangled, and both would have to be hauled in,
while their owners cried and scolded, and the other fellows cheered and
laughed. Now and then the tail of a kite would part midway, and then the
kite would begin to dart violently from side to side, and then to whirl
round and round in swifter and narrower circles till it dashed itself to
the ground. Sometimes the kite-string would break, and the kite would
waver and fall like a bird shot in the wing; and the owner of the kite,
and all the fellows who had no kites, would run to get it where it came
down, perhaps a mile or more away. It usually came down in a tree, and
they had to climb for it; but sometimes it lodged so high that no one
could reach it; and then it was slowly beaten and washed away in the
winds and rains, and its long tail left streaming all winter from the
naked bough where it had caught. It was so good for kites on the
Commons, because there were no trees there, and not even fences, but a
vast open stretch of level grass, which the cows and geese kept cropped
to the earth; and for the most part the boys had no trouble with their
kites there. Some of them had paper fringe pasted round the edges of
their kites; this made a fine rattling as the kite rose, and when the
kite stood, at the end of its string, you could hear the humming if you
put your ear to the twine. But the most fun was sending up messengers.
The messengers were cut out of thick paper, with a slit at one side, so
as to slip over the string, which would be pulled level long enough to
give the messenger a good start, and then released, when the wind would
catch the little circle, and drive it up the long curving incline till
it reached the kite.

[Illustration: KITE TIME.]

It was thought a great thing in a kite to pull, and it was a favor to
another boy to let him take hold of your string and feel how your kite
pulled. If you wanted to play mumble-the-peg, or anything, while your
kite was up, you tied it to a stake in the ground, or gave it to some
other fellow to hold; there were always lots of fellows eager to hold
it. But you had to be careful how you let a little fellow hold it; for,
if it was a very powerful kite, it would take him up. It was not certain
just how strong a kite had to be to take a small boy up, and nobody had
ever seen a kite do it, but everybody expected to see it.



WHAT every boy expected to do, some time or other, was to run off. He
expected to do this because the scheme offered an unlimited field to the
imagination, and because its fulfilment would give him the highest
distinction among the other fellows. To run off was held to be the only
way for a boy to right himself against the wrongs and hardships of a
boy's life. As far as the Boy's Town was concerned, no boy had anything
to complain of; the boys had the best time in the world there, and in a
manner they knew it. But there were certain things that they felt no boy
ought to stand, and these things were sometimes put upon them at school,
but usually at home. In fact, nearly all the things that a fellow
intended to run off for were done to him by those who ought to have been
the kindest to him. Some boys' mothers had the habit of making them stop
and do something for them just when they were going away with the
fellows. Others would not let them go in swimming as often as they
wanted, and, if they saw them with their shirts on wrong side out, would
not believe that they could get turned in climbing a fence. Others made
them split kindling and carry in wood, and even saw wood. None of these
things, in a simple form, was enough to make a boy run off, but they
prepared his mind for it, and when complicated with whipping they were
just cause for it. Weeding the garden, though, was a thing that almost,
in itself, was enough to make a fellow run off.

Not many of the boys really had to saw wood, though a good many of the
fellows' fathers had saws and bucks in their wood-sheds. There were
public sawyers who did most of the wood-sawing; and they came up with
their bucks on their shoulders, and asked for the job almost as soon as
the wood was unloaded before your door. The most popular one with the
boys was a poor half-wit known among them as Morn; and he was a favorite
with them because he had fits, and because, when he had a fit, he would
seem to fly all over the woodpile. The boys would leave anything to see
Morn in a fit, and he always had a large crowd round him as soon as the
cry went out that he was beginning to have one. They watched the hapless
creature with grave, unpitying, yet not unfriendly interest, too
ignorant of the dark ills of life to know how deeply tragic was the
spectacle that entertained them, and how awfully present in Morn's
contortions was the mystery of God's ways with his children, some of
whom he gives to happiness and some to misery. When Morn began to pick
himself weakly up, with eyes of pathetic bewilderment, they helped him
find his cap, and tried to engage him in conversation, for the pleasure
of seeing him twist his mouth when he said, of a famous town drunkard
whom he admired, "He's a strong man; he eats liquor." It was probably
poor Morn's ambition to eat liquor himself, and the boys who followed
that drunkard about to plague him had a vague respect for his lamentable

None of the boys ever did run off, except the son of one of the
preachers. He was a big boy, whom my boy remotely heard of, but never
saw, for he lived in another part of the town; but his adventure was
known to all the boys, and his heroism rated high among them. It took
nothing from this, in their eyes, that he was found, homesick and crying
in Cincinnati, and was glad to come back--the great fact was that he had
run off; nothing could change or annul that. If he had made any mistake,
it was in not running off with a circus, for that was the true way of
running off. Then, if you were ever seen away from home, you were seen
tumbling through a hoop and alighting on the crupper of a barebacked
piebald, and if you ever came home you came home in a gilded chariot,
and you flashed upon the domestic circle in flesh-colored tights and
spangled breech-cloth. As soon as the circus-bills began to be put up
you began to hear that certain boys were going to run off with that
circus, and the morning after it left town you heard they had gone, but
they always turned up at school just the same. It was believed that the
circus-men would take any boy who wanted to go with them, and would
fight off his friends if they tried to get him away.

The boys made a very careful study of the circus-bills, and afterwards,
when the circus came, they held the performance to a strict account for
any difference between the feats and their representation. For a
fortnight beforehand they worked themselves up for the arrival of the
circus into a fever of fear and hope, for it was always a question with
a great many whether they could get their fathers to give them the money
to go in. The full price was two bits, and the half-price was a bit, or
a Spanish _real_, then a commoner coin than the American dime in the
West; and every boy, for that time only, wished to be little enough to
look young enough to go in for a bit. Editors of newspapers had a free
ticket for every member of their families; and my boy was sure of going
to the circus from the first rumor of its coming. But he was none the
less deeply thrilled by the coming event, and he was up early on the
morning of the great day, to go out and meet the circus procession
beyond the corporation line.

I do not really know how boys live through the wonder and the glory of
such a sight. Once there were two chariots--one held the band in
red-and-blue uniforms, and was drawn by eighteen piebald horses; and the
other was drawn by a troop of Shetland ponies, and carried in a vast
mythical sea-shell little boys in spangled tights and little girls in
the gauze skirts and wings of fairies. There was not a flaw in this
splendor to the young eyes that gloated on it, and that followed it in
rapture through every turn and winding of its course in the Boy's Town;
nor in the magnificence of the actors and actresses, who came riding two
by two in their circus-dresses after the chariots, and looking some
haughty and contemptuous, and others quiet and even bored, as if it were
nothing to be part of such a procession. The boys tried to make them out
by the pictures and names on the bills: which was Rivers, the bare-back
rider, and which was O'Dale, the champion tumbler; which was the
India-rubber man, which the ring-master, which the clown. Covered with
dust, gasping with the fatigue of a three hours' run beside the
procession, but fresh at heart as in the beginning, they arrived with it
on the Commons, where the tent-wagons were already drawn up, and the
ring was made, and mighty men were driving the iron-headed tent-stakes,
and stretching the ropes of the great skeleton of the pavilion which
they were just going to clothe with canvas. The boys were not allowed to
come anywhere near, except three or four who got leave to fetch water
from a neighboring well, and thought themselves richly paid with
half-price tickets. The other boys were proud to pass a word with them
as they went by with their brimming buckets; fellows who had money to go
in would have been glad to carry water just for the glory of coming
close to the circus-men. They stood about in twos and threes, and lay
upon the grass in groups debating whether a tan-bark ring was better
than a sawdust ring; there were different opinions. They came as near
the wagons as they dared, and looked at the circus-horses munching hay
from the tail-boards, just like common horses. The wagons were left
standing outside of the tent; but when it was up, the horses were taken
into the dressing-room, and then the boys, with many a backward look at
the wide spread of canvas, and the flags and streamers floating over it
from the centre-pole (the centre-pole was revered almost like a
distinguished personage), ran home to dinner so as to get back good and
early, and be among the first to go in. All round, before the circus
doors were open, the doorkeepers of the side-shows were inviting people
to come in and see the giants and fat woman and boa-constrictors, and
there were stands for peanuts and candy and lemonade; the vendors cried,
"Ice-cold lemonade, from fifteen hundred miles under ground! Walk up,
roll up, tumble up, any way to get up!" The boys thought this brilliant
drolling, but they had no time to listen after the doors were open, and
they had no money to spend on side-shows or dainties, anyway. Inside the
tent, they found it dark and cool, and their hearts thumped in their
throats with the wild joy of being there; they recognized one another
with amaze, as if they had not met for years, and the excitement kept
growing, as other fellows came in. It was lots of fun, too, watching the
country-jakes, as the boys called the farmer-folk, and seeing how green
they looked, and how some of them tried to act smart with the circus-men
that came round with oranges to sell. But the great thing was to see
whether fellows that said they were going to hook in really got in. The
boys held it to be a high and creditable thing to hook into a show of
any kind, but hooking into a circus was something that a fellow ought to
be held in special honor for doing. He ran great risks, and if he
escaped the vigilance of the massive circus-man who patrolled the
outside of the tent with a cowhide and a bulldog, perhaps he merited the
fame he was sure to win.

I do not know where boys get some of the notions of morality that govern
them. These notions are like the sports and plays that a boy leaves off
as he gets older to the boys that are younger. He outgrows them, and
other boys grow into them, and then outgrow them as he did. Perhaps they
come down to the boyhood of our time from the boyhood of the race, and
the unwritten laws of conduct may have prevailed among the earliest
Aryans on the plains of Asia that I now find so strange in a retrospect
of the Boy's Town. The standard of honor there was, in a certain way,
very high among the boys; they would have despised a thief as he
deserved, and I cannot remember one of them who might not have been
safely trusted. None of them would have taken an apple out of a
market-wagon, or stolen a melon from a farmer who came to town with it;
but they would all have thought it fun, if not right, to rob an orchard
or hook a watermelon out of a patch. This would have been a foray into
the enemy's country, and the fruit of the adventure would have been the
same as the plunder of a city, or the capture of a vessel belonging to
him on the high seas. In the same way, if one of the boys had seen a
circus-man drop a quarter, he would have hurried to give it back to him,
but he would only have been proud to hook into the circus-man's show,
and the other fellows would have been proud of his exploit, too, as
something that did honor to them all. As a person who enclosed bounds
and forbade trespass, the circus-man constituted himself the enemy of
every boy who respected himself, and challenged him to practise any sort
of strategy. There was not a boy in the crowd that my boy went with who
would have been allowed to hook into a circus by his parents; yet
hooking in was an ideal that was cherished among them, that was talked
of, and that was even sometimes attempted, though not often. Once, when
a fellow really hooked in, and joined the crowd that had ignobly paid,
one of the fellows could not stand it. He asked him just how and where
he got in, and then he went to the door, and got back his money from the
doorkeeper upon the plea that he did not feel well; and in five or ten
minutes he was back among the boys, a hero of such moral grandeur as
would be hard to describe. Not one of the fellows saw him as he really
was--a little lying, thievish scoundrel. Not even my boy saw him so,
though he had on some other point of personal honesty the most fantastic

The boys liked to be at the circus early so as to make sure of the
grand entry of the performers into the ring, where they caracoled round
on horseback, and gave a delicious foretaste of the wonders to come. The
fellows were united in this, but upon other matters feeling varied--some
liked tumbling best; some the slack-rope; some bare-back riding; some
the feats of tossing knives and balls and catching them. There never was
more than one ring in those days; and you were not tempted to break your
neck and set your eyes forever askew, by trying to watch all the things
that went on at once in two or three rings. The boys did not miss the
smallest feats of any performance, and they enjoyed them every one, not
equally, but fully. They had their preferences, of course, as I have
hinted; and one of the most popular acts was that where a horse has been
trained to misbehave, so that nobody can mount him; and after the actors
have tried him, the ring-master turns to the audience, and asks if some
gentleman among them wants to try it. Nobody stirs, till at last a tipsy
country-jake is seen making his way down from one of the top-seats
towards the ring. He can hardly walk, he is so drunk, and the clown has
to help him across the ring-board, and even then he trips and rolls over
on the sawdust, and has to be pulled to his feet. When they bring him up
to the horse, he falls against it; and the little fellows think he will
certainly get killed. But the big boys tell the little fellows to shut
up and watch out. The ring-master and the clown manage to get the
country-jake on to the broad platform on the horse's back, and then the
ring-master cracks his whip, and the two supes who have been holding the
horse's head let go, and the horse begins cantering round the ring. The
little fellows are just sure the country-jake is going to fall off, he
reels and totters so; but the big boys tell them to keep watching out;
and pretty soon the country-jake begins to straighten up. He begins to
unbutton his long gray overcoat, and then he takes it off and throws it
into the ring, where one of the supes catches it. Then he sticks a short
pipe into his mouth, and pulls on an old wool hat, and flourishes a
stick that the supe throws to him, and you see that he is an Irishman
just come across the sea; and then off goes another coat, and he comes
out a British soldier in white duck trousers and red coat. That comes
off, and he is an American sailor, with his hands on his hips dancing a
hornpipe. Suddenly away flash wig and beard and false-face, the
pantaloons are stripped off with the same movement, the actor stoops for
the reins lying on the horse's neck, and James Rivers, the greatest
three-horse rider in the world nimbly capers on the broad pad, and
kisses his hand to the shouting and cheering spectators as he dashes
from the ring past the braying and bellowing brass-band into the

The big boys have known all along that he was not a real country-jake;
but when the trained mule begins, and shakes everybody off, just like
the horse, and another country-jake gets up, and offers to bet that he
can ride that mule, nobody can tell whether he is a real country-jake or
not. This is always the last thing in the performance, and the boys have
seen with heavy hearts many signs openly betokening the end which they
knew was at hand. The actors have come out of the dressing-room door,
some in their everyday clothes, and some with just overcoats on over
their circus-dresses, and they lounge about near the band-stand watching
the performance in the ring. Some of the people are already getting up
to go out, and stand for this last act, and will not mind the shouts of
"Down in front! Down there!" which the boys eagerly join in, to eke out
their bliss a little longer by keeping away even the appearance of
anything transitory in it. The country-jake comes stumbling awkwardly
into the ring, but he is perfectly sober, and he boldly leaps astride
the mule, which tries all its arts to shake him off, plunging, kicking,
rearing. He sticks on, and everybody cheers him, and the owner of the
mule begins to get mad and to make it do more things to shake the
country-jake off. At last, with one convulsive spring, it flings him
from its back, and dashes into the dressing-room, while the country-jake
picks himself up and vanishes among the crowd.

A man mounted on a platform in the ring is imploring the ladies and
gentlemen to keep their seats, and to buy tickets for the negro-minstrel
entertainment which is to follow, but which is not included in the price
of admission. The boys would like to stay, but they have not the money,
and they go out clamoring over the performance, and trying to decide
which was the best feat. As to which was the best actor, there is never
any question; it is the clown, who showed by the way he turned a double
somersault that he can do anything, and who chooses to be clown simply
because he is too great a creature to enter into rivalry with the other

There will be another performance in the evening, with real fights
outside between the circus-men and the country-jakes, and perhaps some
of the Basin rounders, but the boys do not expect to come; that would be
too much. The boy's brother once stayed away in the afternoon, and went
at night with one of the jour printers; but he was not able to report
that the show was better than it was in the afternoon. He did not get
home till nearly ten o'clock, though, and he saw the sides of the tent
dropped before the people got out; that was a great thing; and what was
greater yet, and reflected a kind of splendor on the boy at second hand,
was that the jour printer and the clown turned out to be old friends.
After the circus, the boy actually saw them standing near the
centre-pole talking together; and the next day the jour showed the
grease that had dripped on his coat from the candles. Otherwise the boy
might have thought it was a dream, that some one he knew had talked on
equal terms with the clown. The boys were always intending to stay up
and see the circus go out of town, and they would have done so, but
their mothers would not let them. This may have been one reason why none
of them ever ran off with a circus.

As soon as a circus had been in town, the boys began to have circuses of
their own, and to practise for them. Everywhere you could see boys
upside down, walking on their hands or standing on them with their legs
dangling over, or stayed against house walls. It was easy to stand on
your head; one boy stood on his head so much that he had to have it
shaved, in the brain fever that he got from standing on it; but that did
not stop the other fellows. Another boy fell head downwards from a rail
where he was skinning-the-cat, and nearly broke his neck, and made it so
sore that it was stiff ever so long. Another boy, who was playing
Samson, almost had his leg torn off by the fellows that were pulling at
it with a hook; and he did have the leg of his pantaloons torn off.
Nothing could stop the boys but time, or some other play coming in; and
circuses lasted a good while. Some of the boys learned to turn
hand-springs; anybody could turn cart-wheels; one fellow, across the
river, could just run along and throw a somersault and light on his
feet; lots of fellows could light on their backs; but if you had a
spring-board, or shavings under a bank, like those by the turning-shop,
you could practise for somersaults pretty safely.

All the time you were practising you were forming your circus company.
The great trouble was not that any boy minded paying five or ten pins to
come in, but that so many fellows wanted to belong there were hardly any
left to form an audience. You could get girls, but even as spectators
girls were a little _too_ despicable; they did not know anything; they
had no sense; if a follow got hurt they cried. Then another thing was,
where to have the circus. Of course it was simply hopeless to think of a
tent, and a boy's circus was very glad to get a barn. The boy whose
father owned the barn had to get it for the circus without his father
knowing it; and just as likely as not his mother would hear the noise
and come out and break the whole thing up while you were in the very
middle of it. Then there were all sorts of anxieties and perplexities
about the dress. You could do something by turning your roundabout
inside out, and rolling your trousers up as far as they would go; but
what a fellow wanted to make him a real circus actor was a long pair of
white cotton stockings, and I never knew a fellow that got a pair; I
heard of many a fellow who was said to have got a pair; but when you
came down to the fact, they vanished like ghosts when you try to verify
them. I believe the fellows always expected to get them out of a
bureau-drawer or the clothes-line at home, but failed. In most other
ways, a boy's circus was always a failure, like most other things boys
undertake. They usually broke up under the strain of rivalry; everybody
wanted to be the clown or ring-master; or else the boy they got the barn
of behaved badly, and went into the house crying, and all the fellows
had to run.

There were only two kinds of show known by that name in the Boy's Town:
a Nigger Show, or a performance of burnt-cork minstrels; and an Animal
Show, or a strolling menagerie; and the boys always meant a menagerie
when they spoke of a show, unless they said just what sort of show. The
only perfect joy on earth in the way of an entertainment, of course, was
a circus, but after the circus the show came unquestionably next. It
made a processional entry into the town almost as impressive as the
circus's, and the boys went out to meet it beyond the corporation line
in the same way. It always had two elephants, at least, and four or five
camels, and sometimes there was a giraffe. These headed the procession,
the elephants in the very front, with their keepers at their heads, and
then the camels led by halters dangling from their sneering lips and
contemptuous noses. After these began to come the show-wagons, with
pictures on their sides, very flattered portraits of the wild beasts and
birds inside; lions first, then tigers (never meaner than Royal Bengal
ones, which the boys understood to be a superior breed), then leopards,
then pumas and panthers; then bears, then jackals and hyenas; then bears
and wolves; then kangaroos, musk-oxen, deer, and such harmless cattle;
and then ostriches, emus, lyre-birds, birds-of-Paradise and all the
rest. From time to time the boys ran back from the elephants and camels
to get what good they could out of the scenes in which these hidden
wonders were dramatized in acts of rapine or the chase, but they always
came forward to the elephants and camels again. Even with them they had
to endure a degree of denial, for although you could see most of the
camels' figures, the elephants were so heavily draped that it was a kind
of disappointment to look at them. The boys kept as close as they could,
and came as near getting under the elephants' feet as the keepers would
allow; but, after all, they were driven off a good deal and had to keep
stealing back. They gave the elephants apples and bits of cracker and
cake, and some tried to put tobacco into their trunks; though they knew
very well that it was nearly certain death to do so; for any elephant
that was deceived that way would recognize the boy that did it, and kill
him the next time he came, if it was twenty years afterwards. The boys
used to believe that the Miami bridge would break down under the
elephants if they tried to cross it, and they would have liked to see it
do it, but no one ever saw it, perhaps because the elephants always
waded the river. Some boys had seen them wading it, and stopping to
drink and squirt the water out of their trunks. If an elephant got a boy
that had given him tobacco into the river, he would squirt water on him
till he drowned him. Still, some boys always tried to give the elephants
tobacco, just to see how they would act for the time being.

A show was not so much in favor as a circus, because there was so little
performance in the ring. You could go round and look at the animals,
mostly very sleepy in their cages, but you were not allowed to poke
them through the bars, or anything; and when you took your seat there
was nothing much till Herr Driesbach entered the lions' cage, and began
to make them jump over his whip. It was some pleasure to see him put his
head between the jaws of the great African King of Beasts, but the lion
never did anything to him, and so the act wanted a true dramatic climax.
The boys would really rather have seen a bare-back rider, like James
Rivers, turn a back-somersault and light on his horse's crupper, any
time, though they respected Herr Driesbach, too; they did not care much
for a woman who once went into the lions' cage and made them jump round.

If you had the courage you could go up the ladder into the curtained
tower on the elephant's back, and ride round the ring with some of the
other fellows; but my boy at least never had the courage; and he never
was of those who mounted the trick pony and were shaken off as soon as
they got on. It seemed to be a good deal of fun, but he did not dare to
risk it; and he had an obscure trouble of mind when, the last thing,
four or five ponies were brought out with as many monkeys tied on their
backs, and set to run a race round the ring. The monkeys always looked
very miserable, and even the one who won the race, and rode round
afterwards with an American flag in his hand and his cap very much
cocked over his left eye, did not seem to cheer up any.

The boys had their own beliefs about the different animals, and one of
these concerned the inappeasable ferocity of the zebra. I do not know
why the zebra should have had this repute, for he certainly never did
anything to deserve it; but, for the matter of that, he was like all the
other animals. Bears were not much esteemed, but they would have been if
they could have been really seen hugging anybody to death. It was always
hoped that some of the fiercest animals would get away and have to be
hunted down, and retaken after they had killed a lot of dogs. If the
elephants, some of them, had gone crazy, it would have been something,
for then they would have roamed up and down the turnpike smashing
buggies and wagons, and had to be shot with the six-pound cannon that
was used to celebrate the Fourth of July with.

Another thing that was against the show was that the animals were fed
after it was out, and you could not see the tigers tearing their prey
when the great lumps of beef were thrown them. There was somehow not so
much chance of hooking into a show as a circus, because the seats did
not go all round, and you could be seen under the cages as soon as you
got in under the canvas. I never heard of a boy that hooked into a show;
perhaps nobody ever tried.

A show had the same kind of smell as a circus, up to a certain point,
and then its smell began to be different. Both smelt of tan-bark or
saw-dust and trodden grass, and both smelt of lemonade and cigars; but
after that a show had its own smell of animals. I have found in later
life that this is a very offensive smell on a hot day; but I do not
believe a boy ever thinks so; for him it is just a different smell from
a circus smell. There were two other reasons why a show was not as much
fun as a circus, and one was that it was thought instructive, and
fellows went who were not allowed to go to circuses. But the great
reason of all was that you could not have an animal show of your own as
you could a circus. You could not get the animals; and no boy living
could act a camel, or a Royal Bengal tiger, or an elephant so as to look
the least like one.

Of course you could have negro shows, and the boys often had them; but
they were not much fun, and you were always getting the black on your

[Illustration: THE CIRCUS.]




THE greatest day of all in the Boy's Town was Christmas. In that part of
the West the boys had never even heard of Thanksgiving, and their elders
knew of it only as a festival of far-off New England. Christmas was the
day that was kept in all churches and families, whether they were
Methodists or Episcopalians, Baptists or Universalists, Catholics or
Protestants; and among boys of whatever persuasion it was kept in a
fashion that I suppose may have survived from the early pioneer times,
when the means of expressing joy were few and primitive. On Christmas
eve, before the church-bells began to ring in the day, the boys began to
celebrate it with guns and pistols, with shooting-crackers and
torpedoes; and they never stopped as long as their ammunition lasted. A
fellow hardly ever had more than a bit to spend, and after he had paid
ten cents for a pack of crackers, he had only two cents and a half for
powder; and if he wanted his pleasure to last, he had to be careful. Of
course he wanted his pleasure to last, but he would rather have had no
pleasure at all than be careful, and most of the boys woke Christmas
morning empty-handed, unless they had burst their pistols the night
before; then they had a little powder left, and could go pretty well
into the forenoon if they could find some other boy who had shot off his
powder but had a whole pistol left. Lots of fellows' pistols got out
of order without bursting, and that saved powder; but generally a fellow
kept putting in bigger and bigger loads till his pistol blew to pieces.
There were all sorts of pistols; but the commonest was one that the boys
called a Christmas-crack; it was of brass, and when it burst the barrel
curled up like a dandelion stem when you split it and put it in water. A
Christmas-crack in that shape was a trophy; but of course the little
boys did not have pistols; they had to put up with shooting-crackers, or
maybe just torpedoes. Even then the big boys would get to fire them off
on one pretext or another. Some fellows would hold a cracker in their
hands till it exploded; nearly everybody had burned thumbs, and some of
the boys had their faces blackened with powder. Now and then a fellow
who was nearly grown up would set off a whole pack of crackers in a
barrel; it seemed almost incredible to the little boys.

