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Title: Back Home
Author: Wood, Eugene
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Back Home" ***

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BACK HOME

By Eugene Wood



                                TO
                         THE SAINTED MEMORY
               OF HER WHOM, IN THE DAYS BACK HOME,
                       I KNEW AS “MY MA MAG”
            AND WHO WAS MORE TO ME THAN I CAN TELL, EVEN
                  IF MY TARDY WORDS COULD REACH HER
                      THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED

                   “That she who is an angel now
                    Might sometimes think of me”



CONTENTS

     INTRODUCTION
     THE OLD RED SCHOOL-HOUSE
     THE SABBATH-SCHOOL
     THE REVOLVING YEAR
     THE SWIMMING-HOLE
     THE FIREMEN’S TOURNAMENT
     THE DEVOURING ELEMENT
     CIRCUS DAY
     THE COUNTY FAIR
     CHRISTMAS BACK HOME



INTRODUCTION

GENTLE READER:--Let me make you acquainted with my book, “Back Home.”
 (Your right hand, Book, your right hand. Pity’s sakes! How many times
have I got to tell you that? Chest up and forward, shoulders back and
down, and turn your toes out more.)

It is a little book, Gentle Reader, but please don’t let that prejudice
you against it. The General Public, I know, likes to feel heft in its
hand when it buys a book, but I had hoped that you were a peg or two
above the General Public. That mythical being goes on a reading spree
about every so often, and it selects a book which will probably last out
the craving, a book which “it will be impossible to lay down, after it
is once begun, until it is finished.” (I quote from the standard book
notice). A few hours later the following dialogue ensues:


“Henry!”

“Yes, dear.”

“Aren’t you ‘most done reading?”

“Just as soon as I finish this chapter.” A sigh and a long wait.

“Henry!”

“Yes, dear.”

“Did you lock the side-door?” No answer.

“Henry! Did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Did you lock the side-door?”

“In a minute now.”

“Yes, but did you?”

“M-hm. I guess so.”

“‘Guess so!’ Did you lock that side-door? They got in at Hilliard’s
night before last and stole a bag of clothes-pins.”

“M.”

“Oh, put down that book, and go and lock the side-door. I’ll not get a
wink of sleep this blessed night unless you do.”

“In a minute now. Just wait till I finish this...”

“Go do it now.”

Mr. General Public has a card on his desk that says, “Do it Now,” and so
he lays down his book with a patient sigh, and comes back to it with a
patent grouch.

“Oh, so it is,” says the voice from the bedroom. “I remember now, I
locked it myself when I put the milk-bottles out.... I’m going to stop
taking of that man unless there’s more cream on the top than there has
been here lately.”

“M.”

“Henry!”

“Oh, what is it?”

“Aren’t you ‘most done reading?”

“In a minute, just as soon as I finish this chapter.”

“How long is that chapter, for mercy’s sakes?”

“I began another.”

“Henry!”

“What?”

“Aren’t you coming to bed pretty soon? You know I can’t go to sleep when
you are sitting up.”

“Oh, hush up for one minute, can’t ye? It’s a funny thing if I can’t
read a little once in a while.”

“It’s a funny thing if I’ve got to be broke of my rest this way. As much
as I have to look after. I’d hate to be so selfish.... Henry! Won’t you
please put the book down and come to bed?”

“Oh, for goodness sake! Turn over and go to sleep. You make me tired.”

Every two or three hours Mrs. General Public wakes up and announces that
she can’t get a wink of sleep, not a wink; she wishes he hadn’t brought
the plagued old book home; he hasn’t the least bit of consideration for
her; please, please, won’t he put the book away and come to bed?

He reaches “THE END” at 2:30A.M., turns off the gas, and creeps into
bed, his stomach all upset from smoking so much without eating anything,
his eyes feeling like two burnt holes in a blanket, and wishing that
he had the sense he was born with. He’ll have to be up at 6:05, and he
knows how he will feel. He also knows how he will feel along about three
o’clock in the afternoon. Smithers is coming then to close up that deal.
Smithers is as sharp as tacks, as slippery as an eel, and as crooked as
a dog’s hind leg. Always looking for the best of it. You need all
your wits when you deal with Smithers. Why didn’t he take Mrs. General
Public’s advice, and get to bed instead of sitting up fuddling himself
with that fool love-story?

That’s how a book should be to be a great popular success, and one
that all the typewriter girls will have on their desks. I am guiltily
conscious that “Back Home” is not up to standard either in avoirdupois
heft or the power to unfit a man for business.

Here’s a book. Is it long? No. Is it exciting? No. Any lost diamonds
in it? Nup. Mysterious murders? No. Whopping big fortune, now teetering
this way, and now teetering that, tipping over on the Hero at the last
and smothering him in an avalanche of fifty-dollar bills? No. Does She
get Him? Isn’t even that. No “heart interest” at all. What’s the use of
putting out good money to make such a book; to have a cover design for
it; to get a man like A. B. Frost to draw illustrations for it, when he
costs so like the mischief, when there’s nothing in the book to make a
man sit up till ‘way past bedtime? Why print it at all?

You may search me. I suppose it’s all right, but if it was my money,
I’ll bet I could make a better investment of it. If worst came to worst,
I could do like the fellow in the story who went to the gambling-house
and found it closed up, so he shoved the money under the door and went
away. He’d done his part.

And yet, on the other hand, I can see how some sort of a case can be
made out for this book of mine. I suppose I am wrong-I generally am in
regard to everything--but it seems to me that quite a large part of the
population of this country must be grown-up people. If I am right
in this contention, then this large part of the population is being
unjustly discriminated against. I believe in doing a reasonable amount
for the aid and comfort of the young things that are just beginning to
turn their hair up under, or who rub a stealthy forefinger over their
upper lips to feel the pleasant rasp, but I don’t believe in their
monopolizing everything. I don’t think it ‘s fair. All the books
printed--except, of course, those containing valuable information; we
don’t buy those books, but go to the public library for them--all the
books printed are concerned with the problem of How She can get Him, and
He can get Her.

Well, now. It was either yesterday morning or the day before that you
looked in the glass and beheld there The First Gray Hair. You smiled a
smile that was not all pure pleasure, a smile that petered out into a
sigh, but nevertheless a smile, I will contend. What do you think
about it? You’re still on earth, aren’t you? You’ll last the month out,
anyhow, won’t you? Not at all ready to be laid on the shelf? What do you
think of the relative importance of Love, Courtship, and Marriage? One
or two other things in life just about as interesting, aren’t there?
Take getting a living, for instance. That ‘s worthy of one’s attention,
to a certain extent. When our young ones ask us: “Pop, what did you say
to Mom when you courted her?” they feel provoked at us for taking it so
lightly and so frivolously. It vexes them for us to reply: “Law, child!
I don’t remember. Why, I says to her: ‘Will you have me?’ And she says:
‘Why, yes, and jump at the chance.’ What difference does it make what
we said, or whether we said anything at all? Why should we charge our
memories with the recollections of those few and foolish months of mere
instinctive sex-attraction when all that really counts came after,
the years wherein low passion blossomed into lofty Love, the dear
companionship in joy and sorrow, and in that which is more, far more
than either joy or sorrow, ‘the daily round, the common task?’” All that
is wonderful to think of in our courtship is the marvel, for which
we should never cease to thank the Almighty God, that with so little
judgment at our disposal we should have chosen so wisely.

If you, Gentle Reader, found your first gray hair day before yesterday
morning, if you can remember, ‘way, ‘way back ten or fifteen years
ago... er... er... or more, come with me. Let us go “Back Home.” Here’s
your transportation, all made out to you, and in your hand. It is no use
my reminding you that no railroad goes to the old home place. It isn’t
there any more, even in outward seeming. Cummins’s woods, where you had
your robbers’ cave, is all cleared off and cut up into building lots.
The cool and echoing covered bridge, plastered with notices of dead and
forgotten Strawberry Festivals and Public Vendues, has long ago been
torn down to be replaced by a smart, red iron bridge. The Volunteer
Firemen’s Engine-house, whose brick wall used to flutter with the gay
rags of circus-bills, is gone as if it never were at all. Where the
Union Schoolhouse was is all torn up now. They are putting up a new
magnificent structure, with all the modern improvements, exposed
plumbing, and spankless discipline. The quiet leafy streets echo to the
hissing snarl of trolley cars, and the power-house is right by the
Old Swimming-hole above the dam. The meeting-house, where we attended
Sabbath-school, and marveled at the Greek temple frescoed on the wall
behind the pulpit, is now a church with a big organ, and stained-glass
windows, and folding opera-chairs on a slanting floor. There isn’t any
“Amen Corner,” any more, and in these calm and well-bred times nobody
ever gets “shouting happy.”

But even when “the loved spots that our infancy knew” are physically the
same, a change has come upon them more saddening than words can tell.
They have shrunken and grown shabbier. They are not nearly so spacious
and so splendid as once they were.

Some one comes up to you and calls you by your name. His voice echoes in
the chambers of your memory. You hold his hand in yours and try to peer
through the false-face he has on, the mask of a beard or spectacles, or
a changed expression of the countenance. He says he is So-and-so. Why,
he used to sit with you in Miss Crutcher’s room, don’t you remember?
There was a time when you and he walked together, your arms upon each
other’s shoulders. But this is some other one than he. The boy you knew
had freckles, and could spit between his teeth, ever and ever so far.

They don’t have the same things to eat they used to have, or, if they
do, it all tastes different. Do you remember the old well, with the
windlass and the chain fastened to the rope just above the bucket, the
chain that used to cluck-cluck when the dripping bucket came within
reach to be swung upon the well-curb? How cold the water used to be,
right out of the northwest corner of the well! It made the roof of your
mouth ache when you drank. Everybody said it was such splendid water. It
isn’t so very cold these days, and I think it has a sort of funny taste
to it.

Ah, Gentle Reader, this is not really “Back Home” we gaze upon when
we go there by the train. It is a last year’s bird’s nest. The nest is
there; the birds are flown, the birds of youth, and noisy health, and
ravenous appetite, and inexperience. You cannot go “Back Home” by train,
but here is the magic wishing-carpet, and here is your transportation in
your hand all made out to you. You and I will make the journey together.
Let us in heart and mind thither ascend.

I went to the Old Red School-house with you. Don’t you remember me? I
was learning to swim when you could go clear across the river without
once “letting down.” I saw you at the County Fair, and bought a slab
of ice-cream candy just before you did. I was in the infant-class in
Sabbath-school when you spoke in the dialogue at the monthly concert.
Look again. Don’t you remember me? I used to stub my toe so; you ought
to recollect me by that. I know plenty of people that you know. I may
not always get their names just right, but then it’s been a good while
ago. You Il recognize them, though; you’ll know them in a minute.

EUGENE WOOD.



BACK HOME



THE OLD RED SCHOOL-HOUSE


  Oh, the little old red school-house on the hill,
                 (2d bass: On the hill.)
  Oh, the little old red school-house on the hill,
               (2d bass: On the hi-hi-hi-yull)
                And my heart with joy o’erflows,
                Like the dew-drop in the rose,*
  Thinking of the old red SCHOOL-HOUSE I o-o-on the hill,
                 (2d tenor and 1st bass: The hill, the hill.)

  THE MALE QUARTET’S COMPENDIUM.


     * I call your attention to the chaste beauty of this line,
     and the imperative necessity of the chord of the diminished
     seventh for the word “rose.”  Also “school-house” in the
     last line must be very loud and staccato.  Snap it off.


If the audience will kindly come forward and occupy the vacant seats
in the front of the hall, the entertainment will now begin. The male
quartet will first render an appropriate selection and then.... Can’t
you see them from where you are? Let me assist you in the visualization.

The first tenor, the gentleman on the extreme left, is a stocky little
man, with a large chest and short legs conspicuously curving inward. He
has plenty of white teeth, ash-blonde hair, and goes smooth-shaven for
purely personal reasons. His round, dough-colored face will never look
older (from a distance) than it did when he was nine. The flight of
years adds only deeper creases in the multitude of fine wrinkles, and
increasing difficulty in hoisting his tiny, patent-leather foot up on
his plump knee.

The second tenor leans toward him in a way to make another man anxious
about his watch, but the second tenor is as honest as the day. He is
only “blending the voices.” He works in the bank. He is going to be
married in June sometime. Don’t look around right away, but she’s the
one in the pink shirt-waist, the second one from the aisle, the one...
two... three... the sixth row back. See her? Say, they’ve got it bad,
those two. What d’ ye think? She goes down by the bank every day at
noon, so as to walk up with him to luncheon. She lives across the
street, and as soon as ever she has finished her luncheon, there she is,
out on the front porch hallooing: “Oo-hoo!” How about that? And if he so
much as looks at another girl--m-M!

The first bass is one of these fellows with a flutter in his voice.
No, I don’t mean a vibrato. It’s a flutter, like a goat’s tail. It is
considered real operatic.

The second bass has a great, big Adam’s apple that slides up and down
his throat like a toy-monkey on a stick. He is tall, and has eyebrows
like clothes-brushes, and he scowls fit to make you run and hide under
the bed. He is really a good-hearted fellow, though. Pity he has the
dyspepsia so bad. Oh, my, yes! Suffers everything with it, poor man.
He generally sings that song about “Drink-ing! DRINK-ang! Drink-awng!”
 though he’s strictly temperate himself. When he takes that last low
note, you hold on to your chair for fear you’ll fall in too.

But why bring in the male quartet?

Because “The Little Old Red School-house” is more than a mere
collocation of words, accurately descriptive. It is what Mat King would
call a “symblem,” and as such requires the music’s dying fall to lull
and enervate a too meticulous and stringent tendency to recollect that
it wasn’t little, or old, or red, or on a hill. It might have been
big and new, and built of yellow brick, right next to the Second
Presbyterian, and hence close to the “branch,” so that the spring
freshets flooded the playground, and the water lapped the base of the
big rock on which we played “King on the Castle,”--the big rock so
pitifully dwindled of late years. No matter what he facts are. Sing ‘of
“The Little Old Red Schoolhouse On the Hill” and in everybody’s heart
a chord trembles in unison. As we hear its witching strains, we are all
lodge brethren, from Maine to California and far across the Western Sea;
we are all lodge brethren, and the air is “Auld Lang Syne,” and we are
clasping hands across, knitted together into one living solidarity;
and this, if we but sensed it, is the real Union, of which the federal
compact is but the outward seeming. It is a Union in which they have
neither art nor part whose parents sent them to private schools, so as
not to have them associate with “that class of people.” It is the
true democracy which batters down the walls that separate us from each
other--the walls of caste distinction, and color prejudice, and national
hatred, and religious contempt, all the petty, anti-social meannesses
that quarrel with

     “The Union of hearts, the Union of hands,
     And the flag of our Union forever.”

Old Glory has floated victoriously on many a gallant fight by sea
and land, but never do its silver stars glitter more bravely or its
blood-red stripes curve more proudly on the fawning breeze than when it
floats above the school-house, over the daily battle against ignorance
and prejudice (which is ignorance of our fellows), for freedom and for
equal rights. It is no mere pretty sentimentality that puts the flag
there, but the serious recognition of the bed-rock principle of our
Union: That we are all of one blood, one bounden duty; that all these
anti-social prejudices are just as shameful as illiteracy, and that they
must disappear as soon as ever we shall come to know each other well.
Knowledge is power. That is true. And it is also true: A house divided
against itself cannot stand.

“The Flag of our Union forever!” is our prayer, our heart’s desire for
us and for our children after us. Heroes have died to give us that,
heroes that with glazing eyes beheld the tattered ensign and spent their
latest breath to cheer it as it passed on to triumph. “We who are about
to die salute thee!” The heart swells to think of it. But it swells,
too, to think that, day by day, thousands upon thousands of little
children stretch out their hands toward that Flag and pledge allegiance
to it. “We who are about to LIVE salute thee!”

It is no mere chance affair that all our federal buildings should be so
ugly and so begrudged, and that our school-houses should be so beautiful
architecturally--the one nearest my house is built from plans that took
the first prize at the Paris Exposition, in competition with the
whole world--so well-appointed, and so far from being grudged that the
complaint is, that there are not enough of them.

That So-and-so should be the President, and such-and-such a party
have control is but a game we play at, amateurs and professionals; the
serious business is, that in this country no child, how poor soever it
may be, shall have the slightest let or hindrance in the equal chance
with every other child to learn to read, and write, and cipher, and do
raffia-work.

It is a new thing with us to have splendid school-houses. After all, the
norm, as you might say, is still “The Old Red School-house.” You must
recollect how hard the struggle is for the poor farmer, with wheat only
a dollar a bushel, and eggs only six for a quarter; with every year
or so taxes of three and sometimes four dollars on an eighty-acre farm
grinding him to earth. It were folly to expect more in rural districts
than a tight box, with benches and a stove in it. Never-the-less, it is
the thing signified more than its outward seeming that catches and holds
the eye upon the country school-house as you drive past it. You count
yourself fortunate if, mingled with the creaking of the buggy-springs,
you hear the hum of recitation; yet more fortunate if it is recess time,
and you can see the children out at play, the little girls holding to
one another’s dress-tails as they solemnly circle to the chant:

    “H-yar way gow rand tha malbarry bosh,
     Tha malbarry bosh, tha malbarry bosh,
     H-yar way gow rand tha malbarry bosh
       On a cay-um and frasty marneng.”

The boys are at marbles, if it is muddy enough, or one-old-cat, or
pom-pom-peel-away, with the normal percentage of them in reboant
tears--that is to say, one in three.

But even this is not the moment of illumination, when it comes upon you
like a flood how glorious is the land we live in, upon what sure and
certain footing are its institutions, when we know by spiritual insight
that whatsoever be the trial that awaits us, the people of these United
States, we shall be able for it! Yes. We shall be able for it.

If you would learn the secret of our nation’s greatness, take your stand
some winter’s morning just before nine o’clock, where you can overlook a
circle of some two or three miles’ radius, the center being the Old Red
School-house. You will see little figures picking their way along the
miry roads, or ploughing through the deep drifts, cutting across the
fields, all drawing to the school-house, Bub in his wammus and his
cowhide boots, his cap with ear-laps, a knitted comforter about his
neck, and his hands glowing in scarlet mittens; and little Sis, in a
thick shawl, trudging along behind him, stepping in his tracks. They
chirrup, “Good-morning, sir!” As far as you can see them you have to
watch them, and something rises in your throat. Lord love ‘em! Lord love
the children!

And then it comes to you, and it makes you catch your breath to think of
it, that every two or three miles all over this land, wherever there are
children at all, there is the Old Red Schoolhouse. At this very hour a
living tide, upbearing the hopes and prayers of God alone knows how many
loving hearts, the tide on which all of our longed-for ships are to come
in, is setting to the school-house. Oh, what is martial glory, what is
conquest of an empire, what is state-craft alongside of this? Happy is
the people that is in such a case!

The city schools are now the pattern for the country schools: but in
my day, although a little they were pouring the new wine of frothing
educational reform into the old bottles, they had not quite attained the
full distention of this present. We still had some kind of a good
time, but nothing like the good times they had out at the school near
grandpap’s, where I sometimes visited. There you could whisper! Yes,
sir, you could whisper. So long as you didn’t talk out loud, it was all
right. And there was no rising at the tap of the bell, forming in line
and walking in lock-step. Seemingly it never entered the school-board’s
heads that anybody would ever be sent to state’s prison. They left the
scholars unprepared for any such career. They have remedied all that in
city schools. Now, when a boy grows up and goes to Sing Sing, he knows
exactly what to do and how to behave. It all comes back to him.

But what I call the finest part of going to school in the country was,
that you didn’t go home to dinner. Grandma had a boy only a few years
older than I was, and when I went a-visiting, she fixed us up a “piece.”
 They call it “luncheon” now, I think--a foolish, hybrid mongrel of a
word, made up of “lump,” a piece of bread, and “noon,” and “shenk,”
 a pouring or drink. But the right name is “piece.” What made this
particular “piece” taste so wonderfully good was that it was in a
round-bottomed basket woven of splints dyed blue, and black and red,
and all in such a funny pattern. It was an Indian basket. My grandma’s
mother, when she was a little girl, got that from the squaw of old Chief
Wiping-Stick.

The “piece” had bread-and-butter (my grandma used to let me churn
for her sometimes, when I went out there), and some of the slices had
apple-butter on them. (One time she let me stir the cider, when it was
boiling down in the big kettle over the chunk-fire out in the yard. The
smoke got in my eyes.) Sometimes there was honey from the hives over by
the gooseberry bushes--the gooseberries had stickers on them--and we had
slices of cold, fried ham. (I was out at grandpap’s one time when they
butchered. They had a chunk-fire then, too, to heat the water to scald
the hogs. And say! Did your grandma ever roast pig’s tails in the ashes
for you?) And there were crullers. No, I don’t mean “doughnuts.” I mean
crullers, all twisted up. They go good with cider. (Sometimes my grandma
cut out thin, pallid little men of cruller dough, and dropped them into
the hot lard for my Uncle Jimmy and me. And when she fished them out,
they were all swelled up and “pussy,” and golden brown).

And there was pie. Neither at the school nooning nor at the table did
one put a piece of pie upon a plate and haggle at it with a fork. You
took the piece of pie up in your hand and pointed the sharp end toward
you, and gently crowded it into your face. It didn’t require much
pressure either.

And there were always apples, real apples. I think they must make apples
in factories nowadays. They taste like it. These were real ones, picked
off the trees. Out at grandpap’s they had bellflowers, and winesaps, and
seek-no-furthers, and, I think, sheep-noses, and one kind of apple that
I can’t find any more, though I have sought it carefully. It was the
finest apple I ever set a tooth in. It was the juiciest and the spiciest
apple. It had sort of a rollicking flavor to it, if you know what I
mean. It certainly was the ne plus ultra of an apple. And the name of it
was the rambo. Dear me, how good it was! think I’d sooner have one right
now than great riches. And all these apples they kept in the apple-hole.
You went out and uncovered the earth and there they were, all in a big
nest of straw; and such a gush of perfume distilled from that pile of
them that just to recollect it makes my mouth all wet.

They had a big red apple in those days that I forget the name of. Oh, it
was a whopper! You’d nibble at it and nibble at it before you could
get a purchase on it. Then, after you got your teeth in, you’d pull and
pull, and all of a sudden the apple would go “tock!” and your head would
fly back from the recoil, and you had a bite about the size of your
hand. You “chomped” on it, with your cheek all bulged out, and blame
near drowned yourself with the juice of it.

Noon-time the girls used to count the seeds:

     “One I love, two I love, three my love I see;
     Four I love with all my heart, and five I cast away.
     Six he loves; seven she loves; eight... eight...”

I forget what eight is, and all that follows after. And then the others
would tease her with, “Aw, Jennie!” knowing who it was she had named
the apple for, Wes. Rinehart, or ‘Lonzo Curl, or whoever. And you’d
be standing there by the stove, kind of grinning and not thinking of
anything in particular when somebody would hit you a clout on your back
that just about broke you in two, and would tell you “to pass it on,”
 and you’d pass it on, and the next thing was you’d think the house was
coming down. Such a chasing around and over benches, and upsetting the
water-bucket, and tearing up Jack generally that teacher would say,
“Boys! boys! If you can’t play quietly, you’ll have to go out of doors!”
 Play quietly! Why, the idea! What kind of play is it when you are right
still?

Outdoors in the country, you can whoop and holler, and carry on, and
nobody complains to the board of health. And there are so many things
you can do. If there is just the least little fall of snow you can make
a big wheel, with spokes in it, by your tracking. I remember that it was
called “fox and geese,” but that’s all I can remember about it. If there
was a little more snow you tried to wash the girls’ faces in it, and
sometimes got yours washed. If there was a good deal of wet snow you had
a snowball fight, which is great fun, unless you get one right smack dab
in your ear--oh, but I can’t begin to tell you all the fun there is at
the noon hour in the country school, that the town children don’t know
anything about. And when it was time for school to “take up,” there
wasn’t any forming in line, with a monitor to run tell teacher who
snatched off Joseph Humphreys’ cap and flung it far away, so he had to
get out of the line, and who did this, and who did that--no penitentiary
business at all. Teacher tapped on the window with a ruler, and the boys
and girls came in, red-faced and puffing, careering through the aisles,
knocking things off the desks with many a burlesque, “oh, exCUSE me!”
 and falling into their seats, bursting into sniggers, they didn’t know
what at. They had an hour and a half nooning. Counting that it took five
minutes to shovel down even grandma’s beautiful “piece,” that left an
hour and twenty-five minutes for roaring, romping play. If you want to
know, I think that is fully as educational and a far better preparation
for life than sitting still with your nose stuck in a book.

In the city schools they don’t think so. Even the stingy fifteen
minutes’ recess, morning and afternoon, has been stolen from the
children. Instead is given the inspiriting physical culture, all making
silly motions together in a nice, warm room, full of second-hand air.
Is it any wonder that one in every three that die between fifteen and
twenty-five, dies of consumption?

You must have noticed that almost everybody that amounts to anything
spent his early life in the country. The city schools have great
educational advantages; they have all the up-to-date methods, but the
output of the Old Red Schoolhouse compares very favorably with that of
the city schools for all that. The two-mile walk, morning and evening,
had something to do with it, not only because it and the long nooning
were good exercise, but because it impressed upon the mind that what
cost so much effort to get must surely be worth having. But I think I
know another reason.

If the city child goes through the arithmetic once, it is as much as
ever. In the Old Red School-house those who hadn’t gone through the
arithmetic at least six times, were little thought of. In town, the last
subject in the book was “Permutation,” to which you gave the mere look
its essentially frivolous nature deserved. It was: “End of the line. All
out!” But in the country a very important department followed. It was
called “Problems.” They were twisters, able to make “How old is Ann?”
 look like a last year’s bird’s nest. They make a big fuss about the
psychology of the child’s mind nowadays. Well, I tell you they couldn’t
teach the man that got up that arithmetic a thing about the operation of
the child’s mind. He knew what was what. He didn’t put down the answers.
He knew that if he did, weak, erring human nature, tortured by suspense,
determined to have the agony over, would multiply by four and divide by
thirteen, and subtract 127--didn’t, either. I didn’t say “substract.” I
guess I know they’d get the answer somehow, it didn’t matter much how.

In the country they ciphered through this part, and handed in their sums
to Teacher, who said she’d take ‘em home and look ‘em over; she didn’t
have time just then. As if that fooled anybody! She had a key! And when
you had done the very last one on the very last page, and there wasn’t
anything more except the blank pages, where you had written, “Joe Geiger
loves Molly Meyers,” and, “If my name you wish to see, look on page
103,” and all such stuff, then you turned over to the beginning, where
it says, “Arithmetic is the science of numbers, and the art of computing
by them,” and once more considered, “Ann had four apples and her brother
gave her two more. How many did she then have?” There were the four
apples in a row, and the two apples, and you that had worried over
meadows so long and so wide, and men mowing them in so many days and
a half, had to think how many apples Ann really did have. Some of the
fellows with forked hairs on their chins and uncertain voices--the big
fellows in the back seats, where the apple-cores and the spit-balls come
from knew every example in the book by heart.

And there is yet another reason why the country school has brought forth
men of whom we do well to be proud. At the county-seat, every so often,
the school commissioners held an examination. Thither resorted many, for
the most part anxious to determine if they really knew as much as they
thought they did. If you took that examination and got a “stiff kit”
 for eighteen months, you had good cause to hold your head up and step
as high as a blind horse. A “stiff kit” for eighteen months is no small
thing, let me tell you. I don’t know if there is anything corresponding
to a doctor’s hood for such as win a certificate to teach school for
two years hand-running; but there ought to be. A fellow ought not to
be obliged to resort to such tactics as taking out a folded paper and
perusing it in the hope that some one will ask him: “What you got there,
Calvin?” so as to give you a chance to say, carelessly, “Oh, jist a
‘stiff-kit’ for two years.”

(When you get as far along as that, you simply have to take a term in
the junior Prep. Department at college, not because there is anything
left for you to learn, but for the sake of putting a gloss on your
education, finishing it off neatly.)

And then if you were going to read law with Mr. Parker, or study
medicine with old Doc. Harbaugh, and you kind of run out of clothes, you
took that certificate and hunted up a school and taught it. Sometimes
they paid you as high as $20 a month and board, lots of board, real
buckwheat cakes (“riz” buckwheat, not the prepared kind), and real maple
syrup, and real sausage, the kind that has sage in it; the kind that you
can’t coax your butcher to sell you. The pale, tasteless stuff he gives
you for sausage I wouldn’t throw out to the chickens. Twenty dollars a
month and board! That’s $4 a month more than a hired man gets.

But it wasn’t alone the demonstration that, strange as it might seem,
it was possible for a man to get his living by his wits (though that
has done much to produce great men) as it was the actual exercise of
teaching. Remember the big boys on the back seats, where the apple-cores
and the spit-balls come from. The school-director that hired you gave
you a searching look-over and said: “M-well-l-l, I’m afraid you haint
hardly qualified for our school--oh, that’s all right, sir; that’s all
right. Your ‘stiff-kit’ is first-rate, and you got good recommends, good
recommends; but I was thinkin’--well, I tell you. Might’s well out with
it first as last. I d’ know’s I ort to say so, but this here district
No. 34 is a poot’ tol’able hard school to teach. Ya-uss. A poot-ty
tol’able hard school to teach. Now, that’s jist the plumb facts in the
matter. We’ve had four try it this winter a’ready. One of ‘em stuck it
out four weeks--I jimminy! he had grit, that feller had. The balance of
‘em didn’t take so long to make up their minds. Well, now, if you’re a
mind to try it--I was goin’ to say you didn’t look to me like you had
the heft. Like to have you the worst way. Now, if you want to back
out.... Well, all right. Monday mornin’, eh? Well, you got my
sympathies.”

I believe that some have tried to figure out that St. Martin of Tours,
ought to be the patron saint of the United States. One of his feast-days
falls on July 4, and his colors are red, white and blue. But I rather
prefer, myself, the Boanerges, the two sons of Zebedee. When asked: “Are
ye able to drink of this cup?” they answered: “We are able.” They didn’t
in the least know what it was; but they knew they were able for anything
that anybody else was, and, perhaps, able for a little more. At any
rate, they were willing to chance it. That’s the United States of
America, clear to the bone and back again to the skin.

You ask any really great man: “Have you ever taught a winter term in a
country school?” If he says he hasn’t, then depend upon it he isn’t
a really great man. People only think he is. The winter term breeds
Boanerges--sons of thunder. Yes, and of lightning, too. Something struck
the big boys in the back seats, as sure as you’re a foot high; and if it
wasn’t lightning, what was it? Brute strength for brute strength, they
were more than a match for Teacher. It was up to him. It was either
prove himself the superior power, or slink off home and crawl under the
porch.

The curriculum of the Old Red School-house, which was, until lately, the
universal curriculum, consisted in reading, writing, and arithmetic or
ciphering. I like the word “ciphering,” because it makes me think of
slates--slates that were always falling on the floor with a rousing
clatter, so that almost always at least one corner was cracked. Some
mitigation of the noise was gained by binding the frame with strips of
red flannel, thus adding warmth and brightness to the color scheme. Just
as some fertile brain conceived the notion of applying a knob of rubber
to each corner, slates went out, and I suppose only doctors buy them
nowadays to hang on the doors of their offices. Maybe the teacher’s
nerves were too highly strung to endure the squeaking of gritty pencils,
but I think the real reason for their banishment is, that slates invited
too strongly the game of noughts and crosses, or tit-tat-toe, three in
a row, the champion of indoor sports, and one entirely inimical to the
study of the joggerfy lesson. But if slates favored tit-tat-toe, they
also favored ciphering, and nothing but good can come from that. Paper
is now so cheap that you need not rub out mistakes, but paper and pencil
can never surely ground one in “the science of numbers and the art of
computing by them.” What is written is written, and returns to plague
the memory, but if you made a mistake on the slate, you could spit on it
and rub it out with your sleeve and leave no trace of the error, either
on the writing surface or the tables of the memory. What does the hymn
say?

      “Forget the steps already trod,
      And onward urge thy way.”

The girls used to keep a little sponge and some water in a discarded
patchouli bottle with a glass stopper, to wash their slates with; but it
always seemed to me that the human and whole-hearted way was otherwise.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic,--these three; and the greatest of
these three is arithmetic. Over against it stands grammar, which may be
said to be derived from reading and writing. Show me a man that, as
a boy at school, excelled in arithmetic and I will show you a useful
citizen, a boss in his own business, a leader of men; show me the boy
that preferred grammar, that read expressively, that wrote a
beautiful hand and curled his capital S’s till their tails looked like
mainsprings, and I will show you a dreamer and a sentimentalist--a man
that works for other people. While I have breath in me, I will maintain
the supereminence of arithmetic. There is no room for disputation in
arithmetic, no exceptions to the rule. Twice two is four, and that’s
all there is about it: but whether there be pronunciations, they shall
cease; whether there be rules of grammar, they shall vanish away. Why,
look here. It’s a rule of grammar, isn’t it, that the subject of a
sentence must be put in the nominative case? Let it kick and bite, and
hang on to the desks all it wants to, in it goes and the door is slammed
on it. You think so? What is the word “you?” Second person, plural
number, objective case. Oh, no; the nominative form is “ye.”

Don’t you remember it says: “Woe unto you, ye lawyers”? Those who fight
against: “Him and me went down town,” fight against the stars in
their courses, for the objective case in every language is bound and
determined to be The Whole Thing. Arithmetic alone is founded on a rock.
All else is fleeting, all else is futile, chaotic--a waste of time. What
is reading but a rival of morphine? There are probably as many men in
prison, sent there by Reading, as by Rum.

“Oh, not good Reading!” says the publisher.

“Not good Rum, either,” says the publican.

Fight it out. It’s an even thing between the two of you; Literature and
Liquor, Books and Booze, which can take a man’s mind off his business
most effectually.

Still, merely as a matter of taste, I will defend the quality of
McGuffey’s School Readers against all comers. I don’t know who McGuffey
was; but certainly he formed the greatest intellects of our age,
present company not excepted. The true test of literature is its eternal
modernity. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. It always seems of the
age in which it is read. Now, almost the earliest lection in McGuffey’s
First Reader goes directly to the heart of one of the greatest of modern
problems. It does not palter or beat about the bush. It asks right out,
plump and plain: “Ann, how old are you?”

Year by year, until we reached the dizzy height of the Sixth Reader,
were presented to us samples of the best English ever written. If you
can find, up in the garret, a worn and frayed old Reader, take it
down and turn its pages over. See if anything in these degenerate days
compares in vital strength and beauty with the story of the boy that
climbed the Natural Bridge, carving his steps in the soft limestone with
his pocket knife. You cannot read it without a thrill. The same inspired
hand wrote “The Blind Preacher,” and who that ever can read it can
forget the climax reached in that sublime line: “Socrates died like a
philosopher, but Jesus Christ like a god!”

Not long ago I walked among the graves in that spot opposite where Wall
Street slants away from Broadway, and my feet trod on ground worth, in
the market, more than the twenty-dollar gold pieces that would cover
it. My eye lighted upon a flaking brownstone slab, that told me Captain
Michael Cresap rested there. Captain Michael Cresap! The intervening
years all fled away before me, and once again my boyish heart thrilled
with that incomparable oration in McGuffey’s Reader, “Who is there
to mourn for Logan? Not one.” Captain Cresap was the man that led the
massacre of Logan’s family.

