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Title: Farmington
Author: Darrow, Clarence S.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Farmington" ***

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                               Farmington


[Illustration]



                               FARMINGTON


                                  _By_
                           CLARENCE S. DARROW


                                CHICAGO
                          A. C. M^cCLURG & CO.
                                  1904



                            COPYRIGHT, 1904,
                         BY A. C. MCCLURG & CO.

                  Entered at Stationers’ Hall, London.

                         _All rights reserved._

                      Published September 24, 1904


                          THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
                          CAMBRIDGE, U. S. A.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


                  CHAPTER                        PAGE

                       I. ABOUT MY STORY            1

                      II. OF MY CHILDHOOD          11

                     III. MY HOME                  21

                      IV. MY FATHER                32

                       V. THE DISTRICT SCHOOL      43

                      VI. THE SCHOOL READERS       56

                     VII. THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL   74

                    VIII. FARMINGTON               84

                      IX. THE CHURCH               96

                       X. THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL       110

                      XI. THE BURYING-GROUND      120

                     XII. CHILDHOOD SURROUNDINGS  130

                    XIII. ILLUSIONS               144

                     XIV. ABOUT GIRLS             155

                      XV. FISHING                 165

                     XVI. RULES OF CONDUCT        177

                    XVII. HOLIDAYS                193

                   XVIII. BASEBALL                208

                     XIX. AUNT MARY               220

                      XX. FERMAN HENRY            232

                     XXI. AUNT LOUISA             243

                    XXII. THE SUMMER VACATION     254

                   XXIII. HOW I FAILED            264



                               FARMINGTON



                               CHAPTER I
                             ABOUT MY STORY


I begin this story with the personal pronoun. To begin it in any other
way would be only a commonplace assumption of a modesty that I do not
really have. It is most natural that the personal pronoun should stand
as the first word of this tale, for I cannot remember a time when my
chief thoughts and emotions did not concern myself, or were not in some
way related to myself. I look back through the years that have passed,
and find that the first consciousness of my being and the hazy
indistinct memories of my childhood are all about myself,—what the
world, and its men and its women, and its beasts and its plants, meant
to me. This feeling is all there is of the past and all there is of the
present; and as I look forward on my fast shortening path, I am sure
that my last emotions, like my first, will come from the impressions
that the world is yet able to make upon the failing senses that shall
still connect me with mortal life.

So why should I not begin this tale with the personal pronoun? And why
should I not use it over and over again, with no effort to disguise the
fact that whatever the world may be to you, still to me it is nothing
except as it influences and affects my life and me?

I have been told that I was born a long time ago, back in the State of
Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of a little struggling town that slept by
day and by night along a winding stream, and between two ranges of high
hills that stood sentinel on either side. The valley was very narrow,
and so too were all the people who lived in the little town. These built
their small white frame houses and barns close to the river-side, for it
was only near its winding banks that the soil would raise corn,
potatoes, and hay,—potatoes for the people, and hay and corn for the
other inhabitants, who were almost as important to the landscape and
almost as close to my early life as the men and women who gathered each
Sunday in the large white church, and who had no doubt that they were
different from the horses and cattle, and would live in some future
world that these other animals would never reach. Even then I felt that
perhaps, if this was true, the horses and cattle had the best of the
scheme of the universe, for the men and women never seemed to enjoy life
very much, excepting here and there some solitary person who was pointed
out as a terrible example, who would surely suffer in the next world
during the eternity which my long-faced sober neighbors would spend in
enjoying the pleasures they had so righteously denied themselves while
here on earth.

Of course no one will expect me to tell all my life. In fact, much of
the most interesting part must be left out entirely, as is the case with
all lives that are really worth the writing; and unless mine is one of
these, why bother with the story? Polite society, that buys books and
reads them,—at least reads them,—would not tolerate the whole; so this
is an expurgated life, or, rather, an expurgated story of a life. Thank
God, the life was not expurgated any more than absolutely necessary,
sometimes not even so much as that. But so far as I can really tell my
story, I shall make a brave endeavor to tell it truthfully, at least as
near as the truth can be told by one who does not tell the whole
truth,—which, after all, is not so very near.

Lest anyone who might borrow this book and read it should think that I
am not so very good, and am putting my best foot foremost, let me hasten
to say that if I told the whole truth it would be much more favorable to
me than this poor expurgated version will make it seem. I have done many
very good things which I shall not dare to set down in these pages, for
if I should record them some envious and unkind readers might say that I
did these things in order to write them in a book and get fame and
credit for their doing, and so after all they were not really good. But
even the bad things that I leave out were not so very bad,—indeed, they
were not bad at all, if one has my point of view of life and knows all
the facts. The trouble is, there are so few who have my point of view,
and most of those are bound to pretend that they have not. Then, too, no
one could possibly tell all the facts, for one can write only with pen
and ink, and long after everything is past and gone, while one lives
with flesh and blood, and sometimes tingling blood at that, and only a
single moment at a time. So it may be that no one could write a really
truthful story if he would, and perhaps the old fogies are right in
fixing the line as to what may be set down and what must be left out. At
least, I promise that the reader who proclaims his propriety the
loudest, and from the highest house-top, need not have the slightest
fear—or hope—about this book, for I shall watch every word with the
strictest care, and the moment I find myself wandering from the beaten
path I shall fetch myself up with the roundest and the quickest turn.
And so, having made myself thus clear as to the plans and purposes of my
story, there is no occasion to tarry longer at its threshold.

I have always had the highest regard for integrity, and have ever by
precept urged it upon other people; therefore in these pages I shall
try, as I have said, to tell the truth; still I am afraid that I shall
not succeed, for, after all, I can tell about things only as they seem
to me,—and I am not in the least sure that my childhood home, and the
boys and girls with whom I played, were really like what they seem to
have been, when I rub my eyes and awaken in the fairy-land that I left
so long ago. So, to be perfectly honest with the reader,—which I am
bound to be as long as I can and as far as I can,—I will say that this
story is only a story of impressions after all. But this is doubtless
the right point of view, for life consists only of impressions, and when
the impressions are done the life is done.

I really do not know just why I am telling this story, for it is only
fair to let the reader know at the beginning, so that he need not waste
his time, that nothing ever happened to me,—that is, nothing has
happened yet, and all my life I have been trying hard to keep things
from happening. But as nothing ever happened, how can there be any story
for me to write? I am unable to weave any plot, because there never were
any plots in my life, excepting a few that never came to anything, and
so were really no part of my life. What happened to me is nothing more
than what happens to everyone; so why should I expect people to bother
to read my story? Why should they pay money to buy my book, which is not
a story after all?

I hardly think I am writing this for fame. If that were the case, I
should tell the things that I leave out, for I know that they would be
more talked about than the commonplace things that I set down. But I
have always wanted to write a book. I remember when I was very small,
and used to climb on a chair and look at the rows of books on my
father’s shelves, I thought it must be a wonderful being who could write
all the pages of a big book, and I would have given all the playthings
that I ever hoped to have for the assurance that some day I might
possibly write down so many words and have them printed and bound into a
book. But my father always told me I could never write a book unless I
studied hard,—Latin, Greek, geometry, history, and a lot of things that
I knew nothing about then and not much more now. As I grew older, I was
too poor and too lazy to learn all the things that my good father said I
must know if I should ever write a book, but I never gave up the
longing, even when I felt how impossible it would be to realize my
dream.

I never studied geometry, or history, or Greek, and I studied scarcely
any Latin, and not much arithmetic; and I never did anything with
grammar, except to study it,—in fact, I always thought that this was the
only purpose for which grammar was invented. But in spite of all this, I
wanted to write a book, and resolved that I would write a book. Of
course, as I am not a scholar, and have never learned anything out of
books to tell about in other books, there was nothing for me to do but
tell of the things that had happened to me. So I tell this story because
it is the only story I know,—and even this one I do not know so very
well. Sometimes I think I am one kind of person, and then sometimes I
think I am another kind; and I am never quite sure why I do any
particular thing, or why I do not do it, excepting the things I am
afraid to do. But there is no reason now why I should not write this
book, for I have money enough to get it printed and bound, and even if
no one ever buys a copy still I can say that I have written a book. I
understand that a great many books are published in this way, and I must
have read a number that never would have been printed if the author had
not been able to pay for them himself.

But I have put off writing this story for many, many years, until at
last I am beginning to think of getting old; and if I linger much longer
over unimportant excuses and explanations, I fear that I shall die, and
future generations will never know that I have lived. For I am quite
certain that no one else will ever write my story, and unless I really
get to work, even my name will be forgotten excepting by the few who go
back to my old-time home, and open the wire gate of the little
graveyard, and go down the winding path between the white headstones
until they reach my mound. I know that they will find it there, for I
have already made my will and provided that I shall be carried back to
the little Pennsylvania town beside the winding stream where I used to
stone the frogs; and I have written down the exact words that shall be
carved upon my marble headstone,—that is, all the words except those
that are to tell of the last event, and these we are all of us very
willing to leave to someone else.

But this story is about life and action, and boys and girls, and men and
women; and I really did not intend to take the reader to my grave in the
very first chapter of the book.



                               CHAPTER II
                            OF MY CHILDHOOD


I forgot to mention that my name is John Smith. Of course this is a very
plebeian name, but I am in no way responsible for it. As long as I can
remember, I answered to the call of “John” or “Johnny” many a time in my
childhood, and even later, when I would much have preferred not to hear
the call. My father’s name was John Smith, too. No doubt he, and his
father before him, could see no way to avoid the Smith, and thought it
could not make much difference to add the John. The chief trouble that I
have experienced from the name has come from getting my letters mixed up
with other people’s,—mainly my father’s,—which often caused me
embarrassment in my younger days.

I have tried very hard to remember when I first knew my name was John.
Indeed, I have often wondered when it was that I first knew that I was
I, and how that fact dawned upon my mind. Over and over again I have
tried to remember my first thoughts and experiences of life, but have
always failed in the attempt. If I could only tell of my first
sensations, as I looked at the blue sky, and felt the warm sun, and
heard the singing birds in my infancy, I am sure they would interest the
reader. But I can give no testimony upon these important points. I have
no doubt, however, that when I looked upon the heavens and the earth for
the first time I must have felt the same ignorance and awe and wonder
that possess my mind to-day when I try to understand the same
unexplainable mysteries that have always filled me with queries, doubts,
and fears.

Neither can I tell just what I first came to remember; and when I look
back to that little home beside the creek I am not quite sure whether
the feelings that I have are of things that I actually saw and felt and
lived, or whether some imaginings of my young brain have taken the form
and semblance of real life.

I was only one of a large family, mostly older than myself; but while I
was only one, I was the chief one, and the rest were important only as
they affected me. It must have been the rule of our family that each of
the children should have the right to give orders to those younger than
himself; at any rate, all the older ones told me what to do, and I in
turn claimed the same privilege with those younger than myself.

My early remembrances have little sequence or logical connection. I am
quite unable to tell which events came first of those that must have
happened when I was very young.

Among my earliest impressions is one of a hill in our back yard, and of
our going down it to bring water from the well. I am sure that the hill
is not a dream, for I have been back since and found it there, although
not near as long and steep as it seemed in those far-off years. I
remember that we children used to slide down this hill and then walk up
again. Even then I was willing to do a great deal of work for a very
small amount of fun. Somehow, in looking back, it seems as if I were
always sliding downhill and tugging my sled back to the top in the dusk
of the evening. I cannot quite understand how it is that I remember the
evening best, but there it is as I unroll the scroll,—there are the
dents in my memory, and there is the little boy pulling his sled uphill
and looking in at the lighted kitchen window at the top. There, too, are
the older and wiser members of the family,—those who have learned that
the short sensation of sliding down the hill is not worth the long tug
up; a lesson which, although I am growing old and gray, I never have
been wise enough to learn. There are the older ones gathered around the
table with their books, or busy with their household work,—the old
family circle that I see so plainly now in the lamplight through the
window, perhaps more plainly for the years that lie between. This magic
circle was long since broken and scattered, and lives only in the memory
of the man-child who knew so little then of what life really meant, and
who knows so little now.

It is strange, but somehow I have no such distinct recollection of our
home as I have of the other objects that were familiar to my childish
mind. I can see the little muddy brook that ran just back of the garden
fence. Down the hill on the edge of the stream stood a log
cheese-house,—at least, it seems so now,—and back of this cheese-house
beside the brook must have been a favorite spot for me to wade and fish,
although I have no remembrance that I ever caught anything, which fact I
am happy to record. Beyond the stream was an orchard. I am uncertain
whether or not it belonged to my father, although I rather think it must
have been owned by somebody else, the apples always looked so tempting
and so red,—which reminds me that all through life it has seemed to me
that no fruit was quite so sweet as that which was just beyond my reach.
Anyhow, this orchard stands out very plainly in my mind. It was a very
large orchard,—in fact, a great forest of trees; and I remember that I
always stole over the fence intending to get the apples on the nearest
tree, but they did not taste so sweet nor look so red as some others
farther on, which in turn were passed by for others yet a little farther
off, until I had gone quite through the orchard in my endeavor to get
the very best. Although I have been grown up for many a year, somehow
this habit of seeing something better further on has clung to me through
life. So tenacious is this habit, that I fancy I have missed much that
is valuable and good in my eager haste to get something better still. I
am not quite certain about the orchard, perhaps it was not so very large
after all; at least, when I went back a few years ago there was no
cheese-house, and no orchard, and even the brook was grown up to grass
and weeds. I know that in my childhood my parents moved from the old
house to another slightly better, and nearer town; but though I can
clearly remember certain incidents of both, still I have no recollection
of our moving, and it is utterly impossible to keep the impressions of
each separate and distinct.

My first memory of a schoolhouse seems quite clear. It may be that the
things I remember never really happened, although the impression of them
is very strong upon my mind. I must have been very young, hardly more
than three or four years old, and was doubtless taken to school by an
elder brother or sister; certainly I was too young to be a pupil. The
schoolhouse was a long way from home,—miles and miles it seemed to me.
After being in school for hours, I must have grown weary and restless,
sitting so motionless and still, for I know that I was boxed on the ears
either by the teacher’s hand or with a slate. I ran out of the room
sobbing and crying, and went down the long white road to my home. I
shall never forget that journey in the heat and dust. It must have been
the greatest pain and sorrow I had ever known. Doubtless it was the
humiliation of being boxed on the ears before the whole school that
broke my heart; at least, I felt as if I never would reach home, and I
must have sprinkled every foot of the way with my bitter tears. I
remember that teacher’s name to-day, and I never forgave her, until a
short time ago, after I read Tolstoi. Now I only realize how stupid and
ignorant she was to awaken such hatred in the heart of a little child.
In those days whipping was a part, and a very large part, of the regular
course of the district school, and I learned in a few years not to mind
it very much,—in fact, rather to enjoy it, for it gave me such good
standing with the other children of the school.

How full of illusions and delusions we children were! Since I have grown
to man’s estate, I have travelled the same road over which I sobbed in
that far-off day, and it was really but a very little way,—a short
half-mile,—and still, as I look back to that little crying child, it
seems as if he must have walked across a desert beneath a tropical sun,
and borne all the despair and anguish of the world inside his little
jacket.