It was glorious, and I do not think any of the boys felt that there was
anything out of keeping in their way of celebrating the day, for I do
not think they knew why they were celebrating it, or, if they knew, they
never thought. It was simply a holiday, and was to be treated like a
holiday. After all, perhaps there are just as strange things done by
grown people in honor of the loving and lowly Saviour of Men; but we
will not enter upon that question. When they had burst their pistols or
fired off their crackers, the boys sometimes huddled into the back part
of the Catholic church and watched the service, awed by the dim altar
lights, the rising smoke of incense, and the grimness of the sacristan,
an old German, who stood near to keep order among them. They knew the
fellows who were helping the priest; one of them was the boy who stood
on his head till he had to have it shaved; they would have liked to mock
him then and there for wearing a petticoat, and most of them had the
bitterest scorn and hate for Catholics in their hearts; but they were
afraid of the sacristan, and they behaved very well as long as they were
in the church; but as soon as they got out they whooped and yelled, and
stoned the sacristan when he ran after them.

My boy would have liked to do all that too, just to be with the crowd,
but at home he had been taught to believe that Catholics were as good as
anybody, and that you must respect everybody's religion. His father and
the priest were friendly acquaintances, and in a dim way he knew that
his father had sometimes taken the Catholics' part in his paper when the
prejudice against foreigners ran high. He liked to go to the Catholic
church, though he was afraid of the painted figure that hung full length
on the wooden crucifix, with the blood-drops under the thorns on its
forehead, and the red wound in its side. He was afraid of it as
something both dead and alive; he could not keep his eyes away from the
awful, beautiful, suffering face, and the body that seemed to twist in
agony, and the hands and feet so cruelly nailed to the cross.

But he never connected the thought of that anguish with Christmas. His
head was too full of St. Nicholas, who came down the chimney, and filled
your stockings; the day belonged to St. Nicholas. The first thing when
you woke you tried to catch everybody, and you caught a person if you
said "Christmas Gift!" before he or she did; and then the person you
caught had to give you a present. Nobody ever said "Merry Christmas!"
as people do now; and I do not know where the custom of saying
"Christmas Gift" came from. It seems more sordid and greedy than it
really was; the pleasure was to see who could say it first; and the boys
did not care for what they got if they beat, any more than they cared
for what they won in fighting eggs at Easter.

At New-Year's the great thing was to sit up and watch the old year out;
but the little boys could not have kept awake even if their mothers had
let them. In some families, perhaps of Dutch origin, the day was kept
instead of Christmas, but for most of the fellows it was a dull time.
You had spent all your money at Christmas, and very likely burst your
pistol, anyway. It was some consolation to be out of school, which did
not keep on New-Year's; and if it was cold you could have fires on the
ice; or, anyway, you could have fires on the river-bank, or down by the
shore, where there was always plenty of drift-wood.

But New-Year's could not begin to compare with Easter. All the boys'
mothers colored eggs for them at Easter; I do not believe there was a
mother in the Boy's Town mean enough not to. By Easter Day, in that
Southern region, the new grass was well started, and grass gave a
beautiful yellow color to the eggs boiled with it. Onions colored them a
soft, pale green, and logwood, black; but the most esteemed egg of all
was a calico-egg. You got a piece of new calico from your mother, or
maybe some of your aunts, and you got somebody (most likely your
grandmother, if she was on a visit at the time) to sew an egg up in it;
and when the egg was boiled it came out all over the pattern of the
calico. My boy's brother once had a calico-egg that seemed to my boy a
more beautiful piece of color than any Titian he has seen since; it was
kept in a bureau-drawer till nobody could stand the smell. But most
Easter eggs never outlasted Easter Day. As soon as the fellows were done
breakfast they ran out of the house and began to fight eggs with the
other fellows. They struck the little ends of the eggs together, and if
your egg broke another fellow's egg, then you had a right to it.
Sometimes an egg was so hard that it would break every other egg in the
street; and generally when a little fellow lost his egg, he began to cry
and went into the house. This did not prove him a cry-baby; it was
allowable, like crying when you stumped your toe. I think this custom of
fighting eggs came from the Pennsylvania Germans, to whom the Boy's Town
probably owed its Protestant observance of Easter. There was nothing
religious in the way the boys kept it, any more than there was in their
way of keeping Christmas.

I do not think they distinguished between it and All-Fool's Day in
character or dignity. About the best thing you could do then was to
write April Fool on a piece of paper and pin it to a fellow's back, or
maybe a girl's, if she was a big girl, and stuck-up, or anything. I do
not suppose there is a boy now living who is silly enough to play this
trick on anybody, or mean enough to fill an old hat with rocks and
brickbats, and dare a fellow to kick it; but in the Boy's Town there
were some boys who did this; and then the fellow had to kick the hat, or
else come under the shame of having taken a dare. Most of the
April-foolings were harmless enough, like saying, "Oh, see that flock of
wild-geese flying over!" and "What have you got on the back of your
coat!" and holloing "April Fool!" as soon as the person did it.
Sometimes a crowd of boys got a bit with a hole in it, and tied a string
in it, and laid it on the sidewalk, and then hid in a cellar, and when
anybody stooped to pick it up, they pulled it in. That was the greatest
fun, especially if the person was stingy; but the difficulty was to get
the bit, whether it had a hole in it or not.

From the first of April till the first of May was a long stretch of
days, and you never heard any one talk about a May Party till April Fool
was over. Then there always began to be talk of a May Party, and who was
going to be invited. It was the big girls that always intended to have
it, and it was understood at once who was going to be the Queen. At
least the boys had no question, for there was one girl in every school
whom all the boys felt to be the most beautiful; but probably there was
a good deal of rivalry and heart-burning among the girls themselves.
Very likely it was this that kept a May Party from hardly ever coming to
anything but the talk. Besides the Queen, there were certain little
girls who were to be Lambs; I think there were Maids of Honor, too; but
I am not sure. The Lambs had to keep very close to the Queen's person,
and to wait upon her; and there were boys who had to hold the tassels of
the banners which the big boys carried. These boys had to wear white
pantaloons, and shoes and stockings, and very likely gloves, and to
suffer the jeers of the other fellows who were not in the procession.
The May Party was a girl's affair altogether, though the boys were
expected to help; and so there were distinctions made that the boys
never dreamed of in their rude republic, where one fellow was as good as
another, and the lowest-down boy in town could make himself master if
he was bold and strong enough. The boys did not understand those
distinctions, and nothing of them remained in their minds after the
moment; but the girls understood them, and probably they were taught at
home to feel the difference between themselves and other girls, and to
believe themselves of finer clay. At any rate, the May Party was apt to
be poisoned at its source by questions of class; and I think it might
have been in the talk about precedence, and who should be what, that my
boy first heard that such and such a girl's father was a mechanic, and
that it was somehow dishonorable to be a mechanic. He did not know why,
and he has never since known why, but the girls then knew why, and the
women seem to know now. He was asked to be one of the boys who held the
banner-tassels, and he felt this a great compliment somehow, though he
was so young that he had afterwards only the vaguest remembrance of
marching in the procession, and going to a raw and chilly grove
somewhere, and having untimely lemonade and cake. Yet these might have
been the associations of some wholly different occasion.

No aristocratic reserves marred the glory of Fourth of July. My boy was
quite a well-grown boy before he noticed that there were ever any clouds
in the sky except when it was going to rain. At all other times,
especially in summer, it seemed to him that the sky was perfectly blue,
from horizon to horizon; and it certainly was so on the Fourth of July.
He usually got up pretty early, and began firing off torpedoes and
shooting-crackers, just as at Christmas. Everybody in town had been
wakened by the salutes fired from the six-pounder on the river-bank, and
by the noise of guns and pistols; and right after breakfast you heard
that the Butler Guards were out, and you ran up to the court-house yard
with the other fellows to see if it was true. It was not true, just yet,
perhaps, but it came true during the forenoon, and in the meantime the
court-house yard was a scene of festive preparation. There was going to
be an oration and a public dinner, and they were already setting the
tables under the locust-trees. There may have been some charge for this
dinner, but the boys never knew of that, or had any question of the
bounty that seemed free as the air of the summer day.

High Street was thronged with people, mostly country-jakes who had come
to town with their wagons and buggies for the celebration. The young
fellows and their girls were walking along hand in hand, eating
gingerbread, and here and there a farmer had already begun his spree,
and was whooping up and down the sidewalk unmolested by authority. The
boys did not think it at all out of the way for him to be in that state;
they took it as they took the preparations for the public dinner, and no
sense of the shame and sorrow it meant penetrated their tough ignorance
of life. He interested them because, after the regular town drunkards,
he was a novelty; but, otherwise, he did not move them. By and by they
would see him taken charge of by his friends and more or less brought
under control; though if you had the time to follow him up you could see
him wanting to fight his friends and trying to get away from them.
Whiskey was freely made and sold and drunk in that time and that region;
but it must not be imagined that there was no struggle against
intemperance. The boys did not know it, but there was a very strenuous
fight in the community against the drunkenness that was so frequent; and
there were perhaps more people who were wholly abstinent then than there
are now. The forces of good and evil were more openly arrayed against
each other among people whose passions were strong and still somewhat
primitive; and those who touched not, tasted not, handled not, far
outnumbered those who looked upon the wine when it was red. The pity for
the boys was that they saw the drunkards every day, and the temperance
men only now and then; and out of the group of boys who were my boy's
friends, many kindly fellows came to know how strong drink could rage,
how it could bite like the serpent, and sting like an adder.

But the temperance men made a show on the Fourth of July as well as the
drunkards, and the Sons of Temperance walked in the procession with the
Masons and the Odd-Fellows. Sometimes they got hold of a whole Fourth,
and then there was nothing but a temperance picnic in the Sycamore
Grove, which the boys took part in as Sunday-school scholars. It was not
gay; there was no good reason why it should leave the boys with the
feeling of having been cheated out of their holiday, but it did. A boy's
Fourth of July seemed to end about four o'clock, anyhow. After that, he
began to feel gloomy, no matter what sort of a time he had. That was the
way he felt after almost any holiday.

Market-day was a highday in the Boy's Town, and it would be hard to say
whether it was more so in summer than in winter. In summer, the market
opened about four or five o'clock in the morning, and by this hour my
boy's father was off twice a week with his market-basket on his arm.
All the people did their marketing in the same way; but it was a
surprise for my boy, when he became old enough to go once with his
father, to find the other boys' fathers at market too. He held on by his
father's hand, and ran by his side past the lines of wagons that
stretched sometimes from the bridge to the court-house, in the dim
morning light. The market-house, where the German butchers in their
white aprons were standing behind their meat-blocks, was lit up with
candles in sconces, that shone upon festoons of sausage and cuts of
steak dangling from the hooks behind them; but without, all was in a
vague obscurity, broken only by the lanterns in the farmers' wagons.
There was a market-master, who rang a bell to open the market, and if
anybody bought or sold anything before the tap of that bell, he would be
fined. People would walk along the line of wagons, where the butter and
eggs, apples and peaches and melons, were piled up inside near the
tail-boards, and stop where they saw something they wanted, and stand
near so as to lay hands on it the moment the bell rang. My boy
remembered stopping that morning by the wagon of some nice old Quaker
ladies, who used to come to his house, and whom his father stood
chatting with till the bell rang. They probably had an understanding
with him about the rolls of fragrant butter which he instantly lifted
into his basket. But if you came long after the bell rang, you had to
take what you could get.

There was a smell of cantaloupes in the air, along the line of wagons,
that morning, and so it must have been towards the end of the summer.
After the nights began to lengthen and to be too cold for the farmers to
sleep in their wagons, as they did in summer on the market eves, the
market time was changed to midday. Then it was fun to count the wagons
on both sides of the street clear to where they frayed off into
wood-wagons, and to see the great heaps of apples and cabbages, and
potatoes and turnips, and all the other fruits and vegetables which
abounded in that fertile country. There was a great variety of poultry
for sale, and from time to time the air would be startled with the
clamor of fowls transferred from the coops where they had been softly
crr-crring in soliloquy to the hand of a purchaser who walked off with
them and patiently waited for their well-grounded alarm to die away. All
the time the market-master was making his rounds; and if he saw a pound
roll of butter that he thought was under weight, he would weigh it with
his steelyards, and if it was too light he would seize it. My boy once
saw a confiscation of this sort with such terror as he would now,
perhaps, witness an execution.



THE Butler Guards were the finest military company in the world. I do
not believe there was a fellow in the Boy's Town who ever even tried to
imagine a more splendid body of troops: when they talked of them, as
they did a great deal, it was simply to revel in the recognition of
their perfection. I forget just what their uniform was, but there were
white pantaloons in it, and a tuft of white-and-red cockerel plumes that
almost covered the front of the hat, and swayed when the soldier walked,
and blew in the wind. I think the coat was gray, and the skirts were
buttoned back with buff, but I will not be sure of this; and somehow I
cannot say how the officers differed from the privates in dress; it was
impossible for them to be more magnificent. They walked backwards in
front of the platoons, with their swords drawn, and held in their
white-gloved hands at hilt and point, and kept holloing,
"Shoulder-r-r--arms! Carry--arms! Present--arms!" and then faced round,
and walked a few steps forward, till they could think of something else
to make the soldiers do.

[Illustration: THE "BUTLER GUARDS."]

Every boy intended to belong to the Butler Guards when he grew up; and
he would have given anything to be the drummer or the marker. These were
both boys, and they were just as much dressed up as the Guards
themselves, only they had caps instead of hats with plumes. It was
strange that the other fellows somehow did not know who these boys were;
but they never knew, or at least my boy never knew. They thought more of
the marker than of the drummer; for the marker carried a little flag,
and when the officers holloed out, "By the left flank--left! Wheel!" he
set his flag against his shoulder, and stood marking time with his feet
till the soldiers all got by him, and then he ran up to the front rank,
with the flag fluttering behind him. The fellows used to wonder how he
got to be marker, and to plan how they could get to be markers in other
companies, if not in the Butler Guards. There were other companies that
used to come to town on the Fourth of July and Muster Day, from smaller
places round about; and some of them had richer uniforms: one company
had blue coats with gold epaulets, and gold braid going down in loops on
the sides of their legs; all the soldiers, of course, had braid straight
down the outer seams of their pantaloons. One Muster Day, a captain of
one of the country companies came home with my boy's father to dinner;
he was in full uniform, and he put his plumed helmet down on the entry
table just like any other hat.

There was a company of Germans, or Dutchmen, as the boys always called
them; and the boys believed that they each had hay in his right shoe,
and straw in his left, because a Dutchman was too dumb, as the boys said
for stupid, to know his feet apart any other way; and that the Dutch
officers had to call out to the men when they were marching, "Up mit de
hay-foot, down mit de straw-foot--_links_, _links_, _links_!" (Left,
left, left!) But the boys honored even these imperfect intelligences so
much in their quality of soldiers that they would any of them have
been proud to be marker in the Dutch company; and they followed the
Dutchmen round in their march as fondly as any other body of troops. Of
course, school let out when there was a regular muster, and the boys
gave the whole day to it; but I do not know just when the Muster Day
came. They fired the cannon a good deal on the river-bank, and they must
have camped somewhere near the town, though no recollection of tents
remained in my boy's mind. He believed with the rest of the boys that
the right way to fire the cannon was to get it so hot you need not touch
it off, but just keep your thumb on the touch-hole, and take it away
when you wanted the cannon to go off. Once he saw the soldiers ram the
piece full of dog-fennel on top of the usual charge, and then he
expected the cannon to burst. But it only roared away as usual.

The boys had their own ideas of what that cannon could do if aptly fired
into a force of British, or Bridish, as they called them. They wished
there could be a war with England, just to see; and their national
feeling was kept hot by the presence of veterans of the War of 1812 at
all the celebrations. One of the boys had a grandfather who had been in
the Revolutionary War, and when he died the Butler Guards fired a salute
over his grave. It was secret sorrow and sometimes open shame to my boy
that his grandfather should be an Englishman, and that even his father
should have been a year old when he came to this country; but on his
mother's side he could boast a grandfather and a great-grandfather who
had taken part, however briefly or obscurely, in both the wars against
Great Britain. He hated just as much as any of the boys, or perhaps
more, to be the Bridish when they were playing war, and he longed as
truly as any of them to march against the hereditary, or
half-hereditary, enemy.

Playing war was one of the regular plays, and the sides were always
Americans and Bridish, and the Bridish always got whipped. But this was
a different thing, and a far less serious thing, than having a company.
The boys began to have companies after every muster, of course; but
sometimes they began to have them for no external reason. Very likely
they would start having a company from just finding a rooster's
tail-feather, and begin making plumes at once. It was easy to make a
plume: you picked up a lot of feathers that the hens and geese had
dropped; and you whittled a pine stick, and bound the feathers in
spirals around it with white thread. That was a first-rate plume, but
the uniform offered the same difficulties as the circus dress, and you
could not do anything towards it by rolling up your pantaloons. It was
pretty easy to make swords out of laths, but guns again were hard to
realize. Some fellows had little toy guns left over from Christmas, but
they were considered rather babyish, and any kind of stick was better;
the right kind of a gun for a boy's company was a wooden gun, such as
some of the big boys had, with the barrel painted different from the
stock. The little fellows never had any such guns, and if the question
of uniform could have been got over, this question of arms would still
have remained. In these troubles the fellows' mothers had to suffer
almost as much as the fellows themselves, the fellows teased them so
much for bits of finery that they thought they could turn to account in
eking out a uniform. Once it came to quite a lot of fellows getting
their mothers to ask their fathers if they would buy them some little
soldier-hats that one of the hatters had laid in, perhaps after a
muster, when he knew the boys would begin recruiting. My boy was by when
his mother asked his father, and stood with his heart in his mouth,
while the question was argued; it was decided against him, both because
his father hated the tomfoolery of the thing, and because he would not
have the child honor any semblance of soldiering, even such a feeble
image of it as a boys' company could present. But, after all, a paper
chapeau, with a panache of slitted paper, was no bad soldier-hat; it
went far to constitute a whole uniform; and it was this that the boys
devolved upon at last. It was the only company they ever really got
together, for everybody wanted to be captain and lieutenant, just as
they wanted to be clown and ring-master in a circus. I cannot understand
how my boy came to hold either office; perhaps the fellows found that
the only way to keep the company together was to take turn-about; but,
at any rate, he was marshalling his forces near his grandfather's gate
one evening when his grandfather came home to tea. The old Methodist
class-leader, who had been born and brought up a Quaker, stared at the
poor little apparition in horror. Then he caught the paper chapeau from
the boy's head, and, saying "Dear me! Dear me!" trampled it under foot.
It was an awful moment, and in his hot and bitter heart the boy, who was
put to shame before all his fellows, did not know whether to order them
to attack his grandfather in a body, or to engage him in single combat
with his own lath-sword. In the end he did neither; his grandfather
walked on into tea, and the boy was left with a wound that was sore till
he grew old enough to know how true and brave a man his grandfather was
in a cause where so many warlike hearts wanted courage.

It was already the time of the Mexican war, when that part of the West
at least was crazed with a dream of the conquest which was to carry
slavery wherever the flag of freedom went. The volunteers were mustered
in at the Boy's Town; and the boys, who understood that they were real
soldiers, and were going to a war where they might get killed, suffered
a disappointment from the plain blue of their uniform and the simplicity
of their caps, which had not the sign of a feather in them. It was a
consolation to know that they were going to fight the Mexicans; not so
much consolation as if it had been the Bridish, though still something.
The boys were proud of them, and they did not realize that most of these
poor fellows were just country-jakes. Somehow they effaced even the
Butler Guards in their fancy, though the Guards paraded with them, in
all their splendor, as escort.

But this civic satisfaction was alloyed for my boy by the consciousness
that both his father and his grandfather abhorred the war that the
volunteers were going to. His grandfather, as an Abolitionist, and his
father, as a Henry Clay Whig, had both been opposed to the annexation of
Texas (which the boy heard talked of without knowing in the least what
annexation meant), and they were both of the mind that the war growing
out of it was wanton and wicked. His father wrote against it in every
number of his paper, and made himself hated among its friends, who were
the large majority in the Boy's Town. My boy could not help feeling that
his father was little better than a Mexican, and whilst his filial love
was hurt by things that he heard to his disadvantage, he was not sure
that he was not rightly hated. It gave him a trouble of mind that was
not wholly appeased by some pieces of poetry that he used to hear his
father reading and quoting at that time, with huge enjoyment. The pieces
were called "The Biglow Papers," and his father read them out of a
Boston newspaper, and thought them the wisest and wittiest things that
ever were. The boy always remembered how he recited the lines--

          "Ez fur war, I call it murder--
             There ye hev it plain and flat;
           'N I don't want to go no furder
             Then my Testament fur that.
           God hez said so plump and fairly:
             It's as long as it is broad;
           And ye'll hev to git up airly,
             Ef ye want to take in God."

He thought this fine, too, but still, it seemed to him, in the narrow
little world where a child dwells, that his father and his grandfather
were about the only people there were who did not wish the Mexicans
whipped, and he felt secretly guilty for them before the other boys.

It was all the harder to bear because, up to this time, there had been
no shadow of difference about politics between him and the boys he went
with. They were Whig boys, and nearly all the fellows in the Boy's Town
seemed to be Whigs. There must have been some Locofoco boys, of course,
for my boy and his friends used to advance, on their side, the position

           Eat dead rats!"

The counter-argument that

           Eat dead pigs!"

had no force in a pork-raising country like that; but it was urged, and
there must have been Democratic boys to urge it. Still, they must have
been few in number, or else my boy did not know them. At any rate, they
had no club, and the Whig boys always had a club. They had a Henry Clay
Club in 1844, and they had Buckeye Clubs whenever there was an election
for governor, and they had clubs at every exciting town or county or
district election. The business of a Whig club among the boys was to
raise ash flag-poles, in honor of Henry Clay's home at Ashland, and to
learn the Whig songs and go about singing them. You had to have a wagon,
too, and some of the club pulled while the others rode; it could be such
a wagon as you went walnutting with; and you had to wear strands of
buckeyes round your neck. Then you were a real Whig boy, and you had a
right to throw fire-balls and roll tar-barrels for the bonfires on
election nights.

I do not know why there should have been so many empty tar-barrels in
the Boy's Town, or what they used so much tar for; but there were
barrels enough to celebrate all the Whig victories that the boys ever
heard of, and more, too; the boys did not always wait for the victories,
but celebrated every election with bonfires, in the faith that it would
turn out right.

Maybe the boys nowadays do not throw fire-balls, or know about them.
They were made of cotton rags wound tight and sewed, and then soaked in
turpentine. When a ball was lighted a boy caught it quickly up, and
threw it, and it made a splendid streaming blaze through the air, and a
thrilling whir as it flew. A boy had to be very nimble not to get
burned, and a great many boys dropped the ball for every boy that threw
it. I am not ready to say why these fire-balls did not set the Boy's
Town on fire, and burn it down, but I know they never did. There was no
law against them, and the boys were never disturbed in throwing them,
any more than they were in building bonfires; and this shows, as much as
anything, what a glorious town that was for boys. The way they used to
build their bonfires was to set one tar-barrel on top of another, as
high as the biggest boy could reach, and then drop a match into them; in
a moment a dusky, smoky flame would burst from the top, and fly there
like a crimson flag, while all the boys leaped and danced round it, and
hurrahed for the Whig candidates. Sometimes they would tumble the
blazing barrels over, and roll them up and down the street.

The reason why they wore buckeyes was that the buckeye was the emblem of
Ohio, and Ohio, they knew, was a Whig state. I doubt if they knew that
the local elections always went heavily against the Whigs; but perhaps
they would not have cared. What they felt was a high public spirit,
which had to express itself in some way. One night, out of pure zeal for
the common good, they wished to mob the negro quarter of the town,
because the "Dumb Negro" (a deaf-mute of color who was a very prominent
personage in their eyes) was said to have hit a white boy. I believe the
mob never came to anything. I only know that my boy ran a long way with
the other fellows, and, when he gave out, had to come home alone through
the dark, and was so afraid of ghosts that he would have been glad of
the company of the lowest-down black boy in town.