And there was more than good literature in those Readers. There was one
piece that told about a little boy alone upon a country road at
night. The black trees groaned and waved their skinny arms at him.
The wind-torn clouds fitfully let a pale and watery moonlight stream
a little through. It was very lonely. Over his shoulder the boy saw
indistinct shapes that followed after, and hid themselves whenever he
looked squarely at them. Then, suddenly, he saw before him in the gloom,
a gaunt white specter waiting for him--waiting to get him, its arms
spread wide out in menace. He was of our breed, though, this boy. He did
not turn and run. With God knows what terror knocking at his ribs, he
trudged ahead to meet his fate, and lo! the grisly specter proved to be
a friendly guide-post to show the way that he should walk in. Brother
(for you are my kin that went with me to public school), in the life
that you have lived since you first read the story of Harry and the
Guide-post, has it been an idle tale, or have you, too, found that what
we dreaded most, what seemed to us so terrible in the future has, after
all, been a friendly guide-post, showing us the way that we should walk
in?

McGuffey had a Speller, too. It began with simple words in common use,
like a-b ab, and e-b eb, and i-b, ib, proceeding by gradual, if not by
easy stages to honorificatudinibility and disproportionableness, with
a department at the back devoted to twisters like phthisic, and
mullein-stalk, and diphtheria, and gneiss. We used to have a fine old
sport on Friday afternoons, called “choose-up-and-spell-down.” I don’t
know if you ever played it. It was a survival, pure and simple, from the
Old Red School-house. There was where it really lived. There was
where it flourished as a gladiatorial spectacle. The crack spellers of
District Number 34 would challenge the crack spellers of the Sinking
Spring School. The whole countryside came to the school-house in wagons
at early candle-lighting time, and watched them fight it out. The
interest grew as the contest narrowed down, until at last there were the
two captains left--big John Rice for District Number 34, and that wiry,
nervous, black-haired girl of ‘Lias Hoover’s, Polly Ann. She married
a man by the name of Brubaker. I guess you didn’t know him. His folks
moved here from Clarke County. Polly Ann’s eyes glittered like a
snake’s, and she kept putting her knuckles up to the red spots in her
cheeks that burned like fire. Old John, he didn’t seem to care a cent.
And what do you think Polly Ann missed on? “Feoffment.” A simple little
word like “feoffment!” She hadn’t got further than “pheph--” when she
knew that she was wrong, but Teacher had said “Next!” and big John took
it and spelled it right. She had a fit of nervous crying, and some were
for giving her the victory, after all, because she was a lady. But big
John said: “She missed, didn’t she? Well. And I spelled it right, didn’t
I? Well. She took her chances same as the rest of us. ‘Taint me you got
to consider, it’s District Number 34. And furthermore. AND FURTHERMORE.
Next time somebuddy asts her to go home with him from singin’-school,
mebby she won’t snigger right in his face, and say ‘No! ‘s’ loud ‘at
everybuddy kin hear it.”

It’s quite a thing to be a good speller, but there are people who can
spell any word that ever was, and yet if you should ask them right quick
how much is seven times eight, they’d hem and haw and say: “Seven tums
eight? Why--ah, lemme see now. Seven tums--what was it you said? Oh,
seven tums eight. Why--ah, seven tums eight is sixty-three--fifty-six I
mean.” There’s nothing really to spelling. It’s just an idiosyncrasy.
If there was really anything useful in it, you could do it by
machinery--just the same as you can add by machinery, or write with a
typewriter, or play the piano with one of these things with cut paper
in it. Spelling is an old-fashioned, hand-powered process, and as such
doomed to disappear with the march of improvement.

One Friday afternoon we chose up and spelled down, and the next Friday
afternoon we spoke pieces. Doubtless this accounts for our being a
nation of orators. I am far from implying or seeming to imply that this
is anything to brag of. Anybody that can be influenced by a man with a
big mouth, a loud voice, and a rush of words to the face--well, I’ve got
my opinion of all such.

Oratory and poetry--all foolishness, I say. Better far are
drawing-lessons, and raffia-work, and clay-modeling than: “I come not
here to talk,” and “A soldier of the Legion lay dying at Algiers,” and
“Old Ironsides at anchor lay.” (I observe that these lines are more or
less familiar to you, and that you are eager to add selections to the
list, all of them known to me as well as you.) That children, especially
boys, loathe to speak a piece is a fact profoundly significant. They
know it is nothing in the world but foolishness; and if there is one
thing above another that a child hates, it is to be made a fool in
public. That’s what makes them work their fingers so, and gulp, and
stammer, and tremble at the knees. That is what sends them to their
seats, after all is over, mad as hornets. This is something that I know
about. It happened that, instead of getting funny pieces to recite as I
wanted to, discerning that one silly turn deserves another, my parents,
well-meaning in their way, taught me solemn things about: “O man
immortal, live for something!” and all such, and I had to humiliate
myself by disgorging them in public. The consequence was, that not only
on Friday afternoons but whenever anybody came to visit the school, I
was butchered to make a Roman holiday. Teacher was so proud of me, and
the visitors let on that they were tickled half to death, but I knew
better. I could see the other scholars look at one another, as much
as to say: “Well, if you’ll tell me why!” Even in my shame and anger
I could see that. But there is one happy memory of a Friday afternoon.
Determined to show my friends and fellow-citizens that I, too, was born
in Arcadia, and was a living, human boy, I announced to Teacher: “I got
another piece.”

“Oh, have you?” cried she, sure of an extra O-man-immortal intellectual
treat. “Let us hear it, by all means.”

Whereupon I marched up to the platform and declaimed that deathless
lyric:

“When I was a boy, I was a bold one. My mammy made me a new shirt out o’
dad’s old one.”

All of it? Certainly. Isn’t that enough? That was the only distinctly
popular platform effort I ever made. I am proud of it now. I was proud
of it then. But the news of my triumph was coldly received at home.

I don’t know whether it has since gone out of date, but in my day
and time a very telling feature of school exhibitions was reading in
concert. The room was packed as full of everybody’s ma as it could be,
and yet not mash the children out of shape, and a whole lot of young
ones would read a piece together. Fine? Finest thing you ever heard. I
remember one time teacher must have calculated a leetle mite too close,
or else one girl more was in the class than she had reckoned on; but on
the day, the two end girls just managed to stand upon the platform and
that was all. They recited together:

     “There was a sound of revelry by night
     And Belgium’s capital....”

I forget the rest of it. Well, anyhow, they were supposed to make
gestures all together. Teacher had rehearsed the gestures, and they all
did it simultaneously, just as if they had been wound up with a spring.
But, as I said, the two end girls had all they could do to keep on the
platform, and it takes elbow room for: “‘T is but the car rattling
over the stony street,” and one girl--well, she said she stepped off on
purpose, but I didn’t believe her then and I don’t now. We had our laugh
about it, whichever way it was.

We had our laugh.... Ah, life was all laughter then. That was before
care came to be the shadow at our heel. That was before black Sorrow
met us in the way, and would not let us pass unless we gave to her our
dearest treasure. That was before we learned that what we covet most
is, when we get it, but a poor thing after all, that whatsoever chalice
Fortune presses to our lips, a tear is in the bottom of the cup. In
those happy days gone by if the rain fell, ‘t was only for a little
while, and presently the sky was bright again, and the birds whistled
merrily among the wet and shining leaves. Now “the clouds return after
the rain.”

It can never be with us again as once it was. For us the bell upon the
Old Red School-house calls in vain. We heed it not, we that
hearkened for it years ago. The living tide of youth flows toward the
school-house, and we are not of it. Never again shall we sit at those
old desks, whittled and carved with rude initials, and snap our fingers,
eager to tell the answer. Never again shall we experience the thrill of
pride when teacher praised us openly. Never again shall we sit trembling
while the principal, reads the note, and then scowls at us fiercely
with: “Take off your coat, sir!” Ah, me! Never again, never again.

Well, who wants it to be that way again? We’re men and women now. We’ve
duties and responsibilities. Who wants to be a child again? Not I. Let
me stick just at my present age for about a hundred years, and I’ll
never utter a word of complaint.



THE SABBATH-SCHOOL


     “We-a love the Sunday-school.
      We-a love the Sunday-school.
      (Girls)--So do I.
      (Boys)-So do I.
      (School)--We all love the Sunday-school.”


      “SPARKLING DEWDROPS.”


Some people believe that when General Conference assigned them to the
Committee on Hymn-Book Revision, power and authority were given unto
them to put a half-sole and a new heel on any and all poetry that might
look to them to be a little run over on one side. If they felt as I
do about the lines that head this article they would have “Sunday”
 scratched out and “Sabbath” written in before you could bat an eye. The
mere substitution of one word for another may seem a light matter to a
man that has never composed anything more literary than an obituary for
the Western Advocate of Sister Jane Malinda Sprague, who was born in
Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, in 1816, removed with her parents at
a tender age to New Sardis, Washington County, Ohio, where, etc., etc.
If he wanted to extract a word he would do it, and never even offer to
give the author gas. But I know just how it hurts. I know or can imagine
how the gifted poet that penned the deathless lines I have quoted must
have walked the floor in an agony until every word and syllable was
just to suit him, and so, though I feel sure he meant to write
“Sabbath-school,” I don’t dare change it.

To most persons one word seems about as good as another, Sunday or
Sabbath, but when there are young people about the house you learn to be
careful how you talk before them. Now, I would not go so far as to say
that “Sunday” is what you might call exactly rowdy, but er... but...
er... Let me illustrate. If a man says, “It’s a beautiful Sunday
morning,” like enough he has on red-and-green stockings, baggy
knickerbockers, a violet-and-purple sweater, a cap shaped like a
milk-roll, and is smoking a pipe. He very likely carries a bagful of
golf-sticks, or is pumping up his bicycle. But if a man says, “This
beautiful Sabbath morn,” you know for a certainty that he wears a
long-tailed black coat, a boiled shirt, and a white tie. He is bald from
his forehead upward, his upper lip is shaven, and his views and those
of the late Robert Reed on the disgusting habit of using tobacco are
absolutely at one.

Not alone a regard for respectability, but the hankering to be
historically accurate, urges me to make the change I speak of.
Originally the institution was a Sunday-school, and not very respectable
either. I should hate to think any of my dear young friends were in the
habit of attending such a low-class affair as Robert Raikes conducted.
Sunday-schools were for “little ragamuffins,” as he called them, who
worked such long hours on week-days (from five in the morning until nine
at night) that if they were to learn the common branches at all it had
to be on a Sunday. A ragged school was bad enough in itself, putting
foolish notions into the heads of gutter-brats and making them
discontented and unhappy in their lot; but to teach a ragged school
on Sunday was a little too much. So Robert Raikes encountered the most
violent opposition, although from that beginning dates popular education
in England.

To be able to read is no Longer a sign that Pa can afford to do without
the young ones’ wages on a Saturday night, and can even pay for
their schooling. It is no longer a mark of wealth or even of hard-won
privilege, but the common fate of all; to know the three R’s, and Sunday
is not now set apart for secular instruction. So good and wholesome an
institution as the Sunday-school was not permitted to perish, but was
changed to suit the environment. It is now become the Sabbath-school for
the study of the Bible, a Christian recrudescence of the synagogue.
For some eighteen centuries it was supposed that a regularly ordained
minister should have exclusive charge of this work. At rare intervals
nowadays a clergyman may be found to maintain that because a man has
been to college and to the theological seminary, and has made the study
of the Scriptures his life-work (moved to that decision after careful
self-examination) that therefore he is better fitted to that ministry
than Miss Susie Goldrick, who teaches a class in Sabbath-school very
acceptably. Miss Goldrick is in the second year in the High School, and
last Friday afternoon read a composition on English Literatoor, in which
she spoke in terms of high praise of John Bunion, the well-known author
of “Progress and Poverty.” Miss Goldrick is very conscientious,
and always keeps her thumbnail against the questions printed on the
lesson-leaf, so as not to ask twice, “What did the disciples then do?”

It were a grave error to suppose that no secular learning is acquired in
the modern Sabbath-school. I remember once, when quite young, speaking
to my teacher, in the interval between the regular class work and the
closing exercises, about peacocks. I had read of them, but had never
seen one. What did they look like? She said a peacock was something like
a butterfly. I have always remembered that, and when I did finally see
a peacock, I was interested to note the essential accuracy of the
description.

Also, one day a new lady taught our class, Miss Evans having gone up to
Marion to spend a Sunday with her brother, who kept a stove store there,
and this new lady borrowed two flower vases from off the pulpit and a
piece of string from Turkey-egg McLaughlin to explain to us boys how the
earth went around the sun. We had too much manners to tell her that we
knew that years and years ago when we were in Miss Humphreys’s room. I
don’t remember what the earth going around the sun had to do with the
lesson for the day, which was about Samuel anointing David’s head with
oil--did I ever tell you how I anointed my own head with coal oil?--but
I do remember that she broke both the vases and cut her finger, and had
to keep sucking it the rest of the time, because she didn’t want to get
her handkerchief all bloodied up. It was a kind of fancy handkerchief,
made of thin stuff trimmed with lace--no good.

The Sabbath-school may be said to be divided into three courses, namely,
the preparatory or infant-class, the collegiate or Sabbath-school
proper, and the post-graduate or Mr. Parker’s Bible-class.

What can a mere babe of three or four years learn in Sabbath-school?
sneers the critic. Not much, I grant you, of justification by Faith, or
Effectual Calling; but certain elementary precepts can be impressed
upon the mind while it is still in a plastic condition that never can
be wholly obliterated, come what may in after life. Prime among these
elementary precepts is this: “Always bring a penny.”

Some one has said, “Give me the first seven years of a child’s life
and I care not who has the remainder.” I cannot endorse this without
reserve; but I maintain as a demonstrated fact: “Bring up a child to
contribute a copper cent, and when he is old he will not depart from
it.” It was recently my high privilege to attend a summer gathering
of representative religious people in the largest auditorium in this
country. Sometimes under that far-spreading roof ten thousand souls were
assembled and met together. This fact could be guessed at with tolerable
accuracy from the known seating capacity, but the interesting thing was
that it could be predicated with mathematical certainty that exactly ten
thousand people were present, because the offertory footed up
exactly one hundred dollars. What an encouragement to these faithful
infant-class teachers that have labored unremittingly, instant in season
and out of season, saying over and over again with infinite patience,
“Always bring a penny,” to know that their labor has not been in vain,
and that as a people we have made it the rule of our lives always to
bring a penny--and no more.

I have often tried to think what a Sabbath-school must be like in
California, where they have no pennies. It seems hardly possible that
the institution can exist under such a patent disability, and yet it
does. Do they work it on the same principle as the post-office in
that far-off land where you ‘cannot buy one postal card because the
postmaster cannot make change, but must buy five postal cards or
two two-cent stamps and a postal? In other words, does a nickel, the
smallest extant coin, serve for five persons for one Sunday or one
person for five Sundays? I have often wondered about this.

Subsidiary instruction in the preparatory course consists of sitting
right still and being nice, keeping your fingers out of Johnny Pym’s
eye, because it hurts him and makes him cry, not grabbing in the basket
when it goes by, even though it does have pennies in it, coaching in a
repertory of songs like: “Beautiful, Beautiful Little Hands,” “You in
Your Little Corner and I in Mine,” “The Consecrated Cross-Eyed Bear,”
 “Pass Around the Wash-Rag”--the grown folks call that “Pass Along the
Watchword” and stories about David and Goliath, Samson and the three
hundred foxes with fire tied to their tails, Moses in the bulrushes, the
infant Samuel, Hagar in the wilderness, and so forth. The clergy have
often objected that these stories, being told at the same period of life
with those about Santa Claus, “One time there was a little boy and he
had a dog named Rover,” the little girl that had hair as black as ebony,
skin as white as snow, and cheeks as red as blood, because her Ma,
who was a queen by occupation, happened to cut her finger with a
black-handled knife along about New Year’s--the clergy, I say, have
often objected that all these matters, being brought to a child’s
attention at the same period in its life, are likely to be regarded in
after years as of equal evidential value. I am not much of a hand to
argue, myself, but I should like to have one of these carping critics
meet my friend, Mrs. Sarah M. Boggs, who has taught the infant-class
since 1867, having missed only two Sundays in that time, once, in 1879,
when it stormed so that nobody in town was out, and once, last winter a
year ago, when she slipped off the back porch and hurt her knee. I can
just see Sister Boggs laying down the law to anybody that finds fault
with the infant-class, let him be preacher or who. Why the very idea!
Do you mean to say, sir--I guess Sister Boggs can straighten him out all
right.

No less faithful is Mr. Parker, the leading lawyer of the town, who
conducts the Bible-class. I believe one morning he didn’t get there
until after the last bell was done ringing, but otherwise his record of
attendance compares favorably with Sister Boggs’s. Both teachers agree
to ignore the stated lesson for the day, but whereas Sister Boggs leads
her flock through the flowery meads of narration, Mr. Parker and his
class have camped out by preference for the last forty years in the
arid wilderness of Romans and Hebrews and Corinthians First and Second,
flinging the plentiful dornicks of “Paul says this” and “Paul says that”
 at each other’s heads in friendly strife. Mr. Parker’s class is also
very assiduous in its attendance upon the Young People’s meetings,
seemingly holding the dogma, “Once a young person always a young
person.” The prevailing style of hairdressing among the members is to
grow the locks long on the left side of the head, and to bring the thin
layer across to the right, pasted down very carefully with a sort of
peeled onion effect.

There is a whole lot of them, and they jower away at each other all
through the time between the opening and the closing exercises, having
the liveliest kind of a time getting over about two verses of the Bible
and the whole ground of speculative theology.

Immeasurably more impermanent in method and personnel is the regular
collegiate department, the Sabbath-school proper. In the early days,
away back when sugar was sixteen cents a pound, the thing to do was
to learn Scripture verses by heart. If you were a rude, rough boy who
didn’t exactly love the Sunday-school as much as the hymn made you say
you did, but still one who had rather sing it than stir up a muss, you
hunted for the shortest verses you could find and said them off. From
four to eight was considered a full day’s work. But if you were a boy
who put on an apron and helped your Ma with the dishes, a boy who always
wiped your feet before you came in, a boy that never got kept in at
school, a boy that cried pretty easy, a nice, pale boy, with bulging
blue eyes, you came to Sabbath-school and disgorged verses like
buck-shot out of a bag. The four-to-eight-verse boys sat and listened,
and improved their minds. There was generally one other boy like you
in the class, and it was nip-and-tuck between you which should get the
prize, until finally you came one Sunday, all bloated up with 238 verses
in your craw, and he quit discouraged. The prize was yours. It was a
beautiful little Bible with a brass clasp; it had two tiny silk strings
of an old-gold color for bookmarks, and gilt edges all around that made
the leaves stick together at first. It was printed in diamond type, so
small it made your ears ring when you tried to read it.

Other faculties than that of memory were called into action in those
days by problems like these: “Who was the meekest man? Who was the
strongest man? Who was the father of Zebedee’s children? Who had the
iron bedstead, and whose thumbs and great-toes were cut off?” To set a
child to find these things in the Bible without a concordance seems
to us as futile as setting him to hunt a needle in a haystack. But our
fathers were not so foolish as we like to think them; they didn’t care
two pins if we never discovered who had the iron bedstead, but they
knew that, leafing over the book, we should light upon treasure where
we sought it not, kernels of the sweetest meat in the hardest shells,
stories of enthralling interest where we least expected them, but, most
of all, and best of all, texts that long afterward in time of trouble
should come to us, as it were the voice of one that also had eaten the
bread of affliction, calling to us across the chasm of the centuries
and saying: “O, tarry thou the Lord’s leisure: be strong and He shall
comfort thine heart.”

In the higher classes, that still were not high enough to rank with Mr.
Parker’s, the exegetical powers were stimulated in this wise: “‘And they
sung a hymn and went out.’ Now what do you understand by that?” We told
what we “understood,” and what we “held,” and what we “believed,” and
laid traps for the teacher and tried to corner him with irrelevant
texts wrenched from their context. He had to be an able man and a
nimble-witted man. Mere piety might shine in the prayer-meeting, in the
class-room, at the quarterly love-feast, but not in the Sabbath-school.
I remember once when Brother Butler was away they set John Snyder to
teach us. John didn’t know any more than the law allowed, and we made
him feel it, until finally, badgered beyond endurance, he blurted out
that all he knew was that he was a sinner saved by grace. Maybe he
couldn’t just tell where to find this, that, and t’ other thing in the
Bible, but he could turn right to the place where it said that though
a body’s sins were as scarlet, yet they should be white as snow. It was
regarded as a very poor sort of an excuse then, but thinking it over
here lately, it has seemed to me that maybe John had the root of the
matter in him after all.

The comparative scarcity of polemical athletes and the relative plenty
of the Miss Susie Goldrick kind of teachers, apparently called into
being the Berean Lesson Leaf system, with its Bible cut up into
lady-bites of ten or twelve verses, its Golden Topics, Golden Texts, its
apt alliterations, like:

  S  AMUEL
     EEKS
     AUL
     ORROWING

and its questions prepared in tabloid form, suitable for the most
enfeebled digestions, see directions printed on inside wrapper. Among
the many evidences of the degeneracy of the age is the scandalous
ignorance of our young people regarding the sacred Scriptures, which
at the very lowest estimate are incontestably the finest English ever
written. Those whose childhood antedates the lesson leaf are not so
unfamiliar with that wondrous treasure-house of thought. It is not for
me to say what has wrought the change. I can only point out that lesson
leaves, being about the right size for shaving papers, barely last from
Sunday to Sunday, while that very identical Bible with the blinding type
that I won years and years ago, by learning verses, is with me still.
Yes, and as I often wonder to discover, some of those very verses that I
gobbled down as heedlessly as any ostrich are with me still.

Remain to be considered the opening and closing exercises, principally
devoted, I remember, to learning new tunes and singing old ones out of
books with pretty titles, like “Golden Censer,” “Silver Spray,” “Pearl
and Gold,” “Sparkling Dewdrops,” and “Sabbath Chimes.” I wasn’t going to
tell it, but I might as well, I suppose. I can remember as far back as
“Musical Leaves.” There must be quite a lot of people scattered about
the country who sung out of that when they were little. I wish a few of
us old codgers might get together some time and with many a hummed and
prefatory, “Do, mi, Sol, do; Sol, mi... mi-i-i-i,” finally manage to
quaver out the sweet old tunes we learned when we were little tads, each
with a penny in his fat, warm hand: “Shall we Gather at the River?”
 and “Work, for the Night is Coming”; and what was the name of that one
about:

   “The waves shall come and the rolling thunder shock
    Shall beat upon the house that is founded on a rock,
    And it never shall fall, never, never, never.”

What the proper English tune is to “I think when I read that sweet story
of old” I cannot tell, but I am sure it can never melt my heart as that
one in the old “Musical Leaves.” with its twistful repetitions of the
last line:

    “I should like to have been with Him then,
     I should like to have been with Him then,
     When He took little children like lambs to His fold,
     I should like to have been with Him then.”

I fear we could not sing that without breaking down. As we recall it, we
draw an inward fluttering breath, something grips our throats and makes
them ache, our eyes blur, and a tear slips down upon the cheek, not of
sorrow--God knows not all of sorrow--but if we had it all to live over
again, how differently we--oh, well, it’s too late now, but still.

Leafing over my little girl’s “Arabian Nights” the other day, when I
came to the story of “The Enchanted Horse,” I found myself humming,
“Land ahead! Its fruits are waving.” My father used to lead the singing
in Sabbath-school, and when he was sol-fa-ing that tune to learn it, I
was devouring that story, and was just about at the picture where Prince
What’s-his-name rises up into the air on the Enchanted Horse, with his
true love hanging on behind, and all the multitude below holding their
turbans on as they look up and exclaim: “Well, if that don’t beat the
Dutch!”

And another tune still excites in me the sullen resentment that it
did when I first heard it. In those days, just as a fellow got to the
exciting part in “Frank at Don Carlos’s Ranch,” or whatever the book
was, there was kindling to be split, or an armful of wood to be brought
in, or a pitcher of water from the well, or “run over to Mrs. Boggs’s
and ask her if she won’t please lend me her fluting-iron,” or “run down
to Galbraith’s and get me a spool of white thread, Number 60, and hurry
right back, because then I want you to go over to Serepta Downey’s
and take her that polonaise pattern she asked me to cut out for her,”
 or--there was always something on hand. So what should one of these
composers do--I don’t know what ever possessed the man--but go write a
Sabbath-school song with this chorus:

    “There’ll be something to do,
     There’ll be something to do,
     There’ll be something for children to do:
     On that bright shining shore,
     Where there’s joy evermore,
     There’ll be something for children to do.”

I suppose he thought that would be an inducement!

One of these days America is going to be the musical center of the
world. When that day is fully come, and men sit down to write about it,
I hope they won’t forget to give due credit to the reed organ, Stephen
Foster, and the Sabbath-school. The reed organ had a lot to do with
musical culture. It is much decried now by people that prefer a piano
that hasn’t been tuned for four years; but the reed organ will come into
its own some day, don’t forget. Without it the Sabbath-school could not
have been. Anybody that would have a piano in a Sabbath-school ought to
be prosecuted.

When music, heavenly maid, was just coming to after that awful lick the
Puritans hit her, the first sign of returning life was that people began
to tire of the ten or a dozen tunes to which our great-grandfathers
droned and snuffled all their hymns. In those days there was raised up a
man named Stephen Foster, who “heard in his soul the music of wonderful
melodies,” and we have been singing them ever since--“‘Way Down upon
the Swanee Ribber,” and “Old Kentucky Home,” and “Nellie Gray,” and the
rest. Then Bradbury and Philip Phillips and many more of them began to
write exactly the same kind of tunes for sacred words. They were just
the thing for the Sabbath-school, but they were more, much more.

You know that when a fellow gets so he can shave himself without cutting
half his lip off, when it takes him half an hour to get the part in his
hair to suit him, when he gets in the way of shining his shoes and has
a pretty taste in neckties, he doesn’t want to bawl the air of a piece
like the old stick-in-the-muds up in the Amen corner or in Mr. Parker’s
class. He wants to sing bass. Air is too high for him anyhow unless he
sings it with a hog noise. Oh, you get out! You do, too, know what a
“hog noise” is. You want to let on you’ve always lived in town. Likely
story if you never heard anybody in the hog-pasture with a basket of
nubbins calling, “Peeg! Peeg! Boo-eel Booee!” A man’s voice breaks into
falsetto on the “Boo-ee!” Well, anyhow, such a young man as I am telling
you of would be ashamed to sing with a hog noise. He wants to sing bass.
Now the regular hymn-tunes change the bass as often as they change the
soprano, and if you go fumbling about for the note, by the time you get
it right it is wrong, because the tune has gone on and left you. The
Sabbath-school songs had the young man Absalom distinctly in view. They
made the bass the same all through the measure, and all the changes were
strictly on the do, sol and fa basis. As far as the other notes in the
scale were concerned, the young man Absalom need not bother his head
with them. With do, sol and fa he could sing through the whole book from
cover to cover as good as anybody.

When people find out what fun it is to sing by note, it is only a step
to the “Messiah,” two blocks up and turn to the right, as you might say.
After that, it is only going ahead till you get to “Vogner.” Yes, and
many’s the day you called the hogs. Don’t tell me.

Once a month on Sunday evenings there were Sabbath-school concerts.
The young ones sat in the front seats, ten or twelve in a pew. “Now,
children,” said the superintendent, “I want you all to sing loud
and show the folks how nice you can sing. Page 65. Sixty-fi’th page,
‘Scatter Seeds of Kindness.’ Now, all sing out now.” We licked our
thumbs and scuffled through the book till we found the place. We scowled
at it, and stuck out our mouths at it, and shrieked at it, and bawled
at it, and did the very best we knew to give an imitation of two hundred
little pigs all grabbed by the hind leg at once. That was what made
folks call it a concert.

There were addresses to the dear children by persons that teetered on
their toes and dimpled their cheeks in dried-apple smiles as us. Some
complain that they do not know how to talk to children and keep them
interested. Oh, pshaw! Simple as A B C. Once you learn the trick you can
talk to the little folks for an hour and a half on “Banking as Related
to National Finance,” and keep them on the quiver of excitement. Ask
questions. And to be sure that they give the right answers (a very
important thing) remember this: When you wish them to say “Yes, sir,”
 end your question with “Don’t they?” or “isn’t it?” When you wish them
to say “No, sir,” end your question with “Do they?” or “Is it?” When
you wish them to choose between two answers, mention first the one they
mustn’t take, then pause, look archly at them, and mention the one they
must take. Thus:

Q. --Now, dear children, I wonder if you can tell me where the sun
rises. In the north, doesn’t it?

A. --Yes, sir.

Q. --Yes, you are right. In the north. And because it rises in the north
every afternoon at three, how do we walk about? On our feet, do we?

A. --No, sir.

Q. --No. Of course not. Then how is it we do walk about? On our ears
or--(now the look) on our noses?

A. --On our noses.

This method, if carefully and systematically employed, was never known
to fail. It is called the Socratic method.

The most interesting feature of the monthly Sabbath-school concert is
universally conceded to be the treasurer’s report. So much on hand at
the last meeting, so much contributed by each class during the month
last past, so much expended, so much left on hand at present. We used
to sit and listen to it with slack jaws and staring eyes. Money, money,
oceans of money! Thirty-eight cents and seventy-six cents and a dollar
four cents! My!

The librarian’s report was nowhere. It was a bully library, too, and
contained the “Through by Daylight” Series, and the “Ragged Dick”
 Series, and the “Tattered Tom” Series, and the “Frank on the Gunboat”
 Series, and the “Frank the Young Naturalist” Series, and the “Elm
Island” Series--Did you ever read “The Ark of Elm Island”, and “Giant
Ben of Elm Island”? You didn’t? Ah, you missed it--and the “B. O. W. C.”
 Series--and say! there was a book in that library--oo-oo! “Cast up
by the Sea,” all about wreckers, and false lights on the shore, and
adventures in Central Africa, and there’s a nigger queen that wants to
marry him, and he don’t want to because he loves a girl in England--I
think that’s kind of soft--and he kills about a million of them trying
to get away. You want to get that book. Don’t let them give you “Patient
Henry” or “Charlie Watson, the Drunkard’s Little Son.” They’re about
boys that take sick and die--no good.

It was a bully library, but the report wasn’t interesting. Major
Humphreys’s always was. He was the treasurer because he worked in the
bank. He came from the Western Reserve, and said “cut” when he meant
coat, and “hahnt” when he meant heart. I can shut my eyes and hear
him read his report now: “Infant-class, Mrs. Sarah M. Boggs, one
dolla thutty-eight cents; Miss Dan’ells’s class, fawty-six cents; Miss
Goldrick’s class, twenty-faw cents; Mr. Pahnker’s class, ninety-three
cents; Miss Rut’s class, naw repawt.”

Poor old Miss Root! There was hardly ever any report from her class.
Often she hadn’t a penny to give, and perhaps the other old ladies, who
found the keenest possible delight in doing what they called “running up
the references,” had no more, for they were relics of an age when women
weren’t supposed to have money to fling right and left in the foolish
way that women will if they’re not looked after--shoes for the baby, and
a new calico dress every two or three years or so.

Yes, it is rather interesting for a change now and then to hear these
folks go on about what a terrible thing the Sabbath-school is, and how
it does more harm than good. They get really excited about it, and storm
around as if they expected folks to take them seriously. They know, just
as well as we do, that this wouldn’t be any kind of a country at all if
we couldn’t look back and remember the Sabbath-school, or if we couldn’t
fix up the children Sunday afternoons, and find their lesson leaves for
them, and hunt up a penny to give to the poor heathen, and hear them say
the Golden Text before they go, and tell them to be nice. Papa and mamma
watch them from the window till they turn the corner, and then go back
to the Sunday paper with a secure sort of feeling. They won’t learn
anything they oughtn’t to at the Sabbath-school.



THE REVOLVING YEAR


   “‘It snows!’ cries the schoolboy, ‘Hurrah!’
     And his shout is heard through parlor and hall.”


     MCGUFFEY’s THIRD READER.


(Well, maybe it was the Second Reader. And if it was the Fourth, what
difference does it make? And, furthermore, who ‘s doing this thing, you
or me?)


Had it not been that never in my life have I ever heard anybody say
either “It snows!” or “Hurrah!” it is improbable that I should have
remembered the first line of a poem describing the effect produced upon
different kinds of people by the sight of the first snowstorm of winter.
Had it not been for the plucky (not to say heroic) effort to rhyme
“hall” with “hurrah” I should not have remembered the second, and still
another line of it, depicting the emotions of a poor widow with a large
family and a small woodpile, is burned into my memory only by reason
of the shocking language it contains, the more shocking in that it was
deliberately put forth to be read by innocent-minded children. Poor
Carrie Rinehart! When she stood up to read that, she got as red as a
beet, and I believed her when she told me afterward that she thought she
would sink right through that floor. Of course, some had to snicker, but
the most of us, I am thankful to say, were a credit to our bringing up,
and never let on we heard it. All the same it was a terrible thing to
have to speak right out loud before everybody. If any of the boys (let
alone the girls), had said that because he felt like saying it, he would
have been sent in to the principal, and that night his daddy would have
given him another licking.

Even now I cannot bring myself to write the line without toning it down.

“‘It snows!’ cries the widow. ‘Oh G--d!’”

At the beginning of winter, I will not deny, that the schoolboy might
have shouted: “It’s snowin’! Hooee!” when he saw the first snow flakes
sifting down, and realized that the Old Woman was picking her geese.
A change is always exciting, and winter brings many joyous sports
and pastimes, skating, and snowballing, and sliding down hill,
and--er--er--I said skating didn’t I? and--er--Oh, yes, sleigh-riding,
and--er--Well, I guess that’s about all.

Skating, now, that’s fine. I know a boy who, when the red ball goes up
in the street-cars, sneaks under his coat a pair of wooden-soled skates,
with runners that curl up over the toes like the stems of capital
letters in the Spencerian copy-book. He is ashamed of the old-fashioned
things, which went out of date long and long before my day, but he says
that they are better than the hockeys. Well, you take a pair of such
skates and strap them on tightly until you can’t tell by the feel which
is feet and which is wooden soles, and you glide out upon the ice above
the dam for, say about four hours, with the wind from the northwest and
the temperature about nine below, and I tell you it is something grand.
And if you run over a stick that is frozen in the ice, or somebody bumps
into you, or your feet slide out from under you, and you strike on your
ear and part of your face on the ice, and go about ten feet ah, it’s
great! Simply great. And it’s nice too, to skate into an air-hole into
water about up to your neck, and have the whole mob around you whooping
and “hollering” and slapping their legs with glee, because they know it
isn’t deep enough to drown you, and you look so comical trying to claw
out. And when you do get out, it takes such along time to get your
skates of, and you feel so kind of chilly like, and when you get home
your clothes are frozen stiff on you--Oh, who would willingly miss such
sport?