Another memory that has become a part of my being grows out of the great
Civil War. I was probably four or five years old, and was playing under
the big maple-trees in our old front yard. The scene all comes back to
me as I write. I have a stick or hoop, or perhaps both, in my little
hand. No one else is anywhere about. I hear a drum and fife coming over
the hill, and I run to the fence and look down the gravelly road. A
two-horse wagon loaded with men and boys, whose names and perhaps faces
I seem to know, drives past me as I peer through the palings of the
fence. They are dressed in uniform, and are proud and gay. In the centre
of the wagon is one boy standing up; I see his face plainly, and catch
its boyish smile. They drive past the house to the railroad station, on
their way to the Southern battle-fields. I must have been told a great
deal about these men and about the war, for my people were
abolitionists, who looked upon the rebels as some sort of monsters, and
had no thought that there could be any side but ours. However, I now
remember nothing at all of what was said to me, but I hear the martial
music, I see the horses and wagons and men, and clear and distinct from
all the rest is this one boy’s face that I knew so well. Even more
distinctly do I remember a day some months later. I must then have begun
going to the district school, for I remember that there was no school
that day. I recall a great throng of people, and among them all the boys
and girls from school, and we are gathered inside the burying-ground
where they are carrying the young soldier who rode past our house a few
months before. I cannot remember what was said at the funeral, but this
is the first impression that I can recall of the grim spectre Death.
What it meant to my childish mind I cannot now conceive. I remember only
the hushed awe and the deep dread that fell upon us all when we realized
that they were putting this boy into the ground and that we should never
see his face again. Whatever the feeling, I fancy that time and years
have not changed or modified it, or made it any easier to reconcile or
understand.

But with the memory of the funeral there lingers an impression that we
all thought this young man a glorious, brave, and noble boy, and that
his widowed mother and brothers and sisters ought to have felt happy and
proud that he was buried in the ground. I remembered the mother for many
years, and how she always mourned her son; but it was a long, long time
before I came to understand that the fact that the boy was killed upon
the field of battle really did not make the sorrow any less for the
family left behind. And it was still longer before I came to realize
that it is no more noble or honorable to die fighting on the field of
battle than in any other way.



                              CHAPTER III
                                MY HOME


My earliest recollections that I can feel quite sure are real are about
my family and home. My father was a miller, and had a little grist-mill
by the side of the creek, just in the shade of some large oak-trees. His
mill must have been very small, for I always knew that he was poor.
Still, it seemed to me that the mill was a wonderful affair, almost as
large as the big white church that stood upon the hill. It was run by
water when the creek was not too low, which I am sure was very often, as
I think it over now. Above the mill was a great dam, which made an
enormous pond, larger than the Atlantic Ocean, and much more dangerous
to any of us boys venturesome enough to go out upon it in a boat, or
even on skates in the winter time. But the most marvellous part of all
was the wonderful water-wheel hidden almost underneath the mill. It
seemed as if there were a great hollow in the ground, to make room for
the wheel; and if I had any opinion on the subject, I must have thought
that the wheel grew there, for surely no one could make a monster like
that. Often I used to go with my father up to the head of the mill-race,
when he lifted the big wooden gate and let the waters come down out of
the dam through the race and the wooden flume over the great groaning
wheel. I well remember how I used to stand in awe and wonder while my
father opened the gate, and then run down the path ahead of the rushing
tide and peep through a hole to see the old wheel start. Then I would
scamper over the mill, from the cellar with its cogs and pulleys, up to
the garret with its white dusty chutes and its incomprehensible
machines. Then I played around the great sacks and enormous bins of
wheat and corn, and watched the grain as it streamed into the hopper
ready to be ground to pieces by the slowly turning stones.

How real, and still how unreal, all this seems to-day! Is it all a
dream? and am I writing a fairy-story like “Little Red Riding Hood” or
“The Three Black Bears”? Surely all these events are as clear and vivid
as the theatre party of last week. But while I so plainly see the
little, idle, prattling child, looking with wondering eyes at the great
turning wheel, and asking his simple questions of the grave, kind old
man in the great white coat, somehow there is no relation between that
simple child and the man whom the world has buffeted and tossed for so
many years, and with such a rough unfriendly hand, that he cannot help
the feeling that this far-off child was really someone else.

My father was a just and upright man,—I can see him now dipping his bent
wooden measure into the hopper of grain and taking out his toll, never a
single kernel more than was his due. No doubt the suspicious farmers who
brought their sacks of wheat and corn often thought that he dipped out
more grain than he had a right to take; and even many of those who knew
that he did not, still thought he was a fool because he failed to make
the most of the opportunities he had. As I grew up, I learned that there
are all sorts of people in the world, and that selfishness and greed and
envy are, to say the least, very common in the human heart; but I never
could be thankful enough that my father was honest and simple, and that
his love of truth and justice had grown into his being as naturally as
the oaks were rooted to the earth along the little stream.

The old wheel ceased turning long ago. The last stick of timber in its
wondrous mechanism has rotted and decayed; the old mill itself has
vanished from the earth. The drying stream and the great mills of the
new Northwest long since conspired to destroy my father’s simple trade.
Even the dam has been washed away, and a tiny thread of water now
trickles down over the hill where the rushing flood fell full upon the
great turning wheel. Last summer I went back to linger, like a ghost,
around the old familiar spot; and I found that even the great unexplored
pond had dried up, and a field of corn was growing peacefully upon the
soil that once upheld this treacherous sea. And the old miller too, with
his kindly, simple, honest face,—the old miller with his great white
coat,—he too is gone, gone as completely as his father and all the other
fathers and grandfathers who have come and gone; the dear, kind old
miller, who listened to my childish questions, and taught me, or rather
tried to teach me, what was right and wrong, has grown weary and lain
down to rest, and will soon be quite forgotten by the world,—unless this
story shall bring his son so much fame that some of the glory shall be
reflected back to him.

Somehow the mill seems to have made a stronger impression than the house
on my young mind. Perhaps it was because it was the only mill that I had
ever seen or known; perhaps because the associations that naturally
attached to the mill and its surroundings were such as appeal most to
the mind of a little child. Of course, from the very nature of things
the home and family must have been among my earliest recollections; yet
I cannot help feeling that much of the literature about childhood’s home
has been written for effect,—or not to describe home as it really is to
the child, but from someone’s ideal of what home ought to be.

I know that my mother was a very energetic, hard-working, and in every
way strong woman, although I did not know it or think about it then. I
know it now, for as I look back to my childhood and see the large family
that she cared for, almost without help, I cannot understand how she did
it all, especially as she managed to keep well informed on the topics of
the day, and found more time for reading and study than any of her
neighbors did.

In the main, I think our family was like the other families of the
neighborhood, with about the same dispositions, the same ideas and
ideals,—if children can be said to have ideals,—that other people had.

There were seven of us children, and we must have crowded the little
home, to say nothing of the little income with which my father and
mother raised us all. Our family life was not the ideal home-life of
which we read in books; the fact is, I have never seen that sort of life
amongst children,—or amongst grown people either, for that matter. If we
loved each other very dearly, we were all too proud and well-trained to
say a word about it, or to make any sign to show that it was true. When
a number of us children were together playing the familiar games, we
generally quarrelled and fought each other much more than was our habit
when playing with our neighbors and our friends. In this too we were
like all the rest of the families that I knew. It seems to me now that a
very small matter was always enough to bring on a fight, and that we
quarrelled simply because we liked to hurt each other; at least I can
see no other reason why we did.

We children were supposed to help with the chores around the house; but
as near as I can remember, each one was always afraid that he would do
more than his share. I recall a story in one of our school readers,
which I read when very young; it was about two brothers, a large one and
a small one, and they were carrying a pail on a pole, and the larger
brother deliberately shoved the pail nearer to his end, so that the
heavier load would fall on him; but I am sure that this incident never
happened in our family, or in any other that I ever knew.

Most home-life necessarily clusters around the mother; and so, of
course, it must have been in our family. But my mother died when I was
in my earlier teens, and her figure has not that clearness and
distinctness that I wish it had. She seems now to have been a remarkable
combination of energy and industry, of great kindness, and still of
strong and controlling will; a woman who, under other conditions of
life, and unhampered by so many children and such pressing needs, might
have left her mark upon the world. But this was not to be; for she could
not overlook the duties that lay nearest her for a broader or more
ambitious life.

Both my father and mother must have been kind and gentle and tender to
the large family that so sorely taxed their time and strength; and yet,
as I look back, I do not have the feeling of closeness that should unite
the parent and the child. They were New England people, raised in the
Puritan school of life, and I fancy that they would have felt that
demonstrations of affection were signs of weakness rather than of love.
I have no feeling of a time when either my father or my mother took me,
or any other member of our family, in their arms; and the control of the
household seemed to be by such fixed rules as are ordinarily followed in
family life, with now and then a resort to rather mild corporal
punishment when they thought the occasion grave enough. Both parents
were beyond their neighbors in education, intelligence, and strength of
character; and with their breadth of view, I cannot understand how they
did not see that even the mild force they used tended to cause
bitterness and resentment, and thus defeat the object sought. I well
remember that we were all glad if our parents, or either of them, were
absent for a day; not that they were unkind, but that with them we felt
restraint, and never that spirit of love and trust which ought always to
be present between the parent and the child.

While I cannot recall that my mother ever gave me a kiss or a caress,
and while I am sure that I should have been embarrassed if she had,
still I well remember that when I had a fever, and lay on my bed for
what seemed endless weeks, she let no one else come near me by day or
night. And although she must have attended to all her household duties,
she seemed ever beside me with the tenderest and gentlest touch. I can
still less remember any great affection that I had for her, or any
effort on my part to make her life easier than it was; yet I know that I
must have loved her, for I can never forget the bitterness of my despair
and grief when they told me she must die. And even now, as I look back
after all these weary years, when I think of her lying cold and dead in
the still front room I feel almost the same shudder and horror that
filled my heart as a little child. And with this shudder comes the
endless regret that I did not tell her that I loved her, and did not do
more to lighten the burdens of her life.

This family feeling, or lack of it, I think must have come from the
Puritanic school in which my father and mother were born and raised. It
must be that any intelligent parent who really understands life would be
able to make his children feel a companionship greater than any other
they could know.

With my brothers and sisters my life was much the same. We never said
anything about our love for each other, and our nearness seemed to bring
out our antagonism more than our love. Still, I am sure that I really
cared for them, for I recall that once when a brother was very ill I was
wretched with fear and grief. I remember how I went over every
circumstance of our relations with each other, and how I vowed that I
would always be kind and loving to him if his life were saved.
Fortunately, he got well; but I cannot recall that I treated him any
better after this sickness than before.

I remember how happy all of us used to be when cousins or friends came
to stay a few days in our house, and how much more we liked to be with
them than with our own family. I remember, too, that I had the same
feeling when I visited other houses; and I have found it so to this day.
True it is, that in great trouble or in a crisis of life we seem to
cling to our kindred, and stand by them, and expect them to stand by us;
and yet, in the little things, day by day, we look for our comradeship
and affection somewhere else.

So I think that in all of this neither I nor the rest of my people were
different from the other families about us, and that the stories of the
ideal life of brothers and sisters, of parents and children, are largely
myths.



                               CHAPTER IV
                               MY FATHER


My father was a great believer in education,—that is, in the learning
that is found in books. He was doubtful of any other sort, if indeed he
believed there could be any other sort. His strong faith in books,
together with the fact that there were so many of us children around the
house in my mother’s way, early drove me to the district school.

Before this time I had learned to read simple sentences; for I cannot
remember when my father began telling me how important and necessary it
was to study books. By some strange trick of fortune, he was born with a
quenchless thirst for learning. This love of books was the one great
passion of his life; but his large family began to arrive when he was at
such an early age that he never had time to prepare himself to make a
living from his learning. He always felt the hardship and irony of a
life of labor to one who loved study and contemplation; so he resolved
that his children should have a better chance. Poor man! I can see him
now as plainly as if it were yesterday. I can see him with his
books,—English, Latin, Greek, and even Hebrew,—carrying them back and
forth to the dusty mill, and snatching the smallest chance, even when
the water was spilling over the dam, to learn more of the wonders that
were held between the covers of these books.

All my life I have felt that Nature had some grudge against my father.
If she had made him a simple miller, content when he was grinding corn
and dipping the small toll from the farmer’s grist, he might have lived
a fairly useful, happy life. But day after day and year after year he
was compelled to walk the short and narrow path between the little house
and the decaying mill, while his mind was roving over scenes of great
battles, decayed empires, dead languages, and the starry heavens above.
To his dying day he lived in a walking trance; and his books and their
wondrous stories were more real to him than the turning water-wheel, the
sacks of wheat and corn, and the cunning, soulless farmers who dickered
and haggled about his hard-earned toll.

Whether or not my father had strong personal ambitions, I really never
knew; no doubt he had, but years of work and resignation had taught him
to deny them even to himself, and slowly and pathetically he must have
let go his hold upon that hope and ambition which alone make the
thoughtful man cling fast to life.

In all the country round, no man knew so much of books as he, and no man
knew less of life. The old parson and the doctor were almost the only
neighbors who seemed able even to understand the language that he spoke.
I remember now, when his work was done, how religiously he went to his
little study with his marvellous books, and worked and read far into the
night, stopping only to encourage and help his children in the tasks
that they were ever anxious to neglect and shirk. My bedroom, with its
two beds and generally four occupants, opened directly from his study
door; and no matter how often I went to sleep and awakened in the night,
I could see a little streak of lamplight at the bottom of the door that
opened into his room, which showed me that he was still dwelling in the
fairy-lands of which his old volumes told. He was no longer there in the
morning, and this was usually the first time that I missed him in my
waking moments after I had gone to bed. Often, too, he wrote, sometimes
night after night for weeks together; but I never knew what it was that
he put down,—no doubt his hopes and dreams and loves and doubts and
fears, as men have ever done since time began, as they will ever do
while time shall last, and as I am doing now; but these poor dreams of
his were never destined to see the light of day. Perhaps, with no one to
tell him that they were good, he despaired about their worth, as so many
other doubting souls have done before and since. It is not likely,
indeed, that any publisher could have been found ready to transform his
poor cramped writing into print. Whatever may have been the case, if I
could only find the pages that he wrote I would print them now with his
name upon the title-page, and pay for them myself.

I cannot remember when I learned to read. I seem always to have known
how. I am sure that I learned my letters from the red and blue blocks
that were always scattered on the floor. Of course, I did not know what
they meant; I only knew that A was A, and was content with that. Even
when I learned my first little words, and put them into simple
sentences, I fancy that I knew no more of what they meant than the poor
caged parrot that keeps saying over and over again, “Polly wants a
cracker,” when he really wants nothing of the kind. I fancy that I knew
nothing of what they meant, for as I read to-day many of the brave
lessons learned even in my later life I cannot imagine that I had any
thought of their meaning such as the language seems now to hold.

But I know that I learned my letters quickly and early,—though not so
early as an elder brother who was always kept steadily before my eyes.
It must be that my father gave me little chance to tarry long from one
simple book to another, for I remember that at a very early age I was
told again and again that John Stuart Mill began studying Greek when he
was only three years old. I thought then, as I do to-day, that he must
have had a cruel father, and that this unnatural parent not only made
miserable the life of his little boy, but of thousands of other boys
whose fathers could see no reason why their sons should be outdone by
John Stuart Mill. I have no doubt that my good father thought that all
his children ought to be able to do anything that was ever accomplished
by John Stuart Mill; and so he did his part, and more, to make us try.

But, after all, I feel to-day just as I did long years ago, when with
reluctant ear and rebellious heart I heard of the great achievements of
John Stuart Mill. I look back to those early years, and still regret the
beautiful play-spells that were broken and the many fond childish
schemes for pleasure that were shattered because John Stuart Mill began
studying Greek when three years old.