There were always fights on election-day between well-known Whig and
Democratic champions, which the boys somehow felt were as entirely for
their entertainment as the circuses. My boy never had the heart to look
on, but he shared the excitement of the affair, and rejoiced in the
triumph of Whig principles in these contests as cordially as the
hardiest witness. The fighting must have come from the drinking, which
began as soon as the polls were opened, and went on all day and night
with a devotion to principle which is now rarely seen. In fact, the
politics of the Boy's Town seem to have been transacted with an eye
single to the diversion of the boys; or if not that quite, they were
marked by traits of a primitive civilization among the men. The
traditions of a rude hospitality in the pioneer times still lingered,
and once there was a Whig barbecue, which had all the profusion of a
civic feast in mediæval Italy. Every Whig family contributed loaves of
bread and boiled hams; the Whig farmers brought in barrels of cider and
wagon-loads of apples; there were heaps of pies and cakes; sheep were
roasted whole, and young roast pigs, with oranges in their mouths, stood
in the act of chasing one another over the long tables which were spread
in one of the largest pork-houses, where every comer was freely welcome.
I suppose boys, though, were not allowed at the dinner; all that my boy
saw of the barbecue were the heaps of loaves and hams left over, that
piled the floor in one of the rooms to the ceiling.

He remained an ardent Whig till his eleventh year, when his father left
the party because the Whigs had nominated, as their candidate for
president, General Taylor, who had won his distinction in the Mexican
war, and was believed to be a friend of slavery, though afterwards he
turned out otherwise. My boy then joined a Free-Soil club, and sang
songs in support of Van Buren and Adams. His faith in the purity of the
Whigs had been much shaken by their behavior in trying to make capital
out of a war they condemned; and he had been bitterly disappointed by
their preferring Taylor to Tom Corwin, the favorite of the anti-slavery
Whigs. The "Biglow Papers" and their humor might not have moved him from
his life-long allegiance, but the eloquence of Corwin's famous speech
against the Mexican war had grounded him in principles which he could
not afterwards forsake. He had spoken passages of that speech at school;
he had warned our invading hosts of the vengeance that has waited upon
the lust of conquest in all times, and has driven the conquerors back
with trailing battle-flags. "So shall it be with yours!" he had
declaimed. "You may carry them to the loftiest peaks of the Cordilleras;
they may float in insolent triumph in the halls of Montezuma; but the
weakest hand in Mexico, uplifted in prayer, can call down a power
against you before which the iron hearts of your warriors shall be
turned into ashes!" It must have been a terrible wrench for him to part
from the Whig boys in politics, and the wrench must have been a sudden
one at last; he was ashamed of his father for opposing the war, and
then, all at once, he was proud of him for it, and was roaring out songs
against Taylor as the hero of that war, and praising Little Van, whom he
had hitherto despised as the "Fox of Kinderhook."

The fox was the emblem (_totem_) of the Democrats in the campaigns of
1840 and 1844; and in their processions they always had a fox chained to
the hickory flag-poles which they carried round on their wagons,
together with a cock, reconciled probably in a common terror. The Whigs
always had the best processions; and one of the most signal days of my
boy's life was the day he spent in following round a Henry Clay
procession, where the different trades and industries were represented
in the wagons. There were coopers, hatters, shoemakers, blacksmiths,
bakers, tinners, and others, all hard at work; and from time to time
they threw out to the crowd something they had made. My boy caught a tin
cup, and if it had been of solid silver he could not have felt it a
greater prize. He ran home to show it and leave it in safe-keeping, and
then hurried back, so as to walk with the other boys abreast of a great
platform on wheels, where an old woman sat spinning inside of a
log-cabin, and a pioneer in a hunting-shirt stood at the door, with his
long rifle in his hand. In the window sat a raccoon, which was the Whig
emblem, and which, on all their banners, was painted with the legend,
"That same old Coon!" to show that they had not changed at all since the
great days when they elected the pioneer, General Harrison, president of
the United States. Another proof of the fact was the barrel of
hard-cider which lay under the cabin window.



AS there are no longer any Whig boys in the world, the coon can no
longer be kept anywhere as a political emblem, I dare say. Even in my
boy's time the boys kept coons just for the pleasure of it, and without
meaning to elect Whig governors and presidents with them. I do not know
how they got them--they traded for them, perhaps, with fellows in the
country that had caught them, or perhaps their fathers bought them in
market; some people thought they were very good to eat, and, like
poultry and other things for the table, they may have been brought alive
to market. But, anyhow, when a boy had a coon, he had to have a
store-box turned open side down to keep it in, behind the house; and he
had to have a little door in the box to pull the coon out through when
he wanted to show it to other boys, or to look at it himself, which he
did forty or fifty times a day, when he first got it. He had to have a
small collar for the coon, and a little chain, because the coon would
gnaw through a string in a minute. The coon himself never seemed to take
much interest in keeping a coon, or to see much fun or sense in it. He
liked to stay inside his box, where he had a bed of hay, and whenever
the boy pulled him out, he did his best to bite the boy. He had no
tricks; his temper was bad; and there was nothing about him except the
rings round his tail and his political principles that anybody could
care for. He never did anything but bite, and try to get away, or else
run back into his box, which smelt, pretty soon, like an animal-show; he
would not even let a fellow see him eat.

My boy's brother had a coon, which he kept a good while, at a time when
there was no election, for the mere satisfaction of keeping a coon.
During his captivity the coon bit his keeper repeatedly through the
thumb, and upon the whole seemed to prefer him to any other food; I do
not really know what coons eat in a wild state, but this captive coon
tasted the blood of nearly that whole family of children. Besides biting
and getting away, he never did the slightest thing worth remembering; as
there was no election, he did not even take part in a Whig procession.
He got away two or three times. The first thing his owner would know
when he pulled the chain out was that there was no coon at the end of
it, and then he would have to poke round the inside of the box pretty
carefully with a stick, so as not to get bitten; after that he would
have to see which tree the coon had gone up. It was usually the tall
locust-tree in front of the house, and in about half a second all the
boys in town would be there, telling the owner of the coon how to get
him. Of course the only way was to climb for the coon, which would be
out at the point of a high and slender limb, and would bite you awfully,
even if the limb did not break under you, while the boys kept whooping
and yelling and holloing out what to do, and Tip the dog just howled
with excitement. I do not know how that coon was ever caught, but I know
that the last time he got away he was not found during the day, but
after nightfall he was discovered by moonlight in the locust-tree. His
owner climbed for him, but the coon kept shifting about, and getting
higher and higher, and at last he had to be left till morning. In the
morning he was not there, nor anywhere.

It had been expected, perhaps, that Tip would watch him, and grab him if
he came down, and Tip would have done it probably if he had kept awake.
He was a dog of the greatest courage, and he was especially fond of
hunting. He had been bitten oftener by that coon than anybody but the
coon's owner, but he did not care for biting. He was always getting
bitten by rats, but he was the greatest dog for rats that there almost
ever was. The boys hunted rats with him at night, when they came out of
the stables that backed down to the Hydraulic, for water; and a dog who
liked above all things to lie asleep on the back-step, by day, and would
no more think of chasing a pig out of the garden than he would think of
sitting up all night with a coon, would get frantic about rats, and
would perfectly wear himself out hunting them on land and in the water,
and keep on after the boys themselves were tired. He was so fond of
hunting, anyway, that the sight of a gun would drive him about crazy; he
would lick the barrel all over, and wag his tail so hard that it would
lift his hind-legs off the ground.

I do not know how he came into that family, but I believe he was given
to it full grown by somebody. It was some time after my boy failed to
buy what he called a Confoundland dog, from a colored boy who had it for
sale, a pretty puppy with white and black spots which he had quite set
his heart on; but Tip more than consoled him. Tip was of no particular
breed, and he had no personal beauty; he was of the color of a mouse of
an elephant, and his tail was without the smallest grace; it was smooth
and round, but it was so strong that he could pull a boy all over the
town by it, and usually did; and he had the best, and kindest, and
truest ugly old face in the world. He loved the whole human race, and as
a watch-dog he was a failure through his trustful nature; he would no
more have bitten a person than he would have bitten a pig; but where
other dogs were concerned, he was a lion. He might be lying fast asleep
in the back-yard, and he usually was, but if a dog passed the front of
the house under a wagon, he would be up and after that dog before you
knew what you were about. He seemed to want to fight country dogs the
worst, but any strange dog would do. A good half the time he would come
off best; but, however he came off, he returned to the back-yard with
his tongue hanging out, and wagging his tail in good-humor with all the
world. Nothing could stop him, however, where strange dogs were
concerned. He was a Whig dog, of course, as any one could tell by his
name, which was Tippecanoe in full, and was given him because it was the
nickname of General Harrison, the great Whig who won the battle of
Tippecanoe. The boys' Henry Clay Club used him to pull the little wagon
that they went about in singing Whig songs, and he would pull five or
six boys, guided simply by a stick which he held in his mouth, and which
a boy held on either side of him. But if he caught sight of a dog that
he did not know, he would drop that stick and start for that dog as far
off as he could see him, spilling the Henry Clay Club out of the wagon
piecemeal as he went, and never stopping till he mixed up the strange
dog in a fight where it would have been hard to tell which was either
champion and which was the club wagon. When the fight was over Tip would
come smilingly back to the fragments of the Henry Clay Club, with pieces
of the vehicle sticking about him, and profess himself, in a dog's way,
ready to go on with the concert.

Any crowd of boys could get Tip to go off with them, in swimming, or
hunting, or simply running races. He was known through the whole town,
and beloved for his many endearing qualities of heart. As to his mind,
it was perhaps not much to brag of, and he certainly had some defects of
character. He was incurably lazy, and his laziness grew upon him as he
grew older, till hardly anything but the sight of a gun or a bone would
move him. He lost his interest in politics, and, though there is no
reason to suppose that he ever became indifferent to his principles, it
is certain that he no longer showed his early ardor. He joined the
Free-Soil movement in 1848, and supported Van Buren and Adams, but
without the zeal he had shown for Henry Clay. Once a year as long as the
family lived in the Boy's Town, the children were anxious about Tip when
the dog-law was put in force, and the constables went round shooting all
the dogs that were found running at large without muzzles. At this time,
when Tip was in danger of going mad and biting people, he showed a most
unseasonable activity, and could hardly be kept in bounds. A dog whose
sole delight at other moments was to bask in the summer sun, or dream by
the winter fire, would now rouse himself to an interest in everything
that was going on in the dangerous world, and make forays into it at all
unguarded points. The only thing to do was to muzzle him, and this was
done by my boy's brother with a piece of heavy twine, in such a manner
as to interfere with Tip's happiness as little as possible. It was a
muzzle that need not be removed for either eating, drinking, or
fighting; but it satisfied the law, and Tip always came safely through
the dog-days, perhaps by favor or affection with the officers who were
so inexorable with some dogs.

My boy long remembered with horror and remorse his part in giving up to
justice an unconscious offender, and seeing him pay for his
transgression with his life. The boy was playing before his door, when a
constable came by with his rifle on his shoulder, and asked him if he
had seen any unmuzzled dogs about; and partly from pride at being
addressed by a constable, partly from a nervous fear of refusing to
answer, and partly from a childish curiosity to see what would happen,
he said, "Yes; one over there by the pork-house." The constable
whistled, and the poor little animal, which had got lost from the farmer
it had followed to town, came running into sight round the corner of the
pork-house, and sat up on its haunches to look about. It was a small red
dog, the size of a fox, and the boy always saw it afterwards as it sat
there in the gray afternoon, and fascinated him with its deadly peril.
The constable swung his rifle quickly to his shoulder; the sharp,
whiplike report came, and the dog dropped over, and its heart's blood
flowed upon the ground and lay there in a pool. The boy ran into the
house, with that picture forever printed in his memory. For him it was
as if he had seen a fellow-being slain, and had helped to bring him to
his death.

Whilst Tip was still in his prime the family of children was further
enriched by the possession of a goat; but this did not belong to the
whole family, or it was, at least nominally, the property of that eldest
brother they all looked up to. I do not know how they came by the goat,
any more than I know how they came by Tip; I only know that there came a
time when it was already in the family, and that before it was got rid
of it was a presence there was no mistaking. Nobody who has not kept a
goat can have any notion of how many different kinds of mischief a goat
can get into, without seeming to try, either, but merely by following
the impulses of its own goatishness. This one was a nanny-goat, and it
answered to the name of Nanny with an intelligence that was otherwise
wholly employed in making trouble. It went up and down stairs, from
cellar to garret, and in and out of all the rooms, like anybody, with a
faint, cynical indifference in the glance of its cold gray eyes that
gave no hint of its purposes or performances. In the chambers it chewed
the sheets and pillow-cases on the beds, and in the dining-room, if it
found nothing else, it would do its best to eat the table-cloth.
Washing-day was a perfect feast for it, for then it would banquet on the
shirt-sleeves and stockings that dangled from the clothes-line, and
simply glut itself with the family linen and cotton. In default of these
dainties, Nanny would gladly eat a chip-hat; she was not proud; she
would eat a split-basket, if there was nothing else at hand. Once she
got up on the kitchen-table, and had a perfect orgy with a lot of
fresh-baked pumpkin-pies she found there; she cleaned all the pumpkin so
neatly out of the pastry shells that, if there had been any more pumpkin
left, they could have been filled up again, and nobody could have told
the difference. The grandmother, who was visiting in the house at the
time, declared to the mother that it would serve the father and the boys
just right if she did fill these very shells up and give them to the
father and the boys to eat. But I believe this was not done, and it was
only suggested in a moment of awful exasperation, and because it was the
father who was to blame for letting the boys keep the goat. The mother
was always saying that the goat should not stay in the house another
day, but she had not the heart to insist on its banishment, the children
were so fond of it. I do not know why they were fond of it, for it never
showed them the least affection, but was always taking the most unfair
advantages of them, and it would butt them over whenever it got the
chance. It would try to butt them into the well when they leaned down to
pull up the bucket from the curb; and if it came out of the house, and
saw a boy cracking nuts at the low flat stone the children had in the
back-yard to crack nuts on, it would pretend that the boy was making
motions to insult it, and before he knew what he was about it would fly
at him and send him spinning head over heels. It was not of the least
use in the world, and could not be, but the children were allowed to
keep it till, one fatal day, when the mother had a number of other
ladies to tea, as the fashion used to be in small towns, when they sat
down to a comfortable gossip over dainty dishes of stewed chicken, hot
biscuit, peach-preserves, sweet tomato-pickles, and pound-cake. That day
they all laid off their bonnets on the hall-table, and the goat, after
demurely waiting and watching with its faded eyes, which saw everything
and seemed to see nothing, discerned a golden opportunity, and began to
make such a supper of bonnet-ribbons as perhaps never fell to a goat's
lot in life before. It was detected in its stolen joys just as it had
chewed the ribbon of a best bonnet up to the bonnet, and was chased into
the back-yard; but, as it had swallowed the ribbon without being able to
swallow the bonnet, it carried that with it. The boy who specially owned
the goat ran it down in a frenzy of horror and apprehension, and managed
to unravel the ribbon from its throat, and get back the bonnet. Then he
took the bonnet in and laid it carefully down on the table again, and
decided that it would be best not to say anything about the affair. But
such a thing as that could not be kept. The goat was known at once to
have done the mischief; and this time it was really sent away. All the
children mourned it, and the boy who owned it the most used to go to the
house of the people who took it, and who had a high board fence round
their yard, and try to catch sight of it through the cracks. When he
called "Nanny" it answered him instantly with a plaintive "Baa!" and
then, after a vain interchange of lamentations, he had to come away, and
console himself as he could with the pets that were left him.

Among these were a family of white rabbits, which the boys kept in a
little hutch at the bottom of the yard. They were of no more use than
the goat was, but they were at least not mischievous, and there was only
one of them that would bite, and he would not bite if you would take him
up close behind the ears, so that he could not get at you. The rest were
very good-natured, and would let you smooth them, or put them inside of
your shirt-bosom, or anything. They would eat cabbage or bread or apples
out of your hand; and it was fun to see their noses twitch. Otherwise
they had no accomplishments. All you could do with them was to trade
with other boys, or else keep the dogs from them; it was pretty exciting
to keep the dogs from them. Tip was such a good dog that he never
dreamed of touching the rabbits.

Of course these boys kept chickens. The favorite chicken in those days
was a small white bantam, and the more feathers it had down its legs the
better. My boy had a bantam hen that was perfectly white, and so tame
that she would run up to him whenever he came into the yard, and follow
him round like a dog. When she had chickens she taught them to be just
as fond of him, and the tiny little balls of yellow down tumbled
fearlessly about in his hands, and pecked the crumbs of bread between
his fingers. As they got older they ran with their mother to meet him,
and when he sat down on the grass they clambered over him and crept into
his shirt-bosom, and crooned softly, as they did when their mother
hovered them. The boy loved them better than anything he ever had; he
always saw them safe in the coop at night, and he ran out early in the
morning to see how they had got through the night, and to feed them. One
fatal morning he found them all scattered dead upon the grass, the
mother and every one of her pretty chicks, with no sign upon them of how
they had been killed. He could only guess that they had fallen a prey to
rats, or to some owl that had got into their coop; but, as they had not
been torn or carried away, he guessed in vain. He buried them with the
sympathy of all the children and all the fellows at school who heard
about the affair. It was a real grief; it was long before he could think
of his loss without tears; and I am not sure there is so much difference
of quality in our bereavements; the loss can hurt more or it can hurt
less, but the pang must be always the same in kind.

Besides his goat, my boy's brother kept pigeons, which, again, were like
the goat and the rabbits in not being of very much use. They had to be
much more carefully looked after than chickens when they were young,
they were so helpless in their nests, such mere weak wads of featherless
flesh. At first you had to open their bills and poke the food in; and
you had to look out how you gave them water for fear you would drown
them; but when they got a little larger they would drink and eat from
your mouth; and that was some pleasure, for they did not seem to know
you from an old pigeon when you took your mouth full of corn or water
and fed them. Afterwards, when they began to fly, it was a good deal of
fun to keep them, and make more cots for them, and build them nests in
the cots.

But they were not very intelligent pets; hardly more intelligent than
the fish that the boys kept in the large wooden hogshead of rain-water
at the corner of the house. They had caught some of these fish when they
were quite small, and the fish grew very fast, for there was plenty of
food for them in the mosquito-tadpoles that abounded in the hogshead.
Then, the boys fed them every day with bread-crumbs and worms. There was
one big sunfish that was not afraid of anything; if you held a worm just
over him he would jump out of the water and snatch it. Besides the fish,
there was a turtle in the hogshead, and he had a broad chip that he
liked to sun himself on. It was fun to watch him resting on this chip,
with his nose barely poked out of his shell, and his eyes, with the skin
dropped over them, just showing. He had some tricks: he would snap at a
stick if you teased him with it, and would let you lift him up by it.
That was a good deal of pleasure.

But all these were trifling joys, except maybe Tip and Nanny, compared
with the pony which the boys owned in common, and which was the greatest
thing that ever came into their lives. I cannot tell just how their
father came to buy it for them, or where he got it; but I dare say he
thought they were about old enough for a pony, and might as well have
one. It was a Mexican pony, and as it appeared on the scene just after
the Mexican war, some volunteer may have brought it home. One volunteer
brought home a Mexican dog, that was smooth and hairless, with a skin
like an elephant, and that was always shivering round with the cold; he
was not otherwise a remarkable dog, and I do not know that he ever felt
even the warmth of friendship among the boys; his manners were reserved
and his temper seemed doubtful. But the pony never had any trouble with
the climate of Southern Ohio (which is indeed hot enough to fry a
salamander in summer); and though his temper was no better than other
ponies', he was perfectly approachable. I mean that he was approachable
from the side, for it was not well to get where he could bite you or
kick you. He was of a bright sorrel color, and he had a brand on one
haunch. My boy had an ideal of a pony, conceived from pictures in his
reading-books at school, that held its head high and arched its neck,
and he strove by means of checks and martingales to make this real pony
conform to the illustrations. But it was of no use; the real pony held
his neck straight out like a ewe, or, if reined up, like a camel, and he
hung his big head at the end of it with no regard whatever for the
ideal. His caparison was another mortification and failure. What the
boy wanted was an English saddle, embroidered on the morocco seat in
crimson silk, and furnished with shining steel stirrups. What he had was
the framework of a Mexican saddle, covered with rawhide, and cushioned
with a blanket; the stirrups were Mexican too, and clumsily fashioned
out of wood. The boys were always talking about getting their father to
get them a pad, but they never did it, and they managed as they could
with the saddle they had. For the most part they preferred to ride the
pony barebacked, for then they could ride him double, and when they
first got him they all wanted to ride him so much that they had to ride
him double. They kept him going the whole day long; but after a while
they calmed down enough to take him one at a time, and to let him have a
chance for his meals.

They had no regular stable, and the father left the boys to fit part of
the cow-shed up for the pony, which they did by throwing part of the
hen-coop open into it. The pigeon-cots were just over his head, and he
never could have complained of being lonesome. At first everybody wanted
to feed him as well as ride him, and if he had been allowed time for it
he might have eaten himself to death, or if he had not always tried to
bite you or kick you when you came in with his corn. After a while the
boys got so they forgot him, and nobody wanted to go out and feed the
pony, especially after dark; but he knew how to take care of himself,
and when he had eaten up everything there was in the cow-shed he would
break out and eat up everything there was in the yard.

The boys got lots of good out of him. When you were once on his back you
were pretty safe, for he was so lazy that he would not think of running
away, and there was no danger unless he bounced you off when he trotted;
he had a hard trot. The boys wanted to ride him standing up, like
circus-actors, and the pony did not mind, but the boys could not stay
on, though they practised a good deal, turn about, when the other
fellows were riding their horses, standing up, on the Commons. He was
not of much more use in Indian fights, for he could seldom be lashed
into a gallop, and a pony that proposed to walk through an Indian fight
was ridiculous. Still, with the help of imagination, my boy employed him
in some scenes of wild Arab life, and hurled the Moorish javelin from
him in mid-career, when the pony was flying along at the mad pace of a
canal-boat. The pony early gave the boys to understand that they could
get very little out of him in the way of herding the family cow. He
would let them ride him to the pasture, and he would keep up with the
cow on the way home, when she walked, but if they wanted anything more
than that they must get some other pony. They tried to use him in
carrying papers, but the subscribers objected to having him ridden up to
their front doors over the sidewalk, and they had to give it up.

When he became an old story, and there was no competition for him among
the brothers, my boy sometimes took him into the woods, and rode him in
the wandering bridle-paths, with a thrilling sense of adventure. He did
not like to be alone there, and he oftener had the company of a boy who
was learning the trade in his father's printing-office. This boy was
just between him and his elder brother in age, and he was the good
comrade of both; all the family loved him, and made him one of them,
and my boy was fond of him because they had some tastes in common that
were not very common among the other boys. They liked the same books,
and they both began to write historical romances. My boy's romance was
founded on facts of the Conquest of Granada, which he had read of again
and again in Washington Irving, with a passionate pity for the Moors,
and yet with pride in the grave and noble Spaniards. He would have given
almost anything to be a Spaniard, and he lived in a dream of some day
sallying out upon the Vega before Granada, in silk and steel, with an
Arabian charger under him that champed its bit. In the meantime he did
what he could with the family pony, and he had long rides in the woods
with the other boy, who used to get his father's horse when he was not
using it on Sunday, and race with him through the dangling wild
grape-vines and pawpaw thickets, and over the reedy levels of the river,
their hearts both bounding with the same high hopes of a world that
could never come true.



ALL round the Boy's Town stood the forest, with the trees that must have
been well grown when Mad Anthony Wayne drove the Indians from their
shadow forever. The white people had hewn space for their streets and
houses, for their fields and farmsteads, out of the woods, but where the
woods had been left they were of immemorial age. They were not very
dense, and the timber was not very heavy; the trees stood more like
trees in a park than trees in a forest; there was little or no
undergrowth, except here and there a pawpaw thicket; and there were
sometimes grassy spaces between them, where the may-apples pitched their
pretty tents in the spring. Perhaps, at no very great distance of time,
it had been a prairie country, with those wide savannahs of waving grass
that took the eyes of the first-comers in the Ohio wilderness with an
image of Nature long tamed to the hand of man. But this is merely my
conjecture, and what I know does not bear me out in it; for the wall of
forest that enclosed the Boy's Town was without a break except where the
axe had made it. At some points it was nearer and at some farther; but,
nearer or farther, the forest encompassed the town, and it called the
boys born within its circuit, as the sea calls the boys born by its
shore, with mysterious, alluring voices, kindling the blood, taking the
soul with love for its strangeness. There was not a boy in the Boy's
Town who would not gladly have turned from the town and lived in the
woods if his mother had let him; and in every vague plan of running off
the forest had its place as a city of refuge from pursuit and recapture.
The pioneer days were still so close to those times that the love of
solitary adventure which took the boys' fathers into the sylvan wastes
of the great West might well have burned in the boys' hearts; and if
their ideal of life was the free life of the woods, no doubt it was
because their near ancestors had lived it. At any rate, that was their
ideal, and they were always talking among themselves of how they would
go farther West when they grew up, and be trappers and hunters. I do not
remember any boy but one who meant to be a sailor; they lived too
hopelessly far from the sea; and I dare say the boy who invented the
marine-engine governor, and who wished to be a pirate, would just as
soon have been a bandit of the Osage. In those days Oregon had just been
opened to settlers, and the boys all wanted to go and live in Oregon,
where you could stand in your door and shoot deer and wild turkey, while
a salmon big enough to pull you in was tugging away at the line you had
set in the river that ran before the log-cabin.