And sleigh-riding! Me for sleigh-riding! You take a nice, sharp day in
winter, when the sky is as blue as can be because all the moisture is
frozen out of the air, a day when the snow under the sleigh runners
whines and creaks, as if thousands of tiny wineglasses were being
crushed by them, and the bells go jing-jing, jing-jing on the frosty
air which just about takes the hide off your face; when you hold your
mittens up to your ears and then have to take them down to slap yourself
across the chest to get the blood agoing in your fingers; when you kick
your feet together and dumbly wonder why it is your toes don’t click
like marbles; when the cold creeps up under your knitted pulse-warmers,
and in at every possible little leak until it has soaked into your very
bones; when you snuggle down under the lap-robe where it is warm as
toast (day before yesterday’s toast) and try to pull your shoulders up
over your head; when a little drop hangs on the end of your nose,
which has ceased to feel like a living, human nose, and now resembles
something whittled to a point; when you hold your breath as long as
you can, and your jaw waggles as if you were playing chin-chopper with
it--Ah, that’s the sport of kings! And after you have got as cold as you
possibly can get, and simply cannot stand it a minute longer, you ride
and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride.
Once in a while you turn out for another sleigh, and nearly upset in the
process, and you can see that in all points its occupants are exactly as
you are, just as happy and contented. There aren’t any dogs to run out
and bark at you. Old Maje and Tige, and even little Bounce and Guess
are snoozing behind the kitchen stove. All there is is just jing-jing,
jing-jing, jing-jing, not a bird-cry or a sound of living creature.
jing-jing, jing-jing..... Well, yes, kind o’ monotonous, but still....
You pass a house, and a woman comes out to scrape off a plate to the
chickens standing on one foot in a corner where the sun can get at them,
and the wind cannot. She scrapes slowly, and looks at you as much as to
say: “I wonder who’s sick. Must be somebody going for the doctor, day
like this.” And then she shudders: “B-b-b-oo-oo-oo!” and runs back into
the house and slams the door hard. You snuffle and look at the chimney
that has thick white smoke coming out of it, and consider that very
likely a nice, warm fire is making all that smoke, and you snuffle
again, and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride
and ‘ride. And about an hour and a half after you have given up all
hopes, and are getting resigned to your fate, you turn off the big road
and up the lane to the house where you are going on your pleasure-trip,
and you hop out as nimble as a sack of potatoes, and hobble into the
house, and don’t say how-de-do or anything, but just make right for the
stove. The people all squall out: “Why, ain’t you ‘most froze?” and
if you answer, “Yes sum,” it’s as much as ever. Generally you can’t do
anything but just stand and snuffle and look as if you hadn’t a friend
on earth. And about the time you get so that some spots are pretty warm,
and other spots aren’t as cold as they were, why then you wrap up, and
go home again with the same experience, only more so. Fine! fine!

It’s nice, too, when there’s a whole crowd out together in a wagon-bed
with straw in it. There’s something so cozy in straw! And the tin horns
you blow in each other’s ear, and the songs you sing: “Jingle bells,
jingle bells, jingle all the way,” and “Waw-unneeta! Waw-unneeta, ay-usk
thy sowl if we shud part,” and “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” and “Johnny
Shmoker,” and that variation of “John Brown’s Body,” where every time
you sing over the verse you leave off one more word, and somebody always
forgets, and you laugh fit to kill yourself, and just have a grand time.
And maybe you take a whole lot of canned cove oysters with you, and when
you get out to Makemson’s, or wherever it is you’re going, Mrs. Makemson
puts the kettle on and makes a stew, cooking the oysters till they are
thoroughly done. And she makes coffee, the kind you can’t tell from tea
by the looks, and have to try twice before you can tell by the taste.
Ah! winter brings many joyous sports and pastimes. And you get back home
along about half-past two, and the fire’s out, and the folks are in bed,
and you have to be at the store to open up at seven--Laws! I wish it was
so I could go sleigh-riding once more in the long winter evenings,
when the pitcher in the spare bedroom bursts, and makes a noise like a
cannon.

And sliding down hill, I like that.

What? Coasting? Never heard of it. If it’s anything like sliding down
hill, it’s all right. For a joke you can take a barrel-stave and hold on
to that and slide down. It goes like a scared rabbit, but that isn’t
so much the point as that it slews around and spills you into a drift.
Sleds are lower and narrower than they used to be, and they also lack
the artistic adornment of a pink, or a blue, or a black horse, painted
with the same stencil but in different colors, and named “Dexter,” or
“Rarus,” or “Goldsmith Maid.” These are good names, but nobody ever
called his sled by a name. Boggs’s hill, back of the lady’s house that
taught the infant-class in Sunday-school, was a good hill. It had a
creek at the bottom, and a fine, long ride, eight or ten feet, on the
ice. But Dangler’s hill was the boss. It was the one we all made up our
minds we would ride down some day when the snow was just right. We’d
go over there’ and look up to the brow of the hill and say: “Gee! But
wouldn’t a fellow come down like sixty, though?”

“Betchy!”

We’d look up again, and somebody would say: “Aw, come on. Less go over
to Boggs’s hill.”

“Thought you was goin’ down Dangler’s.”

“Yes, I know, but all the other fellows is over to Boggs’s.”

“A-ah, ye’re afraid.”

“Ain’t either.”

“Y’ are teether.”

“I dare you.”

“Oh, well now--”

“I double dare you.”

“All right. I will if you will. You go first.”

“Nah, you go first. The fellow that’s dared has got to go first. Ain’t
that so, Chuck? Ain’t that so, Monkey?”

“I’ll go down if you will, on’y you gotta go first.”

“Er--er--Who all ‘s over at Boggs’s hill?”

“Oh, the whole crowd of ‘em, Turkey-egg McLaughlin, and Ducky
Harshberger, and--Oh, I don’ know who all.”

“Tell you what less do. Less wait till it gets all covered with ice, and
all slick and smooth. Then less come over and go down.”

“Say, won’t she go like sixty then! Jeemses Rivers! Come on, I’ll beat
you to the corner.”

That was the closest we ever came to going down Dangler’s hill. Railroad
hill wasn’t so bad, over there by the soap-factory, because they didn’t
run trains all the time, and you stood a good chance of missing being
run over by the engine, but Dangler’s Well, now, I want to tell you
Dangler’s was an awful steep hill, and a long one, and when you think
that it was so steep nobody ever pretended to drive up it even in the
summer-time, and you slide down the hill and think that, once you got to
going.

Fun’s fun, I know, but nobody wants to go home with half his scalp
hanging over one eye, and dripping all over the back porch. Because,
you know, a fellow’s mother gets crosser about blood on wood-work than
anything else. Scrubbing doesn’t do the least bit of good; it has to be
planed off, or else painted.

Let me see, now. Have I missed anything? I’ll count ‘em off on my
fingers. There’s skating, and sleigh-riding, and sliding down hill, and
Oh, yes. Snowballing and making snow-men. Nobody makes a snow-man but
once, and nobody makes a snow-house after it has caved in on him once
and like to killed him. And as for snowballing--Look here. Do you know
what’s the nicest thing about winter? Get your feet on a hot stove,
and have the lamp over your left shoulder, and a pan of apples, and
something exciting to read, like “Frank Among the Indians.” Eh, how
about it? In other words, the best thing about winter is when you can
forget that it is winter.

The excitement that prompts “It snows!” and “Hurrah!” mighty soon peters
out, and along about the latter part of February, when you go to the
window and see that it is snowing again--again? Consarn the luck!--you
and the poor widow with the large family and the small woodpile are
absolutely at one.

You do get so sick and tired of winter. School lets out at four o’clock,
and it’s almost dark then. There’s no time for play, for there’s all
that wood and kindling to get in, and Pap’s awful cranky when he hops
out of bed these frosty mornings to light the fire, and finds you’ve
been skimpy with the kindling. And the pump freezes up, and you’ve got
to shovel snow off the walks and out in the back-yard so Tilly can hang
up the clothes when she comes to do the washing. And your mother is just
as particular about your neck being clean as she is in summer when
the water doesn’t make you feel so shivery. And there’s the bottle
of goose-grease always handy, and the red flannel to pin around your
throat, and your feet in the bucket of hot water before you go to
bed--Aw, put ‘em right in. Yes, I know it’s hot. That’s what going to
make you well. In with ‘em. Aw, child, it isn’t going to scald you. Go
on now. The water’ll be stone-cold in a minute. “Oh, I don’t like winter
for a cent. Kitchoo! There, I’ve gone and caught fresh cold.

“I wish it would hurry up and come spring.

    “When the days begin to lengthen,
       The cold begins to strengthen.”

Now, you know that doesn’t stand to reason. Every day the sun inches a
little higher in the heavens. His rays strike us more directly and for a
longer time each day. But it’s the cantankerous fact, and it simply has
to stand to reason. That’s the answer, and the sum has to be figured out
somehow in accordance with it. Like one time, when I was about sixteen
years old, and in the possession of positive and definite information
about the way the earth went around the sun and all, I was arguing with
one of these old codgers that think they know it all, one of these
men that think it is so smart to tell you: “Sonny, when you get older,
you’ll know more ‘n you do now--I hope.” Well, he was trying to tell me
that the day lengthened at one end before it did at the other. I did my
best to dispel the foolish notion from his mind, and explained to him
how it simply could not be, but no, sir! he stood me down. Finally,
since pure reasoning was wasted on him, I took the almanac off the nail
it hung by, and--I bedog my riggin’s if the old skidama link wasn’t
right after all. Sundown keeps coming a minute later every day, while,
for quite a while there, sun-up sticks at the same old time, 7:30 A.M.
Did you ever hear of anything so foolish?

“Very early, while it is yet dark,” the alarm clock of old Dame Nature
begins to buzz. It may snow and blow, and winter may seem to have
settled in in earnest, but deep down in the earth, the root-tips, where
lie the brains of vegetables, are gaping and stretching, and ho-humming,
and wishing they could snooze a little longer. When it thaws in the
afternoon and freezes up at sunset as tight as bricks, they tell me
that out in the sugar-camp there are great doings. I don’t know about
it myself, but I have heard tell of boring a hole in the maple-tree,
and sticking in a spout, and setting a bucket to catch the drip, and
collecting the sap, and boiling down, and sugaring off. I have heard
tell of taffy-pullings, and how Joe Hendricks stuck a whole gob of
maple-wax in Sally Miller’s hair, and how she got even with him by
rubbing his face with soot. It is only hearsay with me, but I’ll tell
you what I have done: I have eaten real maple sugar, and nearly pulled
out every tooth I had in my head with maple-wax, and I have even gone so
far as to have maple syrup on pancakes. It’s good, too. The maple syrup
came on the table in a sort of a glass flagon with a metal lid to it,
and it was considered the height of bad manners to lick off the last
drop of syrup that hung on the nose of the flagon. And yet it must not
be allowed to drip on the table-cloth. It is a pity we can’t get any
more maple syrup nowadays, but I don’t feel so bad about the loss of it,
as I do to think what awful liars people can be, declaring on the label
that ‘deed and double, ‘pon their word and honor, it is pure, genuine,
unadulterated maple syrup, when they know just as well as they know
anything that it is only store-sugar boiled up with maple chips.

Along about the same time, the boys come home with a ring of mud around
their mouths, and exhaling spicy breaths like those which blow o’er
Ceylon’s isle in the hymn-book. They bear a bundle of roots, whose
thick, pink hide mother whittles off with the butcher-knife and sets
to steep. Put away the store tea and coffee. To-night as we drink the
reddish aromatic brew we return, not only to our own young days, but
to the young days of the nation when our folks moved to the West in a
covered wagon; when grandpap, only a little boy then, about as big as
Charley there, got down the rifle and killed the bear that had climbed
into the hog-pen; when they found old Cherry out in the timber with her
calf between her legs, and two wolves lying where she had horned them
to death--we return to-night to the high, heroic days of old, when our
forefathers conquered the wilderness and our foremothers reared the
families that peopled it. This cup of sassafras to-night in their loving
memory! Earth, rest easy on their moldering bones!

Some there be that still take stock in the groundhog. I don’t believe
he knows anything about it. And I believe that any animal that had
the sense that he is reputed to have would not have remained a mere
ground-hog all these years. At least not in this country. Anyhow, it’s
a long ways ahead, six weeks is, especially at the time when you do wish
so fervently that it would come spring. We keep on shoveling coal in the
furnace, and carrying out ashes, and longing and crying: “Oh, for pity’s
sakes! When is this going to stop?” And then, one morning, we awaken
with a start Wha--what? Sh! Keep still, can’t you? There is a more
canorous and horn-like quality to the crowing of Gildersleeve’s rooster,
and his hens chant cheerily as they kick the litter about. But it wasn’t
these cheerful sounds that wakened us with a start. There! Hear that?
Hear it? Two or three long-drawn, reedy notes, and an awkward boggle at
a trill, but oh, how sweet! How sweet! It is the song-sparrow, blessed
bird! It won’t be long now; it won’t be long.

The snow fort in the back-yard still sulks there black and dirty. “I’ll
go when I get good and ready, and not before,” it seems to say. Other
places the thinner snow has departed and left behind it mud that seizes
upon your overshoe with an “Oh, what’s your rush?” In the middle of
the road it lies as smooth as pancake-batter. A load of building stone
stalls, and people gather on the sidewalk to tell the teamster quietly
and unostentatiously that he ought to have had more sense than to pile
it on like that with the roads the way they are. Every time the cruel
whip comes down and the horses dance under it, the women peering out of
the front windows wince, and cluck “Tchk! Ain’t it terrible? He ought
to be arrested.” This way and that the team turns and tugs, but all in
vain. Somebody puts on his rubber boots and wades out to help, fearing
not the muddy spokes. Yo hee! Yo hee! No use. He talks it over with the
teamster. You can hear him say: “Well, suit yourself. If you want to
stay here all night.”

And then the women exult: “Goody! Goody! Serves him right. Now he has to
take off some of the stone. Lazy man’s load!”

The mother of children flies to the back-door when school lets out.
“Don’t you come in here with all that mud!” she squalls excitedly. “Look
at you! A peck o’ dirt on each foot. Right in my nice clean kitchen that
I just scrubbed. Go ‘long now and clean your shoes. Go ‘long, I tell
you. Slave and slave for you and that’s all the thanks I get. You’d
keep the place looking like a hogpen, if I wasn’t at you all the time. I
never saw such young ones since the day I was made. Never. Whoopin’ and
hollerin’ and trackin’ in and out. It’s enough to drive a body crazy.”

(Don’t you care. It’s just her talk. If it isn’t one thing it’s another,
cleaning your shoes, or combing your hair, or brushing your clothes, or
using your handkerchief, or shutting the door softly, or holding your
spoon with your fingers and not in your fist, or keeping your finger out
of your glass when you drink--something the whole blessed time. Forever
and eternally picking at a fellow about something. And saying the same
thing over and over so many times. That’s the worst of it!)

Pap and mother read over the seed catalogues, all about “warm, light
soils,” and “hardy annuals,” and “sow in drills four inches apart.” It
kind of hurries things along when you do that. In the south window of
the kitchen is a box full of black dirt in which will you look out what
you’re doing? Little more and you’d have upset it. There are tomato
seeds in that, I’ll have you know. Oh, yes, government seeds. Somebody
sends ‘em, I don’t know who. Congressman, I guess, whoever he is. I
don’t pretend to keep track of ‘em. And say. When was this watered last?
There it is. Unless I stand over you every minute--My land! If there’s
anything done about this house I’ve got to do it.

Between the days when it can’t make up its mind whether to snow or to
rain, and tries to do both at once, comes a day when it is warm enough
(almost) to go without an overcoat. The Sunday following you can hardly
hear what the preacher has to say for the whooping and barking. The
choir members have cough drops in their cheeks when they stand up to
sing, and everybody stops in at the drug store with: “Say, Doc, what’s
good for a cold?”

Eggs have come down. Yesterday they were nine for a quarter; to-day
they’re ten. Gildersleeve wants a dollar for a setting of eggs, but
he’ll let you have the same number of eggs for thirty cents if you’ll
wait till he can run a needle into each one. So afraid you’ll raise
chickens of your own.

Excited groups gather about rude circles scratched in the mud, and there
is talk of “pureys,” and “reals,” and “aggies,” and “commies,” and “fen
dubs!” There is a rich click about the bulging pockets of the boys, and
every so often in school time something drops on the floor and rolls
noisily across the room. When Miss Daniels asks: “Who did that?” the
boys all look so astonished. Who did what, pray tell? And when she picks
up a marble and inquires: “Whose is this?” nobody can possibly imagine
whose it might be, least of all the boy whose most highly-prized shooter
it is. At this season of the year, too, there is much serious talk as
to the exceeding sinfulness of “playing for keeps.” The little boys, in
whose thumbs lingers the weakness of the arboreal ape, their ancestor,
and who “poke” their marbles, drink in eagerly the doctrine that when
you win a marble you ought to give it back, but the hard-eyed fellows,
who can plunk it every time, sit there and let it go in one ear and out
the other, there being a hole drilled through expressly for the purpose.
What? Give up the rewards of skill? Ah, g’wan!

The girls, even to those who have begun to turn their hair up under, are
turning the rope and dismally chanting: “All in together, pigs in the
meadow, nineteen twenty, leave the rope empty,” or whatever the rune is.

It won’t be long now. It won’t be long.

  “For lo; the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the
   flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds
   is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the
   fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines, with the
   tender grape give a good smell.  Arise my love, my fair one
   and come away.”


                  THE SONG OF SOLOMON.

Out in the woods the leaves that rustled so bravely when we shuffled
our feet through them last fall are sodden and matted. It is warm in the
woods, for the sun strikes down through the bare branches, and the cold
wind is fended off. The fleshy lances of the spring beauty have stabbed
upward through the mulch, and a tiny cup, delicately veined with pink,
hangs its head bashfully. Anemones on brown wire stems aspire without
a leaf, and in moist patches are May pinks, the trailing arbutus of the
grown-ups. As we carry home a bunch, the heads all lopping every way
like the heads of strangled babies, we can almost hear behind us in the
echoing forests a long, heart-broken moan, as of Rachel mourning for
her children, and will not be comforted because they are not. The wild
flowers don’t look so pretty in the tin cups of water as they did back
in the woods. There is something cheap and common about them. Throw ‘em
out. The poor plants that planned through all the ages how to attract
the first smart insects of the season, and trick them into setting
the seeds for next years’ flowers did not reckon that these very means
whereby they hoped to rear a family would prove their undoing at the
hands of those who plume themselves a little on their refinement, they
“are so fond of flowers.”

Old Winter hates to give up that he is beaten. It’s a funny thing, but
when you hear a person sing, “Good-a-by, Summer, good-a-by, good-a-by,”
 you always feel kind of sad and sorry. It’s going, the time of year when
you can stay out of doors most of the time, when you can go in swimming,
and the Sunday-school picnic, and the circus, and play base-ball and
camp out, and there’s no school, and everything nice, and watermelons,
and all like that. Good-by, good-by, and you begin to sniff a little.
The departure of summer is dignified and even splendid, but the earth
looks so sordid and draggle-trailed when winter goes, that onions could
not bring a tear. Old winter likes to tease. Aha! You thought I
was gone, did you? “Not yet, my child, not yet!” And he sends us
huckleberry-colored clouds from the northwest, from which snow-flakes
big as copper cents solemnly waggle down, as if they really expected
the schoolboy to shout: “It snows! Hurrah!” and makes his shout heard
through parlor and hall. But they only leave a few dark freckles on the
garden beds. Alas, yes! There is no light without its shadow, no joy
without its sorrow tagging after. It isn’t all marbles and play in the
gladsome springtide. Bub has not only to spade up the garden--there is
some sense in that--but he has to dig up the flower beds, and help his
mother set out her footy, trifling plants.

The robins have come back, our robins that nest each spring in the old
seek-no-further. To the boy grunting over the spading-fork presents
himself Cock Robin. “How about it? Hey? All right? Hey?” he seems
to ask, cocking his head, and flipping out the curt inquiries
with tail-jerks. Glad of any excuse to stop work, the boy stands
statue-still, while Mr. Robin drags from the upturned clods the long,
elastic fish-worms, and then with a brief “Chip!” flashes out of sight.
Be right still now. Don’t move. Here he comes again, and his wife with
him. They fly down, he all eager and alert to wait upon her, she whining
and scolding. She doesn’t think it’s much of a place for worms. And
there’s that boy yonder. He’s up to some devilment or other, she just
knows. She oughtn’t to have come away and left those eggs. They’ll get
cold now, she just knows they will. Anything might happen to them when
she ‘s away, and then he ‘ll be to blame, for he coaxed her. He knows
she told him she didn’t want to come. But he would have it. For half a
cent she’d go back right now. And, Heavens above! Is he going to be all
‘day picking up a few little worms?

She cannot finish her sentences for her gulps, for he is tamping down
in her insides the reluctant angleworms that do not want to die, two
or three writhing in his bill at once, until he looks like Jove’s
eagle with its mouth full of thunderbolts. And all the time he is
chip-chipping and flirting his tail, and saying: “How’s that? All right?
Hey? Here’s another. How’s that? All right? Hey? Open now. Like that?
Here’s one. Oh, a beaut! Here’s two fat ones? Great? Hey? Here y’ go.
Touch the spot? Hey? More? Sure Mike. Lots of ‘em. Wide now. Boss. Hey?
Wait a second--yes, honey. In a second.... I got him. Here’s the kind
you like. Oh, yes, do. Do take one more. Oh, you better.”

“D’ ye think I’m made o’ rubber?” she snaps at him. “I know I’ll have
indigestion, and you’ll be to bla--Mercy land! Them eggs!” and she
gathers up her skirts and flits. He escorts her gallantly, but returns
to pick a few for himself, and to cock his head knowingly at the boy,
as much as to say: “Man of family, by Ned. Or--or soon will be. Oh, yes,
any minute now, any minute.”

And if I remember rightly, he even winks at the boy with a wink whose
full significance the boy does not learn till many years after when
it dawns upon him that it meant: “You got to make allowances for ‘em.
Especially at such a time. All upset, you know, and worried. Oh, yes.
You got to; you got to make allowances for ‘em.”

Day by day the air grows balmier and softer on the cheek. Out in the
garden, ranks of yellow-green pikes stand stiffly at “Present.
Hump!” and rosettes of the same color crumple through the warm soil,
unconsciously preparing for a soul tragedy. For an evening will come
when a covered dish will be upon the supper-table, and when the cover is
taken off, a subtle fragrance will betray, if the sense of sight do not,
that the chopped-up lettuces and onions are in a marsh of cider vinegar,
demanding to be eaten. And your big sister will squall out in comic
distress: “Oh, ma! You are too mean for anything! Why did you have ‘em
tonight? I told you Mr. Dellabaugh was going to call, and you know how I
love spring onions! Well, I don’t care. I’m just going to, anyhow.”

Things come with such a rush now, it is hard to tell what happens in
its proper order. The apple-trees blossom out like pop-corn over the hot
coals. The Japan quince repeats its farfamed imitation of the Burning
Bush of Moses; the flowering currants are strung with knobs of vivid
yellow fringe; the dead grass from the front yard, the sticks and stalks
and old tomato vines, the bits of rag and the old bones that Guess has
gnawed upon are burning in the alley, and the tormented smoke is darting
this way and that, trying to get out from under the wind that seeks to
flatten it to the ground. All this is spring, and--and yet it isn’t. The
word is not yet spoken that sets us free to live the outdoor life; we
are yet prisoners and captives of the house.

But, one day in school, the heat that yesterday was nice and cozy
becomes too dry and baking for endurance. The young ones come in from
recess red, not with the brilliant glow of winter, but a sort of scalded
red. They juke their heads forward to escape their collars’ moist
embrace; they reach their hands back of them to pull their clinging
winter underwear away. They fan themselves with joggerfies, and puff
out: “Phew!” and look pleadingly at the shut windows. One boy, bolder
than his fellows, moans with a suffering lament: “Miss Daniels, cain’t
we have the windows open? It’s awful hot!” Frightful dangers lurk in
draughts. Fresh air will kill folks. So, not until the afternoon is the
prayer answered. Then the outer world, so long excluded, enters once
more the school-room life. The mellifluous crowing of distant roosters,
the rhythmic creaking of a thirsty pump, the rumble of a loaded wagon,
the clinking of hammers at the blacksmith shop, the whistle of No. 3
away below town, all blend together in the soft spring air into one
lulling harmony.

Winter’s alert activity is gone. Who cares for grades and standings now?
The girls, that always are so smart, gape lazily, and stare at vacancy
wishing.... They don’t know what they wish, but if He had a lot of
money, why, then they could help the poor, and all like that, and have a
new dress every day.

James Sackett--his real name is Jim Bag, but teacher calls him James
Sackett--has his face set toward: “A farmer sold 16 2-3 bu. wheat for
66 7-8 c. per bu.; 19 2-9 bu. oats for,” etc., etc., but his soul is
far away in Cummins’s woods, where there is a robbers’ cave that he, and
Chuck Higgins, and Bunt Rogers, and Turkey-egg McLaughlin are going
to dig Saturday afternoons when the chores are done. They are going
to--Here Miss Daniels should slip up behind him and snap his ear, but
she, too, is far away in spirit. Her beau is coming after supper to take
her buggy-riding. She wonders.... She wonders.... Will she have to teach
again next fall? She wonders....

Wait. Wait but a moment. A subtle change is coming.

The rim of the revolving year has a brighter and a darker half, a joyous
and a somber half, Autumnal splendors cannot cheer the melancholy that
we feel when summer goes from us, but when summer comes again the heart
leaps up in glee to meet it. Wait but a moment now. Wait.

The distant woodland swims in an amethystine haze. A long and fluting
note, honey-sweet as it were blown upon a bottle, comes to us from far.
It is the turtle-dove. The blood beats in our ears. Arise, my love, my
fair one, and come away.

So gentle it can scarce be felt, a waft of air blows over us, the first
sweet breath of summer. A veil of faint and subtle perfume drifts around
us. The vines with the tender grape give a good smell. And evermore as
its enchantment is cast about us we are as once we were when first we
came beneath its spell; we are by the smokehouse at the old home place;
we stand in shoes whose copper toes wink and glitter in the sunlight,
a gingham apron sways in the soft breeze, and on the green, upspringing
turf dances the shadow of a tasseled cap. Life was all before us then.
Please God, it is not all behind us now. Please God, our best and wisest
days are yet to come the days when we shall do the work that is worthy
of us. Dear one, mother of my children here and Yonder--and Yonder--the
best and wisest days are yet to come. Arise, my love, my fair one, and
come away.



THE SWIMMING-HOLE


It is agreed by all, I think, that the two happiest periods in a man’s
life are his boyhood and about ten years from now. We are exactly in the
position described in the hymn:

       “Lo!  On a narrow neck of land
       ‘Twixt two unbounded seas we stand,
        And cast a wishful eye.” *

     *[I am told, on good authority, that this last line of the
     three belongs to another hymn.  As it is just what I want to
     say, I’m going to let it stand as it is.]

If I remember right, the hymn went to the tune of “Ariel,” and I can see
John Snodgrass, the precentor, sneaking a furtive C from his pitch-pipe,
finding E flat and then sol, and standing up to lead the singing,
paddling the air gently with: Down, left, sing. Well, no matter about
that now. What I am trying to get at, is that we have all a lost Eden
in the past and a Paradise Regained in the future. ‘Twixt two unbounded
seas of happiness we stand on the narrow and arid sand-spit of the
present and cast a wishful eye. In hot weather particularly the wishful
eye, when directed toward the lost Eden of boyhood, lights on and
lingers near the Old Swimming-hole.

I suppose boys do grow up into a reasonable enjoyment of their faculties
in big seaside cities and on inland farms where there is no accessible
body of water larger than a wash-tub, but I prefer to believe that the
majority of our adult male population in youth went in swimming in the
river up above the dam, where the big sycamore spread out its roots
a-purpose for them to climb out on without muddying their feet. Some, I
suppose, went in at the Copperas Banks below town, where the current had
dug a hole that was “over head and hands,” but that was pretty far and
almost too handy for the boys from across the tracks.

The wash-tub fellows will have to be left out of it entirely. It was an
inferior, low-grade Eden they had anyhow, and if they lost it, why, they
‘re not out very much that I can see. And I rather pity the boys that
lived by the sea. They had a good time in their way, I suppose,
with sailboats and things, but the ocean is a poor excuse for a
swimming-hole. They say salt-water is easier to swim in; kind of bears
you up more. Maybe so, but I never could see it; and even so, if it
does, that slight advantage is more than made up for by the manifold
disadvantages entailed. First place, there’s the tide to figure on. If
it was high tide last Wednesday at half-past ten in the morning, what
time will it be high tide today? A boy can’t always go when he wants to,
and it is no fun to trudge away down to the beach only to find half a
mile of soft, gawmy mud between him and the water. And he can’t go in
wherever it is deep enough and nobody lives near. People own the beach
away out under water, and where he is allowed to go in may be a perfect
submarine jungle of eel-grass or bottomed with millions of razor-edged
barnacles that rip the soles of his feet into bleeding rags. Then,
too, when one swims, more or less water gets into one’s nose and mouth.
River-water may not be exactly what a fastidious person would choose
to drink habitually, but there is this in its favor as compared with
sea-water: it will stay down after it is swallowed; also, it doesn’t gum
up your hair; also, if you want to take a cake of soap with you, all you
have to look out for is that you don’t lose the soap. Nobody tries to
use toilet soap in sea-water more than once.

And surf-bathing! If there is a bigger swindle than surf-bathing, the
United States Postal authorities haven’t heard of it yet. It is all very
well for the women. They can hang on to the ropes and squeal at the big
waves and have a perfectly lovely time. Some of the really daring ones
crouch down till they actually get their shoulder-blades wet. You
have to see that for yourself to believe it, but it is as true as I
am sitting here. They do so--some of them. But good land! There’s no
swimming in surf-bathing, no fun for a man. The water is all bouncing up
and down. One second it is over head and hands, and the next second it
is about to your knees, with a malicious undertow tickling your feet and
tugging at your ankles; and growling: “Aw, you think you’re some, don’t
you? Yes. Well, for half a cent wouldn’t take you out and drown you.”
 And I don’t like the looks of that boat patrolling up and down between
the ropes and the raft. It is too suggestive, too like the skeleton at
the banquet, too blunt a reminder that maybe what the undertow growls is
not all a bluff.

Another drawback to the ocean as a swimming-hole is that the distances
are all wrong. If you want to go to the other side of the “crick”
 you must take a steamboat. There is no such thing as bundling up your
clothes and holding them out of water with one hand while you swim with
the other, perhaps dropping your knife or necktie in transit. I have
never been on the other side of the “crick” even on a steamboat, but
I am pretty sure that there are no yellow-hammers’ nests over there or
watermelon patches. There were above the dam. At the seaside they give
you as an objective point a raft, anchored at what seems only a little
distance from where it gets deep enough to swim in, but which turns out
to be a mighty far ways when the water bounces so. When you get there,
blowing like a quarter-horse and weighing nine tons as you lift yourself
out, there is nothing to do but let your feet hang over while you get
rested enough to swim back. It wasn’t like that above the dam.

I tell you the ocean is altogether too big. Some profess to admire it
on that account, but it is my belief that they do it to be in style.
I admit that on a bright, blowy day, when you can sit and watch the
shining sails far out on the horizon’s rim, it does look right nice,
but I account for it in this way: it puts you in mind of some of these
expensive oil paintings, and that makes you think it is kind of high
class. And another thing: It recalls the picture in the joggerfy that
proved the earth was round because the hull of a ship disappears before
the sails, as it would if the ship was going over a hill. You sweep your
eye along where the sky and water meet, and it seems you can note the
curvature of the earth. Maybe it is that, and maybe it is all in your
own eye. I am not saying.

There are good points, too, about the sea on a clear night when the moon
is full; or when there is no moon, and the phosphorescence in the water
shows, as if mermaids’ children were playing with blue-tipped matches. I
like to see it when a gale is blowing, and the white caps race. Yes, and
when it is a flat calm, with here and there a tiny cat’s-paw crinkling
the water into gray-green crepe. And also when--but there! it is no use
cataloguing all kinds of weather and all hours of the day and night.
What I don’t approve of in the ocean is its everlasting bigness. It is
so discouraging. It makes a body seem so no-account and insignificant.
You come away feeling meaner than a sheep-killing dog. “Oh, what’s the
use?” you say to yourself. “What’s the use of my breaking my neck to do
anything or be anybody? Before I was born--before History began--before
any foot of being that could be called a man trod these sands, the waves
beat thus the pulse of time. When I am gone--when all that man has made,
that seems so firm and everlasting, shall have crumbled into the earth,
whence it sprang, this wave, so momentary and so eternal, shall still
surge up the slanting beach, and trail its lacy mantle in retreat.... O
spare me a little, that I may recover my strength before I go hence, and
be no more seen.”

And that’s no way for a man to feel. He ought to be confident and sure
of himself. If he hasn’t yet done all that he laid out to do, he should
feel that it is in him to do it, and that he will before the time comes
for him to go, and that when it is done it shall be orth while.

It is the ocean’s everlasting bigness that makes it so cold to swim in.
At the seaside bathing pavilions they have a blackboard whereon they
chalk up “70” or “72” or whatever they think folks will like. They never
say in so many words that a man went down into the water and held a
thermometer in it long enough to get the true temperature, but they
lead you to believe it. All I have to say is that they must have very
optimistic thermometers. I just wish some of these poor little seashore
boys could have a chance to try the Old Swimming-hole up above the dam.
Certainly along about early going-barefoot time the water is a little
cool, but you take it in the middle of August--ah, I tell you! When you
come out of the water then you don’t have to run up and down to get your
blood in circulation or pile the warm sand on yourself or hunt for the
steam-room. Only thing is, if you stay in all day, as you want to, it
thins your blood, and you get the “fever ‘n’ ager.” But you can stay in
as long as you want to, that ‘s the point, without your lips turning the
color of a chicken’s gizzard.

And there’s this about the Old Swimming-hole, or there was in my day:
There were no women and girls fussing around aid squalling: “Now, you
stop splashin’ water on me! Quit it now! Quee-yut!” I don’t think t
looks right for women folks to have anything to do with water in large
quantities. On a sail-boat, now, they are the very--but perhaps we had
better not go into that. At a picnic, indeed, trey used to take off
their shoes and stockings and paddle their feet in the water, but that
was as much as ever they did. They never thought of going in swimming.
Even at the seashore, now when Woman is so emancipated, they go bathing
not swimming. I don’t like to see a woman swim any more than I like to
see a woman smoke a cigar. And for the same reason. It is more fun
than she is entitled to. A woman’s place is home minding the baby, and
cooking the meals. Nothing would do her but she had to be born a woman,
she had the same liberty of choice that we men had. Very well, I say,
let her take the consequencies.

It is only natural, then, that she should refuse to let her boys go
swimming. She pays off her grudge that way. Just because she can’t go
herself she is bound the they shan’t either. She says they will get
drowned, but we know about that. It is only an excuse to keep them from
having a little fun. She has to say something. They won’t get drowned.
Why, the idea! They haven’t the least intention of any such thing.

“Well, but Robbie, supposing you couldn’t help yourself?”

“How couldn’t help myself?”

“Why, get the cramps. Suppose you got the cramps, then what?”

“Aw, pshaw! Cramps nothin’! They hain’t no sich of a thing. And, anyhow,
if I did get ‘em, wouldn’t jist kick ‘em right out. This way.”

“Now, Robbie, you know you did have a terrible cramp in your foot just
only the other night. Don’t you remember?”

“Aw, that! That ain’t nothin’. That ain’t the cramps that drownds
people. Didn’t I tell you wouldn’t fist kick it right out? That’s what
they all do when they git the cramps. But they don’t nobody git ‘em now
no more.”

“I don’t want you to go in the water and get drowned. You know you can’t
swim.”

This is too much. Oh, this is rank injustice! Worse yet, it is bad
logic.

“How ‘m I ever goin’ to learn if you don’t let me go to learn?”