I would often shed bitter tears, and mutter exclamations and protests
which no one heard, but which were none the less terrible because they
were spoken underneath my breath,—and all on account of John Stuart
Mill. It was long before I could forgive my gentle honest father for
having tried so hard to make me learn those books. I am sure that no
good fortune can ever compensate me for the wasted joys, the broken
playtimes, the interrupted childish pleasures, which I should have had.

If I were writing this story as I feel to-day, and if I could not recall
the little child who had so lately come from the great heart of Nature
that he still must have remembered what she felt and thought and knew, I
might not regret those broken childish joys. I might rather mourn and
lament, with all the teachers and parents and authors, that I was so
profligate of my time when I was yet a child, and that I was not more
studious in those far-off years. But as I look back to my childhood
days, my sluggish heart beats quicker, and I can feel the warm young
blood rush to my tingling feet and hands, and I realize once more the
strange thrill of delight and joy that life and activity alone bring to
all the young. And so I cling to-day to the childish thought that I was
right and my poor father wrong. “When I was a child, I spake as a child,
I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I
put away childish things,” said the apostle twenty centuries ago. The
mistake of maturity and age has ever been that it lives so wholly in the
present and so completely forgets the childhood that is past. To guard
infancy and youth as a precious heritage, to keep them as long as we
can, seems to me the true philosophy of life. For, after all, life is
mostly illusions, and the illusions of infancy and childhood and youth
are more alluring than those of later years.

But I fancy now that I can understand my father’s thoughts. A strange
fate had set him down beside the little winding creek and kept him at
his humble task of tolling his neighbors’ grist. He looked at the high
hills to the east, and at the high hills to the west, and up and down
the narrow country road that led to the outside world. He knew that
beyond the high hills was a broad inviting plain, with opportunity and
plenty, with fortune and fame; but as he looked at the hills he could
see no way to pass beyond. It is possible that he could have walked over
them, or even around them, had he been alone; but there was the
ever-growing brood that held him in the narrow place. No doubt as he
grew older he often looked up and down the long dusty road, half
expecting some fairy or genie to come along and take him away where he
might realize his dreams; but of course no such thing ever happened,—for
this is a real story,—and so he stayed and ground the grain in the old
decaying mill.

My father must have been quite advanced in years before he wholly gave
up his ambitions to do something in life besides grinding the farmers’
corn. Indeed, I am not sure that he ever gave them up; but doubtless, as
the task seemed more hopeless and the chain grew stronger, he slowly
looked to his children to satisfy the dreams that life once held out to
him; and so this thought mingled with the rest in his strong endeavor
that we should all have the best education he could get for us, so that
we need not be millers as he had been. Well, none of us are millers! The
old family is scattered far and wide; the last member of the little band
long since passed down the narrow road, and out between the great high
hills into the far-off land of freedom and opportunity of which my
father dreamed. But I should be glad to believe to-day that a single one
over whom he watched with such jealous care ever gave as much real
service to the world as this simple, kindly man whose name was heard
scarcely farther than the water that splashed and tumbled on the turning
wheel.

I started bravely to tell about my life,—to write my story as it seems
to me; and here I am halting and rambling like a garrulous old man over
the feelings and remembrances of long ago. By a strange trick of memory
I seem to stand for a few moments out in the old front yard, a little
barefoot child. The long summer twilight has grown dim, and the quiet
country evening is at hand. Beyond the black trees I hear the falling
water spilling over the wooden dam; and farther on, around the edges of
the pond, the hoarse croak of the frogs sounds clear and harsh in the
still night air. Above the little porch that shelters the front door is
my father’s study window. I look in and see him sitting at his desk with
his shaded lamp; before him is his everlasting book, and his pale face
and long white hair bend over the infatuating pages with all the
confidence and trust of a little child. For a simple child he always
was, from the time when he first saw the light until his friends and
comrades lowered him into the sandy loam of the old churchyard. I see
him through the little panes of glass, as he bends above the book. The
chapter is finished and he wakens from his reverie into the world in
which he lives and works; he takes off his iron-framed spectacles, lays
down his book, comes downstairs and calls me away from my companions
with the old story that it is time to come into the house and get my
lessons. For the hundredth time I protest that I want to play,—to finish
my unending game; and again he tells me no, that John Stuart Mill began
studying Greek when he was only three years old. And with heavy heart
and muttered imprecations on John Stuart Mill, I am taken away from my
companions and my play, and set down beside my father with my book. I
can feel even now my sorrow and despair, as I leave my playmates and
turn the stupid leaves. But I would give all that I possess to-day to
hear my father say again, as in that far-off time, “John Stuart Mill
began studying Greek when he was only three years old.”



                               CHAPTER V
                          THE DISTRICT SCHOOL


In the last chapter I intended to write about the district school; but I
lingered so long over old remembrances that I could not get to school in
time, so now I will go straight there without delay.

The first school that I remember was not in the little town near which
we lived, but about half a mile away in the opposite direction. Our
house must have stood just outside the limits of the little village; at
any rate, I was sent to the country school. Every morning we children
were given a dinner-pail packed full of pie and cake, and now and then a
piece of bread and butter (which I always let the other children eat),
and were sent off to school. As we passed along the road we were joined
by other little boys and girls, and by the time we reached the building
our party contained nearly all the children on the road travelling in
the direction from which we came. We were a boisterous, thoughtless
crowd,—that is, the boys; the girls were generally quieter and more
reserved, which we called “proud.”

Almost as soon as the snow was off the ground in the spring, we boys
took off our shoes (or, rather, boots) and went barefooted to the
school. It was hard for us to wait until our parents said the ground was
warm enough for us to take off our boots; we felt so light and free, and
could run so fast barefooted, that we always begged our mother to let us
leave them off at the very earliest chance. The chief disadvantage was
that we often stubbed our toes. This was sometimes serious, when we were
running fast and would bring them full tilt against a stone. Most of the
time we managed to have one or more toes tied up in rags; and we always
found considerable occupation in comparing our wounds, to see whose were
the worst, or which were getting well the fastest. The next most serious
trouble connected with going barefoot was the necessity for washing our
feet every night before we went to bed. This seemed a grievous hardship;
sometimes we would forget it, when we could, and I remember now and then
being called up out of bed after I thought I had safely escaped and
seemed to be sound asleep, and when my feet were clean enough without
being washed.

It seemed to us children that our mother was unreasonably particular
about this matter of washing our feet before we went to bed. She always
required it when we had been barefoot through the day, even though it
had been raining and we had wiped our feet in the grass. Still the
trouble of washing our feet was partly compensated by our not being
obliged to put on or take off our stockings and our boots. This was a
great relief, especially in the morning; for this part of our toilet
took longer than all the rest, and when the time came around to go
barefoot we had only to get up and jump into a few clothes and start
away.

In the summer-time it took a long while for us children to travel the
short half-mile to the district school. No matter how early we left
home, it was nearly always past the hour of nine when we reached the
door. For there were always birds in the trees and stones in the road,
and no child ever knew any pain except his own. There were little fishes
in the creek over which we slid in winter and through which we always
waded in the summer-time; then there were chipmunks on the fences and
woodchucks in the fields, and no boy could ever manage to go straight to
school, or straight back home after the day was done. The procession of
barefoot urchins laughed and joked, and fought, and ran, and bragged,
and gave no thought to study or to books until the bell was rung and
they were safely seated in the room. Then we watched and waited eagerly
for recess; and after that, still more anxiously for the hour of noon,
which was always the best time by far of all the day, not alone because
of the pie and cake and apples and cheese which the more prudent and
obedient of us saved until this time, but also because of the games, in
which we always had enough boys to go around.

In these games the girls did not join to any great extent; in fact,
girls seemed of little use to the urchins who claimed everything as
their own. In the school they were always seated by themselves on one
side of the room, and sometimes when we failed to study as we should we
were made to go and sit with them. This was when we were very young. As
we grew older, this form of punishment seemed less and less severe,
until some other was substituted in its stead. Most of the boys were
really rather bashful with the girls,—those who bragged the loudest and
fought the readiest somehow never knew just what to say when they were
near. We preferred rather to sit and look at them, and wonder how they
could be so neat and clean and well “fixed up.” I remember when quite a
small boy how I used to look over toward their side of the room,
especially at a little girl with golden hair that was always hanging in
long curls about her head; and it seemed to me then that nothing could
ever be quite so beautiful as this curly head; which may explain the
fact that all my life nothing has seemed quite so beguiling as golden
hair,—unless it were black, or brown, or some other kind.

To the boys, school had its chief value, in fact its only value, in its
games and sports. Of course, our parents and teachers were always urging
us to work. In their efforts to make us study, they resorted to every
sort of means—headmarks, presents, praise, flattery, Christmas cards,
staying in at recess, staying after school, corporal punishment, all
sorts of persuasion, threats, and even main force—to accomplish this
result. No like rewards or punishments were required to make us play;
which fact, it seems to me, should have shown our teachers and parents
that play, exercise, activity, and change are the law of life,
especially the life of a little child; and that study, as we knew it,
was unnatural and wrong. Still, nothing of this sort ever dawned upon
their minds.

I cannot remember much real kindness between the children of the school;
while we had our special chums, we never seemed to care for them, except
that boys did not like to be alone. There were few things a boy could do
alone, excepting tasks, which of course we avoided if we could. On our
way to and from the school, or while together at recess and noon, while
we played the ordinary games a very small matter brought on a quarrel,
and we always seemed to be watching for a chance to fight. In the matter
of our quarrels and fights we showed the greatest impartiality, as boys
do in almost all affairs of life.

While our books were filled with noble precepts, we never seemed to
remember them when we got out of doors, or even to think that they had
any application to our lives. In this respect the boy and the grown-up
man seem wonderfully alike.

But really, school was not all play. Our teachers and parents tried
their best to make us learn,—that is, to make us learn the lessons in
the books. The outside lessons we always seemed to get without their
help,—in fact, in spite of their best endeavors to prevent our knowing
what they meant.

The fact that our teachers tried so hard to make us learn was no doubt
one of the chief reasons why we looked on them as our natural enemies.
We seldom had the same teacher for two terms of school, and we always
wondered whether the new one would be worse or better than the old. We
always started in prepared to find her worse; and the first kind words
we ever had for our teacher were spoken after she was gone and we
compared her with the new one in her place. Our teachers seemed to treat
us pretty well for the first few days. They were then very kind and
sweet; they hardly ever brought switches to the school until the second
week, but we were always sure that they would be called into service
early in the term. No old-time teacher would have dreamed that she could
get through a term of school without a whip, any more than a judge would
believe that society could get along without a jail. The methods that
were used to make us learn, and the things we were taught, seem very
absurd as I look back upon them now; and still, I presume, they were not
different from the means employed to-day.

Most of us boys could learn arithmetic fairly well,—in this, indeed, we
always beat the girls. Still, some parts of arithmetic were harder than
the rest. I remember that I mastered the multiplication-table up to
“twelve times twelve,” backwards and forwards and every other way, at a
very early age, and I fancy that this knowledge has clung to me through
life; but I cannot forget the many weary hours I spent trying to learn
the tables of weights and measures, and how much vexation of spirit I
endured before my task was done. However, after weary weeks and months I
learned them so well that I could say them with the greatest ease. This
was many, many years ago; since that time I have found my place in the
world of active life, but I cannot now remember that even once have I
had occasion to know or care about the difference between “Troy weight”
and “Apothecaries’ weight,” if, in fact, there was any difference at
all. And one day, last week I think it was, for the first time in all
these endless years I wished to know how many square rods made an acre,
and I tried to call back the table that I learned so long ago at school;
but as to this my mind was an utter blank, and all that I could do was
to see the little girl with the golden locks sitting at her desk—and, by
the way, I wonder where she is to-day. But I took a dictionary from the
shelf, and there I found it plain and straight, and I made no effort to
keep it in my mind, knowing that if perchance in the uncertain years
that may be yet to come I may need to know again, I shall find it there
in the dictionary safe and sound.

And all those examples that I learned to cipher out! I am sure I know
more to-day than the flaxen-haired barefoot boy who used to sit at his
little desk at school and only drop his nibbled slate-pencil to drive
the flies away from his long bare legs, but I could not do those sums
to-day even if one of my old-time teachers should come back from her
long-forgotten grave and threaten to keep me in for the rest of my life
unless I got the answer right.

And then the geography! How hard they tried to make us learn this book,
and how many recesses were denied us because we were not sure just which
river in Siberia was the longest! Of course we knew nothing about
Siberia, or whether the rivers ran water or blood; but we were forced to
know which was the largest and just how long it was. And so all over the
great round world we travelled, to find cities, towns, rivers, mountain
ranges, peninsulas, oceans, and bays. How important it all was! I
remember that one of the ways they took to make us learn this book was
to have us sing geography in a chorus of little voices. I can recall
to-day how one of those old tunes began, but I remember little beyond
the start. The song was about the capitals of all the States, and it
began, “State of Maine, Augusta, is on the Kennebec River,” and so on
through the whole thirty-three or four, or whatever the number was when
I was a little child. Well, many, many years have passed away since
then, and I have wandered far and wide from my old-time country home.
There are few places in the United States that I have not seen, in my
quest for activity and change. I have even stood on some of the highest
peaks of the Alps, and looked down upon its quiet valleys and its lovely
lakes; but I have never yet been to Augusta on the Kennebec River in the
State of Maine, and it begins to look as if I never should. Still, if
Fortune ever takes me there, I shall be very glad that I learned when
yet a child at school that Augusta was the capital of Maine and on the
Kennebec River. So, too, I have never been to Siberia, and, not being a
Russian, I presume that I shall never go. And in fact, wherever I have
wandered on the earth I have had to learn my geography all over new
again.

But, really, grammar made me more trouble than any other study. Somehow
I never could learn grammar, and it always made me angry when I tried.
My parents and teachers told me that I could never write or speak unless
I learned grammar, and so I tried and tried, but even now I can hardly
tell an adverb from an adjective, and I do not know that I care. When a
little boy, I used to think that if I really had anything to tell I
could make myself understood; and I think so still. The longer I live
the surer I am that the chief difficulty of writers and speakers is the
lack of interesting thoughts, and not of proper words. Certainly grammar
was a hideous nightmare to me when a child at school. Of all the parts
of speech the verb was the most impossible to get. I remember now how
difficult it was to conjugate the verb “to love,” which the books seemed
always to put first. How I stumbled and blundered as I tried to learn
that verb! I might possibly have mastered the present tense, but when it
came to all the different moods and various tenses it became a hopeless
task. I am much older now, but somehow that verb has never grown easier
with the fleeting years. The past-perfect tense has always been
well-nigh impossible to learn. I never could tell when it left off, or
whether it ever left off or not. Neither have I been able to keep it
separate from the present, or, for that matter, from the future. A few
years after the district school, I went for a brief time to the Academy
on the hill, where I studied Latin; and I remember that this same verb
was there, with all the old complications and many that were new, to
greet me when I came. To be sure, it had been changed to “Amo, Amas,
Amat,” but it was the old verb just the same, and its various moods and
tenses caused me the same trouble that I had experienced as a little
child. My worry over this word has made me wonder whether this verb, in
all its moods and tenses, was not one of the many causes of the downfall
of the Roman Republic, of which we used to hear so much. At any rate, I
long since ceased trying to get it straight or keep it straight; indeed,
I am quite sure that it was designed only to tangle and ensnare.



                               CHAPTER VI
                           THE SCHOOL READERS


If we scholars did not grow up to be exemplary men and women, it surely
was not the fault of our teachers or our parents,—or of the schoolbook
publishers.