If they could, the boys would rather have been Indians than anything
else, but, as there was really no hope of this whatever, they were
willing to be settlers, and fight the Indians. They had rather a mixed
mind about them in the meantime, but perhaps they were not unlike other
idolaters in both fearing and adoring their idols; perhaps they came
pretty near being Indians in that, and certainly they came nearer than
they knew. When they played war, and the war was between the whites and
the Indians, it was almost as low a thing to be white as it was to be
British when there were Americans on the other side; in either case you
had to be beaten. The boys lived in the desire, if not the hope, of some
time seeing an Indian, and they made the most of the Indians in the
circus, whom they knew to be just white men dressed up; but none of them
dreamed that what really happened one day could ever happen. This was at
the arrival of several canal-boat loads of genuine Indians from the
Wyandot Reservation in the northwestern part of the state, on their way
to new lands beyond the Mississippi. The boys' fathers must have known
that these Indians were coming, but it just shows how stupid the most of
fathers are, that they never told the boys about it. All at once there
the Indians were, as if the canal-boats had dropped with them out of
heaven. There they were, crowding the decks, in their blankets and
moccasins, braves and squaws and pappooses, standing about or squatting
in groups, not saying anything, and looking exactly like the pictures.
The squaws had the pappooses on their backs, and the men and boys had
bows and arrows in their hands; and as soon as the boats landed the
Indians, all except the squaws and pappooses, came ashore, and went up
to the court-house yard, and began to shoot with their bows and arrows.
It almost made the boys crazy.

Of course they would have liked to have the Indians shoot at birds, or
some game, but they were mighty glad to have them shoot at cents and
bits and quarters that anybody could stick up in the ground. The Indians
would all shoot at the mark till some one hit it, and the one who hit it
had the money, whatever it was. The boys ran and brought back the
arrows; and they were so proud to do this that I wonder they lived
through it. My boy was too bashful to bring the Indians their arrows; he
could only stand apart and long to approach the filthy savages, whom he
revered; to have touched the border of one of their blankets would have
been too much. Some of them were rather handsome, and two or three of
the Indian boys were so pretty that the Boy's Town boys said they were
girls. They were of all ages, from old, withered men to children of six
or seven, but they were all alike grave and unsmiling; the old men were
not a whit more dignified than the children, and the children did not
enter into their sport with more zeal and ardor than the wrinkled sages
who shared it. In fact they were, old and young alike, savages, and the
boys who looked on and envied them were savages in their ideal of a
world where people spent their lives in hunting and fishing and ranging
the woods, and never grew up into the toils and cares that can alone
make men of boys. They wished to escape these, as many foolish persons
do among civilized nations, and they thought if they could only escape
them they would be happy; they did not know that they would be merely
savage, and that the great difference between a savage and a civilized
man is work. They would all have been willing to follow these Indians
away into the far West, where they were going, and be barbarians for the
rest of their days; and the wonder is that some of the fellows did not
try it. After the red men had flitted away like red leaves their memory
remained with the boys, and a plague of bows and arrows raged among
them, and it was a good while before they calmed down to their old
desire of having a gun.

But they came back to that at last, for that was the normal desire of
every boy in the Boy's Town who was not a girl-boy, and there were
mighty few girl-boys there. Up to a certain point, a pistol would do,
especially if you had bullet-moulds, and could run bullets to shoot out
of it; only your mother would be sure to see you running them, and just
as likely as not would be so scared that she would say you must not
shoot bullets. Then you would have to use buckshot, if you could get
them anywhere near the right size, or small marbles; but a pistol was
always a makeshift, and you never could hit anything with it, not even a
board fence; it always kicked, or burst, or something. Very few boys
ever came to have a gun, though they all expected to have one. But seven
or eight boys would go hunting with one shot-gun, and take turn-about
shooting; some of the little fellows never got to shoot at all, but they
could run and see whether the big boys had hit anything when they fired,
and that was something. This was my boy's privilege for a long time
before he had a gun of his own, and he went patiently with his elder
brother, and never expected to fire the gun, except, perhaps, to shoot
the load off before they got back to town; they were not allowed to
bring the gun home loaded. It was a gun that was pretty safe for
anything in front of it, but you never could tell what it was going to
do. It began by being simply an old gun-barrel, which my boy's brother
bought of another boy who was sick of it for a fip, as the half-real
piece was called, and it went on till it got a lock from one gunsmith
and a stock from another, and was a complete gun. But this took time;
perhaps a month; for the gunsmiths would only work at it in their
leisure; they were delinquent subscribers, and they did it in part pay
for their papers. When they got through with it my boy's brother made
himself a ramrod out of a straight piece of hickory, or at least as
straight as the gun-barrel, which was rather sway-backed, and had a
little twist to one side, so that one of the jour printers said it was a
first-rate gun to shoot round a corner with. Then he made himself a
powder-flask out of an ox-horn that he got and boiled till it was soft
(it smelt the whole house up), and then scraped thin with a piece of
glass; it hung at his side; and he carried his shot in his pantaloons
pocket. He went hunting with this gun for a good many years, but he had
never shot anything with it, when his uncle gave him a smoothbore rifle,
and he in turn gave his gun to my boy, who must then have been nearly
ten years old. It seemed to him that he was quite old enough to have a
gun; but he was mortified the very next morning after he got it by a
citizen who thought differently. He had risen at daybreak to go out and
shoot kildees on the Common, and he was hurrying along with his gun on
his shoulder when the citizen stopped him and asked him what he was
going to do with that gun. He said to shoot kildees, and he added that
it was his gun. This seemed to surprise the citizen even more than the
boy could have wished. He asked him if he did not think he was a pretty
small boy to have a gun; and he took the gun from him, and examined it
thoughtfully, and then handed it back to the boy, who felt himself
getting smaller all the time. The man went his way without saying
anything more, but his behavior was somehow so sarcastic that the boy
had no pleasure in his sport that morning; partly, perhaps, because he
found no kildees to shoot at on the Common. He only fired off his gun
once or twice at a fence, and then he sneaked home with it through
alleys and by-ways, and whenever he met a person he hurried by for fear
the person would find him too small to have a gun.

Afterwards he came to have a bolder spirit about it, and he went hunting
with it a good deal. It was a very curious kind of gun; you had to snap
a good many caps on it, sometimes, before the load would go off; and
sometimes it would hang fire, and then seem to recollect itself, and go
off, maybe, just when you were going to take it down from your shoulder.
The barrel was so crooked that it could not shoot straight, but this was
not the only reason why the boy never hit anything with it. He could not
shut his left eye and keep his right eye open; so he had to take aim
with both eyes, or else with the left eye, which was worse yet, till one
day when he was playing shinny (or hockey) at school, and got a blow
over his left eye from a shinny-stick. At first he thought his eye was
put out; he could not see for the blood that poured into it from the cut
above it. He ran homeward wild with fear, but on the way he stopped at a
pump to wash away the blood, and then he found his eye was safe. It
suddenly came into his mind to try if he could not shut that eye now,
and keep the right one open. He found that he could do it perfectly; by
help of his handkerchief, he stanched his wound, and made himself
presentable, with the glassy pool before the pump for a mirror, and went
joyfully back to school. He kept trying his left eye, to make sure it
had not lost its new-found art, and as soon as school was out he hurried
home to share the joyful news with his family. He went hunting the very
next Saturday, and at the first shot he killed a bird. It was a
suicidal sap-sucker, which had suffered him to steal upon it so close
that it could not escape even the vagaries of that wandering gun-barrel,
and was blown into such small pieces that the boy could bring only a few
feathers of it away. In the evening, when his father came home, he
showed him these trophies of the chase, and boasted of his exploit with
the minutest detail. His father asked him whether he had expected to eat
this sap-sucker, if he could have got enough of it together. He said no,
sap-suckers were not good to eat. "Then you took its poor little life
merely for the pleasure of killing it," said the father. "Was it a great
pleasure to see it die?" The boy hung his head in shame and silence; it
seemed to him that he would never go hunting again. Of course he did go
hunting often afterwards, but his brother and he kept faithfully to the
rule of never killing anything that they did not want to eat. To be
sure, they gave themselves a wide range; they were willing to eat almost
anything that they could shoot, even blackbirds, which were so abundant
and so easy to shoot. But there were some things which they would have
thought it not only wanton but wicked to kill, like turtle-doves, which
they somehow believed were sacred, because they were the symbols of the
Holy Ghost; it was quite their own notion to hold them sacred. They
would not kill robins either, because robins were hallowed by poetry,
and they kept about the house, and were almost tame, so that it seemed a
shame to shoot them. They were very plentiful, and so were the
turtle-doves, which used to light on the basin-bank, and pick up the
grain scattered there from the boats and wagons. One of the apprentices
in the printing-office kept a shot-gun loaded beside the press while he
was rolling, and whenever he caught the soft twitter that the doves make
with their wings, he rushed out with his gun and knocked over two or
three of them. He was a good shot, and could nearly always get them in
range. When he brought them back, it seemed to my boy that he had
committed the unpardonable sin, and that something awful would surely
happen to him. But he just kept on rolling the forms of type and
exchanging insults with the pressman; and at the first faint twitter of
doves' wings he would be off again.

My boy and his brother made a fine distinction between turtle-doves and
wild pigeons; they would have killed wild pigeons if they had got a
chance, though you could not tell them from turtle-doves except by their
size and the sound they made with their wings. But there were not many
pigeons in the woods around the Boy's Town, and they were very shy.
There were snipe along the river, and flocks of kildees on the Commons,
but the bird that was mostly killed by these boys was the yellowhammer.
They distinguished, again, in its case; and decided that it was not a
woodpecker, and might be killed; sometimes they thought that woodpeckers
were so nearly yellowhammers that they might be killed, but they had
never heard of any one's eating a woodpecker, and so they could not
quite bring themselves to it. There were said to be squirrels in the
hickory woods near the Poor-House, but that was a great way off for my
boy; besides the squirrels, there was a cross bull in those woods, and
sometimes Solomon Whistler passed through them on his way to or from the
Poor-House; so my boy never hunted squirrels. Sometimes he went with his
brother for rabbits, which you could track through the corn-fields in a
light snow, and sometimes, if they did not turn out to be cats, you
could get a shot at them. Now and then there were quail in the
wheat-stubble, and there were meadow-larks in the pastures, but they
were very wild.

After all, yellowhammers were the chief reliance in the chase; they were
pre-occupied, unsuspecting birds, and lit on fence rails and dead trees,
so that they were pretty easy to shoot. If you could bring home a
yellowhammer you felt that you had something to show for your long day's
tramp through the woods and fields, and for the five cents' worth of
powder and five cents' worth of shot that you had fired off at other
game. Sometimes you just fired it off at mullein-stalks, or barns, or
anything you came to. There were a good many things you could do with a
gun; you could fire your ramrod out of it, and see it sail through the
air; you could fill the muzzle up with water, on top of a charge, and
send the water in a straight column at a fence. The boys all believed
that you could fire that column of water right through a man, and they
always wanted to try whether it would go through a cow, but they were
afraid the owner of the cow would find it out. There was a good deal of
pleasure in cleaning your gun when it got so foul that your ramrod stuck
in it and you could hardly get it out. You poured hot water into the
muzzle and blew it through the nipple, till it began to show clear; then
you wiped it dry with soft rags wound on your gun-screw, and then oiled
it with greasy tow. Sometimes the tow would get loose from the screw,
and stay in the barrel, and then you would have to pick enough powder in
at the nipple to blow it out. Of course I am talking of the old
muzzle-loading shot-gun, which I dare say the boys never use nowadays.

But the great pleasure of all, in hunting, was getting home tired and
footsore in the evening, and smelling the supper almost as soon as you
came in sight of the house. There was nearly always hot biscuit for
supper, with steak, and with coffee such as nobody but a boy's mother
ever knew how to make; and just as likely as not there was some kind of
preserves; at any rate, there was apple-butter. You could hardly take
the time to wash the powder-grime off your hands and face before you
rushed to the table; and if you had brought home a yellowhammer you left
it with your gun on the back porch, and perhaps the cat got it and saved
you the trouble of cleaning it. A cat can clean a bird a good deal
quicker than a boy can, and she does not hate to do it half as badly.

Next to the pleasure of getting home from hunting late, was the pleasure
of starting early, as my boy and his brother sometimes did, to shoot
ducks on the Little Reservoir in the fall. His brother had an
alarm-clock, which he set at about four, and he was up the instant it
rang, and pulling my boy out of bed, where he would rather have stayed
than shot the largest mallard duck in the world. They raked the ashes
off the bed of coals in the fireplace, and while the embers ticked and
bristled, and flung out little showers of sparks, they hustled on their
clothes, and ran down the back stairs into the yard with their guns.
Tip, the dog, was already waiting for them there, for he seemed to know
they were going that morning, and he began whimpering for joy, and
twisting himself sideways up against them, and nearly wagging his tail
off; and licking their hands and faces, and kissing their guns all
over; he was about crazy. When they started, he knew where they were
going, and he rushed ahead through the silent little sleeping town, and
led the way across the wide Commons, where the cows lay in dim bulks on
the grass, and the geese waddled out of his way with wild clamorous
cries, till they came in sight of the Reservoir. Then Tip fell back with
my boy and let the elder brother go ahead, for he always had a right to
the first shot; and while he dodged down behind the bank, and crept
along to the place where the ducks usually were, my boy kept a hold on
Tip's collar, and took in the beautiful mystery of the early morning.
The place so familiar by day was estranged to his eyes in that pale
light, and he was glad of old Tip's company, for it seemed a time when
there might very well be ghosts about. The water stretched a sheet of
smooth, gray silver, with little tufts of mist on its surface, and
through these at last he could see the ducks softly gliding to and fro,
and he could catch some dreamy sound from them. His heart stood still
and then jumped wildly in his breast, as the still air was startled with
the rush of wings, and the water broke with the plunge of other flocks
arriving. Then he began to make those bets with himself that a boy hopes
he will lose: he bet that his brother would not hit any of them; he bet
that he did not even see them; he bet that if he did see them and got a
shot at them, they would not come back so that he could get a chance
himself to kill any. It seemed to him that he had to wait an hour, and
just when he was going to hollo, and tell his brother where the ducks
were, the old smoothbore sent out a red flash and a white puff before he
heard the report; Tip tore loose from his grasp; and he heard the
splashing rise of the ducks, and the hurtling rush of their wings; and
he ran forward, yelling, "How many did you hit? Where are they? Where
are you? Are they coming back? It's my turn now!" and making an outcry
that would have frightened away a fleet of ironclads, but much less a
flock of ducks.

One shot always ended the morning's sport, and there were always good
reasons why this shot never killed anything.



THE foraging began with the first relenting days of winter, which
usually came in February. Then the boys began to go to the woods to get
sugar-water, as they called the maple sap, and they gave whole Saturdays
to it as long as the sap would run. It took at least five or six boys to
go for sugar-water, and they always had to get a boy whose father had an
auger to come along, so as to have something to bore the trees with. On
their way to the woods they had to stop at an elder thicket to get
elder-wood to make spiles of, and at a straw pile to cut straws to suck
the sap through, if the spiles would not work. They always brought lots
of tin buckets to take the sap home in, and the big boys made the little
fellows carry these, for they had to keep their own hands free to
whittle the elder sticks into the form of spouts, and to push the pith
out and make them hollow. They talked loudly and all at once, and they
ran a good deal of the way, from the excitement. If it was a good
sugar-day, there were patches of snow still in the fence corners and
shady places, which they searched for rabbit-tracks; but the air was so
warm that they wanted to take their shoes off, and begin going barefoot
at once. Overhead, the sky was a sort of pale, milky blue, with the sun
burning softly through it, and casting faint shadows. When they got
into the woods, it was cooler, and there were more patches of snow, with
bird-tracks and squirrel-tracks in them. They could hear the blue-jays
snarling at one another, and the yellowhammer chuckling; on some dead
tree a redheaded woodpecker hammered noisily, and if the boys had only
had a gun with them they could have killed lots of things. Now and then
they passed near some woodchoppers, whose axes made a pleasant sound,
without frightening any of the wild things, they had got so used to
them; sometimes the boys heard the long hollow crash of a tree they were
felling. But all the time they kept looking out for a good sugar-tree,
and when they saw a maple stained black from the branches down with the
sap running from the little holes that the sap-suckers had made, they
burst into a shout, and dashed forward, and the fellow with the auger
began to bore away, while the other fellows stood round and told him
how, and wanted to make him let them do it. Up and down the tree there
was a soft murmur from the bees that had found it out before the boys,
and every now and then they wove through the air the straight lines of
their coming and going, and made the fellows wish they could find a
bee-tree. But for the present these were intent upon the sugar-tree, and
kept hurrying up the boy with the auger. When he had bored in deep
enough, they tried to fit a spile to the hole, but it was nearly always
crooked and too big, or else it pointed downward and the water would not
run up through the spile. Then some of them got out their straws, and
began to suck the sap up from the hole through them, and to quarrel and
push, till they agreed to take turn-about, and others got the auger and
bunted for another blackened tree. They never could get their spiles to
work, and the water gathered so slowly in the holes they bored, and some
of the fellows took such long turns, that it was very little fun. They
tried to get some good out of the small holes the sap-suckers had made,
but there were only a few drops in them, mixed with bark and moss. If it
had not been for the woodchoppers, foraging for sugar-water would always
have been a failure; but one of them was pretty sure to come up with his
axe in his hand, and show the boys how to get the water. He would choose
one of the roots near the foot of the tree, and chop a clean, square
hole in it; the sap flew at each stroke of his axe, and it rose so fast
in the well he made that the thirstiest boy could not keep it down, and
three or four boys, with their heads jammed tight together and their
straws plunged into its depths, lay stretched upon their stomachs and
drank their fill at once. When every one was satisfied, or as nearly
satisfied as a boy can ever be, they began to think how they could carry
some of the sugar-water home. But by this time it would be pretty late
in the afternoon; and they would have to put it off till some other day,
when they intended to bring something to dip the water out with; the
buckets they had brought were all too big. Then, if they could get
enough, they meant to boil it down and make sugar-wax. I never knew of
any boys who did so.

The next thing after going for sugar-water was gathering may-apples, as
they called the fruit of the mandrake in that country. They grew to
their full size, nearly as large as a pullet's egg, some time in June,
and they were gathered green, and carried home to be ripened in the
cornmeal-barrel. The boys usually forgot about them before they were
ripe; when now and then one was remembered, it was a thin, watery, sour
thing at the best. But the boys gathered them every spring, in the
pleasant open woods where they grew, just beyond the densest shade of
the trees, among the tall, straggling grasses; and they had that joyous
sense of the bounty of nature in hoarding them up which is one of the
sweetest and dearest experiences of childhood. Through this the boy
comes close to the heart of the mother of us all, and rejoices in the
wealth she never grudges to those who are willing to be merely rich

There were not many wild berries in the country near the Boy's Town, or
what seemed near; but sometimes my boy's father took him a great way off
to a region, long lost from the map, where there were blackberries. The
swimming lasted so late into September, however, that the boys began to
go for nuts almost as soon as they left off going into the water. They
began with the little acorns that they called chinquepins, and that were
such a pretty black, streaked upward from the cup with yellow, that they
gathered them half for the unconscious pleasure of their beauty. They
were rather bitter, and they puckered your mouth; but still you ate
them. They were easy to knock off the low oaks where they grew, and they
were so plentiful that you could get a peck of them in no time. There
was no need of anybody's climbing a tree to shake them; but one day the
boys got to telling what they would do if a bear came, and one of them
climbed a chinquepin-tree to show how he would get out on such a small
limb that the bear would be afraid to follow him; and he went so far out
on the limb that it broke under him. Perhaps he was heavier than he
would have been if he had not been carrying the load of guilt which
must burden a boy who is playing hookey. At any rate, he fell to the
ground, and lay there helpless while the other boys gathered round him,
and shared all the alarm he felt for his life. His despair of now hiding
the fact that he had been playing hookey was his own affair, but they
reasoned with him that the offence would be overlooked in the anxiety
which his disaster must arouse. He was prepared to make the most of
this, and his groans grew louder as he drew near home in the arms of the
boys who took turns, two and two, in carrying him the whole long way
from Dayton Lane, with a terrified procession of alternates behind them.
These all ran as soon as they came in sight of his house and left the
last pair to deliver him to his mother. They never knew whether she
forgave him fully, or merely waited till he got well. You never could
tell how a boy's mother was going to act in any given case; mothers were
so very apt to act differently.

Red haws came a little before chinquepins. The trees grew mostly by the
First Lock, and the boys gathered the haws when they came out from
swimming in the canal. They did not take bags to gather haws, as they
did chinquepins; the fruit was not thought worthy of that honor; but
they filled their pockets with them and ate them on the way home. They
were rather nice, with a pleasant taste between a small apple and a rose
seed-pod; only you had to throw most of them away because they were
wormy. Once when the fellows were gathering haws out there they began to
have fun with a flock of turkeys, especially the gobblers, and one boy
got an old gobbler to following him while he walked slowly backward, and
teased him. The other boys would not have told him for anything when
they saw him backing against a low stump. When he reached it, his head
went down and his heels flew into the air, and then the gobbler hopped
upon him and began to have some of the fun himself. The boys always
thought that if they had not rushed up all together and scared the
gobbler off, he would have torn the boy to pieces, but very likely he
would not. He probably intended just to have fun with him.

The woods were pretty full of the kind of hickory-trees called pignuts,
and the boys gathered the nuts, and even ate their small, bitter
kernels; and around the Poor-House woods there were some shag-barks, but
the boys did not go for them because of the bull and the crazy people.
Their great and constant reliance in foraging was the abundance of black
walnuts which grew everywhere, along the roads and on the river-banks,
as well as in the woods and the pastures. Long before it was time to go
walnutting, the boys began knocking off the nuts and trying whether they
were ripe enough; and just as soon as the kernels began to fill out, the
fellows began making walnut wagons. I do not know why it was thought
necessary to have a wagon to gather walnuts, but I know that it was, and
that a boy had to make a new wagon every year. No boy's walnut wagon
could last till the next year; it did very well if it lasted till the
next day. He had to make it nearly all with his pocket-knife. He could
use a saw to block the wheels out of a pine board, and he could use a
hatchet to rough off the corners of the blocks, but he had to use his
knife to give them any sort of roundness, and they were not very round
then; they were apt to be oval in shape, and they always wabbled. He
whittled the axles out with his knife, and he made the hubs with it. He
could get a tongue ready-made if he used a broom-handle or a hoop-pole,
but that had in either case to be whittled so it could be fastened to
the wagon; he even bored the linchpin holes with his knife if he could
not get a gimlet; and if he could not get an auger, he bored the holes
through the wheels with a red-hot poker, and then whittled them large
enough with his knife. He had to use pine for nearly everything, because
any other wood was too hard to whittle; and then the pine was always
splitting. It split in the axles when he was making the linchpin holes,
and the wheels had to be kept on by linchpins that were tied in; the
wheels themselves split, and had to be strengthened by slats nailed
across the rifts. The wagon-bed was a candle-box nailed to the axles,
and that kept the front-axle tight, so that it took the whole width of a
street to turn a very little wagon in without upsetting.

[Illustration: FORAGING.]

When the wagon was all done, the boy who owned it started off with his
brothers, or some other boys who had no wagon, to gather walnuts. He
started early in the morning of some bright autumn day while the frost
still bearded the grass in the back-yard, and bristled on the fence-tops
and the roof of the wood-shed, and hurried off to the woods so as to get
there before the other boys had got the walnuts. The best place for them
was in some woods-pasture where the trees stood free of one another, and
around them, in among the tall, frosty grass, the tumbled nuts lay
scattered in groups of twos and threes, or fives, some still
yellowish-green in their hulls, and some black, but all sending up to
the nostrils of the delighted boy the incense of their clean, keen,
wild-woody smell, to be a memory forever. The leaves had dropped from
the trees overhead, and the branches outlined themselves against the
blue sky, and dangled from their outer stems clusters of the unfallen
fruit, as large as oranges, and only wanting a touch to send them
plumping down into the grass where sometimes their fat hulls burst, and
the nuts almost leaped into the boys' hands. The boys ran, some of them
to gather the fallen nuts, and others to get clubs and rocks to beat
them from the trees; one was sure to throw off his jacket and kick off
his shoes and climb the tree to shake every limb where a walnut was
still clinging. When they had got them all heaped up like a pile of
grape-shot at the foot of the tree, they began to hull them, with blows
of a stick, or with stones, and to pick the nuts from the hulls, where
the grubs were battening on their assured ripeness, and to toss them
into a little heap, a very little heap indeed compared with the bulk of
that they came from. The boys gloried in getting as much walnut stain on
their hands as they could, for it would not wash off, and it showed for
days that they had been walnutting; sometimes they got to staining one
another's faces with the juice, and pretending they were Indians.