“Well, you can’t go, and that’s the end of it.”

Isn’t that just like a woman? Perfectly unreasonable! Dear! dear!

“Now, Ma, listen here. S’posin’ we was all goin’ some place on a
steamboat, me and you and Pa and the baby and all of us, and--”

“That won’t ever happen, I guess.”

“CAN’T YOU LET ME TELL YOU? And s’posin’ the boat was to sink, and I
could swim and save you from drown--”

“You’re not going swimming, and that’s all there is about it.”

“Other boys’ mas lets them go. I don’t see why I can’t go.”

No answer.

“Ma, won’t you let me go? I won’t get drowned, hope to die if I do. Ma,
won’t you let me go? Ma! Ma-a!--Maw-ah!”

“Stop yelling at me that way. Good land! Do you think I’m deaf?”

“Won’t you let me go? Please, won’t you let--”

“No, I won’t. I told you I wouldn’t, and I mean it. You might as well
make up your mind to stay at home, for you’re--not--going. Hush up now.
This instant, sir! Robbie, do you hear me? Stop crying. Great baby!
wouldn’t be ashamed to cry that way, as big as you are!”

Mean old Ma! Guess she’d cry too’f she could see the other kids that
waited for him to go and ask her--if she could see them moving off,
tired of waiting. They’re ‘most up to Lincoln Avenue.

“Oooooooooooo-hoo--hoo--hoo--hoohoooooooooo-ah! I wanna gow-ooooo.”

“Did you hoe that corn your father told you to?”

“Oooooooooooo-hoo-hoo-hoo-oooooooo! I wanna gow-ooooooo.”

“Robbie! Did you hoe that corn?”

The last boy, the one with the stone-bruise on his heel, limps around
the corner. They have all the fun. His ma won’t let him go barefoot
because it spreads his feet.

“Robbie! Answer me.”

“Mam?”

“Did you hoe that corn your father told you to?”

“Yes mam.”

“All of it? Did you hoe all of it?”

“Prett’ near all of it.” Well begun is half done. One hill is a good
beginning, and half done is pretty nearly all.

“Go and finish it.”

“I will if you’ll let me go swimmin’.”

It flashes upon him that even now by running he can catch up with the
other fellows. He can finishing the hoeing when he gets back.

“You’ll do it anyhow, and you’re not going swimming. Now, that’s the end
of it. You march out to that garden this minute, or I’ll take a stick to
you. And don’t let me hear another whimper out of you. Robbie! Come back
here and shut that door properly. I shall tell your father how you have
acted. Wouldn’t be ashamed--I’d be ashamed to show temper that way.”

It says for children to obey their parents, but if more boys minded
their mothers there would be fewer able to swim. While I shrink
with horror from even seeming to encourage dropping the hoe when the
sewing-machine gets to going good, by its thunderous spinning throwing
up an impervious wall of sound to conceal retreat into the back alley,
across the street, up the alley back of Alexander’s, and so on up
to Fountain Avenue in time to catch up with the gang, still I regard
swimming as an exercise of the extremest value in the development of the
growing boy. It builds up every muscle. It is particularly beneficial
to the lungs. To have a good pair of lungs is the same thing as having
a good constitution. It is nice to have a healthy boy, and it is nice to
have an obedient boy, but if one must choose which he will have--that’s
a very difficult question. I think it should be left to the casuists.
Nevertheless, now is the boy’s only chance to grow. He will have
abundant opportunities to learn obedience.

In the last analysis there are two ways of acquiring the art of
swimming, the sudden way and the slow way. I have never personally known
anybody that learned in the sudden way, but I have heard enough about it
to describe it. It it’s the quickest known method. One day the boy its
among the gibbering white monkeys at the river’s edge, content to splash
in the water that comes but half way to his crouching knees. The next
day he swims with the big boys as bold as any of them. In the meantime
his daddy has taken him out in a boat, out where it is deep--Oh! Ain’t
it deep there?--and thrown him overboard. The boat is kept far enough
away to be out of the boy’s reach and yet near enough to be right there
in case anything happens. (I like that “in case anything happens.” It
sounds so cheerful.) It being what Aristotle defines as “a ground-hog
case,” the boy learns to swim immediately. He has to.

It seems reasonable that he should. But still and all, I don’t just
fancy it. Once when a badly scared man grabbed me by the arms in deep
water I had the fear of drowning take hold of my soul, and it isn’t a
nice feeling at all. Somehow when I hear folks praising up this method
of teaching a child to swim, I seem to hear the little fellow’s screams
that he doesn’t want to be thrown into the water. I can see him clinging
to his father for protection, and finding that heart hard and unpitying.
I can see his fingernails whiten with his clutch on anything that gives
a hand-hold. His father strips off his grip, at first with boisterous
laughter, and then with hot anger at the little fool. He calls him a
cry-baby, and slaps his mouth for him, to stop his noise. The little
body sprawls in the air and strikes with a loud splash, and the child’s
gargling cry is strangled by the water whitened by his mad clawings. I
can see his head come up, his eyes bulging, and his face distorted with
the awful fear that is ours by the inheritance of ages. He will sink and
come up again, not three times, but a hundred times. Eventually he will
win safe to shore, panting and trembling, his little heart knocking
against his ribs, it is true, but lord of the water from that time
forth. It is a very fine method, yes... but... well, if it was my boy I
had just as lief he tarried with the little white monkeys at the river’s
edge. Let him squeal and crouch and splash and learn how to half drown
the other fellow by shooting water at him with the heel of his hand.
Let him alone. He will be watching the others swim. He will edge out a
little farther and kick up his heels while with his hands he holds on
the ground. He will edge out a little farther still and try to keep his
feet on the bottom and swim with his hands. Be patient in his attempt to
combine the two methods of travel. He is not the only one that fears to
be one thing or the other, and regards a mixture of both as the safest
way to get along.

No, I cannot say that I wholly approve of the sudden method of learning
to swim. It has the advantange of lumping all the scares of a lifetime
into one and having it over with, and yet I don’t suppose the scare of
being thrown into the water by one’s daddy is really greater than being
ducked in mid-stream by some hulking, cackle-voiced big boy. It seems
greater though, I suppose, because a fellow cannot very well relieve
his feelings by throwing stones at his daddy and bawling: “Goldarn you
anyhow, you--you big stuff! I’ll get hunk with you, now you see if I
don’t!” Here would be just the place to make the little boy tie knots
in the big boy’s shirt-sleeves, soak the knots in water, and pound them
between stones. But that is kind of common, I think. They told about it
at the swimming-hole above the dam, but nobody was mean enough to do it.
Maybe they did it down at the Copperas Banks below town. The boys from
across the tracks went there, a race apart, whom we feared, and who
hated us, if the legend chalked up on the fences “DAMB THE PRODESTANCE,”
 meant anything.

Under the slow method of learning to swim one had leisure to observe the
different fashions--dog-fashion and cow-fashion, steamboat-fashion,
and such. The little kids and beginners swam dog-fashion, which on that
account was considered contemptible. The fellow was sneered at that
screwed up his face as if in a cloud of suffocating dust, and fought the
water with noise and fury, putting forth enough energy to carry him a
mile, and actually going about two feet if he were headed down stream.
Scientific men say that the use of the limbs, first on one side and then
on the other, is instinctive to all creatures of the monkey tribe. That
is the way they do in an emergency, since that is the way to scramble up
among the tree limbs. I know that it is the easiest way to swim, and
the least effective. When the arms are extended together in the breast
stroke, it is as much superior to dogfashion as man is superior to the
ape. I have always thought that to swim thus with steady and deliberate
arm action, the water parting at the chin and rising just to the root of
the underlip, was the most dignified and manly attitude the human being
could put himself in. Cow-fashion was a burlesque of this, and the
swimmer reared out of water with each stroke, creating tidal waves. It
was thought to be vastly comic. Steamboat-fashion was where a fellow
swam on his back, keeping his body up by a gentle, secret paddling
motion with his hands, while with his feet he lashed the water into
foam, like some river stern-wheeler. If he could cry: “Hoo! hoo! hoo!”
 in hoarse falsetto to mimic the whistle, it was an added charm.

It was a red-headed boy from across the tracks on his good behavior at
the swimming-hole above the dam that I first saw swim hand-over-hand, or
“sailor-fashion” as we called it, rightly or wrongly, I know not. I can
hear now the crisp, staccato little smack his hand gave the water as he
reached forward.

It has ever since been my envy and despair. It is so knowing, so
“sporty.” I class it with being able to wear a pink-barred shirt front
with a diamond-cluster pin in it; with having my clothes so nobby and
stylish that one thread more of modishness would be beyond the human
power to endure; with being genuinely fond of horseracing; with being
a first-class poker player, I mean a really first-class one; with being
able to swallow a drink of whisky as if I liked it instead of having
to choke it down with a shudder; with knowing truly great men like
Fitzsimmons, or whoever it is that is great now, so as to be able to
slap him on the back and say: “Why, hello! Bob, old boy, how are you?”
 with being delighted with the company of actors, instead of finding them
as thin as tissue-paper--what wouldn’t I give if I could be like that?
My life has been a sad one. But I might find some comfort in it yet if
I coin only get that natty little spat on the water when I lunge forward
swimming overhand.

We used to think the Old Swimming-hole was a bully place, but I know
better now. The sycamore leaned well out over the water, and there was
a trapeze on the branch that grew parallel with the shore, but the water
near it was never deep enough to dive into. And that is another occasion
of humiliation. I can’t dive worth a cent. When I go down to the slip
behind Fulton Market--they sell fish at Fulton Market; just follow your
nose and you can’t miss it--and see the rows of little white monkeys
doing nothing but diving, I realize that the Old Swimming-hole with all
its beauties, its green leafiness, its clean, long grass to lie upon
while drying in the sun, or to pull out and bite off the tender,
chrome-yellow ends, was but a provincial, country-fake affair. There
were no watermelon rinds there, no broken berry-baskets, no orange peel,
no nothing. All the fish in it were just common live ones. And there was
no diving. But at the real, proper city swimming-place all the little
white monkeys can dive. Each is gibbering and shrieking: “Hey, Chim-meel
Chimmee! Hey, Chim-mee! Chimmee! Hey, CHIM-MEEEE! How’ss t ‘iss?”
 crossing himself and tipping over head first, coming up so as to “lay
his hair,” giving a shaking snort to clear his nose and mouth of water,
regaining the ladder with three overhand strokes (every one of them
with that natty little spat that I can’t get), climbing up to the
string-piece and running for Chimmy, red-eyed, shivering, and dripping,
to ask: “How wass Cat?” And I can’t dive for a cent--that is, I can’t
dive from a great elevation. I set my teeth and vow I just will dive
from ten feet above the water, and every time it gets down to a poor,
picayune dive off the lowest round of the ladder. I blame my early
education for it. I was taught to be careful about pitching myself head
foremost on rocks and broken bottles. I used to think it was a fine
swimming-hole, and that I was having a grand, good time, well worth any
ordinary licking; but now that I have traveled around and seen things, I
know that it was a poor, provincial, country-jake affair after all.
The first time I swam across and back without “letting down” it was
certainly an immense place, but when I went back there a year ago last
summer--why, pshaw! it wasn’t anything at all. It was a dry summer,
I admit, but not as dry as all that. A poor, pitiful, provincial,
two-for-a cent--and yet... and yet... And yet I sat there after I had
dressed, and mused upon the former things--the life that was, but never
could be again; the Eden before whose gate was a flaming sword turning
every way. The night was still and moonless. The Milky Way slanted
across the dark dome above. It was far from the street lamps that
greened among the leafy maples in the silent streets. Gushes of air
stirred the fluttering sycamore, and whispered in the tall larches that
marched down the boundary line of the Blymire property. The last group
of swimmers had turned into the road from around the clump of willows at
the end of the pasture. The boy that is always the last one had nearly
caught up with the others, for the velvet pat of his bare feet in the
deep dust was slowing. Their eager chatter softened and softened, until
it blended with the sounds of night that verge on silence, the fall of a
leaf, the up-springing of a trodden tuft of grass, the sleepy twitter
of a dreaming bird, and the shrilling of locusts patiently turning a
creaking wheel. I heard the thump of hoofs and buggy wheels booming
in the covered bridge, and a shudder came upon me that was not all the
chill of falling dew. Again I was a little boy, standing in a circle of
my fellows and staring at something pale, stretched out upon the ground.
Ben Snyder had dived for It and found It and brought It up and laid It
on the long, clean grass. Some one had said we ought to get a barrel and
roll It on the barrel, but there was none there. And then some one
said: “No, it was against the law to touch anything like That before
the Coroner came.” So, though we wished that something might be done,
we were glad the law stepped in and stringently forbade us touching what
our flesh crept to think of touching. No longer existed for us the boy
that had the spy-glass and the “Swiss Family Robinson.” Something cold
and terrible had taken his place, something that could not see, and yet
looked upward with unwinking eyes. The gloom deepened, and the dew began
to fall. We could hear the boy that ran for the doctor whimpering a long
way off. We wanted to go home, and yet we dared not. Something might get
us. And we could not leave That alone in the dark with It’s eyes wide
open. The locusts in the grass turned and turned their creaking wheel,
and the wind whispered in the tall larches. We heard the thump of hoofs
and wheels booming in the covered bridge. It was the doctor, come too
late. He put his head down to It’s bosom (the cold trickled down our
backs), and then he said it was too late. If we had known enough, he
said, we might have saved him. We slunk away. It was very lonesome. We
kept together, and spoke low. We stopped to hearken for a moment outside
the house where the boy had lived that had the spy-glass and the “Swiss
Family Robinson.” Some one had told his mother. And then, with a great
and terrible fear within us, we ran each to his own home, swiftly and
silently. We knew now why mother did not want us to go swimming.

But the next afternoon when Chuck Grove whistled in our back alley and
held up two fingers, I dropped the hoe and went with him. It was bright
daylight then, and that is different from the night.



THE FIREMEN’S TOURNAMENT

It isn’t only Christmas that comes but once a year and when it comes it
brings good cheer; it’s any festival that is worth a hill of beans, High
School Commencement, Fourth of July, Sunday-school excursion, Election’
bonfire, Thanksgiving Day (a nice day and one whereon you can eat roast
turkey till you can’t choke down another bite, and pumpkin-pie, and
cranberry sauce. Tell you!)--but about the best in the whole lot, and
something the city folks don’t have, is Firemen’s Tournament. That comes
once a year, generally about the time for putting up tomatoes.

The first that most of us know about it is when we see the bills up,
telling how much excursion rates will be to our town from Ostrander
and Mt. Victory, and Wapatomica, and New Berlin, and Foster’s,
and Caledonia, and Mechanicsburg--all the towns around on both the
railroads. But before that there was the Citizens’ Committee, and then
the Executive Committee, and the Finance Committee, and the Committee
on Press and Publicity, and Printing and Prizes, and Decorations and
Badges, and Music, and Reception to Firemen, and Reception to Guests--as
many committees as there are nails in the fence from your house to mine.
And these committees come around and tell you that we want to show the
folks that we’ve got public spirit in our town, some spunk, some git-up
to us. We want our town to contrast favorably with Caledonia where they
had the Tournament last year. We want to put it all over the Caledonia
people (they think they’re so smart), and we can do it, too, if
everybody will take a-holt and help. Well, we want all we can get. We
expect a pretty generous offer from you, for one. Man that has as pretty
and tasty got-up store as you have, and does the business that you do,
ought to show his appreciation of the town and try to help along....
Oh, anything you’re a mind to give. ‘Most anything comes in handy for
prizes. But what we principally need is cash, ready cash. You see,
there’s a good deal of expense attached to an enterprise of this
character. So many little things you wouldn’t think of, that you’ve
just got to have. But laws! you’ll make it all back and more, too. We
cackleate there’ll be, at the very least, ten thousand people in town
that day, and it’s just naturally bound to be that some of them will do
their trading.

Thank you very much, that’s very handsome of you. Good day. (What are
you growling about? Lucky to get five cents out of that man.)

The Ladies’ Aid of Center Street M. E., has secured the store-room
recently vacated by Rouse & Meyers, and is going to serve a dinner that
day for the benefit of the Carpet Fund of their church and about time,
too, I say. I like to broke my neck there a week ago last Sunday night,
when our minister was away. Caught my foot in a hole in the carpet, and
a little more and wouldn’t have gone headlong. So, it’s: “Why, I’ve been
meaning for more than a year, to call on you, Mrs.--. Mrs.--(Let me
look at my list. Oh, yes) Mrs. Cooper, but we’ve had so much sickness
at home--you know my husband’s father is staying with us at present,
and he’s been in very poor health all winter--and when it hasn’t been
sickness, it’s been company. You know how it is. And it seemed as if
I--just--could--not make out to get up your way. What a pretty little
place you have! So cozy! I was just saying to Mrs. Thorpe here, it was
so seldom you saw a really pretty residence in this part of town. We
think that up on the hill, where we reside, you know, is about the
handsomest.... Yes, there are a great many wealthy people live up
there. The Quackenbushes are enormously wealthy. I was saying to Mrs.
Quackenbush only the other day that I thought the hill people were
almost too exclusive .... Yes, it is a perfectly lovely day....
Er--er--We’re soliciting for the Firemen’s Tournament--well, not for the
Tournament exactly, but the Ladies’ Aid are going to give a dinner
that day for the Carpet Fund and we thought perhaps you ‘d like to help
along.... Oh, any little thing, a boiled ham or--... Well, we shall want
some cake, but we’d druther--or, at least, rawther--have something more
substantial, don’t you know, pie or pickles or jelly, don’t you know.
And will you bring it or shall I send Michael with the carriage for
it?.... Oh, thank you! If you would. It would be so much appreciated.
So sorry we couldn’t make a longer stay, but now that we’ve found the
way.... Yes, that’s very true. Well, good-afternoon.”

The lady of the house watches them as Michael inquires: “Whur next,
mum?” and bangs the door of the carriage. Then she turns and says to
herself: “Huh!” Mrs. Thorpe is that instant observing: “Did you notice
that crayon enlargement she had hanging up? Wouldn’t it kill you?” To
which the other lady responds: “Well, between you and I, Mrs. Thorpe, if
I couldn’t have a real hand-painted picture I wouldn’t have nothing at
all.”

The lady of the house bakes a cake. She’ll show them a thing or two in
the cake line. And while it is in the oven what does that little dev--,
that provoking Freddie, do but see if he can’t jump across the kitchen
in two jumps. Fall? What cake wouldn’t fall? Of course it falls. But it
is too late now to bake another, and if they don’t like it, they know
what they can do. She doesn’t know that she’s under any obligation to
them.

Mrs. John Van Meter hears Freddie say off the little speech his mother
taught him--Oh, you may be sure she’d be there as large as life, taking
charge of everything, just as if she had been one of the workers,
when, to my certain knowledge, she hadn’t been to one of the committee
meetings, not a one. I declare I don’t know what Mr. Craddock is
thinking of to let her boss every body around the way she does--and she
smiles and says: “It’s all right. It’s just lovely. Tell your mamma Mrs.
Van Meter is ever and ever so much obliged to her. Isn’t he a dear boy?”
 And when he is gone, she says: “What are we ever going to do with
all this cake? It seems as if everybody has sent cake. And whatever
possessed that woman to attempt a cake, I--can’t imagine. Ts! ts! ts!
H-well. Oh, put it somewhere. Maybe we can work it off on the country
people. Mrs. Filkins, your coffee smells PERfectly grand! Perfectly
grand. Do you think we’ll have spoons enough?”

The Tournament prizes are exhibited in the windows of the leading
furniture emporium at the corner of Main and Center, each with a card
attached bearing the name of the donor in distinctly legible characters.
Old man Hagerman has been mowing all the rag-weed and cuckle-burrs along
the line of march, and the lawns have had an unusual amount of shaving
and sprinkling. Out near the end of Center Street, the grandstand has
been going up, tiers of seats rising from each curb line. The street has
been rolled and sprinkled and scraped until it is in fine condition for
a running track. Why don’t you pick up that pebble and throw it over
into the lot? Suppose some runner should slip on that stone and fall and
hurt himself, you’d be to blame.

The day before the Tournament, they hang the banner:

        “WELCOME VOLUNTEER FIREMEN”

from Case’s drugstore across to the Furniture Emporium. Along the line
of march you may see the man of the house up on a step-ladder against
the front porch, with his hands full of drapery and his mouth full of
tacks. His wife is backing toward the geranium bed to get a good view,
cocking her head on one side.

“How ‘v vif?” he asks as well as he can for the tacks.

“Little higher. Oh, not so much. Down a little. Whope! that’s .... Oh,
plague take the firemen! Just look at that! Mercy! Mercy!”

The man of the house can’t turn his head.

“Oh, I wouldn’t have had it happen for I don’t know what! Ts! Ts! Ts!
That lovely silverleaf geranium that Mrs. Pritchard give me a slip of.
Broke right off! Oh, my! My! My! Do you s’pose it’d grow if I was to
stick it into the ground just as it is with all them buds on it?”

The man of the house lets one end of the drapery go and empties his
mouth of tacks into his disengaged hand.

“I don’t know. Ow! jabbed right into my gum! But I can tell you this:
If you think I’m going to stick up on this ladder all morning while you
carry on about some fool old geranium that you can just as well fuss
with when I’m gone, why, you’re mighty much mistaken.”

“Well, you needn’t take my head off. I feel awful about that geranium.”

“Well, why don’t you look where you’re going? Is this right?”

“Yes, I told you. I wish now I’d done it myself. I can’t ask you to do a
thing about the house but there’s a row raised right away.”

People that don’t want to go to the trouble of tacking up these alphabet
flags on the edge of the veranda eaves (it takes fourteen of them to
spell “WELCOME FIREMEN”), say they think a handsome flag--a really
handsome one, not one of these twenty-five centers--is as pretty and
rich looking a decoration as a body can put up.

Tents are raised in the vacant lots along Center Street, and counters
knocked together for the sale of ice-cold lemonade, lemo, lemo, lemo,
made in the shade, with a spade, by an old maid, lemo, lemo. Here y’ are
now, gents, gitch nice cool drink, on’y five a glass. There is even the
hook for the ice-cream candy man to throw the taffy over when he pulls
it. I like to watch him. It makes me dribble at the mouth to think about
it.

The man that sells the squawking toys and the rubber balloons on sticks
is in town. All he can say is: “Fi’ cent.” He will blow up the balloons
tomorrow morning. The men with the black-velvet covered shields, all
stuck full of “souvenirs,” are here, and the men with the little canes.
I guess we’ll have a big crowd if it doesn’t rain. What does the paper
say about the weather?

The boys have been playing a new game for some time past, but it is
only this evening that you notice it. The way of it is this: You take
an express-wagon--it has to have real wheels: these sawed-out wheels
are too baby--and you tie a long rope to the tongue and fix loops on the
rope, so that the boys can put each a loop over his shoulder. (You want
a good many boys.) And you get big, long, thick pieces of rag and you
take and tie them so as to make a big, big, long piece, about as long as
from here to ‘way over there. And you lay this in the wagon, kind of in
folds like. Then you go up to where they water the horses and two of you
go at the back end of the wagon and the rest put the loops over their
shoulders, and one boy says, “Are you ready?” and he has a Fourth of
July pistol and he shoots off a cap. And when you hear that, you run
like the dickens and the two boys behind the wagon let out the hose (the
big, long, thick piece of rag) and fix it so it lies about straight on
the ground. And when you have run as far as the hose will reach, the boy
with the Fourth of July pistol says: “Twenty-eight and two-fifths,”
 and that’s the game. And the kids don’t like for big folks to stand and
watch them, because they always make fun so.

In other towns they have Boys’ Companies organized strictly for
Tournament purposes. There was talk of having one here. Mat. King, the
assistant chief, was all for having one so that we could compete in what
he calls “the juveline contests,” but it fell through somehow.


Along about sun-up you hear the big farm-wagons clattering into town,
chairs in the wagon bed, and Paw, and Maw, and Mary Elizabeth, and
Martin Luther, and all the family, clean down to Teedy, the baby. He’s
named after Theodore Roosevelt, and they have the letter home now,
framed and hanging up over the organ. But for all the wagon is so full,
there is room for a big basket covered with a red-ended towel. (Seems to
me I smell fried chicken, don’t you?)

I just thought I’dt see if you’d bite. You’ve formed your notions
of country people from “The Old Homestead” and these by-gosh-Mirandy
novels. The real farmers, nowadays, drive into town in double-seated
carriages with matched bays, curried so that you can see to comb
your hair in their glossy sides. The single rigs sparkle in the sun,
conveying young men and young women of such clean-cut, high-bred
features as to make us wonder. And yet I don’t know why we should
wonder, either. They all come from good old stock. The young fellows
run a little too strongly to patent-leather shoes and their horses are
almost too skittish for my liking, but the girls are all right. If their
clothes set better than you thought they would, why, you must remember
that they subscribe for the very same fashion magazines that you do, and
there is such a thing as a mail-order business in this country, even if
you aren’t aware of it.

All the little boys in town are out with their baskets chanting sadly:

          PEANUTS?  FIVE A BAG

You ‘ll hear that all day long.

But there isn’t much going on before the excursion trains come in. Then
things begin to hop. The grand marshal and his aides gallop through
the streets as if they were going for the doctor. The trains of ten and
fifteen coaches pile up in the railroad yard, and the yardmaster nearly
goes out of his mind. People are so anxious to get out of the cars, in
which they have been packed and jammed for hours, that they don’t mind
a little thing like being run over by a switching engine. Every platform
is just one solid chunk of summer hats and babies and red shirts and
alto horns. They have been nearly five hours coming fifty miles. Stopped
at every station and sidetracked for all the regular trains. Such a
time! Lots of fun, though. The fellows got out and pulled flowers, and
seed cucumbers, and things and threw them at folks. You never saw such
cut-ups as they are. Pretty good singers, too. Good part of the way,
they sung “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” and “How Can I Bear to Leave
Thee,” nice and slow, you know, a good deal of tenor and not much bass,
and plenty of these “minor chords.” (Yes, I know, some people call them
“barber-shop chords,” but I think “minor” is a nicer name.)

The band played “Hiawatha” eighteen times. One old fellow got on at
Huntsville, and he says, to Joe Bangs (that’s the leader), “Shay,” he
says, “play ‘Turkey in er Straw,’ won’t you? Aw, go on. Play it. Thass
goof feller. Go on.”

Joe, he never heard of the tune. Don’t you know it? Goes like this: ...
No, that ain’t it. That’s “Gray Eagle.” Funny, I can’t think how that
tune starts. Well, no matter. They played an arrangement that had “Old
Zip Coon” in it.

“Naw,” he says, “tha’ ain’ it ‘t all. Go on. Play it. Play ‘Turkey in
er Straw.’ Ah, ye don’t know it. Thass reason. Betch don’ know it. Don’
know ‘Turkey in er Straw!’ Ho! Caw seff ml-m’ sishn. Ho! You--you--you
ain’ no m’sishn. You--you you’re zis bluff.” Only about half-past eight,
too. Think of that! So early in the morning. Ah me! That’s one of the
sad features of such an occasion.

If there is anything more magnificent than a firemen’s parade, I don’t
know what it is. The varnished woodwork on the apparatus looks as if it
had just come out of the shop and every bit of bright work glitters fit
to strike you blind. You take, now, a nice hose-reel painted white and
striped into panels with a fine red line, every other panel fruits and
flowers, and every other panel a piece of looking-glass shaped like a
cut of pie and; I tell you, it looks gay. That’s what it does. It looks
gay. Some of the hook-and-ladder trucks are just one mass of
golden-rod and hydrangeas, and some of them are all fixed with this
red-white-and-blue paper rope, sort of chenille effect, or more like a
feather boa. Everybody has on white cotton gloves, and those entitled to
carry speaking trumpets have bouquets in the bells of them, salvias, and
golden-rod, and nasturtiums, and marigolds, and all such.

The Wapatomicas always have a dog up on top of their wagon. First off,
you would think it didn’t help out much, it is such a forlorn looking
little fice; but this dog, I want you to know, waked up the folks late
one night, ‘way ‘long about ten or eleven o’clock, barking at a fire.
Saved the town, as you might say. And after that, the fire-boys took him
for a mascot. I guess he didn’t belong to anybody before. And another
wagon has a chair on it, and in that chair the cutest little girl you
almost eyer saw, hair all frizzed at the ends, and a wide blue sash and
her white frock starched as stiff as a milk-pail. Everybody says: “Aw,
ain’t she just too sweet?”

The Caledonias have tried to make quite a splurge this year. They walk
four abreast, with their arms locked, and their white gloves on each
other’s shoulders. Their truck has on it what they call “an allegorical
figure.” There is a kind of a business (looks to me like it is the axle
and wheels of a toy wagon, stood up on end and covered with white paper
muslin and a string tied around the middle) that is supposed to be an
hour-glass. Then there is a scythe covered with cotton batting, and then
a man in a bath-robe (I saw the figure of the goods when the wind blew
it open) also covered with white cotton batting. The man has a wig and
beard of wicking. First, I thought it was Santa Claus, and then I saw
the scythe and knew it must be old Father Time. The hour-glass puzzled
me no little though. The man has cotton batting wings. One of them is
a little wabbly, but what can you expect from Caledonia? They’re always
trying to butt the bull off the bridge. They’re jealous of our town. Oh,
they stooped to all the mean, underhanded tricks you ever heard of to
get the canning factory to go to their place instead of here. But we
know a thing or two ourselves. Yes, we got the canning factory, all
right, all right.

Did you notice how neat and trim our boys looked? None of this flub-dub
of scarlet shirts with a big white monogram on the breast, or these
fawn-colored suits with querlycues of braid all over. They spot very
easily. And did you notice how the Caledonias had long, lean men
walking with short, fat men, and nobody keeping step? Our boys were all
carefully graded and matched, and their dark blue uniforms with just the
neat nickel badge, I think, presented the best appearance of all. And
I’ll tell you another thing. They’ll put it all over the Caledonias this
afternoon. They won’t let ‘em get a smell.

Don’t you like the fife-and-drum corps? The fifes set my teeth on edge,
but I could follow the drums all day with their:

  Tucket a brum, brum brum-brum, tuck-all de brum
  Tucket a brum-brum, tuck-all de brum-brum-brum
  Tucket a blip-blip-blip-blip, tucka tuck-all de brum,
  Tucket a brum-brum, tuck-all de brum-brum-brum!

Part of the time the drummers click their sticks together instead of
hitting the drum-head. That’s what makes it sound so nice. I wish I
could play the snare-drum.

In the Mechanicsburg band is a boy about fourteen years old, a muscular,
sturdy chunk of a lad. He walks with his heels down, his calves bulged
out behind, his head up, and the regular, proper swagger of a bandsman.
He hasn’t any uniform, but he’s all right. He plays a solo B part, and
he and the other solo cornet spell each other. On the repeat of every
strain my boy rests, and rubs his lips with his forefinger, while he
looks at the populace with bright, expectant eyes. When he blows, he
scowls, and brings the cushion of muscle on the point of his chin clear
up to his under lip, and he draws his breath through the corners of his
mouth. He’s the real thing. Bright boy, too, I judge, the kind that has
a quick answer for everybody, like: “Aw, go chase yerself,” or “Go on,
yeh big stiff.” Watch him on the countermarch when they pass the Radnor
cornet band. The Radnors broke up the Mechanicsburg band last year
and they’re going to try to do it again this year. The musicians blow
themselves the color of a huckleberry, and the drummers grit their
teeth, and try to pound holes in their sheep-skins. Aha! It’s the Radnor
band got rattled in its time this year. Went all to pieces. The boy
snatches, a rest. “Yah!” he squawks. “Didge ever get left?” and picks up
the tune again. I wish I could play the cornet. Wouldn’t play solo B or
I wouldn’t play any--Ooooooooh! Did you see that? Took that stick by the
other end from the knob and slung it away, ‘way up in the air, whirling
like sixty, and caught it when it came down and never missed a step.
Look at him juggle it from hand to hand, over his shoulder, and behind
his back, and under one leg, whirling so fast that you can hardly see
it, and all in perfect step. Whope! I thought he was going to drop it
that time but he didn’t. That’s something you don’t see in the cities.
There, all the drum-major does with his stick is just to point it the
way the band is to go. I like our fashion the best. Geeminentally! Look
at that! I bet it went up in the air forty feet if it went an inch. I
wish I was a drummajor. I guess I’d sooner be a drum-major than anything
else. Oh, well, detective--that’s different.

Let’s go farther along. Don’t get too near the judges’ stand. I know.
It’s the best place to see the finish of an event, but I’ve been to
Firemen’s Tournament before. You let me pick out the seats. Up close to
the judges’ stand is all right till you come to the “wet races.” What?
Oh, you wait and see. Fun? Well, I should say so. Hope they’ll clear all
those boys off the rail. Here! Get down off that rail. Think we can see
through you? You’re thin, but you’re not thin enough for that. Yes, I
mean you, and don’t you give me any of your impudence either. Look at
those women out there. Right spang in the way of the scraper. Isn’t
that a woman all over? A woman and a hen, I don’t know which is--Well,
hel-lo! Where’d you come from? How’s all the folks? Where’s Lizzie?
Didn’t she come with you? Aw, isn’t that too bad? Scalding hot! Ts! Ts!
Ts! Seems as if they made preserving kettles apurpose so’s they’d tip
up when you go to pour anything.... Why, I guess we can. Move over a
little, Charley. Can you squeeze in? That’s all right. Pretty thick
around here, isn’t it? There’s the band starting up. About time, I
think. Teedle-eedle umtum, teedle-eedle, um-tum. “Hiawatha,” of course.
What other tune is there on earth? I’ve got so I know almost all of it.

First is--let me see the program. First is what Mat. King calls “the
juveline contest.” It says here: “Run with truck carrying three ladders
one hundred yards. Take fifteen-foot ladder from truck, raise it against
structure”--that’s the judges’ stand--“and boy ascend. Time to be taken
when climber grasps top rung of ladder.” They’re off. That pistol-shot
started them. Why can’t people sit down? See just as well if they did.
New Berlin’s, I guess. Pretty good. He’s hanging out the slate with the
time on it. Eighteen and four-fifths. Oh, no, never in the world. Here’s
the Mt. Victory boys. See that light-haired boy. Go it, towhead! Ah,
they’ve got the ladder crooked. Eighteen. That’s not so bad .... Oh,
quit your fooling. He’s nothing of the kind. Honestly? What! that old
skeezicks? Who to, for pity’s sake? Well, I thought he was a confirmed
old bachelor, if anybody ever was. Well, sir, that just goes to show
that any man, I don’t care who he is, can get married if he--Who were
those? Are those the Caledonia juveniles? I don’t think much of ‘em, do
you? Seventeen and two-fifths. I wouldn’t have thought it. So their team
gets the first prize. Well, we weren’t in that.

What’s next? “First prize, silver water-set, donated by Hon. William
Krouse.” Since when did old Bill Krouse get to be “Honorable?” Yes,
well, don’t talk to me about Bill Krouse. I know him and his whole
connection and there isn’t an honest hair--“Association trophy will
also be competed for.” Oh, that’s the goldlined loving cup we saw in the
window. Our boys have won it twice and the Caledonias have won it twice.
If we get it this time, it will be ours for keeps. “Run with truck one
hundred and fifty yards; take twenty-five foot ladder,” and so forth
and so forth, Dan O’Brien’s the boy for scaling ladders. He was going to
enlist in the Boer War, he hates the English so. Down on them the worst
way. And say, what do you think? Last year, at Caledonia, he won the
first prize for individual ladder scaling. And what do you suppose the
first prize was? A picture of Queen Victoria. Isn’t that Caledonia all
over? there’s a kind of rivalry between our boys and the Caledonias.