When I look back to those lessons that we learned, I marvel that I ever
wandered from the straight path in the smallest possible degree. Whether
we were learning to read or write, studying grammar or composition, in
whatever book we chanced to take, there was the moral precept plain on
every page. Our many transgressions could have come only from the fact
that we really did not know what these lessons meant; and doubtless our
teachers also never thought they had any sort of relation to our lives.

How these books were crammed with noble thoughts! In them every virtue
was extolled and every vice condemned. I wonder now how the book
publishers could ever have printed such tales, or how they reconciled
themselves to the hypocrisy they must have felt when they sold the
books.

This moral instruction concerned certain general themes. First of all,
temperance was the great lesson taught. I well remember that we children
believed that the first taste of liquor was the fatal one; and we never
even considered that one drop could be taken without leading us to
everlasting ruin and despair. There were the alms-house, the jail, and
the penitentiary square, in front of every child who even considered
taking the first drink; while all the rewards of this world and the next
were freely promised to the noble lad who should resist.

As I look back to-day, it seems as if every moral lesson in the universe
must have grown into my being from those books. How could I have ever
wandered from the narrow path? I look back to those little freckled,
trifling boys and girls, and I hear them read their lessons in their
books so long ago. The stories were all the same, from the beginning to
the end. We began in the primer, and our instruction in reading and good
conduct did not end until the covers of the last book were closed.

It seems to me to-day that I can hear those little urchins reading about
the idle lazy boy who tried to get the bee and the cow and the horse to
play with him,—though what he wanted of the bee I could never
understand,—but they were all too busy with their work, and so he ran
away from school and had a most miserable day alone. How could we
children ever stay away from school after we had read this lesson? And
yet, I cannot now recall that it made us love our books, or think one
whit less of the free breeze, the waving grass and trees, or the
alluring coaxing sun.

We were taught by our books that we must on all accounts speak the
truth; that we must learn our lessons; that we must love our parents and
our teachers; must enjoy work; must be generous and kind; must despise
riches; must avoid ambition; and then, if we did all these things, some
fairy godmother would come along at just the darkest hour and give us
everything our hearts desired. Not one story in the book told how any
good could ever come from wilfulness, or selfishness, or greed, or that
any possible evil ever grew from thrift, or diligence, or generosity, or
kindness. And yet, in spite of all these precepts, we were young
savages, always grasping for the best, ever fighting and scheming to get
the advantage of our playmates, our teachers, and our tasks.

A quarter of a century seems not to have wrought much change; we still
believe in the old moral precepts, and teach them to others, but we
still strive to get the best of everything for ourselves.

I wonder if the old school-readers have been changed since I was a boy
at school. Are the same lessons there to-day? We were such striking
examples of what the books would not do that one would almost think the
publishers would drop the lessons out.

I try to recall the feelings of one child who read those stories in the
little white schoolhouse by the country road. What did they mean to me?
Did I laugh at them, as I do to-day? Or did I really think that they
were true, and try and try, and then fail in all I tried, as I do now? I
presume the latter was the case; yet for my life I cannot recall the
thoughts and feelings that these stories brought to me. But I can still
recall the stories.

I remember, as if it were yesterday, the story about the poor widow of
Pine Cottage, in the winter, with her five ragged children hovering
around her little table. Widows usually had large families then, and
most of their boys were lame. This poor widow had at last reached the
point where starvation faced her little brood. She had tasted no food
for twenty-four hours. Her one small herring was roasting on the dying
coals. The prospect was certainly very dark; but she had faith, and
somehow felt that in the end she would come out all right. A knock is
heard at the back door. A ragged stranger enters and asks for food; the
poor widow looks at her five starving children, and then she gives the
visitor the one last herring; he eats it, and lo and behold! the
stranger is her long-lost son,—probably one that was left over from the
time when she was a widow before. The long-lost son came in this
disguise to find out whether or not his mother really loved him. He was,
in fact, rich; but he had borrowed the rags at the tavern, and had just
arrived from India with a shipload of gold, which he at once divided
among his mother and brothers and sisters. How could any child fail to
be generous after this? And yet I venture to say that if any of us took
a herring to school for dinner the day that we read this story in our
class, we clung to it as tenaciously as a miser to his gold.

Then there was the widow with her one lame son, who asks the rich
merchant for a little charity. He listens to her pathetic story, and
believes she tells the truth. He asks her how much she needs. She tells
him that five dollars will be enough. He writes a check, and tells her
to go across the street to the bank. She takes it over without reading
it. The banker counts out fifty dollars. She says, “There is a mistake;
I only asked for five dollars.” The banker goes across the street to
find out the truth, and the merchant says: “Yes, there was a mistake, I
should have made it five hundred,”—which he straightway does. Thus
honesty and virtue are rewarded once again. I have lived many years and
travelled in many lands, and have seen more or less of human nature and
of suffering and greed; I have seen many poor widows,—but have never yet
come across the generous merchant.

There was no end to the good diligent boys and girls of whom the readers
told; they were on every page we turned, and every one of them received
his or her reward and received it right away in cash. There never was
the slightest excuse or need for us to be anything but diligent and
kind,—and still our young hearts were so perverse and hard that we let
the lessons pass unheeded, and clutched at the smallest piece of pie or
cake, or the slightest opportunity to deceive some good kind teacher,
although we must have known that we missed a golden chance to become
President of the United States and have money in the bank besides.

One story of a contented boy stands out so clearly in my mind that I
could not refrain from hunting up the old schoolbook and reading it once
more. It must have made a wonderful impression on my mind, for there it
is, “The Contented Boy.” I cannot recall that I ever was contented in my
life, and I am sure that I have never seen a boy like this one in the
reader; but it is not possible that I knew my schoolbooks were clumsy,
stupid lies. After all this time there is the story, clear and distinct;
and this is the way it runs:

                           THE CONTENTED BOY.

Mr. Lenox was riding by himself. He got off from his horse to look at
something on the roadside. The horse broke away from him and ran off.
Mr. Lenox ran after him, but could not catch him.

A little boy at work in a field, near the road, heard the horse. As soon
as he saw him running from his master, the boy ran very quickly to the
middle of the road, and catching the horse by the bridle, stopped him
till Mr. Lenox came up.

MR. LENOX. Thank you, my good boy. What shall I give you for your
trouble?

BOY. I want nothing, sir.

MR. L. You want nothing? Few men can say as much. But what were you
doing in the field?

BOY. I was rooting up weeds, and tending the sheep that were feeding on
turnips.

MR. L. Do you like to work?

BOY. Yes, sir, very well, this fine weather.

MR. L. But would you not rather play?

BOY. This is not hard work. It is almost as good as play.

MR. L. Who set you to work?

BOY. My father, sir.

MR. L. What is your name?

BOY. Peter Hurdle, sir.

MR. L. How old are you?

BOY. Eight years old next June.

MR. L. How long have you been here?

BOY. Ever since six o’clock this morning.

MR. L. Are you not hungry?

BOY. Yes, sir, but I shall go to dinner soon.

MR. L. If you had a dime now, what would you do with it?

BOY. I don’t know, sir. I never had so much.

MR. L. Have you no playthings?

BOY. Playthings? What are they?

MR. L. Such things as ninepins, marbles, tops, and wooden horses.

BOY. No, sir. Tom and I play at football in winter, and I have a
jumping-rope. I had a hoop, but it is broken.

MR. L. Do you want nothing else?

BOY. I have hardly time to play with what I have.

MR. L. You could get apples and cakes if you had money, you know.

BOY. I can have apples at home. As for cake, I don’t want that. My
mother makes me a pie now and then, which is as good.

MR. L. Would you not like a knife to cut sticks?

BOY. I have one. Here it is. Brother Tom gave it to me.

MR. L. Your shoes are full of holes. Don’t you want a new pair?

BOY. I have a better pair for Sundays.

MR. L. But these let in water.

BOY. I do not mind that, sir.

MR. L. Your hat is all torn, too.

BOY. I have a better one at home.

MR. L. What do you do if you are hungry before it is time to go home?

BOY. I sometimes eat a raw turnip.

MR. L. But if there are none?

BOY. Then I do as well as I can without. I work on and never think of
it.

MR. L. I am glad to see that you are so contented. Were you ever at
school?

BOY. No, sir. But father means to send me next winter.

MR. L. You will want books then.

BOY. Yes, sir; each boy has a spelling-book, a reader, and a Testament.

MR. L. Then I will give them to you. Tell your father so, and that it is
because you are an obliging, contented little boy.

BOY. I will, sir. Thank you.

MR. L. Good-bye, Peter.

BOY. Good-morning, sir.

One other story that has seemed particularly to impress itself upon my
mind was about two boys, one named James and the other named John. I
believe that these were their names, though possibly one was William and
the other Henry. Anyhow, their uncle gave them each a parcel of books.
James took out his pocket-knife and cut the fine whipcord that bound his
package, but John slowly and patiently untied his string and then rolled
it into a nice little ball (the way a nice little boy would do) and
carefully put it in his pocket. Some years after, there was a great
shooting tournament, and James and John were both there with their bows
and arrows; it was late in the game, and so far it was a tie. James
seized his last arrow and bent his bow; the string broke and the prize
was lost. The book does not tell us that in this emergency John offered
his extra piece of whipcord to his brother; instead, the model prudent
brother took up his last arrow, bent his bow, when, lo and behold! his
string broke too; whereupon John reached into his pocket and pulled out
the identical cord that he had untied so long ago, put it on the bow,
and of course won the prize!

That miserable story must have cost me several years of valuable time,
for ever since I first read it I have always tried to untie every knot
that I could find; and although I have ever carefully tucked away all
sorts of odd strings into my pockets, I never attended a shooting-match
or won a prize in all my life.

One great beauty of the lessons which our school readers taught was the
directness and certainty and promptness of the payment that came as a
reward of good conduct. Then, too, the recompense was in no way
uncertain or ethereal, but was always paid in cash, or something just as
material and good. Neither was any combination of circumstances too
remote or troublesome or impossible to be brought about. Everything in
the universe seemed always ready to conspire to reward virtue and punish
vice.

I well remember one story which thus clearly proved that good deeds must
be rewarded, and that however great the trouble the payment would not be
postponed even for a day.

It seems that a good boy named Henry—I believe the book did not give his
other name—started out one morning to walk about five miles away to do
an errand for his sick father. I think it was his father, though it may
possibly have been his mother or grandmother. Well, Henry had only got
fairly started on his journey when he met a half-starved dog; and
thereupon the boy shared with the dog the dinner that he was carrying in
his little basket. Of course I know now that, however great his
kindness, he could not have relieved the dog unless he had happened to
be carrying his dinner in a little basket; but my childish mind was not
subtle enough to comprehend it then. After relieving the dog, Henry went
on his way with a lighter heart and a lighter basket. Soon he came upon
a sick horse lying upon the ground. Henry feared that if he stayed to
doctor the horse he would not get home until after dark; but this made
no sort of difference to him, so he pulled some grass and took it to the
horse, and then went to the river and got some water in his hat (it must
have been a Panama) and gave this to the horse to drink, and having done
his duty went on his way. He had gone only a short distance farther when
he saw a blind man standing in a pond of water. (How the blind man got
into the pond of water the story does not tell,—the business of the
story was not getting him in but getting him out.) Thereupon little
Henry waded into the pond and led the blind man to the shore. Any other
boy would simply have called out to the man, and let him come ashore
himself. Of course, if Henry had been a bad boy, and his name had been
Tom, he would have been found leading the blind man into the pond
instead of out, and then of course he (Tom) would have taken pneumonia
and died.

But Henry’s adventures did not end here. He had gone only a little way
farther when he met a poor cripple, who had been fighting in some war
and who was therefore a hero, and this cripple was very hungry. Henry
promptly gave him all the dinner he had saved from his interview with
the dog; and having finished this further act of charity, he at last
hurried on to do his errand. But he had worked so long in the Good
Samaritan business that by the time he started home it began to get
dark. Then, of course, he soon reached a great forest, which added to
his troubles. After wandering about for a long time in the darkness and
the woods, he sat down in hunger and despair. Thereupon his old friend
the dog came into the wood and up to the tree where Henry sat, and he
found that the dog carried some bread and meat nicely pinned up in a
napkin in payment for the breakfast given him in the morning. How the
dog had managed to pin the napkin, the story does not tell. After eating
his supper, Henry got up and wandered farther into the woods. He was
just despairing a second time, when by the light of the moon he saw the
horse that he had fed in the morning. The horse took him on his back and
carried him out of the wood; but the poor boy’s troubles were not yet
done. He was passing along a lane, when two robbers seized him and began
stripping off his clothes; then the dog came up and bit one robber, who
thereupon left Henry and ran after the dog (presumably so that he might
get bitten again), and just then some one shouted from the hedge and
scared the other robber off. Henry looked toward the hedge in the
darkness, and, behold! there was the crippled soldier riding on the back
of the blind man,—and in this way they had all come together to save
Henry and pay him for being such a good little boy.

When such efforts as these could be put forth for the instant reward of
virtue, where was there a possible inducement left to tempt the most
wayward child to sin?

Not only good conduct, but religion, was taught to us children in the
same direct and simple way. Nothing seemed to pay better than Sabbath
observance, according to the strict rules that obtained when I was
young.

I remember the story of a barber who was doing a “thriving business” in
an English city. He was obliged to shave his customers on Sunday morning
(possibly in order that they might look well at church). However, one
Sunday the barber went to church himself; and, as it so happened, the
minister that day preached a sermon about Sabbath observance. This made
so deep an impression on the barber’s mind that he straightway refused
to do any more shaving on Sunday. Thereupon he was obliged to close his
shop in the aristocratic neighborhood where he had lived, and rent a
basement amongst the working people who did not go to church and hence
had no need of a Sunday shave.

One Saturday night a “pious lawyer” came to town and inquired in great
haste where he could find a barber-shop, and was directed to this
basement for a shave. The “pious lawyer” told the barber that he must
have his work done that night, as he would not be shaved on the Sabbath
day. This at once impressed the barber, who was then so poor that he was
obliged to borrow a halfpenny from his customer for a candle before he
could give him the shave. When the “pious lawyer” learned of the
barber’s straits, and what had been the cause, he was so deeply moved
that he gave him a half-crown, and asked his name. The barber promptly
answered that it was William Reed. At this the lawyer opened his
eyes,—doubtless through professional instinct,—and asked from what part
of the country the barber had come. When he answered, from Kingston,
near Taunton, the lawyer’s eyes were opened wider still. Then he asked
the name of the barber’s father, and if he had other relatives. The
barber told his father’s name, and said that he once had an “Uncle
James,” who had gone to India many years before and had not been heard
from since. Then the “pious lawyer” answered: “If this is true, I have
glorious news for you. Your uncle is dead, and he has left a fortune
which comes to you.” It is needless to add that the barber got the
money,—and of course the death of the uncle and the good luck of the
nephew were entirely due to the fact that the barber would not shave a
customer on the Sabbath day.

Well, those were marvellous tales on which our young minds fed. I wonder
now which is the more real,—the world outside as it seemed to us in our
young school-days, or that same enchanted land our childhood knew, as we
look back upon the scene through the gathering haze that the fleeting
years have left before our eyes!



                              CHAPTER VII
                         THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL


School had at least two days that made us as happy as children could
well be. One was the first day of the term, and the other was the last.
Anxious days and weeks and much nervous expectation led up to the first
day of school; we wondered what our teacher would be like, and eagerly
picked up and told and retold all the gossip that floated from her last
place as to her good points and her bad,—especially her bad. Then there
was always the question as to what pupils would be at school; what new
faces we should see and what old ones would be gone, and whether or not
we should like the new ones better than the old. Our minds were firmly
made up on this point before we went to school, and no possible
circumstance could make us change the opinion, or rather the
determination, we had formed. Then we speculated and negotiated as to
who should be our seat-mate for the term, or until we fought. There was
always the question of studies and classes, and whether the new teacher
would let us begin where the old left off, or whether we should have to
commence the book over again. We almost always began again, and thus the
first parts of our books were badly worn and thumbed, while the pages in
the back were fresh and new.