The sun rose higher and higher, and burned the frost from the grass, and
while the boys worked and yelled and chattered they got hotter and
hotter, and began to take off their shoes and stockings, till every one
of them was barefoot. Then, about three or four o'clock, they would
start homeward, with half a bushel of walnuts in their wagon, and their
shoes and stockings piled in on top of them. That is, if they had good
luck. In a story, they would always have had good luck, and always gone
home with half a bushel of walnuts; but this is a history, and so I
have to own that they usually went home with about two quarts of walnuts
rattling round under their shoes and stockings in the bottom of the
wagon. They usually had no such easy time getting them as they always
would in a story; they did not find them under the trees, or ready to
drop off, but they had to knock them off with about six or seven clubs
or rocks to every walnut, and they had to pound the hulls so hard to get
the nuts out that sometimes they cracked the nuts. That was because they
usually went walnutting before the walnuts were ripe. But they made just
as much preparation for drying the nuts on the wood-shed roof whether
they got half a gallon or half a bushel; for they did not intend to stop
gathering them till they had two or three barrels. They nailed a cleat
across the roof to keep them from rolling off, and they spread them out
thin, so that they could look more than they were, and dry better. They
said they were going to keep them for Christmas, but they had to try
pretty nearly every hour or so whether they were getting dry, and in
about three days they were all eaten up.

I dare say boys are very different nowadays, and do everything they say
they are going to do, and carry out all their undertakings. But in that
day they never carried out any of their undertakings. Perhaps they
undertook too much; but the failure was a part of the pleasure of
undertaking a great deal, and if they had not failed they would have
left nothing for the men to do; and a more disgusting thing than a world
full of idle men who had done everything there was to do while they were
boys, I cannot imagine. The fact is, boys _have_ to leave a little for
men to do, or else the race would go to ruin; and this almost makes me
half believe that perhaps even the boys of the present time may be
prevented from doing quite as much as they think they are going to do,
until they grow up. Even then they may not want to do it all, but only a
small part of it. I have noticed that men do not undertake half so many
things as boys do; and instead of wanting to be circus-actors and
Indians, and soldiers, and boat-drivers, and politicians and robbers,
and to run off, and go in swimming all the time, and out hunting and
walnutting, they keep to a very few things, and are glad then if they
can do them. It is very curious, but it is true; and I advise any boy
who doubts it to watch his father awhile.



EVERY boy is two or three boys, or twenty or thirty different kinds of
boys in one; he is all the time living many lives and forming many
characters; but it is a good thing if he can keep one life and one
character when he gets to be a man. He may turn out to be like an onion
when he is grown up, and be nothing but hulls, that you keep peeling
off, one after another, till you think you have got down to the heart,
at last, and then you have got down to nothing.

All the boys may have been like my boy in the Boy's Town, in having each
an inward being that was not the least like their outward being, but
that somehow seemed to be their real self, whether it truly was so or
not. But I am certain that this was the case with him, and that while he
was joyfully sharing the wild sports and conforming to the savage usages
of the boy's world about him, he was dwelling in a wholly different
world within him, whose wonders no one else knew. I could not tell now
these wonders any more than he could have told them then; but it was a
world of dreams, of hopes, of purposes, which he would have been more
ashamed to avow for himself than I should be to avow for him. It was all
vague and vast, and it came out of the books that he read, and that
filled his soul with their witchery, and often held him aloof with
their charm in the midst of the plays from which they could not lure
him wholly away, or at all away. He did not know how or when their
enchantment began, and he could hardly recall the names of some of them
afterwards. First of them was Goldsmith's "History of Greece," which
made him an Athenian of Pericles's time, and Goldsmith's "History of
Rome," which naturalized him in a Roman citizenship chiefly employed in
slaying tyrants; from the time of Appius Claudius down to the time of
Domitian, there was hardly a tyrant that he did not slay. After he had
read these books, not once or twice, but twenty times over, his father
thought fit to put into his hands "The Travels of Captain Ashe in North
America," to encourage, or perhaps to test, his taste for useful
reading; but this was a failure. The captain's travels were printed with
long esses, and the boy could make nothing of them, for other reasons.
The fancy nourished upon

          "The glory that was Greece
           And the grandeur that was Rome,"

starved amidst the robust plenty of the Englishman's criticisms of our
early manners and customs. Neither could money hire the boy to read
"Malte-Brun's Geography," in three large folios, of a thousand pages
each, for which there was a standing offer of fifty cents from the
father, who had never been able to read it himself. But shortly after he
failed so miserably with Captain Ashe, the boy came into possession of a
priceless treasure. It was that little treatise on "Greek and Roman
Mythology" which I have mentioned, and which he must literally have worn
out with reading, since no fragment of it seems to have survived his
boyhood. Heaven knows who wrote it or published it; his father bought
it with a number of other books at an auction, and the boy, who had
about that time discovered the chapter on prosody in the back part of
his grammar, made poems from it for years, and appeared in many
transfigurations, as this and that god and demigod and hero upon
imagined occasions in the Boy's Town, to the fancied admiration of all
the other fellows. I do not know just why he wished to appear to his
grandmother in a vision; now as Mercury with winged feet, now as Apollo
with his drawn bow, now as Hercules leaning upon his club and resting
from his Twelve Labors. Perhaps it was because he thought that his
grandmother, who used to tell the children about her life in Wales, and
show them the picture of a castle where she had once slept when she was
a girl, would appreciate him in these apotheoses. If he believed they
would make a vivid impression upon the sweet old Quaker lady, no doubt
he was right.

There was another book which he read about this time, and that was "The
Greek Soldier." It was the story of a young Greek, a glorious Athenian,
who had fought through the Greek war of independence against the Turks,
and then come to America and published the narrative of his adventures.
They fired my boy with a retrospective longing to have been present at
the Battle of Navarino, when the allied ships of the English, French,
and Russians destroyed the Turkish fleet; but it seemed to him that he
could not have borne to have the allies impose a king upon the Greeks,
when they really wanted a republic, and so he was able to console
himself for having been absent. He did what he could in fighting the war
over again, and he intended to harden himself for the long struggle by
sleeping on the floor, as the Greek soldier had done. But the children
often fell asleep on the floor in the warmth of the hearth-fire; and his
preparation for the patriotic strife was not distinguishable in its
practical effect from a reluctance to go to bed at the right hour.

Captain Riley's narrative of his shipwreck on the coast of Africa, and
his captivity among the Arabs, was a book which my boy and his brother
prized with a kind of personal interest, because their father told them
that he had once seen a son of Captain Riley when he went to get his
appointment of collector at Columbus, and that this son was named
William Willshire Riley, after the good English merchant, William
Willshire, who had ransomed Captain Riley. William Willshire seemed to
them almost the best man who ever lived; though my boy had secretly a
greater fondness for the Arab, Sidi Hamet, who was kind to Captain Riley
and kept his brother Seid from ill-treating him whenever he could.
Probably the boy liked him better because the Arab was more picturesque
than the Englishman. The whole narrative was very interesting; it had a
vein of sincere and earnest piety in it which was not its least charm,
and it was written in a style of old-fashioned stateliness which was not
without its effect with the boys.

Somehow they did not think of the Arabs in this narrative as of the same
race and faith with the Arabs of Bagdad and the other places in the
"Arabian Nights." They did not think whether these were Mohammedans or
not; they naturalized them in the fairy world where all boys are
citizens, and lived with them there upon the same familiar terms as they
lived with Robinson Crusoe. Their father once told them that Robinson
Crusoe had robbed the real narrative of Alexander Selkirk of the place
it ought to have held in the remembrance of the world; and my boy had a
feeling of guilt in reading it, as if he were making himself the
accomplice of an impostor. He liked the "Arabian Nights," but oddly
enough these wonderful tales made no such impression on his fancy as the
stories in a wretchedly inferior book made. He did not know the name of
this book, or who wrote it; from which I imagine that much of his
reading was of the purblind sort that ignorant grown-up people do,
without any sort of literary vision. He read this book perpetually, when
he was not reading his "Greek and Roman Mythology;" and then suddenly,
one day, as happens in childhood with so many things, it vanished out of
his possession as if by magic. Perhaps he lost it; perhaps he lent it;
at any rate it was gone, and he never got it back, and he never knew
what book it was till thirty years afterwards, when he picked up from a
friend's library-table a copy of "Gesta Romanorum," and recognized in
this collection of old monkish legends the long-missing treasure of his
boyhood. These stories, without beauty of invention, without art of
construction or character, without spirituality in their crude
materialization, which were read aloud in the refectories of mediæval
cloisters while the monks sat at meat, laid a spell upon the soul of the
boy that governed his life. He conformed his conduct to the principles
and maxims which actuated the behavior of the shadowy people of these
dry-as-dust tales; he went about drunk with the fumes of fables about
Roman emperors that never were, in an empire that never was; and, though
they tormented him by putting a mixed and impossible civilization in the
place of that he knew from his Goldsmith, he was quite helpless to break
from their influence. He was always expecting some wonderful thing to
happen to him as things happened there in fulfilment of some saying or
prophecy; and at every trivial moment he made sayings and prophecies for
himself, which he wished events to fulfil. One Sunday when he was
walking in an alley behind one of the stores, he found a fur cap that
had probably fallen out of the store-loft window. He ran home with it,
and in his simple-hearted rapture he told his mother that as soon as he
picked it up there came into his mind the words, "He who picketh up this
cap picketh up a fortune," and he could hardly wait for Monday to come
and let him restore the cap to its owner and receive an enduring
prosperity in reward of his virtue. Heaven knows what form he expected
this to take; but when he found himself in the store, he lost all
courage; his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and he could not
utter a syllable of the fine phrases he had made to himself. He laid the
cap on the counter without a word; the storekeeper came up and took it
in his hand. "What's this?" he said. "Why, this is ours," and he tossed
the cap into a loose pile of hats by the showcase, and the boy slunk
out, cut to the heart and crushed to the dust. It was such a cruel
disappointment and mortification that it was rather a relief to have his
brother mock him, and come up and say from time to time, "He who picketh
up this cap picketh up a fortune," and then split into a jeering laugh.
At least he could fight his brother, and, when he ran, could stone him;
and he could throw quads and quoins, and pieces of riglet at the jour
printers when the story spread to them, and one of them would begin, "He
who picketh--"

He was not different from other boys in his desire to localize, to
realize, what he read; and he was always contriving in fancy scenes and
encounters of the greatest splendor, in which he bore a chief part.
Inwardly he was all thrones, principalities, and powers, the foe of
tyrants, the friend of good emperors, and the intimate of magicians, and
magnificently apparelled; outwardly he was an incorrigible little
sloven, who suffered in all social exigencies from the direst
bashfulness, and wished nothing so much as to shrink out of the sight of
men if they spoke to him. He could not help revealing sometimes to the
kindness of his father and mother the world of foolish dreams one half
of him lived in, while the other half swam, and fished, and hunted, and
ran races, and played tops and marbles, and squabbled and scuffled in
the Boy's Town. Very likely they sympathized with him more than they let
him know; they encouraged his reading, and the father directed his taste
as far as might be, especially in poetry. The boy liked to make poetry,
but he preferred to read prose, though he listened to the poems his
father read aloud, so as to learn how they were made. He learned certain
pieces by heart, like "The Turk lay dreaming of the hour," and "Pity the
sorrows of a poor old man," and he was fond of some passages that his
father wished him to know in Thomson's "Seasons." There were some of
Moore's songs, too, that he was fond of, such as "When in death I shall
calm recline," and "It was noon and on flowers that ranged all around."
He learned these by heart, to declaim at school, where he spoke, "On the
banks of the Danube fair Adelaide hied," from Campbell; but he could
hardly speak the "Soldier's Dream" for the lump that came into his
throat at the lines,

          "My little ones kissed me a thousand times o'er,
             And my wife sobbed aloud in her fulness of heart.

          "'Stay, stay with us! Stay! Thou art weary and worn!'
             And fain was their war-broken soldier to stay;
           But sorrow returned at the dawning of morn,
             And the voice in my dreaming ear melted away!"

He was himself both the war-broken soldier and the little ones that
kissed him, in the rapture of this now old-fashioned music, and he woke
with pangs of heartbreak in the very person of the dreamer.

But he could not make anything either of Byron or Cowper; and he did not
even try to read the little tree-calf volumes of Homer and Virgil which
his father had in the versions of Pope and Dryden; the small
copperplates with which they were illustrated conveyed no suggestion to
him. Afterwards he read Goldsmith's "Deserted Village," and he formed a
great passion for Pope's "Pastorals," which he imitated in their easy
heroics; but till he came to read Longfellow, and Tennyson, and Heine,
he never read any long poem without more fatigue than pleasure. His
father used to say that the taste for poetry was an acquired taste, like
the taste for tomatoes, and that he would come to it yet; but he never
came to it, or so much of it as some people seemed to do, and he always
had his sorrowful misgivings as to whether they liked it as much as they
pretended. I think, too, that it should be a flavor, a spice, a sweet, a
delicate relish in the high banquet of literature, and never a chief
dish; and I should not know how to defend my boy for trying to make long
poems of his own at the very time when he found it so hard to read other
people's long poems.

He had no conception of authorship as a vocation in life, and he did
not know why he wanted to make poetry. After first flaunting his skill
in it before the boys, and getting one of them into trouble by writing a
love-letter for him to a girl at school, and making the girl cry at a
thing so strange and puzzling as a love-letter in rhyme, he preferred to
conceal his gift. It became

          "His shame in crowds--his solitary pride,"

and he learned to know that it was considered _soft_ to write poetry, as
indeed it mostly is. He himself regarded with contempt a young man who
had printed a piece of poetry in his father's newspaper and put his own
name to it. He did not know what he would not have done sooner than
print poetry and put his name to it; and he was melted with confusion
when a girl who was going to have a party came to him at the
printing-office and asked him to make her the invitations in verse. The
printers laughed, and it seemed to the boy that he could never get over

But such disgraces are soon lived down, even at ten years, and a great
new experience which now came to him possibly helped the boy to forget.
This was the theatre, which he had sometimes heard his father speak of.
There had once been a theatre in the Boy's Town, when a strolling
company came up from Cincinnati, and opened for a season in an empty
pork-house. But that was a long time ago, and, though he had written a
tragedy, all that the boy knew of a theatre was from a picture in a
Sunday-school book where a stage scene was given to show what kind of
desperate amusements a person might come to in middle life if he began
by breaking the Sabbath in his youth. His brother had once been taken to
a theatre in Pittsburgh by one of their river-going uncles, and he
often told about it; but my boy formed no conception of the beautiful
reality from his accounts of a burglar who jumped from a roof and was
chased by a watchman with a pistol up and down a street with houses
painted on a curtain.

[Illustration: "THE BEACON OF DEATH."]

The company which came to the Boy's Town in his time was again from
Cincinnati, and it was under the management of the father and mother of
two actresses, afterwards famous, who were then children, just starting
upon their career. These pretty little creatures took the leading parts
in "Bombastes Furioso," the first night my boy ever saw a play, and he
instantly fell impartially in love with both of them, and tacitly
remained their abject slave for a great while after. When the smaller of
them came out with a large pair of stage boots in one hand and a drawn
sword in the other, and said,

          "Whoever dares these boots displace
           Shall meet Bombastes face to face,"

if the boy had not already been bereft of his senses by the melodrama
preceding the burlesque, he must have been transported by her beauty,
her grace, her genius. He, indeed, gave her and her sister his heart,
but his mind was already gone, rapt from him by the adorable pirate who
fought a losing fight with broadswords, two up and two down--click-click,
click-click--and died all over the deck of the pirate ship in the
opening piece. This was called the "Beacon of Death," and the scene
represented the forecastle of the pirate ship with a lantern dangling
from the rigging, to lure unsuspecting merchantmen to their doom.
Afterwards, the boy remembered nothing of the story, but a scrap of the
dialogue meaninglessly remained with him; and when the pirate captain
appeared with his bloody crew and said, hoarsely, "Let us go below and
get some brandy!" the boy would have bartered all his hopes of bliss to
have been that abandoned ruffian. In fact, he always liked, and longed
to be, the villain, rather than any other person in the play, and he so
glutted himself with crime of every sort in his tender years at the
theatre that he afterwards came to be very tired of it, and avoided the
plays and novels that had very marked villains in them.

He was in an ecstasy as soon as the curtain rose that night, and he
lived somewhere out of his body as long as the playing lasted, which was
well on to midnight; for in those days the theatre did not meanly put
the public off with one play, but gave it a heartful and its money's
worth with three. On his first night my boy saw "The Beacon of Death,"
"Bombastes Furioso," and "Black-eyed Susan," and he never afterwards saw
less than three plays each night, and he never missed a night, as long
as the theatre languished in the unfriendly air of that mainly
Calvinistic community, where the theatre was regarded by most good
people as the eighth of the seven deadly sins. The whole day long he
dwelt in a dream of it that blotted out, or rather consumed with more
effulgent brightness, all the other day-dreams he had dreamed before,
and his heart almost burst with longing to be a villain like those
villains on the stage, to have a moustache--a black moustache--such as
they wore at a time when every one off the stage was clean shaven, and
somehow to end bloodily, murderously, as became a villain.

I dare say this was not quite a wholesome frame of mind for a boy of ten
years; but I do not defend it; I only portray it. Being the boy he was,
he was destined somehow to dwell half the time in a world of dreamery;
and I have tried to express how, when he had once got enough of
villainy, he reformed his ideals and rather liked virtue. At any rate,
it was a phase of being that could not have been prevented without
literally destroying him, and I feel pretty sure that his father did
well to let him have his fill of the theatre at once. He could not have
known of the riot of emotions behind the child's shy silence, or how
continually he was employed in dealing death to all the good people in
the pieces he saw or imagined. This the boy could no more have suffered
to appear than his passion for those lovely little girls, for whose sake
he somehow perpetrated these wicked deeds. The theatre bills, large and
small, were printed in his father's office, and sometimes the amiable
manager and his wife strolled in with the copy. The boy always wildly
hoped and feared they would bring the little girls with them, but they
never did, and he contented himself with secretly adoring the father and
mother, doubly divine as their parents and as actors. They were on easy
terms with the roller-boy, the wretch who shot turtle-doves with no
regard for their symbolical character, and they joked with him, in a
light give-and-take that smote my boy with an anguish of envy. It would
have been richly enough for him to pass the least word with them; a
look, a smile from them would have been bliss; but he shrank out of
their way; and once when he met them in the street, and they seemed to
be going to speak to him, he ran so that they could not.



I CANNOT quite understand why the theatre, which my boy was so full of,
and so fond of, did not inspire him to write plays, to pour them out,
tragedy upon tragedy, till the world was filled with tears and blood.
Perhaps it was because his soul was so soaked, and, as it were,
water-logged with the drama, that it could only drift sluggishly in that
welter of emotions, and make for no point, no port, where it could
recover itself and direct its powers again. The historical romance which
he had begun to write before the impassioned days of the theatre seems
to have been lost sight of at this time, though it was an enterprise
that he was so confident of carrying forward that he told all his family
and friends about it, and even put down the opening passages of it on
paper which he cut in large quantity, and ruled himself, so as to have
it exactly suitable. The story, as I have said, was imagined from events
in Irving's history of the "Conquest of Granada," a book which the boy
loved hardly less than the monkish legends of "Gesta Romanorum," and it
concerned the rival fortunes of Hamet el Zegri and Boabdil el Chico, the
uncle and nephew who vied with each other for the crumbling throne of
the Moorish kingdom; but I have not the least notion how it all ended.
Perhaps the boy himself had none.

I wish I could truly say that he finished any of his literary
undertakings, but I cannot. They were so many that they cumbered the
house, and were trodden under foot; and sometimes they brought him to
open shame, as when his brother picked one of them up, and began to read
it out loud with affected admiration. He was apt to be ashamed of his
literary efforts after the first moment, and he shuddered at his
brother's burlesque of the high romantic vein in which most of his
neverended beginnings were conceived. One of his river-faring uncles was
visiting with his family at the boy's home when he laid out the scheme
of his great fiction of "Hamet el Zegri," and the kindly young aunt took
an interest in it which he poorly rewarded a few months later, when she
asked how the story was getting on, and he tried to ignore the whole
matter, and showed such mortification at the mention of it that the poor
lady was quite bewildered.

The trouble with him was, that he had to live that kind of double life I
have spoken of--the Boy's Town life and the Cloud Dweller's life--and
that the last, which he was secretly proud of, abashed him before the
first. This is always the way with double-lived people, but he did not
know it, and he stumbled along through the glory and the ignominy as
best he could, and, as he thought, alone.

He was often kept from being a fool, and worse, by that elder brother of
his; and I advise every boy to have an elder brother. Have a brother
about four years older than yourself, I should say; and if your temper
is hot, and your disposition revengeful, and you are a vain and
ridiculous dreamer at the same time that you are eager to excel in feats
of strength and games of skill, and to do everything that the other
fellows do, and are ashamed to be better than the worst boy in the
crowd, your brother can be of the greatest use to you, with his larger
experience and wisdom. My boy's brother seemed to have an ideal of
usefulness, while my boy only had an ideal of glory, to wish to help
others, while my boy only wished to help himself. My boy would as soon
have thought of his father's doing a wrong thing as of his brother's
doing it; and his brother was a calm light of common-sense, of justice,
of truth, while he was a fantastic flicker of gaudy purposes which he
wished to make shine before men in their fulfilment. His brother was
always doing for him and for the younger children; while my boy only did
for himself; he had a very gray moustache before he began to have any
conception of the fact that he was sent into the world to serve and to
suffer, as well as to rule and enjoy. But his brother seemed to know
this instinctively; he bore the yoke in his youth, patiently if not
willingly; he shared the anxieties as he parted the cares of his father
and mother. Yet he was a boy among boys, too; he loved to swim, to
skate, to fish, to forage, and passionately, above all, he loved to
hunt; but in everything he held himself in check, that he might hold the
younger boys in check; and my boy often repaid his conscientious
vigilance with hard words and hard names, such as embitter even the most
self-forgiving memories. He kept mechanically within certain laws, and
though in his rage he hurled every other name at his brother, he would
not call him a fool, because then he would be in danger of hell-fire. If
he had known just what Raca meant, he might have called him Raca, for he
was not so much afraid of the council; but, as it was, his brother
escaped that insult, and held through all a rein upon him, and governed
him through his scruples as well as his fears.

His brother was full of inventions and enterprises beyond most other
boys, and his undertakings came to the same end of nothingness that
awaits all boyish endeavor. He intended to make fireworks and sell them;
he meant to raise silk-worms; he prepared to take the contract of
clearing the new cemetery grounds of stumps by blasting them out with
gunpowder. Besides this, he had a plan with another big boy for making
money, by getting slabs from the saw-mill, and sawing them up into
stove-wood, and selling them to the cooks of canal-boats. The only
trouble was that the cooks would not buy the fuel, even when the boys
had a half-cord of it all nicely piled up on the canal-bank; they would
rather come ashore after dark and take it for nothing. He had a good
many other schemes for getting rich, that failed; and he wanted to go to
California and dig gold; only his mother would not consent. He really
did save the Canal-Basin once, when the banks began to give way after a
long rain. He saw the break beginning, and ran to tell his father, who
had the firebells rung. The fire companies came rushing to the rescue,
but as they could not put the Basin out with their engines, they all got
shovels and kept it in. They did not do this before it had overflowed
the street, and run into the cellars of the nearest houses. The water
stood two feet deep in the kitchen of my boy's house, and the yard was
flooded so that the boys made rafts and navigated it for a whole day. My
boy's brother got drenched to the skin in the rain, and lots of fellows
fell off the rafts.

He belonged to a military company of big boys that had real wooden guns,
such as the little boys never could get, and silk oil-cloth caps, and
nankeen roundabouts, and white pantaloons with black stripes down the
legs; and once they marched out to a boy's that had a father that had a
farm, and he gave them all a free dinner in an arbor before the house;
bread and butter, and apple-butter, and molasses and pound cake, and
peaches and apples; it was splendid. When the excitement about the
Mexican War was the highest, the company wanted a fort; and they got a
farmer to come and scale off the sod with his plough, in a grassy place
there was near a piece of woods, where a good many cows were pastured.
They took the pieces of sod, and built them up into the walls of a fort
about fifteen feet square; they intended to build them higher than their
heads, but they got so eager to have the works stormed that they could
not wait, and they commenced having the battle when they had the walls
only breast high. There were going to be two parties: one to attack the
fort, and the other to defend it, and they were just going to throw
sods; but one boy had a real shot-gun, that he was to load up with
powder and fire off when the battle got to the worst, so as to have it
more like a battle. He thought it would be more like yet if he put in a
few shot, and he did it on his own hook. It was a splendid gun, but it
would not stand cocked long, and he was resting it on the wall of the
fort, ready to fire when the storming-party came on, throwing sods and
yelling and holloing; and all at once his gun went off, and a cow that
was grazing broadside to the fort gave a frightened bellow, and put up
her tail, and started for home. When they found out that the gun, if
not the boy, had shot a cow, the Mexicans and Americans both took to
their heels; and it was a good thing they did so, for as soon as that
cow got home, and the owner found out by the blood on her that she had
been shot, though it was only a very slight wound, he was so mad that he
did not know what to do, and very likely he would have half killed those
boys if he had caught them. He got a plough, and he went out to their
fort, and he ploughed it all down flat, so that not one sod remained
upon another.