Here they come now. Those are the Caledonian. Tell by the truck .... Do
you think so? I don’t think they’re anything so very much. Nix. You’ll
never do it. Look at the way they run with their heads up. That shows
they’re all winded. Look at the clumsy way they got the ladder off the
wagon. Blap! The judge thought it was coming through the boards on him.
Oh, pretty good, pretty good, but you just wait till you see our boys.
Look at the fool hanging there on the ladder waiting till the time is
announced. Isn’t that Caledonia all over? Yah! Come down! Come down!
What is it? Twenty-five seconds. What’s the record? Twenty-four and
four-fifths? Oh, well, it isn’t so bad for Caledonia, but you just
 what our boys do. Hear those yaps from Caledonia yell! If there’s
anything I despise it is for a man to whoop and holler and make a public
spectacle of himself. Who’s this? Oh, the Radnors. They’re out of it.
Look at them. Pulling every which way. That ladder’s too straight up
and down. Twenty-seven and two-fifths. What did I tell you?... What time
does your train go? Well, why don’t you and your wife come take supper
with us? Why didn’t you look us up noon-time?... I could have told you
better than that. (They went to the Ladies’ Aid dinner.) Well, we shan’t
have much, I expect, but we’ll try and scrape up something more
filling than layer-cake. The idea of expecting to feed hungry people
on layer-cake! It’s an imposition.... I didn’t notice which one it
was. Doesn’t matter any way. Only twenty-eight. Ah, here are our boys.
They’ve got blue silk running-breeches on. Well, maybe it is sateen. Let
the women folks alone for knowing sateen from silk a mile off. How much
a yard did you say it was? Notice the way they start with their hands
on the ground, just like the pictures on the sporting page of the Sunday
newspapers. Here they come. Oh, I hope they’ll win. That’s Charley
Rodehaver in front. Run! Oh, why don’t you run? Come on! Come on!
Come on! Come on! COME ON! COME ON! COME O--O-oh! See Dan skip up that
ladder! Go it, Dan! Go it, old boy! Hooray-ay! Hooray-ay, ay! What’s the
time? Twenty-four! Twenty--four flat! BROKE THE RECORD! Hooray-ay-ay!
Where’s Caledonia now? Where’s Caledonia now? Oh, I’m so glad our boys
won. There goes the Caledonia chief. I’ll bet he feels like thirty
cents, Spanish. Ya-a-a-ah! Ya-a-a-ah! Where’s Caledonia now? They can’t
beat that, the other fellows can’t, and it’s our trophy for keeps....
Oh, some crank in the next row. “Wouldn’t I please sit down and not
obstruct the view.” Guess he comes from Caledonia. Looks like it. You
stand up, too, why don’t you? Those planks are terribly hard.... I
didn’t notice. Yes, that wasn’t so bad. Twenty-five and two-fifths. But
it’s our trophy. There goes Dan now. Hey, Dan! Good boy, Dan! Wave your
handkerchief at him. Hooray-ay-ay! Good boy, Dan!

Next is a wet race. Now look out. Let’s see what the program says: “Run
seventy-five yards to structure, on top of which an empty barrel has
been placed with spout outlet near top. Barrel to be filled with water
by means of buckets from reservoir”--That big tin-lined box opposite
is the reservoir. They are filling it now with a hose attached to the
water-plug yonder--“until water issues from spout.” What are they all
laughing at? Which one? Oh, but isn’t she mad? Talk about a wet hen.
Why, Charley, the hose got away from the man that was filling the
reservoir and the lady was splashed. Why don’t you use your eyes and see
what’s going on and not be bothering me to tell you? Ip! There it goes
again. Oh, ho! ho! ho! hee! hee! didn’t I tell you it would be fun? See
it run out of his sleeves.... I always get to coughing when I laugh as
hard as that. Oh, dear me! Makes the tears come.

These are the fellows from Luxora. Oh, the clumsy things! Let the ladder
get away from them, and it fell and hit that man in the second row right
on the head. Hope it didn’t hurt him much. See ‘em scurry with the water
buckets. Aw, get a move on! Get a move! Why, what makes them so slow?
“Water, water!” Well, I should think as much. Not for themselves though.
Those fellows at the bottom of the ladder are catching it, aren’t they?
Oh, pshaw, they don’t mind it. They get it worse than that at a real
fire when they aren’t half so well fixed for it. Why, is there no bottom
to that barrel at all? Why, look!... Say, the judge forgot to close the
valve. There’s a hose connected with the bottom of the barrel to run the
water off after each trial and he’s forgotten to--... Well, isn’t that
too bad! All that work for nothing. I suppose they’ll let them try
it over again.... That man must have got a pretty hard rap. They’re
carrying him out. His head’s all bloody.... Wapatomicas, I guess. Yes,
Wapatomicas. I hope the valve’s closed this time. Whope! did you see
that? One fellow got hit with a water bucket and it was about half-full.
It’s running out of the spout. Yes, and it’s falling on those people
right where you wanted to sit. Hear the girls squeal. Talk about your
fun. I don’t want any better fun than this. Look at ‘em come down the
ladder just holding the sides with their hands. They couldn’t do that if
the ladder was dry.

Ah, here’s our crowd. Come on! Come on! Come on! COME ON! Oh, don’t be
so slow with those buckets! Aren’t they fine? Say, they don’t care if
they do spill a drop or two. Why. Why, what are they coming down for?
It isn’t running out of the spout yet. Come back! COME BACK! Oh, pshaw!
Just threw it away by being in too much of a hurry. That judge looks
funny, doesn’t he, with a rubber overcoat on and the sun shining? See,
he’s telling them: “One bucket more.” They’ll let ‘em have another
trial, of course.... No? Oh, that’s an outrage. That’ s not fair. The
Caledonias will get it now.... Yes, sir, they did get it. Oh, well,
accidents will happen. What? “Where’s Caledonia now?” Well, they got it
by a fluke. What say?... Well only for--Oh, pshaw! Now, don’t tell
me that because I was there and--Well, I say they didn’t .... I know
better, they didn’t.... Oh, shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking
about. I tell you--Now, Mary, don’t you interfere. I’m not quarreling.
I’m just telling this gentleman back of me that--Well, all right, if
you’re going to cry. If there was any fouling done it was the Caledonias
that did it, though.

The next is where they “run three hundred feet from the judges’ stand,
raise ladder, hose company to couple to hydrant, break coupling in hose
and put on nozzle, scale ladder, and fill twenty-five gallon barrel.”
 Only the Caledonias, and our boys are entered in this. Now we’ll see
which is the best. All right, Mary, I won’t say a word.... Say, for
country-jakes, those Caledonias didn’t do so badly. I give them that
much. Look at the water fly! I’ll bet those folks near the judges’ stand
wish they’d brought their umbrellas. Now you see why these are the best
seats, don’t you? I told you I’d been to Firemen’s Tournaments before.
What? You’ll have to talk louder than that if you want me to hear with
all this noise.... Oh, that’ll be all right. They’ll be so hungry they
won’t notice it.

Here, be careful how you wabble that hose around. Good thing they turned
the water off at the plug just when they did or we’d have been--Here’s
our company. Where’s Caledonia now? Eh? Pretty work! Pretty work! Say,
do you know that hose full of water’s heavy? Now watch Riley. Riley’s
the one that’s got the nozzle. Always up to some monkeyshine. Ah!
See him? See him? Oh, is n’t he soaking them? Oh-ho! Ho! Ho! ha! ha!
hee-hee! Yip.

Blame clumsy fool!... P-too! Yes, in my mouth and in my ears and down
the back of my neck. All over. Running out of my sleeves. Everything
I got on is just ruined. Completely ruined. Come on. Let’s go home.
There’s nothing more to see, much. Aw, come on. Well, stay if you want
to, but I’m going home, and get some dry clothes on me. You get me to go
to another Firemen’s Tournament and you’ll know it. Look at that monkey
from Caledonia laughing at me. For half a cent I’d go up and smack his
face for him.... Aw, let up on your “Where’s Caledonia now?” Give us a
rest. Well, are you coming, you folks?... Kind of a fizzle this year,
wasn’t it?

However, after supper, with dry clothes on, it isn’t so bad. The streets
are packed. All the firemen are parading and shouting: “Who? Who? Who
are we?” The Caledonias got one more prize than our boys. Well, why
shouldn’t they? Entered in three more events. I don’t see as that’s
anything to brag of or to carry brooms about. All the fife-and-drum
corps are out, and the bands are all playing “Hiawatha” at once, but
not together. Not all either. There’s one band in front of Hofmeyer’s
playing “Oh, Happy Day! That Fixed my Choce.” That’s funny: to play a
hymn-tune in front of a beer-saloon. Hofmeyer seems to think it’s all
right. He’s inviting them in to have something. “Took the hint?” I don’t
understand.... Oh, is that so? I didn’t know there were other words to
that tune.

See that woman with four little ones. Her husband’s carrying two more.
“I want to go howm. Why cain’t we gow howm? I do’ want to gow howm
pretty soon. I want to gow na-ow!” Eh, Mary, how would you like to lug
them around all day and then stand up in the cars all the way home?

Well, good-by. Hope you had a nice time. Give my regards to all the
folks. Don’t be in such a rush, my friend.... Oh, did you see? It must
be the man that got hit on the head with the ladder. Taking him home on
a stretcher. Gee! That’s tough. Skull fractured, eh? Dear! Dear! I
hear they have been keeping company a long time, and were to have been
married soon. No wonder she cried and took on so. Poor girl! Yes, it’s
the women that suffer .... Oh, quite a day for accidents. I didn’t mind,
though, after I had changed my clothes. I took some quinine, and I
guess I’ll be all right. Lucky you got a seat. Well, you’re off at last.
Good-by. Remember me to all. Good-by.

Well, thank goodness, that’s over. Another ten minutes of them and
wouldn’t have--Well, Mary, what else could I do but ask them home after
he told me what they didn’t have to eat at the Ladies’ Aid?... It was
all right. Plenty good enough. Better than they have at home and I’ll
bet on it. The table looked beautiful. I’m glad the Tournament doesn’t
come but once a year. I’m about ready to drop.



THE DEVOURING ELEMENT


Mr. Silverstone was gloomily considering whether he had not better blow
out the lights in the New York One Price Clothing Store, and lock up for
the night. Kerosene was fifteen cents a gallon, and not a customer had
been in since supper-time. Business was “ofle, simbly ofle.”

The streets were empty. There were lights only in the barber shop where
one patron was being lathered while two mandolins and a guitar gave a
correct imitation of two house-flies and a bluebottle in Riley’s
where, in default of other occupation, Mr. Riley was counting up;
in Oesterle’s, where a hot discussion was going on as to whether
Christopher Columbus was a Dutchman or a Dago, and in Miller’s, where
Tom Ball was telling Tony, who impassively wiped the perforated brass
plate let into the top of the bar, that he, Tom Ball, “coul’ lick em man
ill Logan coun’y.”

Lamps shone in every parlor, where little girls labored with: “And one
and two, three and one and two, three,” occasionally coming out to look
at the clock to see if the hour was any nearer being up than it was
five minutes ago. They also shone in sitting-rooms, where boys looked
fiercely at “X2 +2Xy+y2,” mothers placidly darned stockings, and
fathers, Weekly Examiner in hand, patiently struggled to disengage from
“boiler-plate” and bogus news about people snatched from the jaws of
death by the timely use of Dr. McKinnon’s Healing Extract of Timothy and
Red-top, items of real news, such as who was sick and what ailed them,
who cut his foot with the ax while splitting stove-wood, and where the
cake sale by the Rector’s Aid of Grace P.E. would be held next week.

At the prayer-meeting, Uncle Billy Nicholson was giving in his
experience and had just got to that part about: “Sometimes on
the mountaintop, and sometimes in the valley, but still,
nevertheless--” when, all of a sudden, something happened.

The mandolins stopped with a jerk. Mr. Riley stood tranced at: “And ten
is thirty-five.” Mr. Ball was stricken dumb in the celebration of his
own great physical powers. The crowd in Oesterle’s forgot Columbus, and
were as men beholding a ghost. The drowsy congregation sat up rigid, and
Mr. Silverstone gave a guilty start. He had been thinking of that very
thing!

The next instant, front doors were wrenched open, and the street echoed
with the sound of windows being raised. Fathers and sons rushed out on
the front porch, followed by little girls, to whom any excuse to stop
practising was like a plank to a drowning man.

They had heard aright. Up by the Soldiers’ Monument fell the clump of
tired feet, and upon the air floated the wild alarm of--.

“FIRE! Pooh-ha! FIRE! Poof! FIRE!”

Mat King, the assistant chief, kicked off his slippers, and swiftly
laced up his shoes, grabbed his speaking-trumpet and his helmet, and
tore out of the house. If he could only get to the engine-house before
Charley Lomax, the chief! But Charley was the lone customer in the
barber’s char. With the lather on one side of his face, he clapped on
his hat and broke for the firebell, four doors below.

“Where’s it at?”

“FIRE! Pooh-ha! FIRE! Sm-poohl Fi--(gulp)--FIRE!”

“It’s Linc Hoover. Hay, Linc! Where’s the fire?”

“FIRE! Pooh-ha! FIRE! ha, ha! FIRE!”

“Hay, Linc! Where’s it at? Tell me and I’ll run. Hay! Where’s it at?”

“FIRE! Swope’s be--(gulp) Swope’s barn. FIRE!”

“Which Swope? Henry or the old man?”

“FIRE! Pooh! J. K. Swope. Whoo-ha, whooh-ha! Out out on West End Avenue.
Poof!”

The news thus being passed, the fresher runners scampered ahead,
bawling: “FOY-URRR’ FOY-URRR! and Linc, the hero, slowed down, gasping
for breath and spitting cotton.

“Whew!” he whistled, gustily, his arms dropping and his whole frame
collapsing. “Gee! I’m ‘bout tuckered. Sm-pooh! Sm-pooh! Run all th’
way f’m--sm-ha, sm-ha!--run all th’ way f’m--mouth’s all stuck
together--p’too! ha! Pooh! Fm West End Avenue and Swo--Swope’s. Gee! I’m
hot’s flitter.”

“Keep y’ coat on when you’re all of a prespiration, that way. How’d it
ketch?”

“Ount know. ‘S comin’ by there an’ I--whoof! I smelt smoke and--Gosh!
I’m all out o’ breath--an’ I looked an’ I je-e-est could see a
light--wisht I had a drink o’ somepin’ to rench mum mouth out. Whew! Oh,
laws! An’ it was Swope’s barn and I run in an’ opened the door, didn’t
stop to knock or nung, an’ I hollered out: ‘Yib barn’s afire!’ an’ he
run out in his sockfeet, an’ he says: ‘My Lord!’ he says. ‘Linc,’ he
says, ‘run git the ingine an’ I putt.” Linc drew in a long, tremulous
breath like a man that has looked on sorrow.

“Why ‘n’t you--”

“Betchy ‘t was tramps,” interrupted a bystander. “Git in the haymow an’
think they got to have their blamed old pipe a-goin’--”

“Cigarettes, more likely,” said another. “More darn devilment comes from
cigarettes--”

“Why’n’t you--”

“Ount know nung ‘bout tramps,” said Linc. “All I seen was the fire. I
was a-comin’ long a-past there an’ I smelt the smoke an’ thinks I--What
say?”

“Why’n’t you telefoam down?”

Linc, the hero, shrunk a foot. “I gosh!” he admitted, “I never thought
to.”

“Jist’a’ telefoamed, you could ‘a’ saved yourself all that--”

“Ain’t they weltin’ the daylights out o’ that bell? All foolishness! Now
they’re ringin’ the number--one, two, three, four. Yes, sir, that’s up
in the West End. You goin’? Come on, then.”

“No, Frank, I can’t let you go. You’ve got your lessons to get. Well,
now, mother, make up your mind if you’re comin’ along. Cora, what on
earth are you doing out here in the night air with nothing around you?
Now, you mosey right back into that parlor, and don’t you make a move
off that piano-stool till your hour’s up. Do you hear me? No. Frank.
I told you once you couldn’t go and that ends it. Stop your whining! I
can’t have you running hither and yon all hours of the night, and we not
know where you are. Well, hurry up, then, mother. Take him in with you.
Oh, just throw a shawl over your head. Nobody ‘ll see you, or if they
do they won’t care.” The apparatus trundles by, the bells on the trucks
tolling sadly as the striking gear on the rear axle engages the cam. A
hurrying throng scuffles by in the gloom. The tolling grows fainter, the
throng thinner.

“Good land! Is she going to be all night? Wish ‘t I hadn’t proposed it.
That’s the worst of taking a woman anyplace. Fuss and fiddle by the
hour in front of the looking-glass. Em! (Be all over by the time we get
there) Oh, Em! Em!... EM! (Holler my head offl) EM!.... Well, why don’t
you answer me? Well, I didn’t hear you.  How much long--Oh, I know
about-- ‘Hour’ you mean.... Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Conklin? Hello, Fred.
Pleased to meet you, Miss Shoemaker. Yes, I saw in the paper you were
visiting your sister. This your first visit to our little burg? Yes,
we think it’s quite a place. You see, we’re trying to make your stay as
interesting as possible.... Oh, no, not altogether on your account. No,
no. Ha! Ha-ha-ha! Hum! ah!... Well, yes, if she ever gets done primping
up. Oh, there you are. Miss Shoemaker, let me make you acquainted with
my wife. Now, you girls’ll have to get a move on if you want to see
anything.”

The male escorts grasp the ladies’ arms and shove them ahead, that being
the only way if you are ever going to get any place. The women gasp and
pant and make a great to-do.

“Ooh! Wait till I get my breath. Will! Weeull! Don’t go so fay-ust!
Oooh! I can’t stand it. Oh, well, you’re a man.”

But when they turn the corner that gives them a good view of the
blaze, fluttering great puffs of flame, and hear the steady crackle and
snapping, as it were, of a great popper full of pop-corn, they, too,
catch the infection, and run with a loud swashing and slatting of
skirts, giggling and squealing about their hair coming down.

In the waving orange glare the crowd is seen, shifting and moving. It
seems impossible for the onlookers to remain constant in one spot. The
chief, Charley Lomax, is gesticulating with wide arm movements. He puts
his speaking-trumpet to his mouth. “Yoffemoffemoffemoffemoffi” he says.

“Wha-at?” the men halloo back.

“Yoffemoffemoffemoffemoff.”

“What’d he say?”

“Search me. John, you run over and ask him what he wants. Or, no; I’ll
go myself.”

“Why in Sam Hill didn’t you come sooner?” demands the angry chief.

“Well, why in Sam Hill don’t you talk so ‘s a body can understand you?
‘Yoffemoffemoffemoffem.’ Who can make sense out o’ that?”

“The hose ain’t long enough to reach from here to the hydrant. You ‘n’
some more of ‘em run down t’ th’ house an’ git that other reel.”

“Aw, say, Chief! Look here. I’m awful busy right now. Can’t somebody
else go?”

“You go an’ do what I tell you to, and don’t gimme none o’ your back
talk.”

(Too dag-gon bossy and dictatorial, that Charley Lomax is. Getting
‘most too big for his breeches. Never mind, there’s going to be a fire
election week from Tuesday. See whether he’ll be chief next year or not.
Sending a man away from the fire right at the most interesting part!)

“I’ll go, Chief, wommetoo,” puts in jumbo Lee, all in a huddle of
words. “Ije slivsnot. Aw ri. Mon Jim. Shoonmeansmore of ‘em go
gitth’otherreel.”

Jumbo isn’t a member of the fire department, though he is wild to join.
He isn’t old enough. He is six feet one inch, weighs 180, and won’t
be sixteen till the 5th of next February. Nobody ever saw him when
he wasn’t eating. They say he clips his words so as to save time for
eating. He takes a cracker out of his pocket, shoves it in his mouth
whole, jams his hat down till his ears stick out, and, with his
companions, tears down the road, seemingly propelled as much by his
elbows as by his legs. Why, under the combined strain of growing and
running, he doesn’t part a seam somewhere is a dark mystery.

Crash! The roof of the barn caves in and reveals what we had not before
suspected, that Platt’s barn, on the other side of the alley, is afire
too. Say! This is getting interesting. The wind is setting directly
toward Swope’s house. It has been so terribly dry this last month or
so that the house will go like powder if it ever catches. Why, I think
Swope has a well and cistern both. Used to have, anyway, before they put
the water-works in, and the board of health condemned the wells. Say!
There was a put-up job if there ever was one. Why, sure! Sure he had
stock in the water works. Doc. Muzzey? I guess, yes.... Pity they ever
traded off the hand-engine. They got a light-running hook-and-ladder
truck. Won two prizes at the tournament, just with that truck. But if
they had that hand-engine now though! “Up with her! Down with her!” Have
that fire out in no time!

They’re not trying to save the barns. They’re a dead loss. What little
water they can get from the cisterns and wells around--hasn’t it been
dry?--they are using to try to save Swope’s house, and the one next
to it. Is that where Lonny Wheeler lives? I knew it was up this way
somewhere. Don’t he look ridiculous, sitting up there a-straddle of his
ridgepole, with a tin-cup? A tin-cup, if you please. Over this way
a little. See better. They’re wetting down the roof. Line of fellows
passing buckets to the ladder, and a line up the ladder. What big sparks
those are! Puts you in mind of Fourth of July. How the roof steams! Must
be hot up there.

O-o-o-oh!

A universal indrawn breath from all spectators proclaims their horror.
One of the men on the roof missed his footing and slipped, rolling over
and over till he reached the roof of the porch, where he spread-eagled
for a fall. The women begin to moan. Some poor fellow gone to his death.
Or, if he be so lucky as to miss death itself, he is doomed to languish
all his days a helpless cripple. Like enough the sole support of an aged
mother; or perhaps his wife is sitting up for him at home now, tiptoeing
into the bedroom every little while to look at the sleeping children.
That’s generally the way of it. Who is there so free and foot-loose
that, if harm befall him, some woman will not go mourning all her days?
It must take the heart out of brave men to think what their women folk
must suffer, mothers and wives and--Who? Dan O’Brien? Oh, he’ll be all
right. He’ll light on his feet like a cat. I believe that boy is made of
India rubber. He never gets hurt. Why, one time--Ah! There he goes
now up the ladder as if nothing had happened. Hooray-ayayay!
Hooray-ay-ay-ay! I thought he’d broken his neck as sure as shooting.

Wandering about one cannot fail to encounter what the gallant
fire-laddies have rescued from the devouring element. There is the piano
with a deep scratch across the upper part, and the top lid hanging by
one hinge. It caught in the door, and the boys were kind of in a hurry.
There is the parlor carpet, plucked up by the roots, as it were; and
two tubs, the washboard and a bag of clothes-pins; a stuffed chair,
with three casters gone, the coffee-pot, a crayon enlargement, a winter
overcoat, a blanket, a pile of old dresses, the screw-driver and a paper
of tacks in the colander, the couch with a triangular rip in the cover,
the coal-scuttle, a pile of dishes, the ax and wood-saw, a fancy pillow,
the sewing-machine with the top gone, the wash-boiler, the basket of
dirty clothes, with the stove-shaker and the parlor clock in together,
and a heap of books, all spraddled and sprawled every which way. Upon
this pitiful mound sits Mrs. Swope with her baby sound asleep upon her
bosom. She mingles her tears with the sustaining tea that Mrs. Farley
has made for her. Swope, still in his socks and with his wife’s
shoulder-cape upon him, caught up somehow, is trying to soothe her. He
is as mad as a hornet, and doesn’t dare to show it. All this furniture
he had insured. It was all old stuff their folks had given them. If the
gallant fire-laddies had been as discreet as they were zealous, they
would have let the furniture go, and Swope and his wife would have had
an entire, brand-new outfit. As it is, who can ever make that junk look
like anything any more?

What’s this coming up the road? Jumbo Lee and his friends with the other
hose-reel. Now they will connect it with the hydrant, and have water
a-plenty to save the house. Now the fellows are coming down from the
ladder. Cistern’s empty, I suppose. The other reel didn’t come any too
soon. How the roof steams! Or is it smoking?

“Don’t stand around here with that reel! Up to that water-plug. Farther
up the street. Front o’ Cummins’s.”

Jumbo crams another cracker into his mouth and speeds away, hunching the
patient, unresenting air with his elbows.

Ah! See--that little flicker of flame on the roof! Do, for pity’s sake,
hurry up with that connection! The roof is really burning. See? They are
trying to chop away the burning place. But there’s another! And another!

A-a-ah! Hooray-ay! Connection’s made! Now you’ll see something. Out of
the way there! One side! One side! Up you go!... Wha-at? Is that the
best they can do? Why, it won’t run out of the nozzle at all when it’s
up on the roof. Not a drop. Feeble little dribble when it’s on the
ground-level. There’s your water-works for you. It is a good long way
from the fire-plug I know, but there ought to be more pressure than
that. Oh, pshaw! If we only had the old hand-engine! “Up with her! Down
with her!” Have that fire out in no time. The house will have to go now.
Too bad!

Somebody in the second story is rescuing property from the devouring
element. He has just tossed out a wash-bowl and pitcher. Luckily they
both fell on the sod and rolled apart. He takes down the roller-shade
and flings it out. The lace curtains follow. They catch on the edge
of the veranda roof, and languidly wave there as for some holiday.
Bed-clothes issue and pillows hurtle out. What’s he doing now? No use.
No use. You can’t get the mattress out of that window. A waste-paper
basket, a rag rug, a brush and comb--as fast as his hands can fly he’s
throwing out things.

The women began to whimper.

“Oh, the poor man! The roof will fall in on him! He’ll smother to death!
Oh, why doesn’t somebody go tell him to come away? Not you! Don’t you
think of such a trick! Oh, why does he risk his life for a lot of trash
I wouldn’t have around the house?”

The smoke oozes out of the open window. It must be choking in there.
For a long time no jettison of household goods appears. Perhaps the man,
whoever he is, has seen his peril and fled while yet it was possible to
flee. Ah, but suppose he has been overcome and lies there huddled in a
heap, never to rouse again? Is there none to save him? Is there none?
Ah! A couple of collars and a magazine flutter out into the light! He
is still there. He is still alive. Plague take the idiot! Why doesn’t he
come down out of that?

“Yoffemoffemoffemoffemoff. Yoffemoff!”

But no! He will do it himself. The Chief rushes gallantly into the
burning building and disappears up the dark stair.

Desperate measures are now to be resorted to. On the lawn a line of
men forms. They bend their necks, cowering before the fierce glow, but
daring it, and prepared to face it at even closer range. You are to
witness now an exhibition of that heroism which is commoner with us
than we think, that spirit of do and dare which mocks at danger and
even welcomes pain. It is a far finer sentiment than the cold-hearted
calculation which looks ahead, and figures out first whether it is worth
while or not.

The men dash forward in the withering heat. With frantic haste they fix
the hook into the lattice-work beneath the porch and scamper back.

“Yo hee! Yo hee!”

The thick rope tautens as the firemen lay their weight to it. You can
almost see the bristling fibers stand up on it.

“Yo hee! Yo hee!”

With a splintering crash the timber parts, and a piece of lattice-work
is dragged away.

Another sortie and another. Bit by bit the porch is ripped and torn to
rubbish. You smile. It seems so futile. What are these kindlings saved
when the whole house is burning? Is this what you call heroism? Yet
the charge at Balaklava was not more futile. It had even less of
commonsense, less of hope of benefit to mankind to back it and inspire
it. Heroism is an instinct, not a thoughtout policy. Its quality is the
same, in two-ounce samples or in car-load lots.

The weather-boarding slips down in a sparkling fall. The joists and
stringers, all outlined and gemmed with coals, are, as it were, a golden
grille, through which the world may look unhindered in upon the holy
place of home, heretofore conventually private. There stands the family
altar, pitifully grotesque amid the ruinous splendor of the destroying
fire, the tea-kettle upon it proudly flaunting its steamy plume. What?
Is a common cooking-stove an altar? Yes, verily, in lineal descent.
Examine an ancient altar and you will see its sacrificial stone scored
and guttered to catch the dripping from the roasting meat. Who is
the priestess, after an order older than Melchisedec’s, but she that
ministers to us that most comfortable sacrament, wherein we are made
partakers not alone of the outward and visible food which we do carnally
press with our teeth, but also of that inward and spiritual sustenance,
the patient and enduring love of wife and mother, without which there
can be no such thing as home? All other sacraments wherein men break
the bread of amity together are but copies of this pattern, the Blessed
Sacrament of the Household Altar, the first and primal one of all, the
one that shall perdure, please God! throughout all ages of ages.

The flames die down. The timbers sink together with a softer fall. The
air grows chill. We fetch a sigh. We cannot bear to look at that mute
figure of the priestess seated on the sordid heap of broken furniture,
her sleeping baby pressed against her breast, her gaze fixed--but
seeing naught--upon her ruined temple. We do not like to think upon such
things. We do not like to think at all. Is there nothing more to laugh
at?

The firemen, having all borrowed the makings of a cigarette from each
other, put on their hats and coats, left on the hook-and-ladder truck in
the custody of a trusted member. The apparatus trundles off, the bells
dolorously tolling as the striking gear on the rear axle engages the
cam.

Who is this weeping man approaches, supported by two friends, that
comfort him with: “All right, Tom. You done noble,” uttered in pacifying
if not convincing tones? Heart-brokenly he cries: “I dull le ver’ bes’ I
knowed, now di’ n’t I? Charley? Billy, I dub bes’ I knowed how. An’ nen
he says to me--Oo-hoo-hoo-oooo-oo! He says to me: ‘Come ou’ that, ye
cussed fool!’ Oo-oooo-hoo-hoo-oo-oo! Smf! Lemme gi’ amma ham hankshiff.
Leg go my arm. Waw gi’ amma hankshifp. Oo-oo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo-oo! Fmf! I
ash you as may wurl--I ash you as may--man of world, is that--is that
proper way address me? Me! Know who I am? I’m Tom Ball. ‘S who I am. I
kill lick em man ill Logan Coun’y. Ai’ thasso? Hay? ‘S aw ri. Mfi choose
stay up there, aw thas sec--aw thas second floor and rescue fel-cizzen’s
propprop’ty from devouring em--from devouring emlement, thas my bizless.
Ai’ tham my bizless, Charley? Ai’ tham my bizless, Billy? W’y, sure.
Charley, you’re goof feller. You too, Billy. You’re goof feller, too.
Say. Wur-wur if Miller’s is open yet? ‘Spose it is? Charley; I dub bes’
I knowed how, di’n’t I, now? Affor that Chief come up thas stairway and
say me: ‘Come ou’ that, ye cussed fool!’ Aw say! ‘Come ou’ that--‘Called
me fool, too! Oo-hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo!”

“Hello, Dan! Hurt yourself any? (That’s Dan O’Brien. Fell off the roof.)
Well, sir, I thought sure you’d broken your neck. You don’t know your
luck. And let me tell you one thing, my bold bucko: You’ll do that just
once too often. Now you mark.”


The day before the Weekly Examiner goes to press, Mr. Swope hands the
editor a composition entitled: “A Card of Thanks,” signed by John K.
and Amelia M. Swope, and addressed to the firemen and all who showed by
their many acts of kindness, and so forth and so on.

“Kind of help to fill up the paper,” says Mr. Swope, covering his
retreat.

“Sure,” replies the editor. When Mr. Swope is good and gone, he says:
“Dog my riggin’s if I didn’t forget all about writing up that fire. Been
so busy here lately. Good thing he come in. Hay, Andy!”

“Watch want?” from the composing-room.

“Got room for about two sticks more?”

“Yes, guess so. If it don’t run over that.”

A brief silence. Then:

“Hay, Andy?”

“What?”

“Is it ‘had have,’ or ‘had of?”

“What’s the connection?”

“Why-ah. ‘If the gallant fire-laddies, under the able direction of Chief
Charley Lomax, had of had a sufficiency of water with which to cope with
the devouring element--‘etc.”

“‘Had have,’ I guess. I don’t know.”

“Guess you’re right. Run it that way anyhow.”



CIRCUS DAY


Only the other day, the man that in all this country knows better than
anybody else how a circus should be advertised, said (with some sadness,
I do believe) that it didn’t pay any longer to put up showbills; the
money was better invested in newspaper advertising.

“It doesn’t pay.” Ah, me! How the commercial spirit of the age plays
whaley with the romance of existence! You shall not look long upon
the showbill now that there is no money to be had from it. “Youth’s
sweet-scented manuscript” is about to close, but ere it does, let us
turn back a little to the pages illuminated by the glowing colors of the
circus poster.

Saturday afternoon when we went by the enginehouse, its brick wall
fluttered with the rags and tatters of “Esther, the Beautiful Queen,”
 and the lecture on “The Republic: Will it Endure?” (Gee! But that was
exciting!) Sunday morning, after Sunday-school, there was a sudden
quickening among the boys. We stopped nibbling on the edges of the
lesson leaf and followed the crowd in scuttling haste. Miraculously,
over-night, the shabby wall had blossomed into thralling splendor. What
was Daniel in the Lions’ Den, compared with Herr Alexander in the same?
Not, as the prophet is pictured, in the farthest corner from the lions,
and manifestly saying to himself: “If I was only out of this!” But with
his head right smack dab in the lion’s mouth. Right in it. Yes, sir.

“S’ Posin’!” we gasped, all goggle-eyed, “jist s’posin’ that there lion
was to shut his mouth! Ga-ash!”

The Golden Text? It faded before the lemon-and-scarlet glories of the
Golden Chariot. Drawn by sixteen dappled steeds, each with his neck
arching like a fish-hook and reined with fancy scalloped reins, it
occupied the center of the foreground. The band rode in it, far more
fortunate than our local band whose best was, Charley Wells’s depot
‘bus. And nobler than all his fellows was the bass-drummer. He had a
canopy over him, a carved and golden canopy, on whose top revolved a
clown’s head with its tongue stuck out. On each quarter of this rococo
shallop a golden circus-girl in short skirts gaily skipped rope with
a nubia or fascinator, or whatever it is the women call the thing they
wrap around their heads in cold weather when they hang out the clothes.
There were big pieces of looking-glass let into the sides of the
band-wagon, and every decorator knows that when you put looking-glass on
a thing it is impossible to fix it so that it will be any finer.

Winding back and forth across the picture was the long train of
tableau-cars and animal cages, diminishing with distance until away,
‘way up in the upper left-hand corner the hindmost van was all immersed
in the blue-and-yellow haze just this side of out-of-sight. That with
our own eyes we should behold the glories here set forth we knew right
well. Cruel Fortune might cheat us of the raptures to be had inside the
tents, but the street-parade was ours, for it was free.

It seems to me that we did not linger so long before these pictures, nor
before those of the rare and costly animals, which, if we but knew it,
were the main reason why we were permitted to go (if we did get to go).
To look at these animals is improving to the mind, and since we could
not go alone, an older person had to accompany us, and... and... I trust
I make myself clear. But we didn’t want to improve our minds if it was
a possible thing to avoid it. The pictures of these animals were in
the joggerfy book anyhow, though not in colors, unless we had a box
of paints. There can be no doubt that the show-bill pictures of the
menageries were in colors. I seem to recollect that Mr. Galbraith, who
kept the dry-goods store across the street from the engine-house, was
very much exercised in his mind about the way one of these pictures was
printed. It was the counterfeit presentment of the Hip-po-pot-a-mus,
or Behemoth of Holy Writ. His objection to the hip--you know was not
because its open countenance was so fearsome, but because it was so red.
Six feet by two of flaming crimson across the street in the afternoon
sun made it necessary for him to take the goods to the back window of
the store to show to customers. He didn’t like it a bit.