We looked forward to the last day with all the expectancy of the first.
Long before this the work began to drag; the novelty had all worn off,
and our life was a constant battle with the teacher to see how much we
need not do. As the last day drew near, our minds were filled with
visions of how easy life would be when there was no school, and of the
pleasure the summer held in store for us. On the last day we had no
lessons to recite, and in the afternoon our parents were invited in, and
we spoke pieces and read essays,—that is, the boys generally spoke the
pieces and the girls read the essays. Somehow a boy never could write an
essay, and even if he could manage to write one it would be beneath his
dignity to stand up on the platform and read from little sheets of
notepaper tied with red or blue ribbon. But this task seemed especially
to fit the girls. In the first place, they could write better than the
boys,—letters or essays or anything of the kind. In the next place, they
could not be thought of as standing bolt upright and facing the whole
school, visitors and all; they were too shy to stand out alone with
nothing in their hands to hide their faces. So the girls read essays on
Success, and Work, and Truthfulness, and Spring, and things like that,
while the boys spoke pieces. Sometimes we were afraid, but after a
little practice we promptly answered to our names, and went on the
platform and spoke with the greatest assurance, holding our heads up and
making the gestures according to printed forms laid down in the books.

I fancy that none of us ever really understood anything about the pieces
that we spoke. I remember in a general way that they were mainly of our
country, and brave boys fighting and winning victories and dying, and
about the evils and dangers of strong drink. We had a great many pieces
about intemperance, ambition, and the like. I especially remember one
boy, with red hair and freckles and a short neck and large warts on his
hands, who used always to speak a piece entitled “How have the Mighty
Fallen.” I don’t know who wrote it, or where it came from, or what has
become of it; but I remember the piece almost as well as if I heard it
yesterday. This boy was the prize speaker of the school, and the piece
told about Alexander and Cæsar and Napoleon, and how and why they
failed. Their lack of success was due to ambition and strong drink. I
know this piece made a deep impression on my mind, and I always vowed
that I never would fail as Alexander and Cæsar and Napoleon had
done,—and I never have. I remember that once my father came to school on
the last day, in the afternoon, to hear us speak; and when I got home at
night he told me that the boy who spoke the piece about How the Mighty
had Fallen had all the elements of an orator, and he predicted that some
day he would make his mark in the world. I felt that I would have given
everything I possessed if only my father had said that about me. I know
that in my tactful way I led up again and again to the piece that I had
spoken, but about this my father said not a single word.

How I envied that red-headed lad, and how I wondered if there really was
any chance that I might come out as well as he! For some years my
remembrance of this youth had passed away, until the last time I went
back home. Then, as I drove past his house with never a thought of my
old-time friend, I looked over into the weed-covered yard,—perhaps it
was weedy before, but I did not so remember it,—and there I saw a man
with a hoe in his hand cleaning out a drain that ran from the cellar to
the ditch in front of the house. I looked closely at him, and I never in
the world should have known him; but he came down to the fence, and
leaned on his hoe, and hailed me as I passed. No doubt he had heard that
I had come to town. Then I remembered the piece about How the Mighty had
Fallen, and the little red-headed boy at school; but this boy’s hair was
white, he was bent, and his clothes were about the color of his hair and
hands and face in those far-off years when he spoke the piece. I was
shocked, but I tried not to let him know it. I asked him how he was, and
how he was getting along; and he told me he was very well, and was doing
first-rate. And then I thought of my poor father, who said that he had
all the elements of an orator and would make his mark some day. Well,
perhaps he had made his mark, even though he was cleaning out a
cellar-drain,—and, after all, this is better work than making speeches,
however fine.

To go back to the last day of school. I remember one piece that we used
to speak, about Marco Bozzaris, and how he got into a fight with some
Turks; and first he was killed, and then he killed the Turks, as it
seemed to me. I had no idea who the Turks were, or why Marco Bozzaris
was fighting them, or what it was all about; but I seemed to think there
were certain parts of the piece that should be spoken in a loud voice,
and certain others that should be said very softly. The book I learned
it from had characters or figures that told us when we should speak
softly and when we should speak loudly, and we always followed the
instructions of the book. If it had told us to speak loudly when it said
softly, and softly instead of loudly, we would have done it that way
without a thought that it could make any difference with the piece. I
have no doubt that if I should read “Marco Bozzaris” to-day I should
read it loudly and softly in just the same places that I did at school,
without any more regard for what it meant than I had then.

But there was one piece that I always thought especially fine. It was
about Casabianca. The name now sounds to me like a Spanish name, but I
am sure I had no thought then of what it was. It might have been a
Swedish or an Irish name, for all I knew. I remember that this
Casabianca was a lad about my own age, and somehow he was on a ship in a
battle, and his father was with him. His father was called away on some
important matter, and told Casabianca to stand right there on a certain
spot and wait until he got back. Something must have detained him,—as I
recall it, he was killed, or something of that kind,—at any rate, he did
not get back, and it grew dark, and Casabianca began to cry. Pretty
soon, to make matters worse, a fire broke out on board the ship, and the
smoke began to smother him and the flames to roll around him. The other
people on the ship ran to the shore, and they called to him to run too,
and the gang-plank had not been taken in or burned, and he had lots of
time to get away; but no, his father had gone off, and had told
Casabianca to wait until he returned, and he proposed to wait. So he
called wildly for his father a great many times; but his father did not
come. Still the boy stood fast, and the flames crept slowly up until he
was burned to cinders at his post.

This was a very exciting story, and we used to speak it with voices loud
and soft, and with gestures that looked like rolling fire and smoke. I
did not really know then, but I know now, that this piece was written by
somebody who fancied himself or herself a poet, and that it was written
to teach a moral lesson. I remember that the last line read: “But the
noblest thing that perished there was that young and faithful heart.”
From this I am sure that the lesson meant to be taught was the great
virtue of obeying your parents.

I cannot recall that I ever heard any of our teachers say a word about
this poem, so I infer that they must have approved its sentiments. Of
course I am old enough now to know that a boy who would stick to a
burning ship like that might just as well get burned up and be done with
it at once. But I cannot exactly make up my mind what punishment should
be given to the poet or the book-publisher or the teacher who allowed
this sort of heroics to be given to a child.

In our pieces and in our lessons a great deal was said about the duties
that children owe their parents, a great deal about how much our parents
had done for us, and how kind and obedient we should be to them. But I
cannot recall that there was a single line about the duties that parents
owe to children, and how much they should do for the child who had
nothing to say about his own entrance into the world. It is true that
these books were written for children, but just as true that the
children were to become parents, and that most of them would get little
instruction beyond the district school. Which fact may to some extent
account for the great number of bad and foolish parents in the world.

Many of these pieces told how much we owed the country, and of our duty
to live for it and fight for it, and if need be to die for it. I cannot
recall that a single one ever told of any duty the country owed to us,
or anything that should be given in return for our service and our
lives. All of which shows what a great handicap we children suffered by
being obliged to go to school.

After the last piece had been spoken, the teacher put on her most
serious face (she always had a variety of faces to put on) and told us
how she loved us all,—although she had never said a word of this sort
before,—how good and faithful and studious we had been; she told us how
kind our parents were to let us go to school, how sad she felt at the
final parting, and how impossible it was that the little group could
ever be gathered together again this side of heaven, which she trusted
all of us would some day reach, so that she might meet us once again. At
this we began to regret that we had not treated her better and been more
obedient to her rules. Then we felt sad, and drew our coat-sleeves
across our eyes, and wished that she would stop talking and let us go
out. Finally she spoke the last words and dismissed the school, and our
days of captivity were done. Each child snatched his carefully packed
books and slate, and with shouts and laughter rushed through the
schoolhouse door into the free open world outside.



                              CHAPTER VIII
                               FARMINGTON


Our house stood a short distance beyond the town, and on the other side
of the creek that ran my father’s mill. This little stream came down out
of the hills from somewhere a long way off, and emptied into the river
that wound through the long valley beside the road, flowing from no man
knew where. I must have been nine or ten years old before I was allowed
to go to the mouth of the stream and watch it join the river and run off
between the high hills beyond the town into the great unknown world.
Many years before, I had heard that there was such a place, but I was
not allowed to go; it was so far away, and the dangers were supposed to
be so very great,—though why, I cannot say, any more than I can give a
reason for other things that we boys believed, or, for that matter, that
we grown-up folk believe.

But I used to go quite early across the creek to the little town; at
first holding my father or mother tightly by the hand, or, rather,
having my hand held close by theirs. There were many wonders on the way:
first, the old wooden bridge that used often to be carried off in the
spring, when heavy rains and melting snow and ice came down the stream.
But this bridge was nothing compared with the long covered one below the
town, that I found some years later, when I had grown large enough to
fish and was ashamed to hold my father and my mother by the hand.

Just across the stream was the blacksmith-shop into which I used to look
with wondering eyes. I can see now the white-hot iron as the old
bare-armed smith pulled it from the coals and threw the sparks in all
directions, frightening me almost beyond my wits; still, I would always
go back to the open door to be scared again. Especially in the early
dusk, this old blacksmith-shop, with its great bellows and anvil and
hammers, and its flying sparks and roaring fire lighting up the room and
throwing dark shadows in the corners and around the edges, was a
constant source of wonder and delight; and I used to beg my good father
to throw away my stupid books and apprentice me to learn the blacksmith
trade. But he steadfastly refused my prayers and tears, and told me that
I would live to thank him for denying this first ambition of my life.
Well, I did not learn the trade, and in a halting way I have followed
the path into which the kind old miller guided my young reluctant feet.
Still, I am not yet sure that he was right; for all my life, when I am
honest with myself, I cannot help the thought that I have been a good
deal of a blacksmith, after all.

Just beyond was the wagon-shop, where they made such nice long shavings,
and where we used to go and play “I spy,” or “High spy,” as we boys
called the game. The benches, wagons, and piles of lumber, and the
garret overhead, furnished the best possible places for us to hide.

Then came the shoe-shop, where my father took us to get our winter
boots, which he paid for by trading flour saved up from his tolls. This
shop was a large affair, with three or four men and boys working
steadily in the busy season of the year. Two or three checkerboards,
too, were constantly in use, especially in the long winter evenings, and
every man in the room would tell the player where he ought to move, or
rather where he should have moved in order to win the game.

The old shoe-shop was a great place to discuss the questions of the day;
it was even more popular than the store. Politics and religion were the
favorite topics then, as they are to-day,—as they have ever been since
the world began, and will ever be while the world shall last; for one of
them has to do with the brief transitory life of man upon the earth, and
the other with his everlasting hopes and doubts, desires and fears for
another life when this is done. Besides politics and religion, men and
women were discussed,—all the men and women for miles around who were
not there; these critics debated about the skill of the blacksmith and
the carriage-maker, the thrift of the merchant and the farmer, and the
learning of the preachers and the doctors. This last topic was a
never-ending subject for debate, as there were two of each. I do not
remember what they said about the preachers, but I know that when any
doctor was discussed his disciples stoutly claimed that he was the best
in the whole country round, while his enemies agreed that they would not
let him “doctor a sick cat.” As I recall those little groups, their
opinions on men and women almost always seemed unfavorable and hard,
like most of the personal discussions that I have ever heard. After much
reflection I have reached the conclusion that all people are envious to
a greater or a less degree, and of course each one’s goodness and
importance increase in proportion as those of others are made to grow
less.

The last time I went back along the road, I found that the wagon-shop
and the shoe-shop had long since closed their doors. Cincinnati buggies
and Studebaker wagons had driven away the last board of the old
lumber-piles around which we children used to play; and New England
shoe-factories had utterly destroyed the old forum where were discussed
the mysteries of life and death. Even the customs of the simple country
folks had changed, for I observed that the boys wore shoes instead of
boots; but in those days all the girls wore shoes, and now they were
wearing boots. The blacksmith-shop still stood beside the road, but the
old smith had gone away, and his son was now hammering stoutly at the
same piece of white-hot iron that his father pulled out of the red coals
so long ago; but the little boy who once looked in with wondering eyes
at the open door,—it seemed as if he too were dead and buried forever
behind a great mass of shifting clouds heaped so thick and high as to
make nothing but a dream of those far-off childhood years.

I had almost forgotten to tell the name of my boyhood town. It was
Farmington; and I feel that I ought to write it down in this book, so
that the world may know exactly where it is, for I am sure it was never
in a book before, excepting a county atlas that once printed pictures
and biographies of all the leading citizens of the place. I remember
that the agent came to see my father, and told him what a beautiful
picture the mill would make, and how anxious he was to have his portrait
and history in the book. I really believe my father would have given his
consent but for the reason that the season had been dry and he did not
dare to sign a note. Poor man! I almost wish he had consented, for even
if the book had never been seen by any but the simple country folk who
paid for their glory, as we all must do in some way, still my father
could have read his own biography, and looked at the picture of himself
and his famous mill. And really this is about the only reason that any
of us write books, if the truth were known.

Beyond the shop the road ran into a great common which we called a
square. This really was a wonderful affair,—about the size of Rhode
Island, as it seemed to us. Here we boys often gathered on Saturday
afternoons, and, when I grew older, on the few nights that my father was
away from home, or on some special occasion when I prevailed on him to
let me go there and play.

On one side of the square was the country store,—a mammoth
establishment, kept by a very rich man, who had everything that was ever
heard of on his shelves. I used to marvel how he could possibly think to
buy all the things that he had to sell. Across the road from the store
was the country tavern, and alongside it was a long low barn with a big
shed at the end. A fierce dog was kept chained inside the barn. We
hardly dared to look into the tavern door, for we had all heard that it
was a very wicked place. It was said that down in the cellar, in some
secret corner, was a barrel of whiskey; and the tavern-keeper had once
been sent for three months to the county jail, when some good people had
gone in, one winter night, and told him that they were very cold, and
asked him to sell them some whiskey to keep them warm. At any rate, our
people would never let us go near the door. I used to wonder what kind
of things they had to eat in the tavern. It was the only place I ever
heard of where they charged anything for dinner or supper, and I thought
the meals must be wonderful indeed, and I always hoped that some day I
might have a chance to go there and eat.

On another side of the common was Squire Allen’s place. This was a great
white house, altogether the grandest in the town,—or in the world, for
that matter, so we children believed. It was set back from the road, in
the midst of a grove of trees, and there was a big gate where carriages
could drive into the front yard along the curving roadway and up to the
large front door. Beneath the overhanging porch were four or five great
square white pillars, and the door had a large brass knocker, and there
were big square stone steps that came down to the road. Back of the
house were a barn and a carriage-house, the latter the only building of
the kind in Farmington.

Squire Allen was a tall man with white hair and a clean-shaven face. He
carried a gold-headed cane, and when you met him on the street he never
looked to the right or left. Everyone knew he was the greatest man in
the place,—in fact, the greatest man in all the world. He had a large
carriage, with two seats and big wheels and a top, and two horses; and
he was nearly always riding in the carriage. I do not remember much
about his family; I know that he had a little boy, but I was not
acquainted with him, although I knew all the rest of the little boys in
town. I would often see the Squire and his whole family out driving in
their great carriage. I remember standing on the little bridge and
looking down at the fishes in the brook; and I hear the rumble of wheels
coming down the hill. I glance up, and there comes Squire Allen; his
little boy is sitting on the front seat with him, and on the back seat
are some ladies that I do not know. They drive down the hill, the old
Squire looking neither to the right nor left. I am afraid of being run
over, and I go as near the edge of the bridge as I dare, to escape the
great rolling wheels. The little boy peers out at me as the carriage
passes by, as if he wondered who could dare stand in the road when his
father drove that way; but neither the Squire nor the ladies ever knew
that I was there.