My boy's brother had a good many friends who were too old for my boy to
play with. One of them had a father that had a flour-mill out at the
First Lock, and for a while my boy's brother intended to be a miller. I
do not know why he gave up being one; he did stay up all night with his
friend in the mill once, and he found out that the water has more power
by night than by day, or at least he came to believe so. He knew another
boy who had a father who had a stone-quarry and a canal-boat to bring
the stone to town. It was a scow, and it was drawn by one horse;
sometimes he got to drive the horse, and once he was allowed to steer
the boat. This was a great thing, and it would have been hard to believe
of anybody else. The name of the boy that had the father that owned this
boat was Piccolo; or, rather, that was his nickname, given him because
he could whistle like a piccolo-flute. Once the fellows were disputing
whether you could jump halfway across a narrow stream, and then jump
back, without touching your feet to the other shore. Piccolo tried it,
and sat down in the middle of the stream.

My boy's brother had a scheme for preserving ripe fruit, by sealing it
up in a stone jug and burying the jug in the ground, and not digging it
up till Christmas. He tried it with a jug of cherries, which he dug up
in about a week; but the cherries could not have smelt worse if they had
been kept till Christmas. He knew a boy that had a father that had a
bakery, and that used to let him come and watch them making bread. There
was a fat boy learning the trade there, and they called him the
dough-baby, because he looked so white and soft; and the boy whose
father had a mill said that down at the German brewery they had a Dutch
boy that they were teaching to drink beer, so they could tell how much
beer a person could drink if he was taken early; but perhaps this was
not true.

My boy's brother went to all sorts of places that my boy was too shy to
go to; and he associated with much older boys, but there was one boy
who, as I have said, was the dear friend of both of them, and that was
the boy who came to learn the trade in their father's printing-office,
and who began an historical romance at the time my boy began his great
Moorish novel. The first day he came he was put to roll, or ink the
types, while my boy's brother worked the press, and all day long my boy,
from where he was setting type, could hear him telling the story of a
book he had read. It was about a person named Monte Cristo, who was a
count, and who could do anything. My boy listened with a gnawing
literary jealousy of a boy who had read a book that he had never heard
of. He tried to think whether it sounded as if it were as great a book
as the "Conquest of Granada," or "Gesta Romanorum;" and for a time he
kept aloof from this boy because of his envy. Afterwards they came
together on "Don Quixote," but though my boy came to have quite a
passionate fondness for him, he was long in getting rid of his grudge
against him for his knowledge of "Monte Cristo." He was as great a
laughter as my boy and his brother, and he liked the same sports, so
that two by two, or all three together, they had no end of jokes and
fun. He became the editor of a country newspaper, with varying fortunes
but steadfast principles, and when the war broke out he went as a
private soldier. He soon rose to be an officer, and fought bravely in
many battles. Then he came back to a country-newspaper office where,
ever after, he continued to fight the battles of right against wrong,
till he died not long ago at his post of duty--a true, generous, and
lofty soul. He was one of those boys who grow into the men who seem
commoner in America than elsewhere, and who succeed far beyond our
millionaires and statesmen in realizing the ideal of America in their
nobly simple lives. If his story could be faithfully written out, word
for word, deed for deed, it would be far more thrilling than that of
Monte Cristo, or any hero of romance; and so would the common story of
any common life; but we cannot tell these stories, somehow.

My boy knew nearly a hundred boys, more or less; but it is no use trying
to tell about them, for all boys are a good deal alike, and most of
these did not differ much from the rest. They were pretty good fellows;
that is to say, they never did half the mischief they intended to do,
and they had moments of intending to do right, or at least they thought
they did, and when they did wrong they said they did not intend to. But
my boy never had any particular friend among his schoolmates, though he
played and fought with them on intimate terms, and was a good comrade
with any boy that wanted to go in swimming or out hunting. His closest
friend was a boy who was probably never willingly at school in his life,
and who had no more relish of literature or learning in him than the
open fields, or the warm air of an early spring day. I dare say it was a
sense of his kinship with nature that took my boy with him, and rested
his soul from all its wild dreams and vain imaginings. He was like a
piece of the genial earth, with no more hint of toiling or spinning in
him; willing for anything, but passive, and without force or aim. He
lived in a belated log-cabin that stood in the edge of a corn-field on
the river-bank, and he seemed, one day when my boy went to find him
there, to have a mother, who smoked a cob-pipe, and two or three large
sisters who hulked about in the one dim, low room. But the boys had very
little to do with each other's houses, or, for that matter, with each
other's yards. His friend seldom entered my boy's gate, and never his
door; for with all the toleration his father felt for every manner of
human creature, he could not see what good the boy was to get from this
queer companion. It is certain that, he got no harm; for his companion
was too vague and void even to think evil. Socially, he was as low as
the ground under foot, but morally he was as good as any boy in the
Boy's Town, and he had no bad impulses. He had no impulses at all, in
fact, and of his own motion he never did anything, or seemed to think
anything. When he wished to get at my boy, he simply appeared in the
neighborhood, and hung about the outside of the fence till he came out.
He did not whistle, or call "E-oo-we!" as the other fellows did, but
waited patiently to be discovered, and to be gone off with wherever my
boy listed. He never had any plans himself, and never any will but to
go in swimming; he neither hunted nor foraged; he did not even fish; and
I suppose that money could not have hired him to run races. He played
marbles, but not very well, and he did not care much for the game. The
two boys soaked themselves in the river together, and then they lay on
the sandy shore, or under some tree, and talked; but my boy could not
have talked to him about any of the things that were in his books, or
the fume of dreams they sent up in his mind. He must rather have soothed
against his soft, caressing ignorance the ache of his fantastic spirit,
and reposed his intensity of purpose in that lax and easy aimlessness.
Their friendship was not only more innocent than any other friendship my
boy had, but it was wholly innocent; they loved each other, and that was
all; and why people love one another there is never any satisfactory
telling. But this friend of his must have had great natural good in him;
and if I could find a man of the make of that boy I am sure I should
love him.

My boy's other friends wondered at his fondness for him, and it was
often made a question with him at home, if not a reproach to him; so
that in the course of time it ceased to be that comfort it had been to
him. He could not give him up, but he could not help seeing that he was
ignorant and idle, and in a fatal hour he resolved to reform him. I am
not able now to say just how he worked his friend up to the point of
coming to school, and of washing his hands and feet and face, and
putting on a new check shirt to come in. But one day he came, and my
boy, as he had planned, took him into his seat, and owned his friendship
with him before the whole school. This was not easy, for though
everybody knew how much the two were together, it was a different thing
to sit with him as if he thought him just as good as any boy, and to
help him get his lessons, and stay him mentally as well as socially. He
struggled through one day, and maybe another; but it was a failure from
the first moment, and my boy breathed freer when his friend came one
half-day, and then never came again. The attempted reform had spoiled
their simple and harmless intimacy. They never met again upon the old
ground of perfect trust and affection. Perhaps the kindly earth-spirit
had instinctively felt a wound from the shame my boy had tried to brave
out, and shrank from their former friendship without quite knowing why.
Perhaps it was my boy who learned to realize that there could be little
in common but their common humanity between them, and could not go back
to that. At any rate, their friendship declined from this point; and it
seems to me, somehow, a pity.

Among the boys who were between my boy and his brother in age was one
whom all the boys liked, because he was clever with everybody, with
little boys as well as big boys. He was a laughing, pleasant fellow,
always ready for fun, but he never did mean things, and he had an open
face that made a friend of every one who saw him. He had a father that
had a house with a lightning-rod, so that if you were in it when there
was a thunder-storm you could not get struck by lightning, as my boy
once proved by being in it when there was a thunder-storm and not
getting struck. This in itself was a great merit, and there were
grape-arbors and peach-trees in his yard which added to his popularity,
with cling-stone peaches almost as big as oranges on them. He was a
fellow who could take you home to meals whenever he wanted to, and he
liked to have boys stay all night with him; his mother was as clever as
he was, and even the sight of his father did not make the fellows want
to go and hide. His father was so clever that he went home with my boy
one night about midnight when the boy had come to pass the night with
his boys, and the youngest of them had said he always had the nightmare
and walked in his sleep, and as likely as not he might kill you before
he knew it. My boy tried to sleep, but the more he reflected upon his
chances of getting through the night alive the smaller they seemed; and
so he woke up his potential murderer from the sweetest and soundest
slumber, and said he was going home, but he was afraid; and the boy had
to go and wake his father. Very few fathers would have dressed up and
gone home with a boy at midnight, and perhaps this one did so only
because the mother made him; but it shows how clever the whole family

It was their oldest boy whom my boy and his brother chiefly went with
before that boy who knew about "Monte Cristo" came to learn the trade in
their father's office. One Saturday in July they three spent the whole
day together. It was just the time when the apples are as big as walnuts
on the trees, and a boy wants to try whether any of them are going to be
sweet or not. The boys tried a great many of them, in an old orchard
thrown open for building-lots behind my boy's yard; but they could not
find any that were not sour; or that they could eat till they thought of
putting salt on them; if you put salt on it, you could eat any kind of
green apple, whether it was going to be a sweet kind or not. They went
up to the Basin bank and got lots of salt out of the holes in the
barrels lying there, and then they ate all the apples they could hold,
and after that they cut limber sticks off the trees, and sharpened the
points, and stuck apples on them and threw them. You could send an apple
almost out of sight that way, and you could scare a dog almost as far as
you could see him.

On Monday my boy and his brother went to school, but the other boy was
not there, and in the afternoon they heard he was sick. Then, towards
the end of the week they heard that he had the flux; and on Friday, just
before school let out, the teacher--it was the one that whipped so, and
that the fellows all liked--rapped on his desk, and began to speak very
solemnly to the scholars. He told them that their little mate, whom they
had played with and studied with, was lying very sick, so very sick that
it was expected he would die; and then he read them a serious lesson
about life and death, and tried to make them feel how passing and
uncertain all things were, and resolve to live so that they need never
be afraid to die.

Some of the fellows cried, and the next day some of them went to see the
dying boy, and my boy went with them. His spirit was stricken to the
earth, when he saw his gay, kind playmate lying there, white as the
pillow under his wasted face, in which his sunken blue eyes showed large
and strange. The sick boy did not say anything that the other boys could
hear, but they could see the wan smile that came to his dry lips, and
the light come sadly into his eyes, when his mother asked him if he knew
this one or that; and they could not bear it, and went out of the room.

In a few days they heard that he was dead, and one afternoon school did
not keep, so that the boys might go to the funeral. Most of them walked
in the procession; but some of them were waiting beside the open grave,
that was dug near the grave of that man who believed there was a hole
through the earth from pole to pole, and had a perforated stone globe on
top of his monument.



MY boy used to be afraid of this monument, which stood a long time, or
what seemed to him a long time, in the yard of the tombstone cutter
before it was put up at the grave of the philosopher who imagined the
earth as hollow as much of the life is on it. He was a brave officer in
the army which held the region against the Indians in the pioneer times;
he passed the latter part of his life there, and he died and was buried
in the Boy's Town. My boy had to go by the yard when he went to see his
grandmother, and even at high noon the sight of the officer's monument,
and the other gravestones standing and leaning about, made his flesh
creep and his blood run cold. When there were other boys with him he
would stop at the door of the shed, where a large, fair German was
sawing slabs of marble with a long saw that had no teeth, and that he
eased every now and then with water from a sponge he kept by him; but if
the boy was alone, and it was getting at all late in the afternoon, he
always ran by the place as fast as he could. He could hardly have told
what he was afraid of, but he must have connected the gravestones with


His superstitions were not all of the ghastly kind; some of them related
to conduct and character. It was noted long ago how boys throw stones,
for instance, at a tree, and feign to themselves that this thing or
that, of great import, will happen or not as they hit or miss the tree.
But my boy had other fancies, which came of things he had read and half
understood. In one of his school-books was a story that began, "Charles
was an honest boy, but Robert was the name of a thief," and it went on
to show how Charles grew up in the respect and affection of all who knew
him by forbearing to steal some oranges which their owner had set for
safe-keeping at the heels of his horse, while Robert was kicked at once
(there was a picture that showed him holding his stomach with both
hands), and afterwards came to a bad end, through attempting to take
one. My boy conceived from the tale that the name of Robert was
necessarily associated with crime; it was long before he outgrew the
prejudice; and this tale and others of a like vindictive virtuousness
imbued him with such a desire to lead an upright life that he was rather
a bother to his friends with his scruples. A girl at school mislaid a
pencil which she thought she had lent him, and he began to have a morbid
belief that he must have stolen it; he became frantic with the mere
dread of guilt; he could not eat or sleep, and it was not till he went
to make good the loss with a pencil which his grandfather gave him that
the girl said she had found her pencil in her desk, and saved him from
the despair of a self-convicted criminal. After that his father tried to
teach him the need of using his reason as well as his conscience
concerning himself, and not to be a little simpleton. But he was always
in an anguish to restore things to their owners, like the good boys in
the story-books, and he suffered pangs of the keenest remorse for the
part he once took in the disposition of a piece of treasure-trove.
This was a brown-paper parcel which he found behind a leaning gravestone
in the stone-cutter's yard, and which he could not help peeping into. It
was full of raisins, and in the amaze of such a discovery he could not
help telling the other boys. They flocked round and swooped down upon
the parcel like birds of prey, and left not a raisin behind. In vain he
implored them not to stain their souls with this misdeed; neither the
law nor the prophets availed; neither the awful shadow of the prison
which he cast upon them, nor the fear of the last judgment which he
invoked. They said that the raisins did not belong to anybody; that the
owner had forgotten all about them; that they had just been put there by
some one who never intended to come back for them. He went away
sorrowing, without touching a raisin (he felt that the touch must have
stricken him with death), and far heavier in soul than the hardened
accomplices of his sin, of whom he believed himself the worst in having
betrayed the presence of the raisins to them.

He used to talk to himself when he was little, but one day his mother
said to him jokingly, "Don't you know that he who talks to himself has
the devil for a listener?" and after that he never dared whisper above
his breath when he was alone, though his father and mother had both
taught him that there was no devil but his own evil will. He shuddered
when he heard a dog howling in the night, for that was a sign that
somebody was going to die. If he heard a hen crow, as a hen sometimes
unnaturally would, he stoned her, because it was a sign of the worst
kind of luck. He believed that warts came from playing with toads, but
you could send them away by saying certain words over them; and he was
sorry that he never had any warts, so that he could send them away, and
see them go; but he never could bear to touch a toad, and so of course
he could not have warts. Other boys played with toads just to show that
they were not afraid of having warts; but every one knew that if you
killed a toad, your cow would give bloody milk. I dare say the far
forefathers of the race knew this too, when they first began to herd
their kine in the birthplace of the Aryan peoples; and perhaps they
learned then that if you killed a snake early in the day its tail would
live till sundown. My boy killed every snake he could; he thought it
somehow a duty; all the boys thought so; they dimly felt that they were
making a just return to the serpent-tribe for the bad behavior of their
ancestor in the Garden of Eden. Once, in a corn-field near the Little
Reservoir, the boys found on a thawing day of early spring knots and
bundles of snakes writhen and twisted together, in the torpor of their
long winter sleep. It was a horrible sight, that afterwards haunted my
boy's dreams. He had nightmares which remained as vivid in his thoughts
as anything that happened to him by day. There were no poisonous snakes
in the region of the Boy's Town, but there were some large blacksnakes,
and the boys said that if a blacksnake got the chance he would run up
your leg, and tie himself round your body so that you could not breathe.
Nobody had ever seen a blacksnake do it, and nobody had ever seen a
hoop-snake, but the boys believed there was such a snake, and that he
would take his tail in his mouth, when he got after a person, and roll
himself along swifter than the fastest race-horse could run. He did not
bite, but when he came up with you he would take the point of his tail
out of his mouth and strike it into you. If he struck his tail into a
tree, the tree would die. My boy had seen a boy who had been chased by a
hoop-snake, but he had not seen the snake, though for the matter of that
the boy who had been chased by it had not seen it either; he did not
stop to see it. Another kind of snake that was very strange was a
hair-snake. No one had ever seen it happen, but every one knew that if
you put long horsehairs into a puddle of water and let them stay, they
would turn into hair-snakes; and when you drank out of a spring you had
to be careful not to swallow a hair-snake, or it would remain in your
stomach and grow there.

When you saw a lizard, you had to keep your mouth tight shut, or else
the lizard would run down your throat before you knew it. That was what
all the boys said, and my boy believed it, though he had never heard of
anybody that it happened to. He believed that if you gave a chicken-cock
burnt brandy it could lay eggs, and that if you gave a boy burnt brandy
it would stop his growing. That was the way the circus-men got their
dwarfs, and the India-rubber man kept himself limber by rubbing his
joints with rattlesnake oil.

A snake could charm a person, and when you saw a snake you had to kill
it before it could get its eye on you or it would charm you. Snakes
always charmed birds; and there were mysterious powers of the air and
forces of nature that a boy had to be on his guard against, just as a
bird had to look out for snakes. You must not kill a granddaddy-long-legs,
or a lady-bug; it was bad luck. My boy believed, or was afraid he
believed, that

          "What you dream Monday morning before daylight
           Will come true before Saturday night,"

but if it was something bad, you could keep it from coming true by not
telling your dream till you had eaten breakfast. He governed his little,
foolish, frightened life not only by the maxims he had learned out of
his "Gesta Romanorum," but by common sayings of all sorts, such as

          "See a pin and leave it lay
           You'll have bad luck all the day,"

and if ever he tried to rebel against this slavery, and went by a pin in
the path, his fears tormented him till he came back and picked it up. He
would not put on his left stocking first, for that was bad luck; but
besides these superstitions, which were common to all the boys, he
invented superstitions of his own, with which he made his life a burden.
He did not know why, but he would not step upon the cracks between the
paving-stones, and some days he had to touch every tree or post along
the sidewalk, as Doctor Johnson did in his time, though the boy had
never heard of Doctor Johnson then.

While he was yet a very little fellow, he had the distorted, mistaken
piety of childhood. He had an abject terror of dying, but it seemed to
him that if a person could die right in the centre isle of the
church--the Methodist church where his mother used to go before she
became finally a New Churchwoman--the chances of that person's going
straight to heaven would be so uncommonly good that he need have very
little anxiety about it. He asked his mother if she did not think so
too, holding by her hand as they came out of church together, and he
noticed the sort of gravity and even pain with which she and his father
received this revelation of his darkling mind. They tried to teach him
what they thought of such things; but though their doctrine caught his
fancy and flattered his love of singularity, he was not proof against
the crude superstitions of his mates. He thought for a time that there
was a Bad Man, but this belief gave way when he heard his father
laughing about a certain clergyman who believed in a personal devil.

The boys said the world was going to be burned up some time, and my boy
expected the end with his full share of the trouble that it must bring
to every sinner. His fears were heightened by the fact that his
grandfather believed this end was very near at hand, and was prepared
for the second coming of Christ at any moment. Those were the days when
the minds of many were stirred by this fear or hope; the believers had
their ascension robes ready, and some gave away their earthly goods so
as not to be cumbered with anything in their heavenward flight. At home,
my boy heard his father jest at the crazy notion, and make fun of the
believers; but abroad, among the boys, he took the tint of the
prevailing gloom. One awful morning at school, it suddenly became so
dark that the scholars could not see to study their lessons, and then
the boys knew that the end of the world was coming. There were no
clouds, as for a coming storm, but the air was blackened almost to the
dusk of night; the school was dismissed, and my boy went home to find
the candles lighted, and a strange gloom and silence on everything
outside. He remembered entering into this awful time, but he no more
remembered coming out of it than if the earth had really passed away in
fire and smoke.

He early heard of forebodings and presentiments, and he tried hard
against his will to have them, because he was so afraid of having them.
For the same reason he did his best, or his worst, to fall into a
trance, in which he should know everything that was going on about him,
all the preparations for his funeral, all the sorrow and lamentation,
but should be unable to move or speak, and only be saved at the last
moment by some one putting a mirror to his lips and finding a little
blur of mist on it. Sometimes when he was beginning to try to write
things and to imagine characters, if he imagined a character's dying,
then he became afraid he was that character, and was going to die.

Once, he woke up in the night and found the full moon shining into his
room in a very strange and phantasmal way, and washing the floor with
its pale light, and somehow it came into his mind that he was going to
die when he was sixteen years old. He could then only have been nine or
ten, but the perverse fear sank deep into his soul, and became an
increasing torture till he passed his sixteenth birthday and entered
upon the year in which he had appointed himself to die. The agony was
then too great for him to bear alone any longer, and with shame he
confessed his doom to his father. "Why," his father said, "you are in
your seventeenth year now. It is too late for you to die at sixteen,"
and all the long-gathering load of misery dropped from the boy's soul,
and he lived till his seventeenth birthday and beyond it without further
trouble. If he had known that he would be in his seventeenth year as
soon as he was sixteen, he might have arranged his presentiment



I TELL these things about my boy, not so much because they were peculiar
to him as because I think they are, many of them, common to all boys.
One tiresome fact about boys is that they are so much alike; or used to
be. They did not wish to be so, but they could not help it. They did not
even know they were alike; and my boy used to suffer in ways that he
believed no boy had ever suffered before; but as he grew older he found
that boys had been suffering in exactly the same way from the beginning
of time. In the world you will find a great many grown-up boys, with
gray beards and grandchildren, who think that they have been different
their whole lives through from other people, and are the victims of
destiny. That is because with all their growing they have never grown to
be men, but have remained a sort of cry-babies. The first thing you have
to learn here below is that in essentials you are just like every one
else, and that you are different from others only in what is not so much
worth while. If you have anything in common with your fellow-creatures,
it is something that God gave you; if you have anything that seems quite
your own, it is from your silly self, and is a sort of perversion of
what came to you from the Creator who made you out of himself, and had
nothing else to make any one out of. There is not really any difference
between you and your fellow-creatures; but only a seeming difference
that flatters and cheats you with a sense of your strangeness, and makes
you think you are a remarkable fellow.

There is a difference between boys and men, but it is a difference of
self-knowledge chiefly. A boy wants to do everything because he does not
know he cannot; a man wants to do something because he knows he cannot
do everything; a boy always fails, and a man sometimes succeeds because
the man knows and the boy does not know. A man is better than a boy
because he knows better; he has learned by experience that what is a
harm to others is a greater harm to himself, and he would rather not do
it. But a boy hardly knows what harm is, and he does it mostly without
realizing that it hurts. He cannot invent anything, he can only imitate;
and it is easier to imitate evil than good. You can imitate war, but how
are you going to imitate peace? So a boy passes his leisure in
contriving mischief. If you get another fellow to walk into a wasp's
camp, you can see him jump and hear him howl, but if you do not, then
nothing at all happens. If you set a dog to chase a cat up a tree, then
something has been done; but if you do not set the dog on the cat, then
the cat just lies in the sun and sleeps, and you lose your time. If a
boy could find out some way of doing good, so that he could be active in
it, very likely he would want to do good now and then; but as he cannot,
he very seldom wants to do good.

Or at least he did not want to do good in my boy's time. Things may be
changed now, for I have been talking of boys as they were in the Boy's
Town forty years ago. For anything that I really know to the contrary,
a lot of fellows when they get together now may plot good deeds of all
kinds, but when more than a single one of them was together then they
plotted mischief. When I see five or six boys now lying under a tree on
the grass, and they fall silent as I pass them, I have no right to say
that they are not arranging to go and carry some poor widow's winter
wood into her shed and pile it neatly up for her, and wish to keep it a
secret from everybody; but forty years ago I should have had good reason
for thinking that they were debating how to tie a piece of her
clothes-line along the ground so that when her orphan boy came out for
an armload of wood after dark, he would trip on it and send his wood
flying all over the yard.

This would not be a sign that they were morally any worse than the boys
who read _Harper's Young People_, and who would every one die rather
than do such a cruel thing, but that they had not really thought much
about it. I dare say that if a crowd of the _Young People_'s readers,
from eight to eleven years old, got together, they would choose the best
boy among them to lead them on in works of kindness and usefulness; but
I am very sorry to say that in the Boy's Town such a crowd of boys would
have followed the lead of the worst boy as far as they dared. Not all of
them would have been bad, and the worst of them would not have been very
bad; but they would have been restless and thoughtless. I am not ready
to say that boys now are not wise enough to be good; but in that time
and town they certainly were not. In their ideals and ambitions they
were foolish, and in most of their intentions they were mischievous.
Without realizing that it was evil, they meant more evil than it would
have been possible for ten times as many boys to commit. If the half of
it were now committed by men, the United States would be such an awful
place that the decent people would all want to go and live in Canada.