No. Neither before the large and expensive pictures of the
street-parade, nor the large and expensive wild beasts did we linger.
The swarm was thickest, sand the jabbering loudest, the “O-o-oh’s,” the
“M! Looky’s” the “Geeminently’s” shrillest, in front of where the deeds
of high emprise were set forth. Men with their fists clenched on their
breasts, and their neatly slippered toes touching the backs of their
heads, crashed through paper-covered hoops beneath which horses madly
coursed; they flew through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring
young men on the flying; trapeze, or they posed in living pyramids.

And as the sons of men assembled themselves together, Satan came also,
the spirit I, that evermore denies.

“A-a-ah!” sneers his embodiment in one whose crackling voice cannot
make up its mind whether to be bass or treble, “A-a-ah, to the show they
down’t do hay-uf what they is in the pitchers.”

A chilling silence follows. A cold uneasiness strikes into all the
listeners. We are all made wretched by destructive criticism. Let us
alone in our ideals. Let us alone, can’t you?

“Now... now,” pursues the crackle-voiced Mephisto, pointing to where
Japanese jugglers defy the law of gravitation and other experiences of
daily life, “now, they cain’t walk up no ladder made out o’ reel sharp
swords.”

“They can so walk up it,” stoutly declares one boy. Hurrah! A champion
to the rescue! The others edge closer to him. They like him.

“Nah, they cain’t. How kin they? They’d cut their feet all to pieces.”

“They kin so. I seen ‘em do it. The time I went with Uncle George I seen
a man, a Japanee.... Yes, sharp. Cut paper with ‘em.... A-a-ah, I did
so. I guess I know what I seen an’ what I didn’t.”

The little boys breathe easier, but fearing another onslaught, make all
haste to call attention to the most fascinating one of all, the picture
of a little boy standing up on top of his daddy’s head. And, as if that
weren’t enough, his daddy is standing up on a horse and the horse is
going round the ring lickety-split. And, as if these circumstances
weren’t sufficiently trying, that little show-boy is standing on only
one foot. The other is stuck up in the air like five minutes to six, and
he has hold of his toe with his hand. I’ll bet you can’t do that just
as you are on the ground, let alone on your daddy’s head, and him on a
horse that’s going like sixty. Now you just try it once. Just try it....
Aa-ah! Told you you couldn’t.

Now, how the show-actors can do that looks very wonderful to you. It
really is very simple. I’ll tell you about it. All show-actors are born
double-jointed. You have only two hip-joints. They have four. And it’s
the same all over with them. Where you have only one joint, they have
two. So, you see, the wonder isn’t how they can bend themselves every
which way, but how they can keep from doubling up like a foot-rule.

And another thing. Every day they rub themselves all over with
snake-oil. Snakes are all limber and supple, and it stands to reason
that if you take and try out their oil, which is their express essence,
and then rub that into your skin, it will make you supple and limber,
too. I should think garter-snakes would do all right, if you could catch
enough of them, but they ‘re so awfully scarce. Fishworms won’t do. I
tried ‘em. There’s no grease in ‘em at all. They just dry up.

And I suppose you know the reason why they stay on the horse’s back.
They have rosin on their feet. Did you ever stand up on a horse’s back?
I did. It was out to grandpap’s, on old Tib.... No, not very long. I
didn’t have any rosin on my feet. I was going to put some on, but my
Uncle Jimmy said: “Hay! What you got there?” I told him. “Well,” he
says, “you jist mosey right into the house and put that back in the
fiddle-box where you got it. Go on, now. And if I catch you foolin’ with
my things again, I’ll.... Well, I don’t know what I will do to you.” So
I put it back. Anyhow, I don’t think rosin would have helped me stay on
a second longer, because old Tib, with an intelligence you wouldn’t have
suspected in her, walked under the wagon-shed and calmly scraped me off
her back.

And did you ever try to walk the tight-rope? You take the clothes-line
and stretch it in the grape-arbor--better not make it too high at
first--and then you take the clothes-prop for a balance-pole and go
right ahead--er--er as far as you can. The real reason why you fall
off so is that you don’t have chalk on your shoes. Got to have lots of
chalk. Then after you get used to the rope wabbling so all-fired fast,
you can do it like a mice. And while I’m about it, I might as well tell
you that if you ever expect to amount to a hill of beans as a trapeze
performer you must have clear-starch with oil of cloves in it to rub on
your hands. Finest thing in the world. My mother wouldn’t let me have
any. She said she couldn’t have me messing around that way, I blame
her as much as anybody that I am not now a competent performer on the
trapeze.

I don’t know that I had better go into details about the state of mind
boys are in from the time the bills are first put up until after the
circus has actually departed. I don’t mean the boys that get to go to
everything that comes along, and that have pennies to spend for candy,
and all like that, whenever they ask for it. I mean the regular, proper,
natural boys, that used to be “Back Home,” boys whose daddies tormented
them with: “Well, we Il see--” that’s so exasperating!--or, “I wish you
wouldn’t tease, when you know we can’t spare the money just at present.”
 A perfectly foolish answer, that last. They had money to fritter away at
the grocery, and the butcher-shop, and the dry-goods store, but when it
came to a necessity of life, such as going to the circus, they let on
they couldn’t afford it. A likely story.

“Only jist this little bit of a once. Aw, now, please. Please, cain’t I
go? Aw now, I think you might. Aw now, woncha? Aw, paw. I ain’t been to
a reely show for ever so long. Aw, the Scripture pammerammer, that don’t
count. Aw, paw. Please cain’t I go? Aw, please!” And so forth and so on,
with much more of the same sort. No, I can’t go into details, it’s too
terrible.

Even those of us whose daddies said plainly and positively: “Now, I
can’t let you go. No, Willie. That’s the end of it. You can’t go.” Even
those, I say, hoped against hope. It simply could not be that what the
human heart so ardently longed for should be denied by a loving father.
This same conviction applies to other things, even when we are grown up.
It is against nature and the constituted scheme of things that we cannot
have what we want so badly. (And, in general, it may be said that we can
have almost anything we want, if we only want it hard enough. That’s the
trouble with us. We don’t want it hard enough.) We boys lay there in
the shade and pulled the long stalks of grass and nibbled off the sweet,
yellow ends, as we dramatized miracles that could happen just as well as
not, if they only would, consarn ‘em! For instance, you might be going
along the street, not thinking of anything but how much you wanted to go
to the circus, and how sorry you were because you hadn’t the money, and
your daddy wouldn’t give you any; and first thing you ‘d know, you ‘d
stub your toe on something, and you’d look down and there’d be a half a
dollar that somebody had lost--Gee! If it would only be that way! But we
knew it wouldn’t, because only the other Sunday, Brother Longenecker had
said: “The age of miracles is past.” So we had to give up all hopes. Oh,
it’s terrible. Just terrible!

But some of the boys lay there in the grass with their hands under their
heads, looking up at the sky, and making little white spots come in and
out on the corners of their jaws, they had their teeth set so hard,
and were chewing so fiercely. You could almost hear their minds creak,
scheming, scheming, scheming. I suppose there were ways for boys to make
money in those times, but they always fizzled out when you came to try
them, to say nothing of the way they broke into your day. Why, you had
scarcely any time to play in. You ‘d go ‘round to some neighbor’s house
with a magazine, and you’d say: “Good afternoon, Mrs. Slaymaker. Do you
want to subscribe for this?” Just the way you had studied out you would
say. And she’d take it, and go sit down with it, and read it clear
through while you played with the dog, and then when she got all through
with it, and had read all the advertisements, she’d hand it back to you
and say: No, she didn’t believe she would. They had so many books and
papers now that she didn’t get a chance hardly to read in any of them,
let alone taking any new ornes. Were you getting many new subscribers?
Just commenced, eh? Well, she wished you all the luck in the world.
How was your ma? That’s good. Did she hear from your Uncle John’s folks
since they moved out to Kansas?

I have heard that there were boys who, under the dire necessity of going
to the circus, got together enough rags, old iron, and bottles to make
up the price, sold ‘em, collected the money, and went. I don’t believe
it. I don’t believe it. We all had, hidden under the back porch, our
treasure-heap of rusty grates, cracked fire-pots, broken griddles and
lid-lifters, tub-hoops and pokers, but I do not believe that any human
boy ever collected fifty cents’ worth. I want you to understand that
fifty cents is a whole lot of money, particularly when it is laid out in
scrap-iron. Only the tin-wagon takes rags, and they pay in tinware,
and that’s no good to a boy that wants to go to the circus. And as for
bottles--well, sir, you wash out a whole, whole lot of bottles, a whole
big lot of ‘em, a wash-basket full, and tote ‘em down to Mr. Case’s
drug--and book-store, as much as ever you and your brother can wag, and
see what he gives you. It’s simply scandalous. You have no idea of how
mean and stingy a man can be until you try to sell him old bottles. And
the cold-hearted way in which he will throw back ink-bottles that you
worked so hard to clean, and the ones that have reading blown into the
glass--Oh, it’s enough to set you against business transactions all
your life long. There’s something about bargain and sale that’s mean and
censorious, finding this fault and finding that fault, and paying just
as little as ever they can. It gets on one’s nerves. It really does.

The boys that made the little white spots come on the corners of their
jaws as they lay there in the grass, scheming, scheming, scheming,
planned rags, and bottles, and scrap-iron, and more also. Sometimes it
was a plan so much bigger that if they had kept it to themselves, like
the darkey’s cow, they would have “all swole up and died.”

“Sst! Come here once. Tell you sumpum. Now don’t you go and blab it out,
now will you? Hope to die? Well.... Now, no kiddin’. Cross your heart?
Well.... Ah, you will, too. I know you. You go and tattle everything you
hear.... Well.... Cheese it! Here comes somebody. Make out we’re talkin’
about sumpum else. Ah, he did, did he? What for, I wonder? (Say sumpum,
can’t ye?) Why ‘nu’ ye say sumpum when he was goin’ by? Now he’ll
suspicion sumpum ‘s up, and nose around till he.... Aw, they ain’t
no use tellin’ you anything.... Well. Put your head over so ‘s I can
whisper. Sure I am.... Well, I could learn, couldn’t I? Now don’t you
tell a living soul, will you? If anybody asts you, you tell ‘em you
don’t know anything at all about it. Say, why ‘n’t you come along? I
promised you the last time. That’s jist your mother callin’ you. Let on
you don’t hear her. Aw, stay. Aw, you don’t either have to go. Say. Less
you and me get up early, and go see the circus come in town, will you? I
will, if you will. All right. Remember now. Don’t you tell anybody what
I told you. You know.”


If a fellow just only could run off with a circus! Wouldn’t it be great?
No more splitting kindling and carrying in coal; no more: “Hurry up,
now, or you’ll be late for school;” no more poking along in a humdrum
existence, never going any place or seeing anything, but the glad,
free, untrammeled life, the life of a circus-boy, standing up on top of
somebody’s head (you could pretend he was your daddy. Who’d ever know
the difference?) and your leg stuck up like five minutes to six, and him
standing on top of a horse--and the horse going around the ring, and the
ring master cracking his whip--aw, say! How about it?

Maybe the show-people would take you even if you didn’t have two joints
to common folks’ one, and hadn’t had early advantages in the way of
plenty of snakes to try the grease out of. And then... and then....
Travel all around, and be in a new town every day! And see things! The
water-works, and Main Street, and the Soldiers’ Monument, and the Second
Presbyterian Church. All the sights there are to see in strange places.
And then when the show came back to your own home-town next year, people
would wonder whose was that slim and gracile figure in the green silk
tights and spangled breech-clout that capered so nimbly on the bounding
courser’s back, that switched the natty switch and shrilly called out:
“Hep! Hep!” They’d screw up their eyes to look hard, and they’d say:
“Yes, sir. It is. It’s him. It’s Willie Bigelow. Well, of all things!”
 And they’d clap their hands, and be so proud of you. And they’d wonder
how it was that they could have been so blind to your many merits when
they had you with them. They’d feel sorry that they ever said you were
a “regular little imp,” if ever there was one, and that you had the Old
Boy in you as big as a horse. They’d feel ashamed of themselves, so they
would. And they’d come and apologize to you for the way they had acted,
and you’d say: “Oh, that’s all right. Forgive and forget.” And they’d
miss you at home, too. Your daddy would wish he hadn’t whaled you the
way he did, just for nothing at all. And your mother, too, she’d be
sorry for the way she acted to you, tormenting the life and soul out of
you, sending you on errands just when you got a man in the king row, and
making you wash your feet in a bucket before you went to bed, instead of
being satisfied to let you pump on them, as any reasonable mother would.
She’ll think about that when you’re gone. It’ll be lonesome then, with
nobody to bang the doors, and upset the cream-pitcher on the clean
table-cloth, and fall over backward in the rocking-chair and break a
rocker off. Your daddy will sigh and say:

“I wonder where Willie is to-night. Poor boy, I sometimes fear I was too
harsh with him.” And your mother will try to keep back her tears, but
she can’t, and first thing she knows she’ll burst out crying, and...
and... and old Maje will go around the house looking for you, and
whining because he can’t find his little playmate.... It will seem as if
you were dead--dead to them, and.... Smf! Smf!

(Confound that orchestra leader anyhow! How many times have I got to
tell him that this is the music-cue for “Where is My Wandering Boy
To-night?”)

We were all going to get up early enough to see the show come in at the
depot. Very few of us did it. Somehow we couldn’t seem to wake up. Here
and there a hardy spirit compasses the feat.

All the town is asleep when this boy slips out of his front-gate and
snicks the latch behind him softly. It is very still, so still that
though he is more than a mile away from the railroad he can hear Johnny
Mara, the night yardmaster, bawl out: “Run them three empties over on
Number Four track!” the short exhaust of the obedient pony-engine, and
the succeeding crash of the cars as they bump against their fellows. It
is very still, scarey still. The gas-lamp flaring and flickering among
the green maples at the corner has a strange look to him. His footfalls
on the sidewalk sound so loud he takes the soft middle of the dusty
road. He hears some one pursuing him and his bosom contracts with fear,
as he stands to see who it is. Although he hardly knows the boy bound on
the same errand as his, he takes him to his heart, as a chosen friend.
They are kin.

On the freight-house platform they find other boys. Some of them have
waited up all night so as not to miss it. They are from across the
tracks. They have all the fun, those fellows do. They can swear and chew
tobacco, and play hookey from school and have a good time. They get
to go barefoot before anybody else, and nobody tells them it will thin
their blood to go in swimming so much. Yes, and they can fight, too.
They’d sooner fight than eat. Our boys, conscious of inferiority, keep
to themselves. The boys from across the tracks show off all the bad
words they can think of. One of them has a mouth-harp which he plays
upon, now and then opening his hands hollowed around the instrument.
Patsy Gubbins dances to the music, which is a thing even more reckless
and daredevil than swearing. Patsy’s going with a “troupe” some day. Or
else, he’s going to get a job firing on an engine. He isn’t right sure
which he wants to do the most.

Now and then a brakeman goes by swinging his lantern. The boys would
like to ask him what time it is, but for one thing they’re too bashful.
Being a brakeman is almost as good as going with a “troupe” or a circus.
You get to go to places that way, too, Marysville, and Mechanicsburg,
and Harrod’s--that is, if you’re on the local freight, and then you lay
over in Cincinnati. Some ways it’s better than firing, and some ways it
isn’t so good. And then there is another reason why they don’t ask
the brakeman what time it is. He’d say it was “forty-five” or maybe
“fifty-three,” and never tell what hour.

“Say! Do you know it’s cold? You wouldn’t think it would be so cold in
the summer-time.”

The maple-trees, from being formless blobs, insensibly begin to look
like lace-work. Presently the heavens and the earth are bathed in liquid
blue that casts a spell so potent on the soul of him that sees it that
he yearns for something he knows not what, except that it is utterly
beyond him, as far beyond him as what he means to be will be from what
he shall attain to. One dreams of romance and renown, of all that should
be and is not. And as he dreams the birds awaken. In the East there
comes a greenish tinge. Far up the track, there is a sullen roar, and
then the hoarse diapason of an engine whistle. The roar strengthens and
strengthens. It is the circus train.

Under the witchcraft of the dreaming blue, each boy had a firm and
stubborn purpose. Over and over again he rehearsed how he would go up
to the man that runs the show, and say: “Please, mister, can I go with
you?” And the man would say, “Yes.” (As easy as that.) But the purpose
wavered as he saw the roustabouts come tumbling out, all frowsy and
unwashed, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, cross and savage. And the
man whose word they jump to obey, he’s kind of discouraging, it’s all
business with him. The fellows may plead with their eyes; he never sees
them. If he does, he tells them where to get to out of that and how
quick he wants it done, in language that makes the boldest efforts of
the boys from across the tracks seem puny in comparison. The lads
divide into two parties. One follows the buggy of the boss canvasman to
Vandeman’s lots where the stand is made. They will witness the spectacle
of the raising of the tents, but they will also be near the man that
runs the show, and if all goes well it may be he will like your looks
and saunter up to you and say: “Well, bub, and how would you like to
travel with us?” You don’t know. Things not half so strange as that have
happened. And if you were right there at the time....

The other party lingers awhile looking up wistfully at the unresponsive
windows of the sleeping-cars, behind which are the happy circus-actors.
Perhaps the show-boy that stands up on top of his daddy’s head will look
out. If he should raise the window and smile at you, and get to talking
with you maybe he would introduce you to his pa, and tell him that you
would like to go with the show, and his pa would be a nice sort of a
man, and he’d say: “Why, yes. I guess we can fix that all right.” And
there you’d be.

Or if it didn’t come out like that, why, maybe the boy would be another
“Little Arthur, the Boy Circus-rider,” like it told about in he Ladies’
Repository. It seems there was a man, and one day he went by where there
was a circus, and in a quiet secluded, vine-clad nook only a few
steps from the main tent, he heard somebody sigh, oh, so sadly and so
pitifully! Come to find out, it was Little Arthur, the Boy Circus-rider.
He had large sensitive violet eyes, and a wealth of clustering ringlets,
and he was very, very unhappy. So the man took from his pocket a Bible
that he happened to have with him, and he read from it to Little Arthur,
which cheered him up right away, because up to that moment he had only
heard of the Bible. (Think of that!) And that night at the show, what do
you s’pose? Little Arthur fell off the horse and hurt himself. And this
man was at the show and he went back in the dressing-room, and held
Little Arthur’s hand. And the clown was crying, and the actors were
crying, for they all loved Little Arthur in their rude, untutored way.
And Little Arthur opened his large sensitive violet eyes, and saw the
man, and said off the text that the man taught him that afternoon.

And then he died. It was a sad story, but it made you wish it had been
you that happened to have a Bible in your pocket as you passed the
secluded, vine-clad nook only a few paces from the main tent, and had
heard Little Arthur sigh so pitifully. It was those sensitive eyes we
looked for in the sleeping-car windows, and all in vain. I think I saw
the wealth of clustering ringlets, or at least the makings of it. I
am almost positive I saw curl-papers as the curtain was drawn aside a
moment.

But whether a boy stands gazing at the sleepers, or runs over to the
lots, there is something pathetic about it, something almost terrible.
It is the death of an ideal. I can’t conceive of a boy coming down to
the depot to see the circus train come in another time. Hitherto, the
show has been to him the ne plus ultra of romance. It comes in the night
from ‘way off yonder; it goes in the night to ‘way off yonder. It is all
splendor, all deeds of high emprise. It stands to reason then, that the
closer you get to it, the closer you get to pure romance. And it isn’t
that way at all.

What gravels a boy the most of all is to have to do the same old thing
over and over again, day after day, week in, week out. Once he has seen
the circus come in, he cannot blind himself to the fact that everything
is marked and numbered; that all is system, and that everything is done
today exactly as it was done yesterday, and as it will be done tomorrow.

“What town is this?” he hears a man inquire of another.

“Blest if I know. What’s the odds what town it is?”

Didn’t know what town it was! Didn’t care!

The keen morning air, or something, makes a fellow mighty unromantic,
too. Perhaps it was the thin blue wood-smoke from the field-stoves, and
the smell of the hot coffee and the victuals the waiters are carrying
about, some to the tent where the bare tables are for the canvasmen,
some to the table covered with a red and white table-cloth as befits
performers. These have no rosy cheeks. Their lithe limbs are not richly
decked with silken tights. Insensibly the upper lip curls. They’re not
so much. They’re only folks. That’s all, just folks.

But when ideals die, great truths are born. To such a boy at such a
moment there comes the firm conviction which increasing years can only
emphasize: Home is but a poor prosaic place, but Home--Ah, my brother,
think on this--Home is where Breakfast is.

“Hay! Wait for me, you fellows! Hay! Hold on a minute. Well, ain’t I
a-comin’ jis’ ‘s fast ‘s ever I kin? What’s your rush?”

It is the exceptional boy has this experience. The normal one preserves
the delicate bloom of romance, by never seeing the show until it makes
its Grand Triumphal Entree in a Pageant of Unparalleled Magnificence far
Surpassing the Pomp and Splendor of Oriental Potentates.

The hitching-posts are full of whinnering country horses, and people are
in town you wouldn’t think existed if you hadn’t seen their pictures in
Puck and Yudge, people from over by Muchinippi, and out Noodletoozy way,
big, red-necked men with the long loping step that comes from walking on
the plowed ground. Following them are lanky women with their front teeth
gone, and their figures bowed by drudgery, dragging wide-eyed children
whose uncouth finery betrays the “country jake,” even if the freckles
and the sun-bleached hair could keep the secret. From the far-off
fastnesses, where there are still log-cabins chinked with mud, they have
ventured to see the show come into town, and when they have seen that,
they will retire again beyond our ken. How every sense is numbed and
stunned by the magnificence and splendor of the painted and gilded
wagons as they rumble past, the driver rolling and pitching in his seat,
as he handles the ribbons of eight horses all at once! The farmer’s
heart is filled with admiration of his craft, as much as the children’s
hearts are at the gaudy pictures.

The allegorical tableau-car solemnly waggles past, Europe, and Asia, and
Africa, and Australia brilliant in grease-paint and gorgeous cheesecloth
robes. And can you guess who the fat lady is up on the very tip-top of
all, on the tip-top where the wobble is the worst? Our own Columbia!
It must be fine to ride around that way all dressed up in a flag. But
a sourer lot of faces you never saw in your life. No. I am wrong. For
downright melancholy and despondency you must wait till the funny old
clown comes along in his little bit of a buggy drawn by a little bit of
a donkey.

“And, oh, looky! Here comes the elephants, just the same as in the
joggerfy books. And see the men walking beside them. They come from the
place the elephants do. See, they have on the clothes they wear in that
country. Don’t they look proud? Who wouldn’t be proud to get to walk
with an elephant? And if you ever do anything to an elephant to make him
mad, he’ll always remember it, and some day he’ll get even with you.
One time there was a man, and he gave an elephant a chew of tobacco,
and--O-o-ooh! See that man in the cage with the lions! Don’t it just
make the cold chills run over you? I wouldn’t be there for a million
dollars, would you, ma?

“What they laughing at down the street? Ma, make Lizzie get down; she’s
right in my way. I don’t want to see it pretty soon. I want to see it
naow! Oh, ain’t it funny? See the old clowns playing on horns! Ain’t it
too killing? Aw, look at them ponies. I woosht I had one. Johnny Pym
has got a goat he can hitch up. What was that, pa? What was that went
‘OoOOoohm!’”

“Whoa, Nell, whoa there! Steady, gal, steaday! Ho, there! Ho!
Whoa--whoa-hup! Whad dy y’ about? Fool horse. Whoa... whoa so, gal,
soo-o. Lion, I guess, or a tagger, or sumpum or other.”

And talk about music. You thought the band was grand. You just wait.
Don’t you hear it down the street? It’ll be along in a minute now.

There it is. That’s the cally-ope. That’s what the show bills call:
“The Steam Car of the Muses.”... Mm-well, I don’t know but it is just a
leetle off the pitch, especially towards the end of a note, but you
must remember that you can’t haul a very big boiler on a wagon, and the
whistles let out an awful lot of steam. It’s pretty hard to keep the
pressure even. But it’s loud. That’s the main thing. And the man that
plays on it--no, not that fellow in the overalls with a wad of greasy
waste in his hand. He ‘s only the engineer. I mean the artist, the man
that plays on the keys. Well, he knows what the people want. He has
his fingers on the public pulse. Does he give them a Bach fugue, or
Guillmant’s “Grand Choeur?” ‘Deed, he doesn’t. He goes right to the
heart, with “Patrick’s Day in the Morning,” and “The Carnival of
Venice,” and “Home, Sweet Home,” and “Oh, Where, Oh Where has my Little
Dog Gone?” He knows his business. A shade off the key, perhaps, but my!
Ain’t it grand? So loud and nice!

“Well, that’s all of it.... Why, child, I can’t make it any longer than
it is.”

“What do you want me to drive round into the other street for? You’ve
seen all there is to see. Got all your trading done, mother? Well, then
I expect we’d better put for home. Now, Eddy, I told you ‘No’ once, and
that’s the end of it. Hush up now! Look here, sir! Do you want me to
take and ‘tend to you right before everybody? Well, I will now, if I
hear another whimper out o’ ye. Ck-ck-ck! Git ep there, Nelly.”

Some day, when we get big, and have whole, whole lots of money we’re
going to the circus every time it comes to town, to the real circus, the
one you have to pay to get into. For if merely the street parade is so
magnificent, what must the show itself be?

How people can sit at the table on circus day and stuff, and stuff the
way they do is more than I can understand. You’d think they hadn’t any
more chances to eat than they had to go to the show. And they can find
more things to do before they get started! And then, after the house
is all locked up and everything, they’ve got to go back after a
handkerchief! What does anybody want with a handkerchief at a circus?

It’s exasperating enough to have to choose between going in the
afternoon and not going at all. Why, sure, it’s finer at night. Lots
finer. You know that kind of a light the peanut-roaster man has got
down by the post-office. Burns that kind of stuff they use to take out
grease-spots. Ye-ah. Gasoline. Well, at the circus at night, they don’t
have just one light like that, but bunches and bunches of them on the
tentpoles. No, silly! Of course not. Of course they don’t set the tent
afire. But say! What if they did, eh? The place would be all full
of people, laughing at the country jake that comes out to ride the
trick-mule, and you’d happen to look up and see where the canvas was
ju-u-ust beginning to blaze, and you’d jump up and holler: “Fire! Fire!”
 as loud as ever you could because you saw it first, and you’d point to
the place. Excitement? Well, I guess yes. The people would all run every
which way, and fall all over themselves, and the women would squeal--And
do you know what I’d do? Wouldn’t just let myself down between the kind
of bedslat benches, and drop to the ground, and lift up the canvas and
there I’d be all safe. And after I was all safe, then I’d go back and
rescue folks.

We-ell, I s’pose I’d have to rescue a girl. It seems they always do
that. But it would be nicer, I think, to rescue some real rich man. He’d
say: “My noble preserver! How can I sufficiently reward you?” and take
out his pocketbook. And wouldn’t say: “Take back your proffered gold,”
 and make like I was pushing it away, “take back your proffered gold. I
but did my duty.” And then wouldn’t forget all about it. And one day,
after I’d forgotten all about, it, the man would die, and will me a
million dollars, or a thousand, I don’t know. Enough to make me rich.

And say! Wouldn’t the animals get excited when they saw the show was
afire? They’d just roar and roar, and upset the cages, and maybe they’d
get loose. O-o-o-Oh! How about that? If there was a lion come at me I’d
climb a tree. What would you do? Ah, your pa’s shot-gun nothing! Why,
you crazy, that would only infuriate him the more. What you want to do
is to take an express rifle, like Doo Challoo did, and aim right for his
heart. An express rifle is what you send off and get, and they ship it
to you by express.

So you see what a fellow misses by having to go to the show in the
afternoon, like the girls and the a-b-abs. The boys from across the
tracks get to go at night. They have all the fun. When they go they
don’t have to poke along, and poke along, and keep hold of hands so as
not to get lost.... Aw, hurry up, can’t you? Don’t you hear the band
playing? It’ll be all over before we get there.

But finally the lots are reached, and there are the tents, with all
kinds of flags snapping from the centerpoles and the guy-ropes. And
there are the sideshows. Alas! You never thought of the sideshows when
you asked if you could go. And now it’s too late. It must be fine in the
side-shows. I never got to go to one. I didn’t have the money. But if
the big, painted banners, bulging in and out, as the wind plays with
them, are anything to go by, it must be something grand to see the Fat
Lady, and the Circassian Beauty, whose frizzled head will just about fit
a bushel basket, and the Armless Wonder. They say he can take a pair of
scissors with his toes and cut your picture out of paper just elegant.

Oh, and something else you miss by going in the afternoon. At night you
can sneak around at the back, and when nobody is looking you can just
lift up the canvas and go right in for nothing.... Why, what’s wrong
about that? Ah, you’re too particular.... And if the canvasman catches
you, you can commence to cry and say you had only forty cents, and
wanted to see the circus so bad, and he’ll take it and let you in,
and you can have ten cents, don’t you see, to spend for lemonade,
red lemonade, you understand; and peanuts, the littlest bags, and the
“on-riest” peanuts that ever were.

As far as I can see, the animal part of the show is just the same as it
always was. The people that take you to the show always pretend to be
interested in them, but it’s my belief they stop and look only to tease
you. Away, ‘way back in ancient times, there used to be a man that took
the folks around and told them what was in each cage, and where it came
from, and how much it cost, and what useful purpose it served in the
wise economy of nature, and all about it. That was before my time. But
I can recollect something they had that they don’t have any more. I can
remember when Mr. Barnum first brought his show to our town. It didn’t
take much teasing to get to go to that, because in those days Mr. Barnum
was a “biger man than old Grant.” “The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by
Himself” was on everybody’s marble-topped centertable, just the same as
“The History of the Great Rebellion.” You show some elderly person from
out of town the church across the street from the Astor House, and
say: “That’s St. Paul’s Chapel. General Montgomery’s monument is in the
chancel window. George Washington went to meeting there the day he was
inaugurated president,” and your friend will say: “M-hm.” But you tell
him that right across Broadway is where Barnum’s Museum used to be, and
he’ll brighten right up and remember all about how Barnum strung a
flag across to St. Paul’s steeple and what a fuss the vestry of Trinity
Parish made. That’s something he knows about, that’s part of the history
of our country.

Well, when Mr. Barnum first came to our town, all around one tent were
vans full of the very identical Moral Waxworks that we had read about,
and had given up all hopes of ever seeing because New York was so far
away. There was the Dying Zouave. Oh, that was a beauty! The Advance
Courier said that “the crimson torrent of his heart’s blood spouted in
rhythmic jets as the tide of life ebbed silently away;” but I guess by
the time they got to our town they must have run all out of pokeberry
juice, for the “crimson torrent” didn’t spout at all. But his bosom
heaved every so often, and he rolled up his eyes something grand! I
liked it, but my mother said it was horrid. That’s the way with women.
They don’t like anything that anybody else does. There’s no pleasing
‘em. And she thought the Drunkard’s Family was “kind o’ low.” It wasn’t
either. It was fine, and taught a great moral lesson. I told her so, but
she said it was low, just the same. She thought the Temperance Family
was nice, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the Drunkard’s Family.
Why, let me tell you. The Drunkard’s Wife was in a ragged calico dress,
and her eye was all black and blue, where he had hit her the week
before. And the Drunkard had hold of a black quart bottle, and his nose
was all red, and he wore a plug hat that was even rustier and more caved
in than Elder Drown’s, if such a thing were possible. And there was--But
I can’t begin to tell you of all the fine things Mr. Barnum had that
year, but never had again.

Another thing Mr. Barnum had that year that never appeared again. It
may be that after that time the Funny Old Clown did crack a joke, but
I never heard him. The one that Mr. Barnum had got off the most comical
thing you ever heard. I’ll never forget it the longest day I live.
Laugh? Why, I nearly took a conniption over it. It seems the clown got
to crying about something.... Now what was it made him cry? Let me see
now.... Ain’t it queer I can’t remember that? Fudge! Well, never mind
now. It will come to me in a minute.

I feel kind of sorry for the poor little young ones that grow up and
never know what a clown is like. Oh, yes, they have them to-day, after a
fashion. They stub their toes and fall down the same as ever, but there
is a whole mob of them and you can’t take the interest in them that you
could in “the one, the only, the inimitable” clown there used to be, a
character of such importance that he got his name on the bills. He was a
mighty man in those days. The ring-master was a kind of stuck-up fellow,
very important in his own estimation, but he didn’t have a spark of
humor. Not a spark. And he’d be swelling around there, all so grand,
and the clown, just to take him down a peg or two, would ask him a
conundrum. And do you think he could ever guess one? Never. Not a one.
And when the clown would tell him what the answer was, he’d be so vexed
at himself that he’d try to take it out on the poor clown, and cut at
him with his long whip. But Mr. Clown was just as spry in his shoes as
he was under the hat, and he’d hop up on the ring-side out of the way,
and squall out: “A-a-aah! Never touched me!” We had that for a byword.
Oh, you’d die laughing at the comical remarks he’d make. And he’d be so
quick about it. The ring-master would say something, and before you’d
think, the clown would make a joke out of it.... I wish I could remember
what it was he said that was so funny, the time he started crying. Seems
to me it was something about his little brother.... Well, no matter.

Yes, sir, there are heads of families to-day, I’ll bet you, that have
grown up without ever having heard a clown sing a comic song, and ask
the audience to join in the chorus. And if you say to such people: “Here
we are again, Mr. Merryman,” or “Bring on another horse,” or “What will
the little lady have now? the banners, my lord?” they look at you so
funny. They don’t know what you mean, and they don’t know whether to get
huffy or not. Well, I suppose it had to be that the Funny Old Clown with
all his songs, and quips, and conundrums, and comical remarks should
disappear. Perhaps he “didn’t pay.”

I can’t see that the rest of the show has changed so very much. Perhaps
the trapeze performances are more marvelous and breath-suspending than
they used to be. But they were far and far beyond what we could dream of
then, and to go still farther as little impresses us as to be told that
people live still even westerly of Idaho. The trapeze performers are
up-to-date in one respect. The fellow that comes down with his arms
folded, one leg stuck out and the other twined around the big rope,
revolving slowly, slowly--well, the band plays the Intermezzo from
“Cavalleria Rusticana” nowadays when he does that. It used to play: “O
Thou, Sweet Spirit, Hear my Prayer!” But the lady in the riding-habit
still smiles as if it hurt her when her horse walks on its hind legs;
the bareback rider does the very same fancy steps as the horse goes
round the ring in a rocking-chair lope; the attendants still slant the
hurdles almost flat for the horse to jump; they still snake the banners
under the rider’s feet as he gives a little hop up, and they still bang
him on the head with the paper-covered hoop to .... Hold on a minute.
Now.

Now... That story the clown told that was so funny, that had something
to do with those hoops. I wish I could think of it. It would make you
laugh, I know.