A few months ago, this same little boy called on me at my office in the
city. He, like myself, had wandered far and wide since he passed me on
the bridge. He came to ask me to help him get a job. Somehow, as I saw
him then, and recalled the arrogance and pride that old Squire Allen and
his family always had, I am afraid I almost felt glad that he had been
obliged to come, I am almost sure I felt that at last fortune was making
things right and even. I cannot find in my philosophy any good reason
why the scheme is any more just if he was rich and I was poor when we
were young, and I am rich and he is poor when we are growing old,—but
still I believe I felt this way.

Old Squire Allen has been dead for a quarter of a century and more. Last
summer, when I visited the old Pennsylvania town, I went to the little
burying-ground, and inside the yard I found an iron picket fence, and in
this enclosure a monument taller than any other in the yard, and on this
stone I read Squire Allen’s name. Poor old man! It is many years since
the worms ate up the last morsel of the old man that even a worm could
find fit to eat, but still even after death and decay he lies there
solitary and exclusive, the most commanding and imposing of all the
names that seek immortality in the carved letters of the granite stones.
Well, I am not sure but sometime I shall go back to Farmington and put
up a monument higher than Allen’s, and have “Smith” carved on the base;
and then I suppose it will be easier to go down under it to rest.

But it is only when I am especially envious that I have such thoughts as
these. I was yet a little boy in Farmington when they placed the old
Squire inside the burying-ground. What a day was that! The store was
closed; the tavern door was shut; the old water-wheel stood still; all
Farmington turned out in sad procession to follow the great man to his
grave. The hawks and crows flying high above the town must have looked
down and thought we mourned a king. At least no such royal funeral was
ever seen in all those parts before or since. The burial of old Squire
Allen was as like to that of Julius Cæsar as Farmington was like to
Rome. So, after all, it would be very mean for me to buy a monument
higher than his, just because I can; so I will leave him the undisputed
monarch of the place, and will get for myself one of the small black
oval-cornered slabs that we boys passed by with such contempt when we
rambled through the yard to pick out the finest stones.



                               CHAPTER IX
                               THE CHURCH


Farmington was a very godly place; so, at least, her people thought.
Among the many well-known attractions of the town, its religious
privileges stood easily at the head. A little way up the hill, on a
level piece of ground, the early settlers long ago had built a great
white church. The congregation professed the United Presbyterian faith;
and this was the state religion, not only of Farmington but of all the
country around. The church itself was a wonder to behold. It seemed to
us children to have been built to accommodate all the people in the
world and then have room to spare. No other building we had ever seen
could be compared in size with this great white church. And when we read
of vast cathedrals and other wonderful buildings, we always thought of
the United Presbyterian church, and had no idea that they were half so
grand.

The main part of the building was very long and wide, and the ceiling
very high; but more marvellous still was the great square belfry in the
front. None of us boys ever knew how high it was; we always insisted
that it was really higher than it seemed, and we were in the habit of
comparing it with all the tall objects we had ever seen or of which we
had heard or read. It was surely higher than our flag-pole or our
tallest tree, higher than Niagara Falls or Bunker Hill Monument; and we
scarcely believed that anyone had ever climbed to its dizzy top,
although there was a little platform with a wooden railing round it
almost at its highest point. We had heard that inside the belfry was an
endless series of stairs, and that the sexton sometimes went to the top,
when a new rope was to be fastened to the bell; but none of us had so
much as looked up through the closed trap-door which kept even the most
venturesome from the tower.

The church stood out in plain view from every portion of the town; and
for a long distance up and down the valley road, and over beyond the
creek on the farther hill it loomed majestic and white,—a constant
reminder to the people who lived round about that, however important the
other affairs of life, their church and their religion were more vital
still.

I never heard when the church was built. As well might we have asked
when the town was settled, or when the country road came winding down,
or even when the river began flowing between the high green hills. If
any one object more than another was Farmington, surely it was the great
white church.

I am certain that the people of the town, and, in fact, of all the
country round, had no thought that religion was anything more or less,
or anything whatever, than communion with the church.

High up in the belfry swung a monstrous bell. None of us had seen it,
but we knew it was there, for every Sunday its deep religious tones
floated over the valley and up the hills, breaking the stillness of the
Sabbath day. Sometimes, when we were a little early at church, at the
ringing of the bell we would look up to the tower and fancy that through
the open slats of the belfry we could see some great object swinging
back and forth; and then, too, all of us had seen the end of a rope in a
little room back of the organ on the second floor, and we had been told
that the other end was fastened to the great bell away up in the high
tower, and we used to wonder and speculate as to how strong the sexton
must be to pull the rope that swung the mighty bell.

Every Sabbath morning the procession of farmers’ wagons drove by our
home on their way to church, and we learned to know the color of the
horses, the size of the wagons and carriages, and the number of members
in each family, in this weekly throng; we even knew what time to expect
the several devotees, and who came first and who came last, and we
assumed that those who passed earliest were the most religious and
devout. These Sabbath pilgrims were dressed in their best clothes, and
looked serious and sad, as became communicants of the church. The pace
at which they drove, their manner of dress, cast of countenance, and
silent and stolid demeanor were in marked contrast to their appearance
on any other days.

The Sabbath, the church, and religion were serious and solemn matters to
the band of pilgrims who every Sunday drove up the hill. All our
neighbors and acquaintances were members of the United Presbyterian
church, and to them their religion seemed a very gloomy thing. Their
Sabbath began at sun-down on Saturday and lasted until Monday morning,
and the gloom seemed to grow and deepen on their faces as the light
faded into twilight and the darkness of the evening came.

My parents were not members of the church; in fact, they had little
belief in some of its chief articles of faith. In his youth my father
was ambitious to be a minister, for all his life he was bent on doing
good and helping his fellowman; but he passed so rapidly through all the
phases of religious faith, from Methodism through Congregationalism and
Universalism to Unitarianism and beyond, that he never had time to stop
long enough at any one resting spot to get ordained to preach.

My father seldom went to church on Sunday. He was almost the only man in
town who stayed away, excepting a very few who were considered worthless
and who managed to steal off with dog and gun to the woods and hills.
But Sunday was a precious day to my father. Even if the little creek had
been swollen by recent rains, and the water ran wastefully over the big
dam and off on its long journey through the hills, still my father never
ran his mill on Sunday. I fancy that if he had wished to do so the
people would not have permitted him to save the wasted power. But all
through the week my father must have looked forward to Sunday, for on
that day he was not obliged to work, and was free to revel in his books.
As soon as breakfast was over he went to his little room, and was soon
lost to the living world. I have always been thankful that the religion
and customs of the community rescued this one day from the tiresome
monotony of his life. All day Sunday, and far into the night, he lived
with those rare souls who had left the records of their lives and
spirits for the endless procession of men and women who come and go upon
the earth.

Both my father and my mother thought it best that we children go to
church. So, however much we protested (as natural children always
protest), we were obliged to go up the hill with the moving throng to
the great white church.

In another part of the town, in an out-of-the-way place, was the
unpretentious little Methodist church. It stood at the edge of the
woods, almost lost in their shadow, and seemed to shrink from sight, as
if it had no right to stand in the presence of the mighty building on
the hill. We never went to this church, except to revivals, and we never
understood how it was kept up, as its members were very poor. The
shoemaker and a few other rather unimportant people seemed to be its
only devotees. The Methodist preacher did not live in Farmington when I
first knew the town, but used to drive in from an adjoining village in
the afternoon, and preach the same sermon he had delivered in his home
town in the morning, and then go on to the next village and preach it
once more in the evening. Some years later, after a wonderful revival in
which almost all outsiders except our family were converted to
Methodism, this church became so strong that it was able to buy a piece
of ground in the village and put up a new building with a high steeple,
though it was nothing like as grand as the old white church on the hill.
After this the Methodist preacher came to Farmington to live.

But although we were not United Presbyterians, we children went
regularly to this church because we had to go. The old bell that rang
out so long on Sunday mornings always had a doleful sound to us, and
altogether Sunday was a sore cross to our young lives.

There were many substantial reasons why we did not like the Sabbath day.
Games of all kinds were prohibited; and although we managed sometimes to
steal away to play, still we had no sooner begun a game than someone
came along and made us stop. It made no difference who chanced to
come,—anyone had the right to stop our playing on the Sabbath day. Then,
too, on Sunday we must dress up. This was no small affair, for if we put
on our best clothes and our stockings and boots when we first got up we
were obliged to wear them nearly the whole day; whereas if we had on our
comfortable everyday clothes in the morning, we must change them in an
hour or less, so as to get ready for church. Even if we put on our best
clothes and went barefoot until the first bell rang, then we were
obliged to wash our feet,—for our mother would not let us put on our
stockings except in the early morning unless we first washed our feet.
Then, after church was out and we had eaten dinner, we either had to
wear our best clothes the rest of the day, or change them all; and then
it was only a little while until bedtime, and we could not play even if
we did change our clothes. If we just pulled off our boots and went
barefoot the rest of the day, then we must wash our feet at night.
Childhood was not all joy: it had its special sorrows, which grew less
as years crept on, and one of the chief of these burdens, as I recall
them, was the frequency with which we had to wash our feet.

But more burdensome if possible than this was the general “cleaning” on
Sunday mornings. On week-days we almost always washed our faces and our
hands each day, but as a rule this duty was left largely to ourselves,
with a scolding now and then as a safeguard to its performance. Often,
of course, we passed such a poor inspection at mealtimes that we were
sent from the table to wash again. Still, for the most part we knew how
much was absolutely required, and we managed to keep just inside the
line. But on Sundays all was changed. Then our words and good intentions
went for naught. We were not even allowed to wash ourselves. Our mother
always took us in hand, and the water must be warm, and she must use
soap and a rag, and we had to keep our eyes shut tight while she was
rubbing the soapy rag all over our faces,—and she never hurried in the
least. We might have stood the washing of hands and faces, but it did
not end here. Every Sunday morning our mother washed our necks and ears;
and no boy could ever see the use of this. Nothing roused our righteous
indignation quite so much as the forced washing of our necks. The
occasion, too, was really less on Sunday than on any other day, because
then we always wore some sort of stiff collar around our necks. Neither
was it enough to wash our hands; our sleeves must be pushed up nearly to
our elbows, and our arms scrubbed as carefully as if they too were going
to show. Even if we had been in swimming on Saturday night, and had
taken soap and towels to the creek, and had been laughed at by the other
boys for our pains, still we must be washed just the same on Sunday
morning before we went to church. In the matter of Sunday washing our
mother seemed never to have the slightest confidence in anything we said
or did. There were no bathtubs in Farmington,—at least none that I ever
heard of; so we boys had something to be thankful for, although we did
not know it then. To be sure, we were often put into a common washtub on
Saturday night or Sunday morning, but sometimes swimming was accepted in
lieu of this.

When we were thoroughly cleaned, and dressed in our newest and most
uncomfortable clothes, with stiff heavy boots upon our captive feet, our
mother took us to the church. We were led conspicuously up the aisle,
between the rows of high pews, set down on a hard wooden seat, the door
of the pew fastened with a little hook to keep us safely in, and then
the real misery began. The smallest of us could not see over the high
pew in front, but we scarcely dared to play, except perhaps to get a
piece of string out of our pockets, or to exchange marbles or
jack-knives or memory-buttons, or something of the sort, and then we
generally managed to get into some trouble and run the risk of bringing
our mother into disgrace. In the pew in front of us there usually sat
the little girl with the golden curls,—or was it the one with the black
hair? I am not sure which it was, but it was one of these, and I managed
sometimes to whisper to her over the pew, until my mother or hers
stopped the game. I somehow got along better with her on Sunday than at
any other time,—perhaps because neither of us had then anything better
to do than to watch each other.

I could not understand then, nor do I to-day, why we were made to go to
church; surely our good parents did not know how we suffered, or they
would not have been so cruel and unkind. I remember that the services
began with singing by the choir in the gallery, and I sometimes used to
turn around and look up to see the singers and the organ; and I remember
especially a boy who used to sway back and forth, sideways, to pump the
organ. I had an idea that he must be a remarkable lad, and endowed with
some religious gifts, second only to the preacher. After the first song
came the first prayer, which was not very short, but still nothing at
all to the one yet in store. Then came more singing, and then the long
prayer. My! what agony it was! I remember particularly the old preacher
as he stood during those everlasting prayers. I can see him now,—tall
and spare and straight, his white face encircled with a fringe of white
whiskers. I always thought him very old, and supposed that he came there
with the church, and was altogether different from other men. As he
prayed, he clasped his hands on the great Bible that lay upon the altar,
and kept his eyes closed and his face turned steadily toward the
ceiling. He spoke slowly and in a moderate tone of voice, and in the
most solemn way. I never could understand how he kept his eyes closed
and his sad face turned upward for so long a time, excepting that he had
a special superhuman power.

I could not have sat through that prayer, but for the fact that I
learned to find landmarks as he went along. At a certain point I knew it
was well under way; at another point it was about half done; and when he
began asking for guidance and protection for the President of the United
States, it was three-quarters over, and I felt like a shipwrecked
mariner sighting land. But even the longest prayers have an end, and
when this was through we were glad to stand up while they sang once
more. Then came the sermon, which was longer yet; but we did not feel
that we must sit quite so still as during the long prayer. First and
last I must have heard an endless number of the good old parson’s
sermons read in his solemn voice; but I cannot now remember a single
word of anyone I heard. After the sermon came singing and a short
prayer,—any prayer was short after what we had passed through,—then more
singing, and the final benediction, which to us children was always a
benediction of the most welcome kind.



                               CHAPTER X
                           THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL


When the church services were ended, we children stayed for
Sunday-school. There was never anything especially alluring in
Sunday-school; still it was far better than the church. At least ten or
twelve of us boys could sit together in a great high pew, and no one
could keep us from whispering and laughing and telling jokes. Even the
teachers seemed to realize what we had been through, and were disposed
to allow us a fair amount of liberty in Sunday-school.

The superintendent was a young man named Henry Pitkin. He was a few
years older than the boys. I cannot now remember what he did on
week-days; we never thought of him as working, or wearing old clothes,
or doing anything except being superintendent of the Sunday-school. I
presume he is dead, poor fellow, for I know he was always sickly,—at
least, that is what we boys thought. I believe he was threatened with
consumption, and I heard people speak of him with pity and say what a
nice young man he was. I never knew him to take part in our games, or to
go swimming or fishing, or anything of that kind. I cannot remember that
he was cross or unkind, or what we boys called mean; but still I know we
never talked so loud, and were always a little more particular, and
sometimes stopped our games, when he came along the road. I am sure we
felt sorry for him, and thought he never had any fun. He was always
dressed up, even when it was not Sunday; and he never went barefooted,
or shouted, or made any kind of jokes. I know that I often saw him go up
to the church, to the Thursday evening prayer-meetings, in the
summer-time. He would walk past us while we were playing ball on the
square in the long twilight. None of us could understand why he went to
prayer-meeting on Thursday night. None of us really knew what
prayer-meeting was. We never had to go to church any day but Sunday, and
although our curiosity was strong it never led us to go to the Thursday
evening prayer-meeting. Everybody who went seemed awfully old, except
Henry, and we never understood how he could go. Sometimes we met him
going to the preacher’s for an evening visit, and this seemed still
stranger. None of us boys ever went for an evening visit anywhere; and
if we had gone we never would have thought of going to the
preacher’s,—he was so old and solemn, and we were sure that if we ever
went there he would talk to us about religion.