I have often read in stories of boys who were fond of nature, and loved
her sublimity and beauty, but I do not believe boys are ever naturally
fond of nature. They want to make use of the woods and fields and
rivers; and when they become men they find these aspects of nature
endeared to them by association, and so they think that they were dear
for their own sakes; but the taste for nature is as purely acquired as
the taste for poetry or the taste for tomatoes. I have often seen boys
wondering at the rainbow, but it was wonder, not admiration that moved
them; and I have seen them excited by a storm, but because the storm was
tremendous, not because it was beautiful.

I never knew a boy who loved flowers, or cared for their decorative
qualities; if any boy had gathered flowers the other boys would have
laughed at him; though boys gather every kind of thing that they think
will be of the slightest use or profit. I do not believe they appreciate
the perfume of flowers, and I am sure that they never mind the most
noisome stench or the most loathsome sight. A dead horse will draw a
crowd of small boys, who will dwell without shrinking upon the details
of his putrefaction, when they would pass by a rose-tree in bloom with
indifference. Hideous reptiles and insects interest them more than the
loveliest form of leaf or blossom. Their senses have none of the
delicacy which they acquire in after-life.

They are not cruel, that is, they have no delight in giving pain, as a
general thing; but they do cruel things out of curiosity, to see how
their victims will act. Still, even in this way, I never saw many cruel
things done. If another boy gets hurt they laugh, because it is funny to
see him hop or hear him yell; but they do not laugh because they enjoy
his pain, though they do not pity him unless they think he is badly
hurt; then they are scared, and try to comfort him. To bait a hook they
tear an angle-worm into small pieces, or impale a grub without
flinching; they go to the slaughter-house and see beeves knocked in the
head without a tremor. They acquaint themselves, at any risk, with all
that is going on in the great strange world they have come into; and
they do not pick or choose daintily among the facts and objects they
encounter. To them there is neither foul nor fair, clean nor unclean.
They have not the least discomfort from being dirty or unkempt, and they
certainly find no pleasure in being washed and combed and clad in fresh
linen. They do not like to see other boys so; if a boy looking sleek and
smooth came among the boys that my boy went with in the Boy's Town, they
made it a reproach to him, and hastened to help him spoil his clothes
and his nice looks. Some of those boys had hands as hard as horn,
cracked open at the knuckles and in the palms, and the crevices
blackened with earth or grime; and they taught my boy to believe that he
was an inferior and unmanly person, almost of the nature of a cry-baby,
because his hands were not horn-like, and cracked open, and filled with

He had comrades enough and went with everybody, but till he formed that
friendship with the queer fellow whom I have told of, he had no friend
among the boys; and I very much doubt whether small boys understand
friendship, or can feel it as they do afterwards, in its tenderness and
unselfishness. In fact they have no conception of generosity. They are
wasteful with what they do not want at the moment; but their instinct is
to get and not to give. In the Boy's Town, if a fellow appeared at his
gate with a piece of bread spread with apple-butter and sugar on top,
the other fellows flocked round him and tried to flatter him out of
bites of it, though they might be at that moment almost bursting with
surfeit. To get a bite was so much clear gain, and when they had
wheedled one from the owner of the bread, they took as large a bite as
their mouths could stretch to, and they had neither shame nor regret for
their behavior, but mocked his just resentment.

The instinct of getting, of hoarding, was the motive of all their
foraging; they had no other idea of property than the bounty of nature;
and this was well enough as far as it went, but their impulse was not to
share this bounty with others, but to keep it each for himself. They
hoarded nuts and acorns, and hips and haws, and then they wasted them;
and they hoarded other things merely from the greed of getting, and with
no possible expectation of advantage. It might be well enough to catch
bees in hollyhocks, and imprison them in underground cells with flowers
for them to make honey from; but why accumulate fire-flies and even
dor-bugs in small brick pens? Why heap together mussel-shells; and what
did a boy expect to do with all the marbles he won? You could trade
marbles for tops, but they were not money, like pins; and why were pins
money? Why did the boys instinctively choose them for their currency,
and pay everything with them? There were certain very rigid laws about
them, and a bent pin could not be passed among the boys any more than a
counterfeit coin among men. There were fixed prices; three pins would
buy a bite of apple; six pins would pay your way into a circus; and so
on. But where did these pins come from or go to; and what did the boys
expect to do with them all? No boy knew. From time to time several boys
got together and decided to keep store, and then other boys decided to
buy of them with pins; but there was no calculation in the scheme; and
though I have read of boys, especially in English books, who made a
profit out of their fellows, I never knew any boy who had enough
forecast to do it. They were too wildly improvident for anything of the
kind, and if they had any virtue at all it was scorn of the vice of

They were savages in this as in many other things, but noble savages;
and they were savages in such bravery as they showed. That is, they were
venturesome, but not courageous with the steadfast courage of civilized
men. They fought, and then ran; and they never fought except with some
real or fancied advantage. They were grave, like Indians, for the most
part; and they were noisy without being gay. They seldom laughed, except
at the pain or shame of some one; I think they had no other conception
of a joke, though they told what they thought were funny stories, mostly
about some Irishman just come across the sea, but without expecting any
one to laugh. In fact, life was a very serious affair with them. They
lived in a state of outlawry, in the midst of invisible terrors, and
they knew no rule but that of might.

I am afraid that _Harper's Young People_, or rather the mothers of
_Harper's Young People_, may think I am painting a very gloomy picture
of the natives of the Boy's Town; but I do not pretend that what I say
of the boys of forty years ago is true of boys nowadays, especially the
boys who read _Harper's Young People_. I understand that these boys
always like to go tidily dressed and to keep themselves neat; and that a
good many of them carry canes. They would rather go to school than fish,
or hunt, or swim, any day; and if one of their teachers were ever to
offer them a holiday, they would reject it by a vote of the whole
school. They never laugh at a fellow when he hurts himself or tears his
clothes. They are noble and self-sacrificing friends, and they carry out
all their undertakings. They often have very exciting adventures such as
my boy and his mates never had; they rescue one another from shipwreck
and Indians; and if ever they are caught in a burning building, or cast
away on a desolate island, they know just exactly what to do.

But, I am ashamed to say, it was all very different in the Boy's Town;
and I might as well make a clean breast of it while I am about it. The
fellows in that town were every one dreadfully lazy--that is, they never
wanted to do any thing they were set to do; but if they set themselves
to do anything, they would work themselves to death at it. In this alone
I understand that they differed by a whole world's difference from the
boys who read _Harper's Young People_. I am almost afraid to confess how
little moral strength most of those long-ago boys had. A fellow would be
very good at home, really and truly good, and as soon as he got out with
the other fellows he would yield to almost any temptation to mischief
that offered, and if none offered he would go and hunt one up, and would
never stop till he had found one, and kept at it till it overcame him.
The spirit of the boy's world is not wicked, but merely savage, as I
have often said in this book; it is the spirit of not knowing better.
That is, the prevailing spirit is so. Here and there a boy does know
better, but he is seldom a leader among boys; and usually he is ashamed
of knowing better, and rarely tries to do better than the rest. He would
like to please his father and mother, but he dreads the other boys and
what they will say; and so the light of home fades from his ignorant
soul, and leaves him in the outer darkness of the street. It may be that
it must be so; but it seems a great pity; and it seems somehow as if the
father and the mother might keep with him in some word, some thought,
and be there to help him against himself, whenever he is weak and
wavering. The trouble is that the father and mother are too often
children in their way, and little more fit to be the guide than he.

But while I am owning to a good deal that seems to me lamentably wrong
in the behavior of the Boy's Town boys, I ought to remember one or two
things to their credit. They had an ideal of honor, false enough as far
as resenting insult went, but true in some other things. They were
always respectful to women, and if a boy's mother ever appeared among
them, to interfere in behalf of her boy when they were abusing him, they
felt the indecorum, but they were careful not to let her feel it. They
would not have dreamed of uttering a rude or impudent word to her; they
obeyed her, and they were even eager to serve her, if she asked a favor
of them.

For the most part, also, they were truthful, and they only told lies
when they felt obliged to do so, as when they had been in swimming and
said they had not, or as when they wanted to get away from some of the
boys, or did not wish the whole crowd to know what they were doing. But
they were generally shamefaced in these lies; and the fellows who could
lie boldly and stick to it were few. In the abstract lying was held in
such contempt that if any boy said you were a liar you must strike him.
That was not to be borne for an instant, any more than if he had called
you a thief.

I never knew a boy who was even reputed to have stolen anything, among
all the boys, high and low, who met together and played in a perfect
social equality; and cheating in any game was despised. To break bounds,
to invade an orchard or garden, was an adventure which might be
permitted; but even this was uncommon, and most of the boys saw the
affair in the true light, and would not take part in it, though it was
considered fair to knock apples off a tree that hung over the fence; and
if you were out walnutting you might get over the fence in extreme
cases, and help yourself. If the owner of the orchard was supposed to be
stingy you might do it to plague him. But the standard of honesty was
chivalrously high among those boys; and I believe that if ever we have
the equality in this world which so many good men have hoped for, theft
will be unknown. Dishonesty was rare even among men in the Boy's Town,
because there was neither wealth nor poverty there, and all had enough
and few too much.



OF course I do not mean to tell what the town was as men knew it, but
only as it appeared to the boys who made use of its opportunities for
having fun. The civic centre was the court-house, with the county
buildings about it in the court-house yard; and the great thing in the
court-house was the town clock. It was more important in the boys'
esteem than even the wooden woman, who had a sword in one hand and a
pair of scales in the other. Her eyes were blinded; and the boys
believed that she would be as high as a house if she stood on the
ground. She was above the clock, which was so far up in the air, against
the summer sky which was always blue, that it made your neck ache to
look up at it; and the bell was so large that once when my boy was a
very little fellow, and was in the belfry with his brother, to see if
they could get some of the pigeons that nested there, and the clock
began to strike, it almost smote him dead with the terror of its sound,
and he felt his heart quiver with the vibration of the air between the
strokes. It seemed to him that he should never live to get down; and he
never knew how he did get down. He could remember being in the
court-house after that, one night when a wandering professor gave an
exhibition in the court-room, and showed the effects of laughing-gas on
such men and boys as were willing to breathe it. It was the same gas
that dentists now give when they draw teeth; but it was then used to
make people merry and truthful, to make them laugh and say just what
they thought. My boy was too young to know whether it did either; but he
was exactly the right age, when on another night there was a large
picture of Death on a Pale Horse shown, to be harrowed to the bottom of
his soul by its ghastliness. When he was much older, his father urged
him to go to the court-house and hear the great Corwin, whose Mexican
War speech he had learned so much of by heart, arguing a case; but the
boy was too bashful to go in when he got to the door, and came back and
reported that he was afraid they would make him swear. He was sometimes
in the court-house yard, at elections and celebrations; and once he came
from school at recess with some other boys and explored the region of
the jail. Two or three prisoners were at the window, and they talked to
the boys and joked; and the boys ran off again and played; and the
prisoners remained like unreal things in my boy's fancy. Perhaps if it
were not for this unreality which misery puts on for the happy when it
is out of sight, no one could be happy in a world where there is so much

The school was that first one which he went to, in the basement of a
church. It was the Episcopal church, and he struggled for some meaning
in the word Episcopal; he knew that the Seceder church was called so
because the spire was cedar; a boy who went to Sunday-school there told
him so. There was a Methodist church, where his grandfather went; and a
Catholic church, where that awful figure on the cross was. No doubt
there were other churches; but he had nothing to do with them.

Besides his grandfather's drug and book store, there was another drug
store, and there were eight or ten dry-goods stores, where every spring
the boys were taken to be fitted with new straw hats; but the store that
they knew best was a toy-store near the market-house, kept by a quaint
old German, where they bought their marbles and tops and Jew's-harps.
The store had a high, sharp gable to the street, and showed its timbers
through the roughcast of its wall, which was sprinkled with broken glass
that glistened in the sun. After a while the building disappeared like a
scene shifted at the theatre, and it was probably torn down. Then the
boys found another toy store; but they considered the dealer mean; he
asked very high prices, and he said, when a boy hung back from buying a
thing that it was "a very superior article," and the boys had that for a
by-word, and they holloed it at the storekeeper's boy when they wanted
to plague him. There were two bakeries, and at the American bakery there
were small sponge-cakes, which were the nicest cakes in the world, for a
cent apiece; at the Dutch bakery there were pretzels, with salt and
ashes sticking on them, that the Dutch boys liked; but the American boys
made fun of them, and the bread at the Dutch bakery was always sour.
There were four or five taverns where drink was always sold and
drunkards often to be seen; and there was one Dutch tavern, but the
Dutchmen generally went to the brewery for their beer, and drank it
there. The boys went to the brewery, to get yeast for their mothers; and
they liked to linger among the great heaps of malt, and the huge vats
wreathed in steam, and sending out a pleasant smell. The floors were
always wet, and the fat, pale Dutchmen, working about in the vapory air,
never spoke to the boys, who were afraid of them. They took a boy's
bottle and filled it with foaming yeast, and then took his cent, all in
a silence so oppressive that he scarcely dared to breathe. My boy
wondered where they kept the boy they were bringing up to drink beer;
but it would have been impossible to ask. The brewery overlooked the
river, and you could see the south side of the bridge from its back
windows, and that was very strange. It was just like the picture of the
bridge in "Howe's History of Ohio," and that made it seem like a bridge
in some far-off country.

There were two fire-engines in the Boy's Town; but there seemed to be
something always the matter with them, so that they would not work, if
there was a fire. When there was no fire, the companies sometimes pulled
them up through the town to the Basin bank, and practised with them
against the roofs and fronts of the pork-houses. It was almost as good
as a muster to see the firemen in their red shirts and black trousers,
dragging the engine at a run, two and two together, one on each side of
the rope. My boy would have liked to speak to a fireman, but he never
dared; and the foreman of the Neptune, which was the larger and feebler
of the engines, was a figure of such worshipful splendor in his eyes
that he felt as if he could not be just a common human being. He was a
storekeeper, to begin with, and he was tall and slim, and his black
trousers fitted him like a glove; he had a patent-leather helmet, and a
brass speaking-trumpet, and he gave all his orders through this. It did
not make any difference how close he was to the men, he shouted
everything through the trumpet; and when they manned the breaks and
began to pump, he roared at them, "Down on her, down on her, boys!" so
that you would have thought the Neptune could put out the world if it
was burning up. Instead of that there was usually a feeble splutter from
the nozzle, and sometimes none at all, even if the hose did not break;
it was fun to see the hose break. The Neptune was a favorite with the
boys, though they believed that the Tremont could squirt farther, and
they had a belief in its quiet efficiency which was fostered by its
reticence in public. It was small and black, but the Neptune was large,
and painted of a gay color lit up with gilding that sent the blood
leaping through a boy's veins. The boys knew the Neptune was out of
order, but they were always expecting it would come right, and in the
meantime they felt that it was an honor to the town, and they followed
it as proudly back to the engine-house after one of its magnificent
failures as if it had been a magnificent success. The boys were always
making magnificent failures themselves, and they could feel for the


Before the Hydraulic was opened, the pork-houses were the chief public
attraction to the boys, and they haunted them, with a thrilling interest
in the mysteries of pork-packing which none of their sensibilities
revolted from. Afterwards, the cotton-mills, which were rather small
brick factories, though they looked so large to the boys, eclipsed the
pork-house in their regard. They were all wild to work in the mills at
first, and they thought it a hardship that their fathers would not let
them leave school and do it. Some few of the fellows that my boy knew
did get to work in the mills; and one of them got part of his finger
taken off in the machinery; it was thought a distinction among the
boys, and something like having been in war. My boy's brother was so
crazy to try mill-life that he was allowed to do so for a few weeks; but
a few weeks were enough of it, and pretty soon the feeling about the
mills all quieted down, and the boys contented themselves with their
flumes and their wheel-pits, and the head-gates that let the water in on
the wheels; sometimes you could find fish under the wheels when the
mills were not running. The mill-doors all had "No Admittance" painted
on them; and the mere sight of the forbidding words would have been
enough to keep my boy away, for he had a great awe of any sort of
authority; but once he went into the mill to see his brother; and
another time he and some other boys got into an empty mill, where they
found a painter on an upper floor painting a panorama of "Paradise
Lost." This masterpiece must have been several hundred feet long; the
boys disputed whether it would reach to the sawmill they could see from
the windows if it was stretched out; and my boy was surprised by the
effects which the painter got out of some strips of tinsel which he was
attaching to the scenery of the lake of fire and brimstone at different
points. The artist seemed satisfied himself with this simple means of
suggesting the gleam of infernal fires. He walked off to a distance to
get it in perspective, and the boys ventured so close to the paints
which he had standing about by the bucketful that it seemed as if he
must surely hollo at them. But he did not say anything or seem to
remember that they were there. They formed such a favorable opinion of
him and his art that they decided to have a panorama; but it never came
to anything. In the first place they could not get the paints, let
alone the muslin.

Besides the bridge, the school-houses, the court-house and jail, the
port-houses and the mills, there was only one other public edifice in
their town that concerned the boys, or that they could use in
accomplishing the objects of their life, and this was the hall that was
built while my boy could remember its rise, for public amusements. It
was in this hall that he first saw a play, and then saw so many plays,
for he went to the theatre every night; but for a long time it seemed to
be devoted to the purposes of mesmerism. A professor highly skilled in
that science, which has reappeared in these days under the name of
hypnotism, made a sojourn of some weeks in the town, and besides
teaching it to classes of learners who wished to practise it, gave
nightly displays of its wonders. He mesmerized numbers of the boys, and
made them do or think whatever he said. He would give a boy a cane, and
then tell him it was a snake, and the boy would throw it away like
lightning. He would get a lot of boys, and mount them on chairs, and
then tell them that they were at a horse-race, and the boys would gallop
astride of their chairs round and round till he stopped them. Sometimes
he would scare them almost to death, with a thunder-storm that he said
was coming on; at other times he would make them go in swimming, on the
dusty floor, and they would swim all over it in their best clothes, and
would think they were in the river.

There were some people who did not believe in the professor, or the boys
either. One of these people was an officer of the army who was staying a
while in the Boy's Town, and perhaps had something to do with
recruiting troops for the Mexican War. He came to the lecture one
night, and remained with others who lingered after it was over to speak
with the professor. My boy was there with his father, and it seemed to
him that the officer smiled mockingly at the professor; angry words
passed, and then the officer struck out at the professor. In an instant
the professor put up both his fists; they flashed towards the officer's
forehead, and the officer tumbled backwards. The boy could hardly
believe it had happened. It seemed unreal, and of the dreamlike quality
that so many facts in a child's bewildered life are of.

There were very few places of amusement or entertainment in the Boy's
Town that were within a boy's reach. There were at least a dozen places
where a man could get whiskey, but only one where he could get
ice-cream, and the boys were mostly too poor and too shy to visit this
resort. But there used to be a pleasure-garden on the outskirts of the
town, which my boy remembered visiting when he was a very little fellow,
with his brother. There were two large old mulberry-trees in this
garden, and one bore white mulberries and the other black mulberries,
and when you had paid your fip to come in, you could eat all the
mulberries you wanted, for nothing. There was a tame crow that my boy
understood could talk if it liked; but it only ran after him, and tried
to bite his legs. Besides this attraction, there was a labyrinth, or
puzzle, as the boys called it, of paths that wound in and out among
bushes, so that when you got inside you were lucky if you could find
your way out. My boy, though he had hold of his brother's hand, did not
expect to get out; he expected to perish in that labyrinth, and he had
some notion that his end would be hastened by the tame crow. His first
visit to the pleasure-garden was his last; and it passed so wholly out
of his consciousness that he never knew what became of it any more than
if it had been taken up into the clouds.

He tasted ice-cream there for the first time, and had his doubts about
it, though a sherry-glass full of it cost a fip, and it ought to have
been good for such a sum as that. Later in life, he sometimes went to
the saloon where it was sold in the town, and bashfully gasped out a
demand for a glass, and ate it in some sort of chilly back-parlor. But
the boys in that town, if they cared for such luxuries, did not miss
them much, and their lives were full of such vivid interests arising
from the woods and waters all about them that they did not need public
amusements other than those which chance and custom afforded them. I
have tried to give some notion of the pleasure they got out of the daily
arrival of the packet in the Canal Basin; and it would be very unjust if
I failed to celebrate the omnibus which was put on in place of the
old-fashioned stage-coaches between the Boy's Town and Cincinnati. I
dare say it was of the size of the ordinary city omnibus, but it looked
as large to the boys then as a Pullman car would look to a boy now; and
they assembled for its arrivals and departures with a thrill of civic
pride such as hardly any other fact of the place could impart.

My boy remembered coming from Cincinnati in the stage when he was so
young that it must have been when he first came to the Boy's Town. The
distance was twenty miles, and the stage made it in four hours. It was
this furious speed which gave the child his earliest illusion of trees
and fences racing by while the stage seemed to stand still. Several
times after that he made the journey with his father, seeming to have
been gone a long age before he got back, and always so homesick that he
never had any appetite at the tavern where the stage stopped for dinner
midway. When it started back, he thought it would never get off the city
pave and out from between its lines of houses into the free country. The
boys always called Cincinnati "The City." They supposed it was the only
city in the world.


Of course there was a whole state of things in the Boy's Town that the
boys never knew of, or only knew by mistaken rumors and distorted
glimpses. They had little idea of its politics, or commerce, or religion
that was not wrong, and they only concerned themselves with persons and
places so far as they expected to make use of them. But as they could
make very little use of grown persons or public places, they kept away
from them, and the Boy's Town was, for the most part, an affair of
water-courses, and fields and woods, and the streets before the houses,
and the alleys behind them.

Nearly all the houses had vegetable gardens, and some of them had
flower-gardens that appeared princelier pleasaunces to my boy than he
has ever seen since in Europe or America. Very likely they were not so
vast or so splendid as they looked to him then; but one of them at least
had beds of tulips and nasturtiums, and borders of flags and pinks, with
clumps of tiger-lilies and hollyhocks; and in the grassy yard beside it
there were high bushes full of snow-balls, and rose-trees with
moss-roses on them. In this superb domain there were two summer-houses
and a shed where bee-hives stood; at the end of the garden was a
bath-house, and you could have a shower-bath, if you were of a mind
to bring the water for it from the pump in the barn-yard. But this was
all on a scale of unequalled magnificence; and most of the houses, which
were mostly of wood, just had a good big yard with plum-trees and
cherry-trees in it; and a vegetable garden at one side that the boy
hated to weed. My boy's grandfather had a large and beautiful garden,
with long arbors of grapes in it, that the old gentleman trimmed and
cared for himself. They were delicious grapes; and there were black
currants, which the grandfather liked, because he had liked them when he
was a boy himself in the old country, but which no Boy's Town boy could
have been induced to take as a gracious gift. Another boy had a father
that had a green-house; he was a boy that would let you pull pie-plant
in the garden, and would bring out sugar to let you eat it with in the
green-house. His cleverness was rewarded when his father was elected
governor of the state; and what made it so splendid was that his father
was a Whig.

Every house, whether it had a flower-garden or not, had a woodshed,
which was the place where a boy mostly received his friends, and made
his kites and wagons, and laid his plots and plans for all the failures
of his life. The other boys waited in the woodshed when he went in to
ask his mother whether he might do this or that, or go somewhere. A boy
always wanted to have a stove in the woodshed and fit it up for himself,
but his mother would not let him, because he would have been certain to
set the house on fire.

Each fellow knew the inside of his own house tolerably well, but seldom
the inside of another fellow's house, and he knew the back-yard better
than the front-yard. If he entered the house of a friend at all, it was
to wait for him by the kitchen-door, or to get up to the garret with him
by the kitchen-stairs. If he sometimes, and by some rare mischance,
found himself in the living-rooms, or the parlor, he was very unhappy,
and anxious to get out. Yet those interiors were not of an oppressive
grandeur, and one was much like another. The parlor had what was called
a flowered-carpet or gay pattern of ingrain on its floor, and the other
rooms had rag-carpets, woven by some woman who had a loom for the work,
and dyed at home with such native tints as butternut and foreign colors
as logwood. The rooms were all heated with fireplaces, where wood was
burned, and coal was never seen. They were lit at night with
tallow-candles, which were mostly made by the housewife herself, or by
lard-oil glass lamps. In the winter the oil would get so stiff with the
cold that it had to be thawed out at the fire before the lamp would
burn. There was no such thing as a hot-air furnace known; and the fire
on the hearth was kept over from day to day all winter long, by covering
a log at night with ashes; in the morning it would be a bed of coals.
There were no fires in bedrooms, or at least not in a boy's bedroom, and
sometimes he had to break the ice in his pitcher before he could wash;
it did not take him very long to dress.

I have said that they burned wood for heating in the Boy's Town; but my
boy could remember one winter when they burned ears of corn in the
printing-office stove because it was cheaper. I believe they still
sometimes burn corn in the West, when they are too far from a market to
sell it at a paying price; but it always seems a sin and a shame that in
a state pretending to be civilized food should ever be destroyed when
so many are hungry. When one hears of such things one would almost think
that boys could make a better state than this of the men.