People try to lay the blame of the modern circus’s failure to interest
them on the three rings. They say so many things to watch at once keeps
them from being watching properly any one act. They can’t give it the
attention it deserves. But I’ll tell you what’s wrong: There isn’t any
Funny Old Clown, a particular one, to give it human interest. It is
all too splendid, too magnificent, too far beyond us. We want to hear
somebody talk once in awhile.

They pretended that the tent was too big for the clown to be heard, but
I take notice it wasn’t too big for the fellow to get up and declaim
“The puffawmance ees not yait hawf ovah. The jaintlemanly agents will
now pawss around the ring with tickets faw the concert.” I used to hate
that man. When he said the performance was not yet half over, he lied
like a dog, consarn his picture! There were only a few more acts to
come. He knew it and we knew it. We wanted the show to go on and on, and
always to be just as exciting as at the very first, and it wouldn’t!
We had got to the point where we couldn’t be interested in anything any
more. We were as little ones unable to prop their eyelids open and yet
quarreling with bed. We were surfeited, but not satisfied. We sat there
and pouted because there wasn’t any more, and yet we couldn’t but yawn
at the act before us. We were mad at ourselves, and mad at everybody
else. We clambered down the rattling bedslats seats, sour and sullen.
We didn’t want to look at the animals; we didn’t want to do this, and
we didn’t want to do that. We whined and snarled, and wriggled and shook
ourselves with temper, and we got a good hard slap, side of the head,
right before everybody, and then we yelled as if we were being killed
alive.

“Now, mister, if I ever take you any place again, you’ll know it. I’d
be ashamed of myself if I was you. Hush up! Hush up, I tell you. Now
you mark. You’re never going to the show again. Do you hear me? Never! I
mean it. You’re never going again.”

But at eventide there was light. After supper, after a little rest and
a good deal of food, while chopping the kindling for morning (it’s
wonderful how useful employ tends to induce a cheerful view of life)
out of her dazzling treasure-heap of jewels, Memory took up, one after
another, a glowing recollection and viewed it with delight. The evening
performance, the one all lighted up with bunches and bunches of lights,
was a-preparing, and in the gentle breeze the far-off music waved as it
had been a flag. A harsh and rumbling noise as of heavy timbers falling
tore through the tissue of sweet sounds. The horses in the barn next
door screamed in their stalls to hear it. Ages and ages ago, on distant
wind-swept plains their ancestors had hearkened to that hunting-cry, and
summoned up their valor and their speed. It still thrilled in the blood
of these patient slaves of man, though countless generations of them had
never even so much as seen a lion.

“And is that all the difference, pa, that the lion roars at night and
the ostrich in the daytime?”

Out on the back porch in the deepening dusk we sat, with eyes relaxed
and dreaming, and watched the stars that powdered the dark sky. Before
our inward vision passed in review the day of splendor and renown. We
sighed, at last, but it was the happy sigh of him who has full dined.
Ambition was digesting. In our turn, when we grew up, we, too, were to
do the deeds of high emprise. We were to be somebody.

(I never heard of anybody sitting up to see the show depart. And yet it
seems to me that would be the best time to run off with it.)

The next day we visited the lots. It was no dream. See the litter that
mussed up the place.

We were all there. None had heard the man that runs the show say
genially: “Yes, I think we can arrange to take you with us.” Here was
the ring; here the tent-pole holes, and here a scrap of paper torn from
a hoop the bareback rider leaped through.... Oh, now I know what I was
going to tell you that the clown said. The comicalest thing!

He picked up one of these hoops and began to sniffle.

So the ring-master asked him what he was crying about.

“I--I--was thinking of my mother. Smf! My good old mother!”

So the ring-master asked him what made him think of his mother.

“This.” And he held up the paper-covered hoop.

The ring-master couldn’t see how that put the clown in mind of his
mother. He was awful dumb, that man.

“It looks just like the pancakes she used to make for us.”

Well, sir, we just hollered and laughed at that. And after we had
quieted down a little, the ringmaster says: “As big as that?”

“Bigger,” says the clown. “Why, she used to make ‘em so big we used ‘em
for bedclothes.”

“Indeed” (Just like that. He took it all in, just as if it was so.)

“Oh, my, yes! I mind one time I was sleeping with my little brother, and
I waked up just as cold--Brr! But I was cold!”

“But how could that be, sir? You just now said you had pancakes for
bedclothes.”

“Yes, but my little brother got hungry in the night, and et up all the
cover.”

Laugh? Why, they screamed. Me? I thought I’d just about go up. But the
ring master never cracked a smile. He didn’t see the joke at all.

Good-by, old clown, friend of our childhood, goodby, good-by forever!
And you, our other friend, the street parade, must you go, too? And you,
the gorgeous show-bills, must you tread the path toward the sundown?
Good-by! Good-by! In that dreary land where you are going, the Kingdom
of the Ausgespielt, it may comfort you to recollect the young hearts you
have made happy in the days that were, but never more can be again.



THE COUNTY FAIR


Whether or not the name had an influence on the weather, I don’t know.
Perhaps it did rain some years, but, as I remember, County Fair time
seems to have had a sky perfectly cloudless, with its blue only a little
dulled around the edges where it came close to the ground and the dust
settled on it. Things far off were sort of hazy, but that might have
been the result of the bonfires of leaves we had been having evenings
after supper. In Fair weather, when the sun had been up long enough
to get a really good start, it was right warm, but in the shade it
was cool, and nights and mornings there was a chill in the air that
threatened worse things to come.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended. Down cellar the swing-shelf is
cram-jam full of jellyglasses, and jars of fruit. Out on the hen-house
roof are drying what, when the soap-box wagon was first built, promised
barrels and barrels of nuts to be brought up with the pitcher of cider
for our comforting in the long winter evenings, but what turns out, when
the shucks are off, to be a poor, pitiful half-peck, daily depleted by
the urgent necessity of finding out if they are dry enough yet. Folks
are picking apples, and Koontz’s cider-mill is in full operation. (Do
you know any place where a fellow can get some nice long straws?) Out in
the fields are champagne-colored pyramids, each with a pale-gold heap
of corn beside it, and the good black earth is dotted with orange blobs
that promise pumpkin-pies for Thanksgiving Day. No. Let me look again.
Those aren’t pie-pumpkins; those are cow-pumpkins, and if you want to
see something kind of pitiful, I’ll show you Abe Bethard chopping up
one of those yellow globes--with what, do you suppose? With the cavalry
saber his daddy used at Gettysburg.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended. As a result of all the good
feeding and the outdoor air we have had for three or four months past,
the strawberry shortcakes, and cherry-pies, and green peas, and
new potatoes, and string beans, and roasting-ears, and all such
garden-stuff, and the fresh eggs, broken into the skillet before Speckle
gets done cackling, and the cockerels we pick off the roost Saturday
evenings (you see, we’re thinning ‘em out; no sense in keeping all of
‘em over winter)--as a result, I say, of all this good eating, and the
outdoor life, and the necessity of stirring around a little lively these
days we feel pretty good. And yet we get kind of low in our minds, too.
The harvest is past, the summer is ended. It’s gone, the good playtime
when we didn’t have to go to school, when the only foot-covering we wore
was a rag around one big toe or the other; the days when we could stay
in swimming all day long except mealtimes; the days of Sabbath-school
picnics and excursions to the Soldiers’ Home--it’s gone. The harvest
is past, the summer is ended. The green and leafy things have heard the
word, and most of them are taking it pretty seriously, judging by their
looks. But the maples and some more of them, particularly the maples,
with daredevil recklessness, have resolved, as it were, to die with
their boots on, and flame out in such violent and unbelievable colors
that we feel obliged to take testimony in certain outrageous cases,
and file away the exhibits in the Family Bible where nobody will bother
them. The harvest is past, the summer is ended. Rainy days you can see
how played-out and forlorn the whole world looks. But at Fair time, when
the sun shines bright, it appears right cheerful.

It seems to me the Fair lasted three days. One of them was a holiday
from school, I know, and unless I’m wrong, it wasn’t on the first day,
because then they were getting the things in, and it wasn’t on the last
day, because then they were taking the things out, so it must have been
on the middle day, when everybody went. Charley Wells had both the depot
‘buses out with “County FAIR” painted on muslin hung on the sides. The
Cornet Band rode all round town in one, and so on over to the “scene of
the festivities” as the Weekly Examiner very aptly put it, and then both
‘buses stood out in front of the American House, waiting for passengers,
with Dinny Enright calling out: “This sway t’ the Fair Groun’s! Going
RIGHT over!” Only he always waited till he got a good load before he
turned a wheel. (Dinny’s foreman at the chair factory now. Did you know
that? Doing fine. Gets $15 a week, and hasn’t drunk a drop for nearly
two years.)

Everybody goes the middle day of the Fair, everybody that you ever did
know or hear tell of. You’ll be going along, kind of half-listening to
the man selling Temperance Bitters, and denouncing the other bitters
because they have “al-cue-hawl” in them, and “al-cue-hawl will make you
drunk,” (which is perfectly true), and kind of half-listening to the man
with the electric machine, declaring: “Ground is the first conductor;
water is the second conductor,” and you’ll be thinking how slippery the
grass is to walk on, when a face in the crowd will, as it were, sting
your memory. “I ought to know that man,” says you to yourself. “Now, who
the mischief is he? Barker? No, ‘t isn’t Barker, Barkdull? No. Funny
I can’t think of his name. Begins with B I’m pretty certain.” And you
trail along after him, as if you were a detective, sort of keeping out
of his sight, and yet every once in a while getting a good look at him.
“Mmmmmm!” says you. “What is that fellow’s name? Why, sure. McConica.”
 And you walk up to him and stick out your hand while he’s gassing with
somebody, and there’s that smile on your face that says: “I know you
but you don’t know me,” and he takes it in a limp sort of fashion, and
starts to say: “You have the advantage of--” when, all of a sudden, he
grabs your hand as if he were going to jerk your arm out of its socket
and beat you over the head with the bloody end, and shouts out: “Why,
HELLO, Billy! Well, suffering Cyrus and all hands round! Hold still a
second and let me look at you. Gosh darn your hide, where you been for
so long? I though you’d clean evaporated off the face the earth. Why,
how AIR you? How’s everything? That’s good. Let me make you acquainted
with my wife. Molly, this is Mr.--” But she says: “Now don’t you tell me
what his name is. Let me think. Why, Willie Smith! Well, of all things!
Why, how you’ve changed! Honest, I wouldn’t have knowed you. Do you mind
the time we went sleigh-ridin’ the whole posse of us, and got upset down
there by Hanks’s place?” And then you start in on “D’ you mind?” and
“Don’t you recollect?” and you talk about the old school-days, and who’s
married, and who’s moved out to Kansas, and who’s got the Elias Hoover
place now, and how Ella Trimble--You know Ella Diefenbaugh, old Jake
Diefenbaugh’s daughter, the one that lisped. Course you do. Well, she
married Ed Trimble, and he died along in the early part of the summer.
Typhoid. Was getting well but he took a relapse, and went off like that!
And now she’s left with three little ones, and they guess poor Ella has
a pretty hard time making out. And this old schoolmate that you start
to tell a funny story about is dead, and the freckle-faced boy with the
buck teeth that put the rabbit in the teacher’s desk, he’s dead, too,
and the boy that used to cry in school when they read:

   “Give me three grains of corn, mother,
    Only three grains o f corn;
    To save what little life I have, mother,
    Till the coming o f the morn.”

well, he studied law with old judge Rodehaver, and got to be Prosecuting
Attorney, but he took to drinking--politics, you know--and now he’s just
gone to the dogs. Smart as a steel-trap, and bright as a dollar. Oh, a
terrible pity! A terrible pity. And as you hear the fate of one after
another of the happy companions of your childhood, and the sadness of
life comes over you, they start to tell something that makes you laugh
again. I tell you. Did you ever see one of these concave glasses, such
as the artists use when they want to get an idea of how a picture looks
all together as a whole, and not as an assemblage of parts? Well, what
the concave glass is to a picture, so such talk is to life. It sort of
draws it all together, and you see it as a whole, its sunshine and its
shadow, its laughter and its tears, its work and its play, its past and
its present. But not its future. The Good Man has mercifully hidden that
from us.

It does a body good to get such a talk once in a while.

And there are the young fellows and the girls. This young gentleman in
the rimless eye-glasses, who is now beginning to “go out among ‘em” the
last time you saw him was in meeting when Elder Drown was preaching, and
my gentleman stood up in the seat and shouted shrilly: “‘T ain’t at all,
man. ‘T ain’t at all!” And this sweet girl-graduate--the last time you
saw her was just after Becky Daly, in the vain effort to “peacify” the
squalling young one, had given her a fresh egg to play with. I kind
o’ like the looks of the younger generation of girls. But I don’t know
about the young fellows. They look to me like a trifling lot. Nothing
like what they were in our young days. I don’t see but what us old
codgers had better hold on a while longer to the County Clerk’s office,
and the Sheriff’s office, and the Probate judgeship, and the presidency
of the National Bank. It wouldn’t be safe to trust the destinies of
the country in the hands of such heedless young whiffets. Engaged to be
married! Oh, get out! What? Those babies?

I kept awake most of the time the man was lecturing on: “The Republic:
Will it Endure?” but I don’t remember that he said anything in it about
the crops. (We can’t go ‘round meeting the folks all day. We really must
give a glance at the exhibition.) And I am one of those who hold to the
belief that while the farmers can raise ears of corn as long as from
your elbow to your fingertips, as big ‘round as a rollingpin, and set
with grains as regular and even as an eight-dollar set of artificial
teeth; as long as they grow potatoes the size of your foot, and such
pretty oats and wheat, and turnips, and squashes, and onions, and apples
and all kinds of truck, and raise them not only in increasing size but
increasing quantities to the acre I feel as if the Republic would last
the year out anyway. Not that I have any notion that mere material
prosperity will make and keep us a free people, but it goes to show that
the farmers are not plodding along, doing as their fathers did before
them, but that they are reading and studying, and taking advantage of
modern methods. There are two ways of increasing your income. One is by
enlarging your output, and the other is by enlarging your share of the
proceeds from the sale of that output. The Grand Dukes will not always
run this country.  The farmers saved the Union once by dying for it;
they will save it again by living for it.

The scientific fellows tell us that we have not nearly reached the
maximum of yield to the acre of crops that are harvested once a year,
but in regard to the crops that are harvested twice a day it looks to me
as if we were doing fairly well. Nowadays we hardly know what is meant
by the expression, “Spring poor.” It is a sinister phrase, and tells
a story of the old, cruel days when farmers begrudged their cattle the
little bite they ate in wintertime, so that when the grass came again
the poor creatures would fall over trying to crop it. They were so
starved and weak that, as the saying went, they had to lean up against
the fence to breathe. They don’t do that way now, as one look at the
fine, sleek cows will show you. A cow these days is a different sort of
a being, her coat like satin, and her udder generous, compared with the
wild-eyed things with burrs in their tails, and their flanks crusted
with filth, their udders the size of a kid glove, and yielding such a
little dab of milk and for such a short period. Hear the dairymen boast
now of the miraculous yearly yield in pounds of butter and milk, and
when they say: “You’ve got to treat a cow as if she were a lady,” it
sounds like good sense.

Pigs are naturally so untidy about their persons, and have such shocking
table-manners that it seems difficult to treat a sow like a lady, but
that one in the pen yonder, with her litter of sucking pigs, seems
very interesting. Come, let’s have a look. Aren’t the little pigs dear
things? I’d like to climb in and take one of them up to pet it; do you
s’pose she’d mind it if I did? I can see decided improvement in the
modern hogs over old Mose Batcheller’s. If you remember, his were what
were known as “razorbacks.” They could go like the wind, and the fence
was not made that could stop them. If they couldn’t root under it, they
could turn themselves sidewise and slide through between the rails.
It was told me that, failing all else, they could give their tails a
swing--you remember the big balls of mud they used to have on their
tails’ ends--they could swing their tails after the manner of an athlete
throwing the hammer, and fly over the top of the tallest stake-and-rider
fence ever put up. I don’t know whether this is the strict truth or not,
but it is what was told me as a little boy, and I don’t think people
would wilfully deceive an innocent child.

The pigs nowaday aren’t as smart as that, but they cut up better at
hog-killing time. They aren’t quite so trim; indeed, they are nothing
but cylinders of meat, whittled to a point at the front end, and set on
four pegs, but as you lean on the top-rail of the pens out at the County
Fair and look down upon them, you can picture in your mind, without
much effort, ham, and sidemeat, and bacon, and spare-ribs, and smoked
shoulder, and head-cheese, and liver-wurst, and sausages, and glistening
white lard for crullers and pie-crust--Yes, I think pigs are right
interesting. I know they’ve got Scripture for it, the folks that think
it is wrong to eat pork, but somehow I feel sorry for them; they miss
such a lot, not only in the eating line, but other ways. They are always
being persecuted, and harassed, and picked at. Whereas the pork-fed man,
it seems to me, sort of hankers to be picked at. It gives him a good
chance to slap somebody slonchways. He feels better after he has seen
his persecutors go away with a cut lip, and fingering of their teeth to
see if they’re all there.

You’ll just have to take me gently but firmly by the sleeve and lead me
past the next exhibit, the noisy one, where there’s so much cackling
and crowing. I give you fair warning that if you get me started talking
about chickens, the County Fair will have to wait till some other time.
I don’t know much about ducks, and geese, and guinea-hens, and pea-fowl,
and turkeys, but chickens--Why, say. We had a hen once (Plymouth Rock
she was; we called her Henrietta), and honestly, that hen knew more than
some folks. One time she--all right. I’ll hush. Let’s go in here.

I don’t remember whether the pies, and cakes, and canned fruit, and such
are in Pomona Hall or the Fine Arts Hall. Fine Arts Hall I think. They
ought to be. I speak to be one of the judges that give out the premiums
in this department. I’d be generous and let somebody else do the judging
of the cakes, because I don’t care much for cake. Oh, I can manage
to choke it down, but I haven’t the expert knowledge, practical and
scientific, that I have in the matter of pie. I’d bear my share of the
work when it came to the other things, jellies and preserves, and pies,
but not cake. Wouldn’t know just exactly how to go at it in the matter
of jellies. I’d take a glass of currant, and hold it up to the light to
note its crimson glory. And I’d lift off the waxed paper top and peer
in, and maybe give the jelly a shake. And then I’d take a spoon and
taste, closing my eyes so as to appear to deliberate--they’d roll up
in an ecstacy anyhow--and I’d smack my lips, and say: “Mmmmm!” very
thoughtfully, and set the glass back, and write down in my book my
judgment, which would invariably be: “First Prize.” Because if there is
anything on top of this green earth that I think is just about right, it
is currant jelly. Grape jelly is nice, and crab-apple jelly has its good
points, and quince jelly is very delicate, but there is something about
currant jelly that seems to touch the spot. Quince preserves are good
if there is enough apple with the quince, and watermelon preserves are a
great favorite, not because they are so much better tasting, but because
the lucent golden cubes in the spicy syrup appeal so to the eye. But
if you want to know what I think is really good eating in the preserve
line, you just watch my motions when I come to the tomato preserves,
these little fig-tomatoes, and see how quick the red card is put on
them. Yes, indeed. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? since you had any
tomato-preserves, you that haven’t been “Back Home” lately.

It’s no great trick to put up other fruit so that it will keep, but I’d
look the canned tomatoes over pretty carefully, and if I saw that one
lady had not only put them up so that they hadn’t turned foamy, but had
also succeeded with green corn, and that other poser, string beans,
I’d give her first premium, because I’d know she was a first-rate
housekeeper, and a careful woman, and one that deserved encouragement.

But I’d save myself for the pies. I can tell a rich, short, flaky crust,
and I can tell the kind that is as brown as a dried apple, and tough as
the same on the top, and sad and livery on the bottom. And I know about
fillings, how thick they ought to be, and how they ought to be seasoned,
and all. Particularly pumpkin-pies, because I had early advantages that
way that very few other boys had. I was allowed to scrape the crock that
had held the pumpkin for the pies. So that’s how I know as much as I do.

I suppose, however, when all is said and done, that there is no pie that
can quite come up to an apple-pie. You take nice, short crust that’s
been worked up with ice-water, and line the tin with it, and fill it
heaping with sliced, tart apples--not sauce. Mercy, no!--and sweeten
them just right, and put on a lump of butter, and some allspice, and
perhaps a clove, and a little lemon peel, and then put on the cover,
and trim off the edge, and pinch it up in scallops, and draw a couple of
leaves in the top with a sharp knife, and have the oven just right, and
set it in there, and I tell you that when ma opens the oven-door to see
how the pie is coming on, there distils through the house such a perfume
that you cry out in a choking voice: “Say! Ain’t dinner ‘most ready?”

But I fully recognize the fact that very often our judgment is warped by
feeling, and I am inclined to believe that even the undoubted merit of
the apple-pie would not prevail against a vinegar-pie, if such should be
presented to me for my decision. A vinegar-pie? Well, it has a top and
bottom crust, the same as any other pie, but its filling is made
of vinegar, diluted with water to the proper degree of sub-acidity,
sweetened with molasses, thickened with flour, and all baked as any
other pie. You smile at its crude simplicity, and wonder why I should
favor it. To you it doesn’t tell the story that it does to me. It
doesn’t take you back in imagination to “the airly days,” when folks
came over the mountains in covered wagons, and settled in the Western
Reserve, leaving behind them all the civilization of their day, and its
comforts, parting from relatives and friends, knowing full well that
in this life they never more should look upon their faces--leaving
everything behind to make a new home in the western wilds.

Is was a land of promise that they came to. The virgin soil bore
riotously. There were fruit-trees in the forest that Johnny Appleseed
had planted on his journeyings. The young husband could stand in his
dooryard and kill wild turkeys with his rifle. They fed to loathing
on venison, and squirrels, and all manner of game, and once in a great
while they had the luxury of salt pork. They were well-nourished,
but sometimes they pined for that which was more than mere food. They
hungered for that which should be to the meals’ victuals what the flower
is to the plant.

“I whoosh’t--I woosh’t was so we could hev pie,” sighed one such. (Let
us call him Uriah Kinney). I think that sounds as if it were his name.

“Land’s sakes!” snapped his wife, exasperated that he should be thinking
of the same thing that she was. “Land’s sakes! Haow d’ ye s’pose I kin
make a pie when I hain’t got e’er a thing to make it aout o’? You gimme
suthirnn to make it aout o’, an’ you see haow quick--”

“I ain’t a-faultinn ye, Mary Ann,” interposed Uriah gently. “I know haow
‘t is. I was on’y tellin’ ye. I git I git a kind o’ hum’sick sometimes.
‘Pears like as if I sh’d feel more resigned like.... Don’t ye cry, Mary
Ann. I know, I know. You feel julluk I do ‘baout back home, an’ all luk
that.”

O woman! When the heft of thy intellect is thrown against a problem,
something has got to give. Not long after, Uriah sits down to dinner,
and can hardly ask a blessing, he has to swallow so. A pie is on the
table!

“Gosh, Mary Ann, but this is good!” says he, holding out his hand
for the third piece. “This is lickinn good!” And he celebrates her
achievement far and wide.

“My Mary Ann med me a pie t’ other day, was the all-firedest best pie I
ever et.”

“Med you what?”

“Med me a pie.”

“Pie? Whutch talkinn’ baout? Can’t git nummore pies naow. Frot ‘s all
gin aout.”

“I golly, she med it just the same. Smartest woman y’ ever see.” The man
dribbled at the mouth.

“What sh’ make it aout o’?”

“Vinegar an’ worter, I think she said. I d’ know ‘s I ever et anythinn
I relished julluk that. My Mary Ann, tell yew! She’s ‘baout’s smart ‘s
they make ‘em.”

I wish I knew who she really was whom I have called Mary Ann Kinney, she
that made the first vinegar-pie. I wish I knew where her grave is that
I might lay upon it a bunch of flowers, such as she knew and
liked--sweet-william, and phlox, and larkspur, and wild columbine. It
couldn’t make it up to her for all the hardships she underwent when she
was bringing up a family in that wild, western country, and especially
that fall when they all had the “fever ‘n’ ager” so bad, Uriah and the
twins chilling one day, and Hiram and Sophronia Jane the next, and she
just as miserable as any of them, but keeping up somehow, God only knows
how. It couldn’t make it up to her, but as I laid the pretty posies
against the leaning headstone on which is written:

   “A Loving Wife, a Mother Dear,
    Faithful Friend Lies Buried Here.”

I believe she ‘d get word of it somehow, and understand what I was
trying to say by it.

I’ll ask to be let off the committee that judges the rest of the
exhibits in the Fine Arts Hall, the quilts and the Battenberg, and the
crocheting, and such. I know the Log Cabin pattern, and the
Mexican Feather pattern, and I think I could make out to tell the
Hen-and-Chickens pattern of quilts, but that’s as much as ever. And as
to the real, hand-painted views of fruit-cake, and grapes and apples on
a red table-cloth, I am one of those that can’t make allowances for the
fact that she only took two terms. I call to mind one picture that Miss
Alvalou Ashbaker made of her pap, old “Coonrod” Ashbaker. The Lord knows
he was a “humbly critter,” but he wasn’t as “humbly” as she made him out
to be, with his eyes bulging out of his head as if he was choking on a
fishbone. And, instead of her dressing him up in his Sunday clothes, I
wish I may never see the back of my neck if that girl didn’t paint him
in a red-and-black barred flannel shirt, with porcelain buttons on it!
And his hair looked as if the calf had been at it. Wouldn’t you think
somebody would have told her? And that isn’t all. She got the premium!

Neither am I prepared to pass judgment on the fancy penmanship displayed
by Professor Swope, framed elegantly in black walnut, and gilt,
depicting a bounding deer, all made out of hair-line, shaded spirals,
done with his facile pen. (No wonder a deer can jump so, with all those
springs inside him.) Professor Swope writes visiting cards for you,
wonderful birds done in flourishes and holding ribbons in their bills.
He puts your name on the ribbon place. Neatest and tastiest thing you
can imagine. I like to watch him do it, but it makes me feel unhappy,
somehow. I never was much of a scribe, and it’s too late for me to learn
now.

I don’t feel so downcast when I examine the specimens of writing done by
the children of District No. 34. I can just see the young ones working
at home on these things, with their tongues stuck out of one corner of
their mouths.

    “Rome was not built in a day
     Rome was not built in a day
     Rome was not built in a day”

and so on, bearing down hard on the downstroke of the curve in the
capital “R,” and clubbing the end of the little “t.” And in the higher
grades, they toil over “An Original Social Letter,” describing to
an imaginary correspondent a visit to Crystal Lake, or the Magnetic
Springs. I can hear them mourn: “What shall I say next?” and “Ma, make
Effie play some place else, won’t you? She jist joggles the table like
everything. Now, see what you done! Now I got to write it all over
again. No, I cain’t ‘scratch it out. How’d it look to the County Fair
all scratched out? Plague take it all!”

The same hands have done maps of North and South America, and
red-and-blue ink pictures of the circulation of the blood. It does beat
all how smart the young ones are nowadays. I could no more draw off a
picture of the circulation of the blood--get it right, I mean--why, I
wouldn’t attempt it.

I am kind of mixed up in my recollection of the hall right next to the
Fine Arts. You know it had two doors in each end. Sometimes I can
see the central space between the doors, roped off and devoted to
sewing-machines with persons demonstrating that they ran as light as a
feather, and how it was no trouble at all to tuck and gather, and
fell; to organs, which struck me with amaze, because by some witchcraft
(octave coupler, I think they called it) the man could play on keys
that he didn’t touch, and pianos, whereon young ladies were prevailed to
perform “Silvery Waves”--that’s a lovely piece, I think, don’t you?--and

    “Listen to the mocking-bird, TEE-die-eedle-DONG
     Lisen to the mocking-bird, teedle-eedle-EE-dle DONG
     The mocking-bird still singing oer her grave,
                             toomatooral-oo-cal-LEE!”

And then again I can see that central, roped-off space given over
to reckless deviltry, sheer impudent, brazen-faced, bold,
discipline-defying er--er--wickedness. I had heard that people did
things like that, but this was the first time I had ever caught a
glimpse of such carryings-on in the broad open daylight, right before
everybody. I stood there and watched them for hours, expecting every
minute to see fire fall from heaven on them and burn up every son and
daughter of Belial. But it didn’t.

I seem to recollect that it was a hot day, and that, tucked away where
not a breath of air could get to them, were three fellows in their
shirtsleeves, one playing on an organ, one on a yellow clarinet, and
one on a fiddle. Every chance he could get, the fiddler would say to the
organist: “Gimme A, please,” and saw away trying to get into some sort
of tune, but the catgut was never twisted that would hold to pitch
with the perspiration dribbling down his fingers in little rills. The
clarinet man looked as if he wanted to cry, and he had to twitter his
eyelids all the time to keep the sweat from blinding him, and every once
in a while, his soggy reed would let go of a squawk that sounded like
a scared chicken. But the organ groaned on unrelentingly, and the tune
didn’t matter so much as the rhythm which was kept up as regular as a
clock, whack! whack! whack! whack! And there were two or three other
fellows with badges on that went around shouting: “Select your podners
for the next quadrille! One more couple wanted right over here!”

Dancing. M-hm.

The fiddler “called off” and chanted to the tune, with his mouth on one
side: “Sullootch podners! First couple forward and back. Side couples
the same. Doe see do-o-o-o. Al-lee-man LEFT! Ballunce ALL! Sa-weeny the
corners!” I don’t know whether I get the proper order of these commands
or not, or whether my memory serves me as to their effect, but it seems
to me that at “Bal-lunce ALL!” the ladies demurely teetered, first on
one foot and then on the other, like a frozen-toed rooster, while the
gents fairly tore themselves apart with grape-vine twists and fancy
steps, and slapped the dust out of the cracks in the floor. When it came
to “SaWEENG your podners!” the room billowed with flying skirts, and the
ladies squealed like anything. It made you a little dizzy to watch them
do “Graaan’ right and left,” and you could understand how those folks
felt--there were always one or two in each set--who had to be hauled
this way and that, not sure whether they were having a good time or
not, but hoping they were, their faces set in a sickly grin, while their
foreheads wrinkled into a puzzled: “How’s that? I didn’t quite catch
that last remark” expression. I don’t know if it affected you in the
same way that it did me, but after I had stood there for a time and
watched those young men and women thus wasting the precious moments that
dropped like priceless pearls into the ocean of Eternity, and were
lost irrevocably, young, men and women giving themselves up to present
enjoyment without one serious thought in their minds as to who was going
to wash the supper dishes, or what would happen if the house took fire
while they were away I say I do not know how the sight of such reckless
frivolity affected you, but I know that after so long a time my face
would get all cramped up from wearing a grin, and I’d have to go out and
look at the reapers and binders to rest myself so I could come back and
look some. There are two things that you simply have to do at the County
Fair, or you aren’t right sure you’ve been. One is to drink a glass of
sweet cider just from the press, (which, I may say in passing, is an
over-rated luxury. Cider has to be just the least bit “frisky” to be
good. I don’t mean hard, but “frisky.” You know). And the other is to
buy a whip, if it is only the little toy, fifteen-cent kind. On the
next soap-box to the old fellow that comes every year to sell pictorial
Bibles and red, plush-covered albums, the old fellow in the green
slippers that talks as if he were just ready to drop off to sleep--on
the next soap-box to him is the man that sells the whips. You can buy
one for a dollar, two for a dollar, or four for a dollar, but not one
for fifty cents, or one for a quarter. Don’t ask me why, for I don’t
know. I am just stating the facts. It can’t be done, for I’ve seen it
tried, and if you keep up the attempt too long, the whip-man will lose
all patience with your unreasonableness, and tell you to go ‘long about
your business if you’ve got any, and not bother the life and soul out of
him, because he won’t sell anything but a dollar’s worth of whips, and
that’s all there is about it.

He sells other things, handsaws, and pencils, and mouth-harps, and two
knives for a quarter, of such pure steel that he whittles shavings off
a wire nail with ‘em, and is particular to hand you the very identical
knife he did it with. He has jewelry, though I don’t suppose you could
cut a wire nail with it. You might, at that.

To him approaches a boy.

“Got ‘ny collar-buttons?”

“Well, now, I’ll just look and see. Here’s a beautiful rolled-plate gold
watch-chain, with an elegant jewel charm. Lovely blue jewel.” He dangles
the chain and its rich glass pendant, and it certainly does look fine.
“That’d cost you $2.50 at the store. How’d that strike you?”

“Hpm. I want a collar-button.”

“Well, now, you hold on a minute. Lemme look again. Ah, here’s a package
‘at orta have some in it. Yes, sir, here’s four of ‘em, enough to last
you a lifetime; front, back, and both sleeves, the kind that flips and
don’t tear the buttonholes. Well, by ginger! Now, how’d that git in
here, I want to know? That gold ring? Well, I don’t care. It’ll have to
go with the collar-buttons. Tell you what I’ll do with you: I’ll let you
have this elegant solid gold rolled-plate watch-chain and jewel, this
elegant, solid gold ring to git married with--Hay? How about it?--and
these four collar-buttons for--for--twenty-five cents, or a quarter of a
dollar.”

That boy never took that quarter out of his breeches pocket. It just
jumped out of itself. But I see that you are getting the fidgets. You’re
hoping that I’ll come to the horse-racing pretty soon. You want to
have it all brought back to you, the big, big race-track which, as you
remember it now, must have been about the next size smaller than the
earth’s orbit around the sun. You want me to tell about the old farmer
with the bunch of timothy whiskers under his chin that gets his old
jingling wagon on the track just before a heat is to be trotted, and
all the people yell at him: “Take him out!” You want me to tell how
the trotters looked walking around in their dusters, with the eye-holes
bound with red braid, and how the drivers of the sulkies sat with the
tails of their horses tucked under one leg. Well, I’m not going to
do anything of the kind, and if you don’t like it, you can go to the
box-office and demand your money back. I hope you’ll get it. First
place, I don’t know anything about racing, and consequently I don’t
believe it’s a good thing for the country. All I know is, that some
horses can go faster than others, but which are the fastest ones I can’t
tell by the looks, though I have tried several times.... I did not walk
back. I bought a round-trip ticket. They will tell you that these events
at the County Fair tend to improve the breed of horses. So they do--of
fast horses. But the fast horses are no good. They can’t any of them go
as fast as a nickel trolley-car when it gets out where there aren’t any
houses. And they not only are no good; they’re a positive harm. You know
and I know that just as soon as a man gets cracked after fast horses,
it’s good-by John with him.

In the next place, I wouldn’t mind it if it was only interesting to me.
But it isn’t. It bores me to death. You sit there and sit there trying
to keep awake while the drivers jockey and jockey, scheming to get the
advantage of the other fellow, and the bell rings so many times for them
to come back after you think: “They’re off this time, sure,” that you
get sick of hearing it. And when they do get away, why, who can tell
which horse is in the lead? On the far side of the track they don’t
appear to do anything but poke along, and once in a while some fool
horse will “break” and that’s annoying. And then when they come into
the stretch, the other folks that see you with the field-glasses, keep
nudging you and asking: “Who ‘s ahead, mister? Hay? Who’s ahead?” And
it’s ruinous to the voice to yell: “Go it! Go it! Go IT, ye devil,
you!” with your throat all clenched that way and your face as red as a
turkey-gobbler’s. And that second when they are going under the wire,
and the horse you rather like is about a nose behind the other one
that you despise--Oh, tedious, very tedious. Ho hum, Harry! If I wasn’t
engaged, I wouldn’t marry. Did you think to put a saucer of milk out for
the kitty before you locked up the house?