Our fathers and mothers and the grown-up people were always telling us
what a good boy Henry was, and asking us why we didn’t do things the way
he did. Of course, we couldn’t do as he did, no matter how hard we
tried.

In the Sunday-school Henry always told us what to sing; he would talk to
us softly and quietly, and he never scolded the least bit. He always
asked us to be good, and told us how much happier we would be if we
learned lots of verses, and never called bad names, or fought, and
always tried to do right. Henry told us all about the lesson papers, and
seemed to know everything there was in the Bible, and all about Damascus
and Jericho and those foreign cities that are in the Bible. Then he used
to give out the Sunday-school books. We usually took one of these home
with us, but we never cared much about them. The stories were all rather
silly, and didn’t amount to much.

We boys used to argue about what a superintendent was, and just how high
an office Henry had. We all knew that it was not so high as the
preacher’s, but we thought it was next to his, and some said it was
below a deacon. Some of us thought that Henry was elected by the
Sunday-school teachers, and some thought his office was higher than
theirs and that he could turn them off whenever he had a mind to.

When the Sunday-school began, Henry would make us a little speech,
telling us something about the lesson-papers, and sometimes telling us a
story that he said came out of the Bible; and then he would have one of
the boys pass around the singing-books, and tell us what piece to sing.
The boys and girls rather liked the singing. With the boys the singing
partook largely of the nature of physical exercise.

We used to stand up and sing together in a chorus, or as nearly in
harmony as the superintendent and the organ could possibly keep us.
True, the songs were not of a humorous or even cheerful nature; but then
we really had no idea of what they meant, if indeed the teachers or the
authors had, and we sang them with the same zest and vigor that we would
have given to any other words. I especially remember one song that we
sang pretty well, and very loud and earnestly; not with the least bit of
sadness or even solemnity, but with great energy and zeal. It began with
the lines, “I want to be an angel, and with the angels stand.” Now, of
course, there was not a boy or girl in the school who wanted to be an
angel; neither did the teachers or the superintendent, or even the
parson. In fact, this was the last thing that any of us wanted; but we
fairly shouted our desire to be an angel in a strong chorus of anything
but angelic voices. I presume children sing that same song to-day in
Sunday-school, and sing it without any more thought of its meaning than
the little freckle-faced boys and girls who used to gather each Sunday
in the old white church and fidget and fuss over their new stiff clothes
and their hard and pinching boots.

Besides the singing, the chief work of the Sunday-school teachers was to
have us learn verses from the Testament. Of course, none of us had any
idea what these verses meant, or why we were to learn them, or what we
were to do with them after they were learned. In a general way, we all
knew that the Testament was a sacred volume, and not to be read or
studied or looked at like any other book; and certainly the lives and
characters of which it told were in no way human, but seemed hazy,
nebulous, and far away.

I cannot recall all the means that were taken to make us learn those
verses. Of course there was no whipping in the Sunday-school as there
was in the district school, and the inducements given us were of a
somewhat higher kind. I especially remember that for every certain
number of dozen verses we learned we were given a red card; this card
had a picture of a dove on the top and some verses below it, and a red
border around the edges; then I know that for a certain number of red
cards we were given a blue card similar to the red, except that the dove
had been changed to a little spring lamb. I cannot recall what we got
for the blue card; probably nothing at all. It was no doubt the
ultimate. There must be somewhere an ultimate with children as with men.

I remember that at Christmas time we had a tree, and the two churches
used sometimes to get up a rivalry as to the value of the presents, and
there were little desertions back and forth on this account. I know we
all thought that the number and value of the presents would be in some
way related to the number of verses we had learned; and I am sure that
the number of scholars and the regularity of attendance always increased
toward Christmas time. I must have learned a great many million verses
first and last, but none of them seem to have made any impression on my
mind, and I can now recall only a few about John the Baptist, who came
preaching in the wilderness of Judæa, and had a leather girdle around
his waist, and whose food was locusts and wild honey, and who called on
all the people in the wilderness to repent, for the kingdom of heaven
was at hand. Now, I am certain that John the Baptist did not seem a real
man to me, and that I had no idea of what the wilderness of Judæa was
like or what sort of people lived there. All this was only so many
verses to be learned, for which I would get so many cards. I believe I
thought that John the Baptist had some sort of relation to the Baptist
church, and I wondered how he could live on locusts and wild honey; for
I had seen locusts, and they were only a sort of flying bug, and no more
fit to eat than a grasshopper or a horse-fly. I am sure that I thought
this a very slim diet for a man,—even for a preacher, who we thought
cared little about what he ate. I have grown older now, and wiser, and
have heard many John the Baptists preaching in the wilderness and
calling unwilling sinners to repentance; and now I do not so much wonder
about the locusts, but I can scarcely understand how he was so fortunate
as to get the wild honey.

But the one thing that most impresses me as I look back on the
day-school and the Sunday-school where we spent so many of our childhood
hours is the unreality of it all. Surely none of the lessons seemed in
any way related to our lives. None of them impressed our minds, or gave
us a thought or feeling about the problems we were soon to face.

Often on Sunday evening my father gathered us about the family table in
the dining-room and read a sermon from Channing or Theodore Parker or
James Martineau. I cannot recall to-day a single word or thought or
impression that lingered from the sermons Channing preached, but I am
sure that the force and power and courage of Parker left an impression
on my life; and that even in my youth the kindly, gentle, loving words
and thoughts of James Martineau were not entirely thrown away on me.

The old preacher, as he stood before us on Sunday morning, never seemed
quite like a man,—we felt that he was a holy being, and we looked on him
with fear and reverence and awe. I remember meeting him in the field one
day, and I tried to avoid him and get away; but he came to me and talked
in the kindest and most entertaining way. He said nothing whatever about
religion, and his voice and the expression of his face were not at all
as they seemed when I sat in front of him in the hard pew during the
terrible “long prayer.”

But my father never feared him in the least, and often these two old men
met for an evening to read their musty books, although I could not
understand the reason why. After I had gone to bed at night I often
heard them working away at their Greek, with more pains than any of the
scholars at the school. I wondered why they did these tasks, when they
had no parents to keep them at their work. I was too young to know that
as these old men dug out the hard Greek roots, they felt the long stems
reaching back through the toilsome years and bringing to their failing
lives a feeling of hope and vigor from their departed youth.



                               CHAPTER XI
                           THE BURYING-GROUND


Directly in the shelter of the church was the burying-ground. It had
first been laid out at the corner of the road, on one side of the great
building; but slowly and surely it crept around behind the sheds where
the horses were hitched during the Sunday services, and then still
farther on to the other side. The first part of the yard was almost
filled with little mounds and leaning stones, and most of its silent
tenants were forgotten by all save a few old people who lingered far
beyond the natural term of life. The new yard, as we called it, was in
every way more pretentious than the old; the headstones were higher, the
grass was greener, the mounds were more regular, and the trees and
shrubs were better kept. The bones of many of the dead aristocracy had
been dug up out of the old yard by their proud relatives, and carefully
laid in the new, where they might rest in the same exclusive
surroundings in which they lived while still upon the earth.

As a child, these graveyards had no definite meaning to me, but I never
went by them after nightfall if I could possibly go any other way,
especially if I chanced to be alone. If I could not avoid going this
way, I always kept well to the other side of the road, and walked or ran
as fast as I could, with scarcely a glance toward the silent yard and
the white stones that gleamed so grimly in the dusk. Sometimes a number
of us boys would go through the yard in broad daylight, but even then we
preferred almost any other spot.

I cannot recall when a sense of the real meaning of a churchyard came
full upon me. I have no doubt that I unconsciously felt the gloom of the
place before I fully understood what it really meant.

In the summer-time we children were usually taken through the graveyard
on our way home from church; but after the long services even this
seemed a pleasant spot. On Sunday we were not afraid, for all the
worshippers went home this way.

The yards were filled with evergreen trees carefully trimmed and
clipped, with here and there a weeping-willow drooping its doleful
branches to the ground. Why these trees were chosen for the churchyard,
I cannot tell; but I have never since seen an evergreen or a
weeping-willow that did not take me back to that little spot. The
footpaths wound in and out, and ran off in all directions to reach each
separate plat of ground that the thrifty neighbors had set apart as the
final resting-place which would be theirs until the resurrection came.
Most of them firmly believed in this great day,—or at least they told
themselves they did. Around the yard was a neat white fence, always kept
in good repair; and the gates were carefully locked except on the
Sabbath day. Many times I saw the old sexton wait until the last mourner
had slowly left the yard, and then carefully lock the gate and go away.
It seemed to me as if he were locking the gate to keep his silent
tenants in, like a jailer who turns the bolts upon the prisoners in
their cells.

As a little child, I used to look at the sexton half in awe, and I
almost feared to come into his uncanny presence. I never could think
that he was quite like other men, or else he could not shovel the dirt
so carelessly into the open grave. I had never seen anyone but the old
sexton fill the grave and smooth the little mound that was always made
from the dirt that was left over after the coffin was put down; and I
used to wonder, in my childish way, how the sexton himself would get
buried when he was dead.

The church and the graveyard were closely associated in my mind. It
seemed to me, as a little child, that the church had full jurisdiction
of the yard, and that the care and protection of the graves and their
mouldering tenants were the chief reasons why the church was there. The
great bell tolled slowly and mournfully at each death, and we counted
the solemn strokes to know the age of the hapless one whose turn had
come. Sometimes we could even guess who had died, from the number of
times it struck; but even these strokes did not impress me much. Almost
always the number was very great. I could not see any connection between
these old people and myself; and, besides, I felt that if the time could
ever come when I had grown so old, I would have lived far beyond an age
when there was any joy in life. On the day of the funeral, too, the bell
commenced to toll when the hearse came into view from the church and
began its slow journey up the hill, and it did not cease until the last
carriage was inside the yard. The importance of the dead could always be
told by the length of time the old bell rang while the procession
crawled up the hill. We used to compare these processions, and dispute
as to who had the longest funeral; but after old Squire Allen’s turn had
come, there was no longer any doubt. As I grew older, and began to give
rein to my ambitions and dreams, I hoped and rather believed that in the
far-off years I might have a longer procession than the one that had
followed him to the little yard, but of late years I have rather lost
interest in this old ambition.

At almost every mound stood a white marble slab, and sometimes there was
a grand and pretentious monument in the centre of the lot. When I was
very young, I thought that those who had the finest monuments were the
ones most loved and mourned. It was long before I realized that even the
barred gates of a graveyard could not keep vanity outside. I often heard
the neighbors talk about these stones. Sometimes they said it was
strange that Farmer Smith could not show enough respect for his wife to
put up a finer gravestone. Again, they said that it would have been
better if Farmer Brown had been kinder to his wife while she lived, than
to have put up such a grand monument after she was dead.

We boys sometimes went through the yard to pick out the slabs we liked
the best; these were always the tallest and the largest ones. We
carefully read the inscriptions on these stones, and never for a moment
doubted a word they said, any more than we doubted Holy Writ. All the
inscriptions told of the virtues of the dead, and generally were helped
out by a Scriptural text. In the case of children the stone was usually
ornamented with a lamb or a dove, which we thought wonderful and fine.
Sometimes an angel in the form of a woman was coming down from the
clouds to take a happy child away to heaven. I cannot recall that I saw
any angels in the forms of men, though why all the angels were women I
did not know then, nor, for that matter, do I know now.

I think the first time my faith was shaken in anything I saw on a
gravestone was one day when I chanced upon a brand-new slab erected to
the memory of the town drunkard by his “loving wife and children.” The
inscription said that the deceased was a kind and loving husband and a
most indulgent father. Everyone in Farmington knew that the wife had
often called in the constable to protect her from the husband; but still
here was the stone. Yet, after all, the inscription may not have been
untrue; indeed, it may have been more truthful than those that rested
above many a man and woman who had lived and died without reproach.

Even in the churchyard we boys knew which were the favored spots. We
understood that the broad thoroughfares where carriages could drive were
taken by the richest people of the town, and that the mounds away off at
one side and reached only by narrow footpaths were for the poorer and
humbler folk. I always hoped I might be buried where the teams could
pass; it seemed as if I should be lonely away on the outskirts where no
one ever came along.

Even when quite young, I could not help noticing how many graves were at
first planted with flowers and decked and kept with the greatest care,
and how soon the rosebushes were broken and the weeds and grass grew
rank and high upon the mound. Everyone thought this a shame; and I
thought so too. But that is not so clear to me to-day as it was then. I
have rather come to think it fortunate that Nature, through time and
change, heals the sore wounds and dulls the cruel memories of the past.

When I had grown old enough to go to the Academy on the hill, we boys
had a playground just at the edge of the graveyard. Sometimes the
strongest hitter would knock the ball clear over to the newest mounds
that were slowly encroaching on our domain. When it was my turn to chase
the ball, I always got it as quickly as I could, and ran away, for even
this momentary intrusion of the dead into our games left an uneasy
feeling in my mind.

The last time I was in Farmington I once more went inside the old
graveyard; somehow it had a nearer and more personal meaning to me than
it ever had before. In those far-off days the churchyard was only a
casual thought that flitted now and then like a shadow through my
mind,—never with much personal relation to myself, but more in
connection with my father or mother, or with some old neighbor whom I
knew and loved; but I find that more and more, as we grow older, the
thought of churchyards becomes familiar to our lives and brings a
personal meaning of which childhood cannot know.

Farmington itself, when I last saw it, had not much changed except to
grow older and more deserted than when I was young. Some of the shops
and stores were vacant, and many of the people had gone to more
prosperous towns; but the churchyard had grown larger with the passing
years. The old part was well-nigh forgotten, but the new yard had
stretched out until it quite covered the field where we used to chase
the ball, and had then slowly crept off over a ravine farther back, and
was climbing on up the hill. I wandered for a while around the winding
paths, and read again the inscriptions on the leaning stones; these had
a meaning that I never felt before. When I read the ages of the dead, I
found many a stone that told of fewer years than those that I could
boast, and in the newer part I spelled out the names of some of those
little white-haired boys that once skipped along the winding path with
me without the slightest thought that they so soon would be sleeping
with the rest.



                              CHAPTER XII
                         CHILDHOOD SURROUNDINGS


The life of the child is not the life of the man, and the town of the
child is not the town of the man.

I can never see Farmington except through my boyhood’s eyes, and no
doubt the town and its people were not at all the same to the men and
the women that they were to me. Every object meant one thing to them and
quite a different thing to our childish minds. As I grew to boyhood, the
mill-pond was only a place where I could fish and skate and swim, and
the great turning wheel served only to divert my wondering eyes and ears
as it kept up its noisy rounds. The old mill furnished us boys a place
to hide and run and play our games. The whole scheme of things was ours,
and was utilized by a boy’s varying needs to help fill up his life.

To the kind old miller the condition of the water in the pond was
doubtless quite another thing, and every revolution of the groaning
wheel must have meant bread to him,—not only bread for the customers
whose grain he ground, but sorely needed bread for the hungry mouths of
those who had no thought or care whence or how it came, but only
unbounded faith that it would always be ready to satisfy their needs.

It is only by imagination, through the hard experience life has brought,
that I know these familiar things had a different meaning to the old
miller and to me. Yet even now I am not sure that they had for him a
deeper or more vital sense. Perhaps the water for my swimming-hole was
as important as the water for his bread. For after all both were needed,
in their several ways, to make more tolerable the ever illusive game of
life.