IN the Boy's Town a great many men gave nearly their whole time to the
affairs of the state, and did hardly anything but talk politics all day;
they even sat up late at night to do it. Among these politicians the
Whigs were sacred in my boy's eyes, but the Democrats appeared like
enemies of the human race; and one of the strangest things that ever
happened to him was to find his father associating with men who came out
of the Democratic party at the time he left the Whig party, and joining
with them in a common cause against both. But when he understood what a
good cause it was, and came to sing songs against slavery, he was
reconciled, though he still regarded the Whig politicians as chief among
the great ones, if not the good ones, of the earth. When he passed one
of them on the street, he held his breath for awe till he got by, which
was not always so very soon, for sometimes a Whig statesman wanted the
whole sidewalk to himself, and it was hard to get by him. There were
other people in that town who wanted the whole sidewalk, and these were
the professional drunkards, whom the boys regarded as the keystones, if
not corner-stones, of the social edifice. There were three or four of
them, and the boys held them all, rich and poor alike, in a deep
interest, if not respect, as persons of peculiar distinction. I do not
think any boy realized the tragedy of those hopeless, wasted, slavish
lives. The boys followed the wretched creatures, at a safe distance, and
plagued them, and ran whenever one of them turned and threatened them.
That was because the boys had not the experience to enable them to think
rightly, or to think at all about such things, or to know what images of
perdition they had before their eyes; and when they followed them and
teased them, they did not know they were joining like fiends in the
torment of lost souls. Some of the town-drunkards were the outcasts of
good homes, which they had desolated, and some had merely destroyed in
themselves that hope of any home which is the light of heaven in every
human heart; but from time to time a good man held out a helping hand to
one of them, and gave him the shelter of his roof, and tried to reclaim
him. Then the boys saw him going about the streets, pale and tremulous,
in a second-hand suit of his benefactor's clothes, and fighting hard
against the tempter that beset him on every side in that town; and then
some day they saw him dead drunk in a fence corner; and they did not
understand how seven devils worse than the first had entered in the
place which had been swept and garnished for them.

Besides the town-drunkards there were other persons in whom the boys
were interested, like the two or three dandies, whom their splendor in
dress had given a public importance in a community of carelessly dressed
men. Then there were certain genteel loafers, young men of good
families, who hung about the principal hotel, and whom the boys believed
to be fighters of singular prowess. Far below these in the social scale,
the boys had yet other heroes, such as the Dumb Negro and his family.
Between these and the white people, among whom the boys knew of no
distinctions, they were aware that there was an impassable gulf; and it
would not be easy to give a notion of just the sort of consideration in
which they held them. But they held the Dumb Negro himself in almost
superstitious regard as one who, though a deaf-mute, knew everything
that was going on, and could make you understand anything he wished. He
was, in fact, a master of most eloquent pantomime; he had gestures that
could not be mistaken, and he had a graphic dumb-show for persons and
occupations and experiences that was delightfully vivid. For a dentist,
he gave an upward twist of the hand from his jaw, and uttered a howl
which left no doubt that he meant tooth-pulling; and for what would
happen to a boy if he kept on misbehaving, he crossed his fingers before
his face and looked through them in a way that brought the jail-window
clearly before the eyes of the offender.

The boys knew vaguely that his family helped runaway slaves on their way
North, and in a community that was for the most part bitterly
pro-slavery these negroes were held in a sort of respect for their
courageous fidelity to their race. The men were swarthy, handsome
fellows, not much darker than Spaniards, and they were so little afraid
of the chances which were often such fatal mischances to colored people
in that day that one of them travelled through the South, and passed
himself in very good company as a Cherokee Indian of rank and education.

As far as the boys knew, the civic affairs of the place were transacted
entirely by two constables. Of mayors and magistrates, such as there
must have been, they knew nothing, and they had not the least notion
what the Whigs whom they were always trying to elect were to do when
they got into office. They knew that the constables were both Democrats,
but, if they thought at all about the fact, they thought their Democracy
the natural outcome of their dark constabulary nature, and by no means
imagined that they were constables because they were Democrats. The
worse of the two, or the more merciless, was also the town-crier, whose
office is now not anywhere known in America, I believe; though I heard a
town-crier in a Swiss village not many years ago. In the Boy's Town the
crier carried a good-sized bell; when he started out he rang it till he
reached the street corner, and then he stopped, and began some such
proclamation as, "O, yes! O, yes! O, yes! There will be an auction this
evening at early candle-light, at Brown & Robinson's store! Dry goods,
boots and shoes, hats and caps, hardware, queen's ware, and so forth,
and so forth. Richard Roe, Auctioneer! Come one, come all, come
everybody!" Then the crier rang his bell, and went on to the next
corner, where he repeated his proclamation. After a while, the constable
got a deputy to whom he made over his business of town-crier. This
deputy was no other than that reckless boy who used to run out from the
printing-office and shoot the turtle-doves; and he decorated his
proclamation with quips and quirks of his own invention, and with
personal allusions to his employer, who was auctioneer as well as
constable. But though he was hail-fellow with every boy in town, and
although every boy rejoiced in his impudence, he was so panoplied in the
awfulness of his relation to the constabulary functions that, however
remote it was, no boy would have thought of trifling with him when he
was on duty. If ever a boy holloed something at him when he was out with
his crier's bell, he turned and ran as hard as he could, and as if from
the constable himself.

The boys knew just one other official, and that was the gauger, whom
they watched at a respectful distance, when they found him employed with
his mysterious instruments gauging the whiskey in the long rows of
barrels on the Basin bank. They did not know what the process was, and I
own that I do not know to this day what it was. My boy watched him with
the rest, and once he ventured upon a bold and reckless act. He had so
long heard that it was whiskey which made people drunk that at last the
notion came to have an irresistible fascination for him, and he
determined to risk everything, even life itself, to know what whiskey
was like. As soon as the gauger had left them, he ran up to one of the
barrels where he had seen a few drops fall from his instrument when he
lifted it from the bunghole, and plunged the tip of his little finger
into the whiskey, and then put it to his tongue. He expected to become
drunk instantly, if not to end a town-drunkard there on the spot; but
the whiskey only tasted very disgusting; and he was able to get home
without help. Still, I would not advise any other boy to run the risk he
took in this desperate experiment.

There was a time not long after that when he really did get drunk, but
it was not with whiskey. One morning after a rain, when the boys were
having fun in one of those open canal-boats with the loose planks which
the over-night shower had set afloat, a fellow came up and said he had
got some tobacco that was the best kind to learn to chew with. Every boy
who expected to be anything in the world expected to chew tobacco; for
all the packet-drivers chewed; and it seemed to my boy that his father
and grandfather and uncles were about the only people who did not chew.
If they had only smoked, it would have been something, but they did not
even smoke; and the boy felt that he had a long arrears of manliness to
bring up, and that he should have to retrieve his family in spite of
itself from the shame of not using tobacco in any form. He knew that his
father abhorred it, but he had never been explicitly forbidden to smoke
or chew, for his father seldom forbade him anything explicitly, and he
gave himself such freedom of choice in the matter that when the boy with
the tobacco began to offer it around, he judged it right to take a chew
with the rest. The boy said it was a peculiar kind of tobacco, and was
known as molasses-tobacco because it was so sweet. The other boys did
not ask how he came to know its name, or where he got it; boys never ask
anything that it would be well for them to know; but they accepted his
theory, and his further statement that it was of a mildness singularly
adapted to learners, without misgiving. The boy was himself chewing
vigorously on a large quid, and launching the juice from his lips right
and left like a grown person; and my boy took as large a bite as his
benefactor bade him. He found it as sweet as he had been told it was,
and he acknowledged the aptness of its name of molasses-tobacco; it
seemed to him a golden opportunity to acquire a noble habit on easy
terms. He let the quid rest in his cheek as he had seen men do, when he
was not crushing it between his teeth, and for some moments he poled his
plank up and down the canal-boat with a sense of triumph that nothing
marred. Then, all of a sudden, he began to feel pale. The boat seemed
to be going round, and the sky wheeling overhead; the sun was dodging
about very strangely. Drops of sweat burst from the boy's forehead; he
let fall his pole, and said that he thought he would go home. The fellow
who gave him the tobacco began to laugh, and the other fellows to mock,
but my boy did not mind them. Somehow, he did not know how, he got out
of the canal-boat and started homeward; but at every step the ground
rose as high as his knees before him, and then when he got his foot high
enough, and began to put it down, the ground was not there. He was
deathly sick, as he reeled and staggered on, and when he reached home,
and showed himself white and haggard to his frightened mother, he had
scarcely strength to gasp out a confession of his attempt to retrieve
the family honor by learning to chew tobacco. In another moment nature
came to his relief, and then he fell into a deep sleep which lasted the
whole afternoon, so that it seemed to him the next day when he woke up,
glad to find himself alive, if not so very lively. Perhaps he had
swallowed some of the poisonous juice of the tobacco; perhaps it had
acted upon his brain without that. His father made no very close inquiry
into the facts, and he did not forbid him the use of tobacco. It was not
necessary; in that one little experiment he had got enough for a whole
lifetime. It shows that, after all, a boy is not so hard to satisfy in

There were some people who believed that tobacco would keep off the
fever-and-ague, which was so common then in that country, or at any rate
that it was good for the toothache. In spite of the tobacco, there were
few houses where ague was not a familiar guest, however unwelcome. If
the family was large, there was usually a chill every day; one had it
one day, and another the next, so that there was no lapse. This was the
case in my boy's family, after they moved to the Faulkner house, which
was near the Basin and its water-soaked banks; but they accepted the
ague as something quite in the course of nature, and duly broke it up
with quinine. Some of the boys had chills at school; and sometimes,
after they had been in swimming, they would wait round on the bank till
a fellow had his chill out, and then they would all go off together and
forget about it. The next day that fellow would be as well as any one;
the third day his chill would come on again, but he did not allow it to
interfere with his business or pleasure, and after a while the ague
would seem to get tired of it, and give up altogether. That strange
earth-spirit who was my boy's friend simply beat the ague, as it were,
on its own ground. He preferred a sunny spot to have his chill in, a
cosy fence-corner or a warm back door-step, or the like; but as for the
fever that followed the chill, he took no account of it whatever, or at
least made no provision for it.

The miasm which must have filled the air of the place from so many
natural and artificial bodies of fresh water showed itself in low
fevers, which were not so common as ague, but common enough. The only
long sickness that my boy could remember was intermittent fever, which
seemed to last many weeks, and which was a kind of bewilderment rather
than a torment. When it was beginning he appeared to glide down the
stairs at school without touching the steps with his feet, and
afterwards his chief trouble was in not knowing, when he slept, whether
he had really been asleep or not. But there was rich compensation for
this mild suffering in the affectionate petting which a sick boy always
gets from his mother when his malady takes him from his rough little
world and gives him back helpless to her tender arms again. Then she
makes everything in the house yield to him; none of the others are
allowed to tease him or cross him in the slightest thing. They have to
walk lightly; and when he is going to sleep, if they come into the room,
they have got to speak in a whisper. She sits by his bed and fans him;
she smooths the pillow and turns its cool side up under his hot and
aching head; she cooks dainty dishes to tempt his sick appetite, and
brings them to him herself. She is so good and kind and loving that he
cannot help having some sense of it all, and feeling how much better she
is than anything on earth. His little ruffian world drifts far away from
him. He hears the yells and shouts of the boys in the street without a
pang of envy or longing; in his weakness, his helplessness, he becomes a
gentle and innocent child again; and heaven descends to him out of his
mother's heart.



I HAVE already told that my boy's father would not support General
Taylor, the Whig candidate for President, because he believed him, as
the hero of a pro-slavery war, to be a friend of slavery. At this time
he had a large family of little children, and he had got nothing beyond
a comfortable living from the newspaper which he had published for eight
years; if he must give that up, he must begin life anew heavily
burdened. Perhaps he thought it need not come to his giving up his
paper, that somehow affairs might change. But his newspaper would have
gone to nothing in his hands if he had tried to publish it as a Free
Soil paper after the election of the Whig candidate; so he sold it, and
began to cast about for some other business; how anxiously, my boy was
too young to know. He only felt the relief that the whole family felt
for a while at getting out of the printing business; the boys wanted to
go into almost anything else: the drug-business, or farming, or a
paper-mill, or anything. The elder brother knew all the anxiety of the
time, and shared it fully with the mother, whose acquiescence in what
the father thought right was more than patient; she abode courageously
in the suspense, the uncertainty of the time; and she hoped for
something from the father's endeavors in the different ways he turned.
At one time there was much talk in the family of using the fibre of a
common weed in making paper, which he thought he could introduce;
perhaps it was the milk-weed; but he could not manage it, somehow; and
after a year of inaction he decided to go into another newspaper. By
this time the boys had made their peace with the printing business, and
the father had made his with the Whig party. He had done what it must
have been harder to do than to stand out against it; he had publicly
owned that he was mistaken in regard to Taylor, who had not become the
tool of the slaveholders, but had obeyed the highest instincts of the
party and served the interests of freedom, though he was himself a
slaveholder and the hero of an unjust war.

It was then too late, however, for the father to have got back his old
newspaper, even if he had wished, and the children heard, with the
elation that novelty brings to all children, old or young, that they
were going away from the Boy's Town, to live in another place. It was a
much larger place and was even considered a city, though it was not
comparable to Cincinnati, so long the only known city in the world.

My boy was twelve years old by that time, and was already a swift
compositor, though he was still so small that he had to stand on a chair
to reach the case in setting type on Taylor's inaugural message. But
what he lacked in stature he made up in gravity of demeanor; and he got
the name of "The Old Man" from the printers as soon as he began to come
about the office, which he did almost as soon as he could walk. His
first attempt in literature, an essay on the vain and disappointing
nature of human life, he set up and printed off himself in his sixth or
seventh year; and the printing-office was in some sort his home, as well
as his school, his university. He could no more remember learning to
set type than he could remember learning to read; and in after-life he
could not come within smell of the ink, the dusty types, the humid
paper, of a printing-office without that tender swelling of the heart
which so fondly responds to any memory-bearing perfume: his youth, his
boyhood, almost his infancy came back to him in it. He now looked
forward eagerly to helping on the new paper, and somewhat proudly to
living in the larger place the family were going to. The moment it was
decided he began to tell the boys that he was going to live in a city,
and he felt that it gave him distinction. He had nothing but joy in it,
and he did not dream that as the time drew near it could be sorrow. But
when it came at last, and he was to leave the house, the town, the boys,
he found himself deathly homesick. The parting days were days of gloom;
the parting was an anguish of bitter tears. Nothing consoled him but the
fact that they were going all the way to the new place in a canal-boat,
which his father chartered for the trip. My boy and his brother had once
gone to Cincinnati in a canal-boat, with a friendly captain of their
acquaintance, and, though they were both put to sleep in a berth so
narrow that when they turned they fell out on the floor, the glory of
the adventure remained with him, and he could have thought of nothing
more delightful than such another voyage. The household goods were piled
up in the middle of the boat, and the family had a cabin forward, which
seemed immense to the children. They played in it and ran races up and
down the long canal-boat roof, where their father and mother sometimes
put their chairs and sat to admire the scenery.

As my boy could remember very few incidents of this voyage afterwards, I
dare say he spent a great part of it with his face in a book, and was
aware of the landscape only from time to time when he lifted his eyes
from the story he was reading. That was apt to be the way with him; and
before he left the Boy's Town the world within claimed him more and
more. He ceased to be that eager comrade he had once been; sometimes he
left his book with a sigh; and he saw much of the outer world through a
veil of fancies quivering like an autumn haze between him and its
realities, softening their harsh outlines, and giving them a fairy
coloring. I think he would sometimes have been better employed in
looking directly at them; but he had to live his own life, and I cannot
live it over for him. The season was the one of all others best fitted
to win him to the earth, and in a measure it did. It was spring, and
along the tow-path strutted the large, glossy blackbirds which had just
come back, and made the boys sick with longing to kill them, they
offered such good shots. But the boys had no powder with them, and at
any rate the captain would not have stopped his boat, which was rushing
on at the rate of two miles an hour, to let them pick up a bird, if they
had hit it. They were sufficiently provisioned without the game,
however; the mother had baked bread, and boiled a ham, and provided
sugar-cakes in recognition of the holiday character of the voyage, and
they had the use of the boat cooking-stove for their tea and coffee. The
boys had to content themselves with such sense of adventure as they
could get out of going ashore when the boat was passing through the
locks, or staying aboard and seeing the water burst and plunge in around
the boat. They had often watched this thrilling sight at the First
Lock, but it had a novel interest now. As their boat approached the
lock, the lower gates were pushed open by men who set their breasts to
the long sweeps or handles of the gates, and when the boat was fairly
inside of the stone-walled lock they were closed behind her. Then the
upper gates, which opened against the dull current, and were kept shut
by its pressure, were opened a little, and the waters rushed and roared
into the lock, and began to lift the boat. The gates were opened wider
and wider, till the waters poured a heavy cataract into the lock, where
the boat tossed on their increasing volume, and at last calmed
themselves to the level within. Then the boat passed out through the
upper gates, on even water, and the voyage to the next lock began. At
first it was rather awful, and the little children were always afraid
when they came to a lock, but the boys enjoyed it after the first time.
They would have liked to take turns driving the pair of horses that drew
the boat, but it seemed too bold a wish, and I think they never proposed
it; they did not ask, either, to relieve the man at the helm.

They arrived safely at their journey's end, without any sort of
accident. They had made the whole forty miles in less than two days, and
were all as well as when they started, without having suffered for a
moment from seasickness. The boat drew up at the tow-path just before
the stable belonging to the house which the father had already taken,
and the whole family at once began helping the crew put the things
ashore. The boys thought it would have been a splendid stable to keep
the pony in, only they had sold the pony; but they saw in an instant
that it would do for a circus as soon as they could get acquainted with
enough boys to have one.

The strangeness of the house and street, and the necessity of meeting
the boys of the neighborhood, and paying with his person for his
standing among them, kept my boy interested for a time, and he did not
realize at first how much he missed the Boy's Town and all the familiar
fellowships there, and all the manifold privileges of the place. Then he
began to be very homesick, and to be torn with the torment of a divided
love. His mother, whom he loved so dearly, so tenderly, was here, and
wherever she was, that was home; and yet home was yonder, far off, at
the end of those forty inexorable miles, where he had left his life-long
mates. The first months there was a dumb heartache at the bottom of
every pleasure and excitement. There were many excitements, not the
least of which was the excitement of helping get out a tri-weekly and
then a daily newspaper, instead of the weekly that his father had
published in the Boy's Town. Then that dear friend of his brother and
himself, the apprentice who knew all about "Monte Cristo," came to work
with them and live with them again, and that was a great deal; but he
did not bring the Boy's Town with him; and when they each began to write
a new historical romance, the thought of the beloved scenes amidst which
they had planned their first was a pang that nothing could assuage.
During the summer the cholera came; the milkman, though naturally a
cheerful person, said that the people around where he lived were dying
off like flies; and the funerals, three and four, five and six, ten and
twelve a day, passed before the door; and all the brooding horror of the
pestilence sank deep into the boy's morbid soul. Then he fell sick of
the cholera himself; and, though it was a mild attack, he lay in the
Valley of the Shadow of Death while it lasted, and waited the worst with
such terror that when he kept asking her if he should get well, his
mother tried to reason with him, and to coax him out of his fear. Was he
afraid to die, she asked him, when he knew that heaven was so much
better, and he would be in the care of such love as never could come to
him on earth? He could only gasp back that he _was_ afraid to die; and
she could only turn from reconciling him with the other world to
assuring him that he was in no danger of leaving this.

I sometimes think that if parents would deal rightly and truly with
children about death from the beginning, some of the fear of it might be
taken away. It seems to me that it is partly because death is hushed up
and ignored between them that it rests such a burden on the soul; but if
children were told as soon as they are old enough that death is a part
of nature, and not a calamitous accident, they would be somewhat
strengthened to meet it. My boy had been taught that this world was only
an illusion, a shadow thrown from the real world beyond; and no doubt
his father and mother believed what they taught him; but he had always
seen them anxious to keep the illusion, and in his turn he clung to the
vain shadow with all the force of his being.

He got well of the cholera, but not of the homesickness, and after a
while he was allowed to revisit the Boy's Town. It could only have been
three or four months after he had left it, but it already seemed a very
long time; and he figured himself returning as stage-heroes do to the
scenes of their childhood, after an absence of some fifteen years. He
fancied that if the boys did not find him grown, they would find him
somehow changed, and that he would dazzle them with the light
accumulated by his residence in a city. He was going to stay with his
grandmother, and he planned to make a long stay; for he was very fond of
her, and he liked the quiet and comfort of her pleasant house. He must
have gone back by the canal-packet, but his memory kept no record of the
fact, and afterwards he knew only of having arrived, and of searching
about in a ghostly fashion for his old comrades. They may have been at
school; at any rate he found very few of them; and with them he was
certainly strange enough; too strange, even. They received him with a
kind of surprise; and they could not begin playing together at once in
the old way. He went to all the places that were so dear to him; but he
felt in them the same kind of refusal, or reluctance, that he felt in
the boys. His heart began to ache again, he did not quite know why; only
it ached. When he went up from his grandmother's to look at the Faulkner
house, he realized that it was no longer home, and he could not bear the
sight of it. There were other people living in it; strange voices
sounded from the open doors, strange faces peered from the windows.

He came back to his grandmother's, bruised and defeated, and spent the
morning indoors reading. After dinner he went out again, and hunted up
that queer earth-spirit who had been so long and closely his only
friend. He at least was not changed; he was as unwashed and as unkempt
as ever; but he seemed shy of my poor boy. He had probably never been
shaken hands with in his life before; he dropped my boy's hand; and
they stood looking at each other, not knowing what to say. My boy had on
his best clothes, which he wore so as to affect the Boy's Town boys with
the full splendor of a city boy. After all, he was not so very splendid,
but his presence altogether was too much for the earth-spirit, and he
vanished out of his consciousness like an apparition.

After school was out in the afternoon, he met more of the boys, but none
of them knew just what to do with him. The place that he had once had in
their lives was filled; he was an outsider, who might be suffered among
them, but he was no longer of them. He did not understand this at once,
nor well know what hurt him. But something was gone that could not be
called back, something lost that could not be found.

At tea-time his grandfather came home and gravely made him welcome; the
uncle who was staying with them was jovially kind. But a heavy
homesickness weighed down the child's heart, which now turned from the
Boy's Town as longingly as it had turned towards it before.

They all knelt down with the grandfather before they went to the table.
There had been a good many deaths from cholera during the day, and the
grandfather prayed for grace and help amidst the pestilence that walketh
in darkness and wasteth at noonday in such a way that the boy felt there
would be very little of either for him unless he got home at once. All
through the meal that followed he was trying to find the courage to say
that he must go home. When he managed to say it, his grandmother and
aunt tried to comfort and coax him, and his uncle tried to shame him,
out of his homesickness, to joke it off, to make him laugh. But his
grandfather's tender heart was moved. He could not endure the child's
mute misery; he said he must go home if he wished.

In half an hour the boy was on the canal-packet speeding homeward at the
highest pace of the three-horse team, and the Boy's Town was out of
sight. He could not sleep for excitement that night, and he came and
spent the time talking on quite equal terms with the steersman, one of
the canalers whom he had admired afar in earlier and simpler days. He
found him a very amiable fellow, by no means haughty, who began to tell
him funny stories, and who even let him take the helm for a while. The
rudder-handle was of polished iron, very different from the clumsy
wooden affair of a freight-boat; and the packet made in a single night
the distance which the boy's family had been nearly two days in
travelling when they moved away from the Boy's Town.

He arrived home for breakfast a travelled and experienced person, and
wholly cured of that longing for his former home that had tormented him
before he revisited its scenes. He now fully gave himself up to his new
environment, and looked forward and not backward. I do not mean to say
that he ceased to love the Boy's Town; that he could not do and never
did. But he became more and more aware that the past was gone from him
forever, and that he could not return to it. He did not forget it, but
cherished its memories the more fondly for that reason.

There was no bitterness in it, and no harm that he could not hope would
easily be forgiven him. He had often been foolish, and sometimes he had
been wicked; but he had never been such a little fool or such a little
sinner but he had wished for more sense and more grace. There are some
great fools and great sinners who try to believe in after-life that they
are the manlier men because they have been silly and mischievous boys,
but he has never believed that. He is glad to have had a boyhood fully
rounded out with all a boy's interests and pleasures, and he is glad
that his lines were cast in the Boy's Town; but he knows, or believes he
knows, that whatever is good in him now came from what was good in him
then; and he is sure that the town was delightful chiefly because his
home in it was happy. The town was small and the boys there were hemmed
in by their inexperience and ignorance; but the simple home was large
with vistas that stretched to the ends of the earth, and it was serenely
bright with a father's reason and warm with a mother's love.


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Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 101, "unbotton" changed to "unbutton" (begins to unbutton)

Page 190, "laugher" changed to "laughter" (great a laughter)

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Boy's Town" ***

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