No. Horse-racing bores me to death, and as I am one of the charter
members of the Anti-Other-Folks-Enjoyment Society, organized to stop
people from amusing themselves in ways that we don’t care for, you
can readily see that it is a matter of principle with me to ignore
horseracing, and not to give it so much encouragement as would come from
mentioning it.

If you’re so interested in improving the breed of horses by competitive
contests, what ‘s the matter with that one where the prize is $5 for the
team that can haul the heaviest load on a stoneboat, straight pulling?
Pile on enough stones to build a house, pretty near, and the owner
of the team, a young fellow with a face like Keats, goes “Ck! Ck! Ck!
Geet... ep... thah BILL! Geet ep, Doll-ay!” and cracks his whip, and
kisses with his mouth, and the horses dance and tug, and jump around and
strain till the stone-boat slides on the grass, and then men climb on
until the load gets so heavy that the team can’t budge it. Then another
team tries, and so on, the competitors jawing and jowering at each other
with: “Ah, that ain’t fair! That ain’t fair! They started it sideways.”

“That don’t make no difference.”

“Yes, it does, too, make a difference. Straight ahead four inches.
that’s the rule.”

“Well, didn’t they go straight ahead four inches? What’s a matter with
ye?”

“I’ll darn soon show ye what’s the matter with me, you come any o’ your
shenanigan around here.”

“Mighty ready to accuse other folks o’ shenannigan, ain’t ye? For half
a cent I’d paste you in the moot.”

“Now, boys! Now boys! None o’ that.”

Lots more excitement than a horse-race. Lots more improving to the mind,
and beneficial to the country.

And if you hanker after the human element of skill, what’s the matter
with the contest where the women see who can hitch up a horse the
quickest? Didn’t you have your favorite picked out from the start? I
did. She was about thirteen years old, dressed in an organdie, and I
think she had light blue ribbons flying from her hat, light blue or
pink, I forget which. Her pa helped her unharness, and you could tell by
the way he look-at her that he thought she was about the smartest
young one for her age in her neighborhood. (You ought to hear her play
“General Grant’s Grand March” on the organ he bought for her, a fine
organ with twenty-four stops and two full sets of reeds, and a mirror in
the top, and places to set bouquets and all.) There was a woman in the
contest that seemed, by her actions, to think that the others were just
wasting their time competing with her, but when they got the word “Go!”
 (Old Nate Wells was the judge; he sold out the livery-stable business
to Charley, you recollect) her horse backed in wrong, and she got the
harness all twisty-ways, and everything went bewitched. And wasn’t she
provoked, though? Served her right, I say. A little woman beside her was
the first to jump into her buggy, and drive off with a strong inhalation
of breath, and that nipping together of the lips that says: “A-a-ah! I
tell ye!” The little girl that we picked out was hopping around like a
scared cockroach, and her pa seemed to be saying: “Now, keep cool! Keep
cool! Don’t get flustered,” but when another woman drove off, I know she
almost cried, she felt so bad. But she was third, and when she and her
pa drove around the ring, the people clapped her lots more than the
other two. I guess they must have picked her for a favorite the same as
you and I did. Bless her heart! I hope she got a good man when she grew
up.

Around back of the Old Settlers’ Cabin, where they have the relics, the
spinning-wheel, the flax-hackle, and the bunch of dusty tow that nobody
knows how to spin in these degenerate days; the old flint-lock rifle,
and the powder-horn; the tinder-box, and the blue plate, “more’n a
hundred years old;” the dog-irons, tongs, poker, and turkey-wing of an
ancient fireplace--around back of the Old Settlers’ Cabin all the early
part of the day a bunch of dirty canvas has been dangling from a rope
stretched between two trees. It was fenced off from the curious, but
after dinner a stranger in fringy trousers and a black singlet went
around picking out big, strong, adventurous young fellows to stand about
the wooden ring fastened to the bottom of the bunch of canvas, which
went over the smoke-pipe of a sort of underground furnace in which a
roaring fire had been built. As the hot air filled the great bag, it was
the task of these helpers to shake out the wrinkles and to hold it down.
Older and wiser ones forbade their young ones to go near it. Supposing
it should explode; what then? But we have always wanted to fly away
up into the air, and what did we come to the Fair for, if not for
excitement? The balloon swells out amazingly fast, and when the
guy-ropes are loosened and drop to the ground, the elephantine bag
clumsily lunges this way and that, causing shrill squeals from those who
fear to be whelmed in it. The man in the singlet tosses kerosene into
the furnace from a tin cup, and you can see the tall flames leap upward
from the flue into the balloon. It grows tight as a drum.

“Watch your horses!” he calls out. There is a pause.... “Let go all!”
 The mighty shape shoots up twenty feet or so, and the man in the singlet
darts to the corner to cut a lone detaining rope. As he runs he sheds
his fringy trousers.

“Good-by, everybody!” he cries out, and the sinister possibilities in
that phrase are overlooked in the wonder at seeing him lurch upward
through the air, all glorious in black tights and yellow breech-clout.
Up and up he soars above the tree-tops, and the wind gently wafts him
along, a pendant to a dusky globe hanging in the sky. He is just a speck
now swaying to and fro. The globe plunges upward; the pendant drops like
a shot. There is a rustling sound. It is the intake of the breath of
horror from ten thousand pairs of lungs. Look! Look! The edges of the
parachute ruffle, and then it blossoms out like an opening flower. It
bounces on the air a little, and rocking gently sinks like thistle-down
behind the woods.

It is all over. The Fair is over. Let’s go home. Isn’t it wonderful
though, what men can do? You’ll see; they’ll be flying like birds, one
of these days. That’s what we little boys think, but we overhear old
Nate Wells say to Tom Slaymaker, as we pass them: “Well, I d’ know. I
d’ know ‘s these here b’loon ascensions is worth the money they cost
the ‘Sociation. I seen so many of ‘em, they don’t interest me nummore.
‘Less, o’ course, sumpun should happen to the feller.”



CHRISTMAS BACK HOME


It was the time of year when the store windows are mighty interesting.
Plotner’s bakery, that away, ‘way back in the summer-time, was an
ice-cream saloon, showed a plaster man in the window, with long, white
whiskers, in top boots and a brown coat and peaked hat, all trimmed with
fur, and carrying a little pinetree with arsenical foliage. Over his
head dangled a thicket of canes hanging by their crooks from a twine
string stretched across. They were made of candy striped spirally in red
and white. There were candy men and women in the window, and chocolate
mice with red eyes, and a big cake, all over frosting, with a candy
preacher on it marrying a candy man and lady. The little children stood
outside, with their joggerfies, and arithmetics, and spellers, and
slates bound in red flannel under their arms, and swallowed hard as they
looked. Whenever anybody went in for a penny’s worth of yeast and opened
the door, that had a bell fastened to it so that Mrs. Plotner could
hear in the back room, and come to wait on the customer, the smell of
wintergreen and peppermint and lemonsticks and hot taffy gushed out so
strong that they couldn’t swallow fast enough, but stood there choking
and dribbling at the mouth.

Brown’s shoe store exhibited green velvet slippers with deers’ heads
on them, and Galbraith’s windows were hung with fancy dressgoods, and
handkerchiefs with dogs’ heads in the corners; but, next to Plotner’s,
Case’s drug-and-book store was the nicest. When you first went in, it
smelled of cough candy and orris root, but pretty soon you could notice
the smell of drums and new sleds, and about the last smell, (sort of
down at the bottom of things) was the smell of new books, the fish-glue
on the binding, and the muslin covers, and the printer’s ink, and that
is a smell that if it ever gets a good hold of you, never lets go. There
were the “Rollo” books, and the “Little Prudy” books, and “Minnie and
Her Pets,” and the “Elm Island” series, and the “Arabian Nights,” with
colored pictures, and There were skates all curled up at the toes, and
balls of red and black leather in alternate quarters, and China mugs,
with “Love the Giver,” and “For a Good Boy” in gilt letters on them.
Kind of Dutch letters they were. And there were dolls with black, shiny
hair, and red cheeks, and blue eyes, with perfectly arched eyebrows.
They had on black shoes and white stockings, with pink garters, and they
almost always toed in a little. They looked so cold in the window with
nothing but a “shimmy” on, and fairly ached to be dressed, and nursed,
and sung to. The little girls outside the window felt an emptiness in
the hollow of their left arms as they gazed. There was one big doll in
the middle all dressed up. It had real hair that you could comb, and it
was wax. Pure wax! Yes, sir. And it could open and shut its eyes, and if
you squeezed its stomach it would cry, of course, not like a real baby,
but more like one of those ducks that stand on a sort of bellows thing.
Though they all “chose” that doll and hoped for miracles, none of them
really expected to find it in her stocking sixteen days later. (They
kept count of the days.) Maybe Bell Brown might get it; her pa bought
her lots of things. She had parlor skates and a parrot, only her ma
wouldn’t let her skate in the parlor, it tore up the carpet so, and the
parrot bit her finger like anything.

The little boys kicked their copper-toed boots to keep warm and
quarreled about which one chose the train of cars first, and then began
to quarrel over an army of soldiers.

“I choose them!”

“A-aw! You choosed the ingine and the cars.”

“Dung care. I choose everything in this whole window.”

“A-aw! That ain’t fair!”

In the midst of the wrangle somebody finds out that Johnny Pym has
a piece of red glass, and then they begin fighting for turns looking
through it at the snow and the court-house. But not for long. They
fall to bragging about what they are going to get for Christmas. Eddie
Cameron was pretty sure he ‘d get a spy-glass. He asked his pa, and his
pa said “Mebby. He’d see about it.” Then, just in time, they looked up
and saw old man Nicholson coming along with his shawl pinned around him.
They ran to the other side of the street because he stops little boys,
and pats them on the head, and asks them if they have found the Savior.
It makes some boys cry when he asks them that.

The Rowan twins--Alfaretta and Luanna May--are working a pair of
slippers for their pa, one apiece, because it is such slow work. Along
about suppertime they make Elmer Lonnie stay outside and watch for his
coming, and he has to say: “Hello, pa!” very loud, and romp with him
outside the gate so as to give the twins time to gather up the colored
zephyrs and things, and hide them in the lower bureau drawer in the
spare bedroom. At such a time their mother finds an errand that takes
her into the parlor so that she can see that they do not, by any chance,
look into the middle drawer in the farther left-hand corner, under the
pillow-slips.

One night, just at supper-time, Elmer Lonnie said: “Hello, pa!” and
then they heard pa whispering and Elmer Lonnie came in looking very
solemn--or trying to--and said: “Ma, Miss Waldo wants to know if you
won’t please step over there a minute.”

“Did she say what for? Because I’m right in the midst of getting
supper. I look for your pa any minute now, and I don’t want to keep him
waiting.”

“No ‘m, she didn’t say what for. She jist said: ‘Ast yer ma won’t she
please an’ step over here a minute.’ I wouldn’t put anythin’ on. ‘T
ain’t cold. You needn’t stay long, only till... I guess she’s in some of
a hurry.”

“Well, if Harriet Waldo thinks ‘at I haven’t anythin’ better to do ‘n
trot around after her at her beck an’.... All right, I’ll come.”

The twins got their slippers hid, and Mrs. Rowan threw her shawl over
her head, and went next door to take Mrs. Waldo completely by surprise.
The good woman immediately invented an intricate problem in crochet
work demanding instant solution. Mr. Rowan had brought home a crayon
enlargement of a daguerreotype of Ma, taken before she was married, when
they wore their hair combed down over their ears, and wide lace collars
fastened with a big cameo pin, and puffed sleeves with the armholes
nearly at the elbows. They wore lace mitts then, too. The twins thought
it looked so funny, but Pa said: “It was all the style in them days.
Laws! I mind the first time I took her home from singin’ school....
Tell you where less hide it. In between the straw tick, and the feather
tick.” And Luanna May said: “What if company should come?” Elmer Lonnie
ran over to Mrs. Waldo’s to tell Ma that Pa had come home, and wanted
his supper right quick, because he had to get back to the store, there
was so much trade in the evenings now.

“I declare, Emmeline Rowan, you’re gettin’ to be a reg’lar gadabout,”
 said Mr. Rowan, very savagely. “Gad, gad, gad, from mornin’ till night.
Ain’t they time in daylight fer you an’ Hat Waldo to talk about your
neighbors ‘at you can’t stay home long enough to git me my supper?”

He winked at the twins so funny that Alfaretta, who always was kind of
flighty, made a little noise with her soft palate and tried to pass it
off for a cough. Luanna May poked her in the ribs with her elbow, and
Mrs. Rowan spoke up quite loud: “Why, Pa, how you go on! I wasn’t but
a minute, an’ you hardly ever come before halfpast. And furthermore,
mister, I want to know how I’m to keep this house a-lookin’ like
anything an’ you a-trackin’ in snow like that. Just look at you. I sh’d
think you’d know enough to stomp your feet before you come in.
Luanna May, you come grind the coffee. Alfie, run git your Pa his old
slippers.” That set both of them to giggling, and Mrs. Rowan went out
into the kitchen and began to pound the beefsteak.

“D’ you think she sispicioned anythin’?” asked Mr. Rowan out of one side
of his mouth, and Elmer Lonnie said, “No, sir,” and wondered if his Pa
“sispicioned anythin”’ when Ma said, “Run git the old slippers.”

Mr. Waldo always walked up with Mr. Rowan, and just about that time his
little Mary Ellen was climbing up into his lap and saying: “I bet you
can’t guess what I’m a-goin’ to buy you for a Christmas gift with my
pennies what I got saved up.”

“I’ll just bet I can.”

“No, you can’t. It’s awful pretty--I mean, they’re awful pretty. Somepin
you want, too.” How could he guess with her fingering his tarnished cuff
buttons and looking down at them every minute or two?

“Well, now, let me see. Is it a gold watch?”

“Nope.”

“Aw, now! I jist set my heart on a gold watch and chain.”

“Well, but it’d cost more money ‘n I got. Three or fifteen dollars,
mebby.”

“Well, let me see. Is it a shotgun?”

“No, sir. Oh, you just can’t guess it.”

“Is it a--a--Is it a horse and buggy?”

“Aw, now, you’re foolin’. No, it ain’t a horse and buggy.”

“I know what it is. It’s a dolly with real hair that you can comb, and
all dressed up in a blue dress. One that can shut its eyes when it goes
bye-bye.”

Little Mary Ellen looks at him very seriously a minute, and sighs, and
says: “No, it ain’t that. But if it was, wouldn’t you let me play with
it when you was to the store?” And he catches her up in his arms and
says: “You betchy! Now, I ain’t goin’ to guess any more! I want to be
surprised. You jump down an’ run an’ ask Ma if supper ain’t most ready.
Tell her I’m as hungry as a hound pup.”

He hears her deliver the message, and also the word her mother sends
back: “Tell him to hold his horses. It ‘ll be ready in a minute.”

“It will, eh? Well, I can’t wait a minute, an’ I’m goin’ to take a
hog-bite right out of YOU!” and he snarls and bites her right in the
middle of her stomach, and if there is anything more ticklesome than
that, it hasn’t been heard of yet.

After supper, little Eddie Allgire teases his brother D. to tell him
about Santa Claus. D. is cracking walnuts on a flat-iron held between
his knees.

“Is they any Santy Claus, D.?”

“W’y, cert, they is. Who says not?”

“Bunty Rogers says they ain’t no sech a person.”

“You tell Bunt Rogers that he’s a-gittin’ too big fer his britches, an’
first thing he knows, he’ll whirl round an’ see his naked nose. Tell him
I said so.”

“Well, is they any Santy Claus?”

“W’y cert. Ain’t I a-tellin’ you? Laws! ain’t you never seen him yet?”

“I seen that kind of a idol they got down in Plotner’s winder.”

“Well, he looks jist like that, on’y he’s alive.”

“Did you ever see him, D.?”

“O-oh, well! Think I’m goin’ to tell everything I know? Well, I guess
not.”

“Well, but did you now?”

“M-well, that ‘d be tellin’.”

“Aw, now, D., tell me.”

“Look out what you’re doin’. Now see that. You pretty near made me mash
my thumb.”

“Aw, now, D., tell me. I think you might. I don’t believe you ever did.”

“Oh, you don’t, hey? Well, if you had ‘a saw what I saw. M-m! Little
round eyes an’ red nose an’ white whiskers, an’ heard the sleigh bells,
an’ oh, my! them reindeers! Cutest little things! Stompin’ their little
feet” Here he stopped, and went on cracking nuts.

“Tell some more. Woncha, please? Ma, make D. tell me the rest of it.”

“Huck-uh! Dassant. ‘T wouldn’t be right. Like’s not he won’t put anythin’
in my stockin’ now fer what I did tell.”

“How’ll he know?”

“How’ll he know? Easy enough. He goes around all the houses evenings now
to see how the young ones act, an’ if he finds they’re sassy, an’ don’t
mind their Ma when she tells them to leave the cat alone, an’ if they
whine: ‘I don’ want to go out an’ cut the kindlin’. Why cain’t D. do
it?’ then he puts potatoes an’ lumps o’ coal in their stockin’s. Oh,
he’ll be here, course o’ the evenin’.”

“D’ you s’pose he’s round here now?” Eddie got a little closer to his
brother.

“I wouldn’t wonder. Yes, sir. There he goes now. Sure’s you’re alive.”

“Where?”

“Right over yan. Aw, you don’t look. See? There he is. Aw! you’re too
slow. Didn’t you see him? Now the next time I tell you--Look, look!
There! He run right acrost the floor an’ into the closet. Plain ‘s day.
didn’t you see him? You saw him, mother?”

Mrs. Allgire nodded her head. She was busy counting the stitches in a
nubia she was knitting for old Aunt Pashy, Roebuck.

“W’y, you couldn’t help but see him, didn’t you take notice to his white
whiskers?”

“Ye-es,” said the child, slowly, with the wide-open stare of hypnosis.

“Didn’t you see the evergreen tree he carried?”

“M-hm,” said Eddie, the image taking shape in his mind’s eye.

“And his brown coat all trimmed with fur, an’ his funny peaked hat? An’
his red nose? W’y, course you did.” The boy nodded his head. He was sure
now. Yes. Faith was lost in sight. He believed.

“I expect he’s in the closet now. Go look.”

“No. You.” He clung to D.

“I can’t. I got this flat-iron in my lap, an’ wouldn’t spill the
nut-shells all over the floor. You don’t want me to, do you, Ma?”

Mrs. Allgire shook her head.

“Well, now,” said D. “Anybody tell you they ain’t sich a person as Santy
Claus, you kin jist stand ‘em down ‘at you know better, ‘cause you seen
him, didn’t you?”

Eddie nodded his head. Anyhow, what D. told him was “the Lord said unto
Moses,” and now that he had the evidence of his own eyes--Well, the next
day he defied Bunt Rogers and all his works. To tell the plain truth,
Bunt wasn’t too well grounded in his newly cut infidelity.


In the public schools the children were no longer singing:

  “None knew thee but to love thee, thou dear one of my heart;
   Oh, thy mem’ry is ever fresh and green.
   The sweet buds may wither and fond hearts be broken,
   Still I love thee, my darling, Daisy Deane.”

They turned over now to page 53, and there was a picture of Santa Claus
just as in Plotner’s window, except that he had a pack on his back and
one leg in the chimney. This is what they sang:

  “Ho, ho, ho!  Who wouldn’t go?
   Ho, ho, ho!  Who wouldn’t go?
   Up on the house-top, click, click, click
   Down through the chimney with good St. Nick.”

Miss Munsell, who taught the D primary, traded rooms with Miss Crutcher,
who taught the “a-b Abs.” Miss Munsell was a big fat lady, and she
smiled so that the dimples came in both cheeks and her double Chin was
doubter than ever, when she told the children what a dear, nice teacher
Miss Crutcher was, and how fond she was of them, and wouldn’t they like
to make a Christmas present to their dear, kind teacher? They all said
“Yes, mam.” Well, now, the way to do would be for each child to bring
money (if Miss Munsell had smiled at a bird in the tree as she did then,
it would have had to come right down and perch in her hand), just as
much money as ever they could, and all must bring something, because it
would make Miss Crutcher feel so bad to think that there was one
little boy or one little girl that didn’t love her enough to give her a
Christmas present. And if everybody brought a dime or maybe a quarter,
they could get her such a nice present. If their papas wouldn’t let
them have that much money, why surely they would let them have a penny,
wouldn’t they, children? And the children said: “Yes, mam.”

“And now all that love their dear, kind teacher, raise their hands. Why,
there’s a little girl over that hasn’t her hand up! That’s right, dear,
put it up, bless your little heart! Now, we mustn’t say a word to Miss
Crutcher, must we? No. And that will be our secret, won’t it? And all be
sure to have your money ready by to-morrow. Now, I wonder if you can be
just as still as little mice. I’m going to give this little girl a pin
to drop and see if I can hear it out in the hall.”

Then she tiptoed down the hall clear to her own room and Mary Ellen
Waldo let the pin drop, and Miss Mussell didn’t come back to say whether
she heard the pin drop or not. The children sat in breathless
silence. Selma Morgenroth knocked her slate off and bit her lip with
mortification while the others looked at her as much as to say: “Oh,
my! ain’t you ‘shamed?” Then Miss Crutchet came back and smiled at the
children, and they smiled back at her because they knew something she
didn’t know and couldn’t guess at all. It was a secret.

The next morning Miss Crutchet traded rooms again, and the little
children gave Miss Mussell their money, and she counted it, and it came
to $2.84. The next day she came again because there were three that
hadn’t their money, so there was $2.88 at last. Miss Mussell had three
little girls go with her after school to pick out the present. They
chose a silver-plated pickle caster, which is exactly what girls of
seven will choose, and, do you know, it came exactly to $2.88?

Then, on the last day of school, Miss Mussell came in, and, with the
three little girls standing on the platform and following every move
with their eyes as a dog watches his master, she gave the caster to Miss
Crutchet and Miss Crutchet cried, she was so surprised. They were tears
of joy, she said. After that, she went into Miss Munsell’s room, and
three little girls in there gave Miss Mussell a copy of Tennyson’s poems
that cost exactly $2.53, which was what Miss Crutchet had collected, and
Miss Mussell cried because she was so surprised. How they could guess
that she wanted a copy of Tennyson’s poems, she couldn’t think, but
she would always keep the book and prize it because her dear pupils had
given it to her. And just as Selma Morgenroth called out to the monitor,
Charley Freer, who sat in Miss Crutchers chair, while she was absent:
“Teacher! Make Miky Ryan he should ka-vit a-pullin’ at my hair yet!” and
the school was laughing because she called Charley Freer “teacher,” in
came Miss Crutchet as cross as anything, and boxed Miky Ryan’s ears
and shook Selma Morgenroth for making so much noise. They didn’t give
anything, though they promised they would.

It was not alone in the day schools that there were extra preparations.
The Sunday-schools were getting ready, too, and when Janey Pettit came
home and told her Pa how big her class was, he started to say something,
but her Ma shook her head at him and he looked very serious and seemed
to be trying hard not to smile. He was very much interested, though,
when she told him that Iky Morgenroth, whose father kept the One-Price
Clothing House down on Main Street, had joined, and how he didn’t know
enough to take his hat off when he came into church. Patsy Gubbins and
Miky Ryan and six boys from the Baptist Sunday-School had joined, too,
and they all went into Miss Sarepta Downey’s class, so that she had two
whole pews full to teach, and they acted just awful. The infant
class was crowded, and there was one little boy that grabbed for the
collection when it was passed in front of him, and got a whole handful
and wouldn’t give it up, and they had to twist the money out of his
fist, and he screamed and “hollered” like he was being killed. And
coming home, Sophy Perkins, who goes to the Baptist Church, told
her that there wasn’t going to be any Christmas tree at their
Sabbath-school. She said that there wasn’t hardly anybody out. The
teachers just sat round and finally went into the pastor’s Bible class.
Mr. Pettit said he was surprised to hear it. It couldn’t have been the
weather that kept them away, could it? Janey said she didn’t know. Then
he asked her what they were going to sing for Christmas, and she
began on “We three kings of Orient are,” and broke off to ask him what
“Orient” meant, and he told her that Orient was out on the Sunbury pike,
about three miles this side of Olive Green, and her Ma said: “Lester
Pettit, I wish’t you’d ever grow up and learn how to behave yourself.
Why, honey, it means the East. The three wise men came from the East,
don’t you mind?”

At the Centre Street M. E. Church, where Janey Pettit went to
Sunday-school, there were big doings. Little Lycurgus Emerson, whose
mother sent him down to Littell’s in a hurry for two pounds of brown
sugar, and who had already been an hour and a half getting past
Plotner’s and Case’s, heard Brother Littell and Abel Horn talking over
what they had decided at the “fishery meetin’.” (By the time Curg got
so that he shaved, he knew that “officiary” was the right way to say
it, just as “certificate” is the right way to say “stiffcut.”) There was
going to be a Christmas tree clear up to the ceiling, all stuck full of
candles and strung with pop-corn, and a chimney for Santa Claus to climb
down and give out the presents and call out the names on them. Every
child in the Sunday-school was to get a bag of candy and an orange, and
there were going to be “exercises.” Curg thought it would be kind of
funny to go through gymnastics, but, just then, he saw Uncle Billy
Nicholson come in, and he hid. He didn’t want to be patted on the head
and--asked things.

Uncle Billy had his mouth all puckered up, and his eyebrows looked more
like tooth-brushes than ever. He put down the list of groceries that
Aunt Libby had written out for him, because he couldn’t remember things
very well, and commenced to lay down the law.

“Such carryin’s on in the house o’ God!” he snorted. “Why the very idy!
Talk about them Pharisees an’ Sadducees a-makin’ the temple a den o’
thieves! W’y, you’re a-turnin’ it into a theayter with your play-actin’
tomfoolery! They’ll be no blessin’ on it, now you mark.”

“Aunt Libby say whether she wanted stoned raisins?” asked Brother
Littell, who was copying off the list on the order book.

“I disremember, but you better send up the reg’lar raisins. Gittin’ too
many newfangled contraptions these days. They’re a-callin’ it a theayter
right now, the Babtists is. What you astin’ fer your eatin’ apples?
Whew! My souls alive! I don’t wonder you grocery storekeepers git rich
in a hurry. No, I guess you needn’t send ‘ny up. Taste too strong o’
money. Don’t have no good apples now no more anyways. All so dried up
and pethy. An’ what is it but a theayter, I’d like to know? Weth your
lectures about the Ar’tic regions an’ your mum-socials, an’ all like
that, chargin’ money fer to git in the meetin’ house. I tell you what it
is, Brother Littell, the women folks ‘d take the money they fritter away
on ribbons and artificial flowers an’ gold an’costly apparel, which I
have saw them turned away from the love-feast fer wearin’, an’ ‘ud give
it in fer quarterage an’ he’p support the preachin’ of the Word, they
wouldn’t need to be no shows in the meetin’ house an’ they ‘d be more
expeerimental religion.”

Abel Horn (Abel led the singing in meeting, and had a loud bass voice;
he always began before everybody and ended after everybody) was standing
behind Uncle Billy, and Lycurgus could see him with his head juked
forward and his eyebrows up and his mouth wide open in silent laughter,
very disconcerting to Brother Littell, who didn’t want to anger Uncle
Billy, and maybe lose his trade by grinning in his face.

“An’ now you got to go an’ put up a Christmas tree right in the altar,”
 stormed Uncle Billy, “an’ dike it all out with pop-corn an’ candles.
You’re gittin’ as bad ‘s the Catholics, every bit. Worse, I say, becuz
they never had the Gospel light, an’ is jist led round by the priest an’
have to pay to git their sins forgive. But you, you’re a-walkin’
right smack dab into it, weth your eyes open, teachin’ fer Gospel the
inventions o’ men.”

“W’y what, Uncle Billy?”

“W’y, this here Santy Claus a-climbin’ down a chimley an’ a-cuttin’ up
didoes fer to make them little ones think they is a reel Santy Claus
‘cuz they seen him to the meetin’ house. Poot soon when they git a
little older ‘n’ they find out how you been afoolin’ ‘em about Santy
Claus, they’ll wonder if what you been a-tellin’ ‘em about the Good Man
ain’t off o’ the same bolt o’ goods, an’ another one o’ them cunningly
devised fables. Think they’ll come any blessin’ on tellin’ a lie? An’
a-actin’ it out? No, sir. No, sir. Ain’t ary good thing to a lie, no way
you kin fix it. How kin they be? Who’s the father of lies? W’y the Old
Scratch! That’s who. An’ here you go a--”

The old man was so wroth that he couldn’t finish and turned and stamped
out, slamming the door after him.

Brother Littell winked and waited till Mr. Nicholson got out before he
mildly observed “Kind o’ hot in under the collar, ‘pears like.”

“Righteous mad, I s’pose,” said Abel Horn.

“You waited on yit, bub?” asked Brother Littell. “I betchy he’s
a-thinkin’ right now he’ll take his letter out o’ Centre Street an’ go
to the Barefoot Church. He would, too, if ‘t wasn’t clean plumb at the
fur end o’ town an’ a reg’lar mud-hole to git there.”

“Pity him an’ a few more of ‘em up in the Amen corner wouldn’t go,” said
Abel Horn. “Mind the time we sung, ‘There is a Stream?’ You know
they’s a solo in it fer the soprano. Well, ‘t is kind o’ operatic an’
skallyhootin’ up an’ down the scale. I give the solo to Tilly Wilkerson
an’ if that old skeezicks didn’t beller right out in the middle of it:
‘It’s a disgrace tud Divine service!’ He did. You could ‘a’ heard him
clear to the court-house. My! I thought I’d go up. Tilly, she was kind
o’ scared an’ trimbly, but she stuck to it like a major. Said afterwards
she’d ‘a’ finished that solo if it was the last act she ever done.”

“Who’s a-goin’ to be Santy Claus?” asked Brother Littell, with cheerful
irrevelance.

“The committee thought that had better be kept a secret,” replied Abel,
with as much dignity as his four feet nine would admit of.

“Ort to be somebody kind o’ heavy-set, ort n’t it?” hinted the grocer,
giving a recognizable description of himself.

“Well, I don’ know ‘bout that,” contested Abel. “Git somebody kind o’
spry an’ he could pad out weth a pilfer. A pussy man ‘d find it rather
onhandy comin’ down that chimbly an’ hoppin’ hether an’ yan takin’
things off o’ the tree. Need somebody with a good strong voice, too,
to call off the names.... Woosh’s you’d git them things up to the house
soon ‘s you kin, Otho. Ma’s in a hurry fer ‘em.”

“Betchy two cents,” said Brother Littell to his clerk, Clarence
Bowersox, “‘at Abel Horn ‘ll be Santy Claus.”

“Git out!” doubted Clarence.

“‘Ll, you see now. He’s the daggonedest feller to crowd himself in an’
be the head leader o’ everything. W’y, he ain’t no more call to be Santy
Claus ‘n that hitchin’ post out yan. Little, dried-up runt, bald ‘s a
apple. Told me one time: ‘I never grow’d a’ inch tell I was sixteen
‘n’ then I shot up like a weed.’... Bub, you tell yer Ma if she wants a
turkey fer Christmas she better be gittin’ her order in right quick.”

Only six more days till Christmas now--only five--only four--only
three--only two--Christmas Eve. One day more of holding in such swelling
secrets, and some of the young folks would have popped right wide open.
Families gather about the Franklin stove, Pa and Ma gaping and rubbing
their eyes--saying, “Oh, hum!” and making out that they are just plumb
perishing for the lack of sleep. But the children cannot take the hint.
They don’t want to go to bed. The imminence of a great event nerves them
in their hopeless fight against the hosts of Nod. They sit and stare
with bulging eyes at the red coals and dancing flames, spurting out here
and there like tiny sabers.

The mystic hour draws near. Sometime in the night will come the jingle
of silver bells, and the patter of tiny hoofs. Old Santa will halloo:
“Whoa!” and come sliding down the chimney. The drowsing heads, fuddled
with weariness, wrestle clumsily with the problem, “How is he to get
through the stove without burning himself?” Reason falters and Faith
triumphs. It would be done somehow, and then the reindeer would fly
to the next house, and the next, and so on, and so on. The mystic hour
draws near. Like a tidal wave it rolls around the world, foaming at its
crest in a golden spray of gifts and love. The mystic hour.

“Oh, just a little longer, just a little longer.”

“No, no. You cain’t hardly prop your eyes open now. Come now. Get to
bed. Now, Elmer Lonnie; now, Mary Ellen; now, Janey; now, Eddie; now,
Lycurgus. Don’t be naughty at the last minute and say, ‘I don’t want
to,’ or else Santa Claus won’t come a-near. No, sir.”

After the last drink of water and the last “Now I lay me,” a long
pause.... Then from the spare bedroom the loud rustling of stiff paper,
the snap of broken, string, and whispers of, “Won’t her eyes stick out
when she sees that!” and, “He’s been just fretting for a sled; I’m so
glad it was so ‘t we could get it for him,” and, “I s’pose we ort n’t to
spent so much, but seems like with such nice young ones ‘s we’ve got ‘t
ain’t no more ‘n right we should do for ‘em all we can afford, ‘n’
mebby a little more. Janey ‘s ‘stiffcut’ said she was 100 in everything,
deportment an’ all.”

At one house something white slips down the staircase to where a good
view can be had through the half-open parlor door. It pauses when a step
cracks loudly in the stillness. The parlor door is slammed to.

“D’ you think he saw?”

“I don’t know. I’m afraid so. Little tyke!”

Something white creeps back and crawls into bed. A heart thumps
violently under the covers, and two big, round eyes stare up at the dark
ceiling. Somebody has eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and
the gates of Eden have shut behind him forever.

He does not sense that now; he is glad in the exulting consciousness
that he is “a little kid” no longer. Pretty soon he’ll be a man, and
then.... and then.... Oh, what grand things are to happen then!

The mutual gifts are brought out with many a shamefaced: “It looks awful
little, but ‘t was the best I could do for the money. You see I spent
more on the children than I lotted to,” and many a cheerful fib of:
“Why, that’s exactly what I’ve been wishing for.” Some poor fools, that
have never learned and never will learn that the truest word ever spoken
is: “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” make their husbands a
present of a parlor lamp or a pair of lace curtains, and their wives
a present of a sack of flour, or enough muslin to make half a dozen
shirts. And there are deeper depths. There are such words as: “What
possessed you to buy me that old thing? Well, I won’t have it! Now!” The
stove-door is slammed open and the gift crammed in upon the coals, and
two people sit there with lips puffed out, chests heaving and hearts
burning with hate.

It is the truth, but cover it up. Cover it up. Turn away the head. On
this Holy Night of Illusion let us forget the truth for once. There
are three hundred and sixty-four other nights in which to consider the
eternal verities. On this one, let us be as little children. “Let us now
go even to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass.”

The mystic hour draws nigh. The lights go out, one by one. The watchman
at the flax mills rings the bell, and they that are waking count the
strokes that tremble in the frosty air. Eleven o’clock. Father and
mother sit silent by the fire. The tree in the corner of the room
flashes its tinselry in the dying light. A cinder tinkles on the hearth.
Their thoughts are one. “He would be nine years old, if he had lived,”
 murmurs the mother. Their hands grope for each other, meet and clasp.
Something aches in their throats. The red coals swell and blur into a
formless mass.

The mystic hour is come. The town sleeps. The moon rides high in the
clear heavens. The wind sighs in the fir trees. Faint and far-off across
the centuries sounds the chant of angels.

The hour is come.





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