But I must describe Farmington and its people as they seemed to me,—as
in fact they were to me, according to their utility in the small schemes
of a little child.

The world seems to take for granted that every parent is a hero to his
children, and that they look to the father and mother as to almost
superhuman beings whose power they cannot understand but can rely upon
with implicit faith. Even the street-car signs tell this old tale, and
advertise “pies like mother used to make.” No doubt the infant looks
with perfect confidence into the eyes of the mother who gave it birth,
and in its tender years the child has the utmost trust in the wisdom and
protection of the parent to whom it has always looked to satisfy its
needs. But I cannot remember that in my youth either I, or any of my
companions, had the feeling and regard for our parents that is commonly
assumed. In fact, we believed that, as to wisdom and general ability to
cope with the affairs of life, we were superior to them; and we early
came to see their shortcomings rather than their strength. I cannot say
that I looked upon my mother even as a cook exactly in the light of the
street-car advertisements, but I distinctly recall that often when I
visited the woodsheds of neighboring children and was kindly given a
piece of pie or cake, I went back home and told my mother how much
better this pie tasted than the kind she baked, and asked her why she
did not make pies and cakes the way the neighbors did; but to all these
suggestions I ever got the same reply,—if I did not like her cooking I
could go elsewhere to board. Of course this put a stop to all
discussion. I am quite certain that it is only after long years of
absence, when we look back upon our childhood homes, the bread and pies
are mixed with a tender sentiment that makes us imagine they were better
than in fact they really were. I rather fancy that if our mother’s
cooking were set before us once again, we should need the strong
primitive appetite of our youth to make it taste as our imagination
tells us that it did.

As to my father, I am sure I never thought he was a man of extraordinary
power. In fact, from the time I was a little child I often urged him to
do things in a different way,—especially as to his rules about my
studies and my schooling. I never believed that he ran the mill in the
best way; and I used to think that other men were stronger or richer, or
kinder to their children, than my father was to us. It was only after
years had passed, and I looked back through the hazy mist that hung
about his ambitions and his life, that I could realize how great he
really was. As a child, I had no doubt that any man could create
conditions for himself; the copy-books had told me so, and the teachers
had assured us in the most positive way that our success was with
ourselves. It took years of care and toil to show me that life is
stronger than man, that conditions control individuals. It is with this
knowledge that I look back at the old miller, with his fatal love of
books; that I see him as he surveys every position the world offers to
her favored sons. He knows them all and understands them all, and he
knows the conditions on which they have ever been bestowed; yet he could
bury these ambitions one by one, and cover them so deep as almost to
forget they had once been a portion of his life, and in full sight of
the glories of the promised land could day by day live in the dust and
hum of his ever-turning mill, and take from the farmer’s grist the toll
that filled the mouths of his little brood. To appreciate and understand
the greatness of the simple life, one must know life; and this the child
of whatever age can never understand.

After my father and mother,—whom I did not appreciate, and who, I am
bound to think, but half understood me,—no other men or women came very
near my life. My relations were with the boys and girls,—especially the
boys. The men and women were there only to board and clothe the
children, and furnish them with a place to sleep at night. To be sure,
we knew something of all the men and women in the town, but we saw them
only through childish eyes. There was the blacksmith, who was very
strong, and whom we liked and called “clever” because he sometimes
helped us with our games. There was one old farmer in particular, who
had a large orchard and a fierce dog, and who would let his apples rot
on the ground rather than give us one to eat. We hated him, and called
him stingy and a miser. Perhaps he was not that sort of man at all, and
the dog may not have been so very fierce. No doubt someone had given
them bad names, and the people preferred to believe evil of them instead
of good. Then there was the town drunkard, whom all of us knew. We liked
him when he was sober, although we were told that he was very bad; but
he always laughed and joked with us, and watched our games in a friendly
way, but when we heard that he was drunk we were all afraid of him and
ran away. Then there was another man who kept a little store, and we
knew he was very rich; we had no idea how much he was really worth, but
anyhow we knew that he was rich. And so on, through all the
neighborhood, we knew something of the men, and classified them by some
one trait or supposed fact,—just as the grown-up world always persists
it has a right to do. The women, too, we knew even better than the men,
for it was the mothers who controlled the boys, and in almost every case
it depended on them alone whether or not the boys might go and play.
Still, we children only knew and cared about the grown-up people in a
remote secondary way. Every home was full of boys, and by common
affinity these boys were always together,—at least, as many of them as
could get away from home. As a rule, the goodness and desirability of a
parent were in exact proportion to the ease with which the children
could get away from home. I am afraid that in this child’s-world my good
parents stood very low upon the list,—much lower than I wished them to
stand.

We children had our regular seasons’ round of games and sports. There
was no part of the year in which we could not play, and each season had
its special charm. There might not have been much foundation for the
custom, but somehow certain games always came at certain times. When the
season was over the games were dropped unceremoniously and left for
another year.

Of course the little creek and the great mill-pond and the river were
sources of never-failing delight. I cannot remember when I learned to
swim, but I learned it very young and very well; and it was lucky I did,
for I have been in deep water many times since then. The boys seemed to
prefer water to land,—that is, water like a pond or a stream. We did not
care for the kitchen tub and the wash-basin. It was the constant aim of
our parents and teachers to keep us out of the water for at least a
portion of the time, and they laid down strict rules as to when and how
often we should go swimming. But when boys are away from home they are
apt to forget what teachers and parents say; and we always contrived to
get more swimming than the rules prescribed. This would have been easier
except for the fact that it generally took us so long to dry our hair,
and our teachers and parents could often detect our swimming by simply
feeling of our heads. I shall always remember that a boy was never
supposed to be a complete swimmer until he could swim the “big bend.”
There was a bend in the river, which was very broad and deep, and a
favorite swimming-place for the larger boys. I well remember the first
time I swam across, and I have accomplished few feats that compared with
this. All my life I had supposed that the big bend was very broad and
deep, until I made a special examination of the place on my last visit,
a little time ago, and really it was so changed that I could almost wade
across. Still, at that very time there were little boys in the stream
just getting ready to perform the same feat that I had accomplished long
ago.

The same water that served us in summer-time delighted us equally in the
winter months. We learned to skate as early as we learned to swim. Our
skates were not the fancy kind that are used to-day, but were made of
steel and wood, and were fastened to our boots with straps. Few boys
could skate long without the straps coming loose; but then, a few
difficulties more or less have little terror for a boy. It would be hard
to make a town better fitted for boys than Farmington; even the high
hills were made for coasting in the winter-time. In fact, nothing was
lacking to us except that our parents and teachers were not so kind and
considerate as they should have been.

In the summer-time we often climbed to the top of the hills and looked
down the valley to see the river winding off on its everlasting course.
Then we would fancy that we were mountaineers and explorers, and would
pick our way along the hills with the beautiful valley far beneath. I do
not know why we climbed the hills in the summer-time. It could not have
been for the scenery, which was really very fine; for boys care little
for this sort of thing. The love of Nature comes with maturing years and
is one of the few compensations for growing old. More and more as the
years go by we love the sun and the green earth, the silent mountains
and the ever-moving sea. It seems as if slowly and all unawares our
Mother Nature prepares and ripens us to be taken back into her
all-embracing breast.

But boys like hills and animals and trees, not so much because they are
a part of Nature as for the life and activity they bring. So we climbed
the hills and the trees, and went far down the winding stream for no
purpose except to go, and when we reached the point for which we started
out we turned around and came back home. Still, since I have grown to
man’s estate I do the self-same thing. I make my plans to go to a
foreign port, and with great trouble and expense travel half-way round
the earth, and then, not content with the new places I have found, and
longing for the old ones once again, I turn back and journey home.

Since the days when we children followed the crests of the hills along
the valley, this lovely scene has fallen under the notice of a business
man. He has built a hotel on the top of the highest hill, overlooking
the valley and the little town, and in the summer-time its wide verandas
are filled day after day with women, young and old, who sit and swing in
hammocks, and read Richard Harding Davis and Winston Churchill, and
watch for the mail and wait for the dinner-bell to ring.

With what never-ending schemes our youth was filled, and in what quick
succession each followed on the others’ heels! Our most cherished plans
fell far short of what we hoped and dreamed. Somehow everything in the
world conspired to defeat our ends,—and most of all, our own childish
nature, which jumped from fad to fancy in such quick succession that we
could never do more than just begin. Even when we carried our plans
almost to completion, their result was always very far short of the
thought our minds conceived.

With what infinite pains and unbounded hopes we prepared to go nutting
in the woods! How many bags and sacks we took, and how surely these came
back almost empty with the boys who started out with such high hopes as
the sun rose up! How often did we prepare the night before to go
blackberrying in the choicest spots, but after a long day of bruises and
wasp-bites and scratches, come back with almost empty pails! Still, our
failures in no way dampened the ardor of any new scheme we formed.

We could run and jump and throw stones with the greatest ease; but when
we put any of our efforts to the test, we never ran so fast or jumped so
high or threw a stone so far as we thought and said we could,—and yet
our failures had no effect in teaching us moderation in any other
scheme. I well remember one ambitious lad who started out to make a
cart. He planned and worked faithfully, until the wonderful structure
took on the semblance of a cart. Then his interest began to flag, and
the work went on more slowly than before. For days and weeks we used to
come to his shop and ask, “Will, when are you going to finish your
cart?” We asked this so often that finally it became a standing joke,
and the cart was given up in ignominy and chagrin.

When the snow was soft and damp, we often planned to make a giant
snow-man or an enormous fort. We laid out our work on a grand scale, and
started in with great industry and energy to accomplish it. But long
before it was finished, the rain came down or the sun shone so hot that
our work and schemes melted away before our eyes.

So, too, the grown-up children build and build, and never complete what
they begin. When the last day comes, it finds us all busy with
unfinished schemes,—that is, all who ever try to build. But this is
doubtless better than not to try at all.

The difference between the child and the man lies chiefly in the
unlimited confidence and buoyancy of youth. The past failure is wholly
forgotten in the new idea. As we grow older, more and more do we
remember how our plans fell short; more and more do we realize that no
hope reaches full fruition and no dream is ever quite fulfilled. Age and
life make us doubtful about new schemes, until at last we no longer even
try.

Well, our youth brought its mistakes and its failures, its errors of
judgment and its dreams so hopeless to achieve. But still it carried
with it ambition and life, a boundless hope, and an energy which only
time and years could quench. So, after all, perhaps childhood is the
reality, and in maturity we simply doze and dream.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                               ILLUSIONS


As I look back upon my childhood, it seems as if the world were an
illusion and as if everything were magic that passed before my eyes.
True, we children learned our lessons in our arithmetics and geographies
and readers, but we only learned by rote and said them from our lips;
they had no application to our lives,—they were only tasks which we must
get through before our foolish parents and unkind teachers would leave
us free to live. We seem to have breathed an enchanted air, and to see
nothing as it really was. And still, can I be sure of this? Are the
heartbeats of the young less natural and spontaneous than those of later
life? Are the vision and hearing and emotions of youth less trustworthy
than the dulled faculties and feelings of maturer years? Certain it is
we children lived in a world that was all our own,—a world into which
grown-up people could not come, from which in fact they had long since
passed out never to return.

But we had our illusions and our dreams. Time and distance and
proportion did not exist for us. Time is ever illusive to young and old
alike; it is no sooner come than it is gone. The past is regretted, the
present disappointing; the future alone is trusted, and thought to be
worth our pains. Childhood is the happiest time of life, because the
past is so wholly forgotten, the present so fleeting, and the future so
endlessly long. But how little I really knew of time, of youth and of
age, when I was young! We children thought that old age lay just beyond
the time when childish sports would not amuse. We could see nothing in
life beyond thirty that would make it worth living, excepting for a very
few who were the conquerors of the world. True, we dreamed of our future
great achievements, but these were still far off, and to be reached in
strange fantastic ways. The present and the near future were only for
our childish joys. We looked at older people half in pity, half in fear.
I distinctly remember that when a child at the district school I thought
the boys and girls at the Academy were getting old.

As to my parents, they always seemed old; and when I was not vexed about
things they would not let me do, I felt sad to think their days of sport
were past and gone. I well remember the terrible day when they laid my
mother in her grave, and the one consolation I felt was that she had
lived a long life and that her natural time had come. Even now, as I
look back on the vague remembrances of my mother, I have no thought of
any time when she was not old. Yet last year I went to see the little
headstone that marks her modest grave. I read her name, and the
commonplace lines that said she had been a good wife and a loving
mother; and this I have no doubt was true, even though I found it on a
churchyard stone. Poor soul! she never had a chance to be anything else
or more. But when I looked to see her age, I felt a shock as of one
waking from a dream; for there, chiselled in the marble stone and
already growing green with moss, I read that she had died at
forty-eight. And here I stood looking at my old mother’s grave, and my
last birthday was my forty-sixth. Was my mother then so young when she
lay down to sleep?—and all my life I had thought that she was old! I
felt and knew, as I sadly looked upon the stone, that my career was all
before me still, and that I had only been wandering and blundering in a
zigzag path through childhood and youth, to begin the career I was about
to run. True, as I drew close to the marble slab to read the smaller
letters that told of the virtues of the dead, I put on a pair of
gold-rimmed glasses to spell the chiselled words. And these glasses were
my second pair! Only a few days before, I had visited an oculist and
told him that my old ones somehow did not focus as they should, but
warned him not to give me a new pair that magnified the letters any more
than the ones I had. After several trials he found a pair through which
I could see much clearer than before, and he assured me on his honor
that they were no stronger than the ones I was about to lay aside,—only
they were ground in a different way. And although I had lived on the
earth for six and forty years, I believed he told the truth. I
remembered, too, that only a few days before an impudent college
football hero gave me a seat in the street-car while he stood up. But
then college boys were always thoughtless and ill-mannered, and boastful
of their strength. I recovered from the shock that came upon me as I
realized that my mother had died while she was really young; and then my
mind recalled a day that had been buried in oblivion for many, many
years,—a day when I rested upon the same spot where I was sitting now,
and when the tremendous thought of eternal sleep dawned upon my mind. No
doubt it was my mother’s stone that so long ago awakened me to conscious
life. I remember that on that far-off day I was fifteen years of age,
and that I consoled myself by thinking that at any rate I should live
until I was sixty, which was so far away that I could not even dream
that it would ever come. And now I was here again, and forty-six. Well,
my health was good, my ancestors were long-lived,—all except my mother,
who came to an untimely grave,—and I should live to be ninety at the
very least. And then—there might be another world. No one can prove that
there is not.

But I am lingering too long around the old graveyard of my childhood
home, and if I do not go out into the living, moving world, no one will
ever read my book. And still I fancy that I am like all the other men
and women who were ever born; we eat and drink, and laugh and dance, and
go our way along the path of life, and join the universal conspiracy to
keep silent on the momentous final event that year by year draws closer
to our lives.

Distance was as vague and illusive and as hard to realize as time. A
trip to the next town, four miles away, awoke in my mind all the feeling
of change and travel and adventure that a voyage across the sea can
bring to-day. I recall one great event that stands out clearly in my
childhood days. For months and months I had been promised a long trip
with my older sister to visit my Aunt Jane. She lived miles and miles
away, and we must take a railroad train to reach her home. For weeks I
revelled in the expectation of that long-promised trip. I wondered if
the train would really stop at our station long enough for me to get on
board; if there would be danger of falling out if I should raise the
window of the car; and what would happen if we should be carried past
the town, or the train should run off the track. I am always sure of a
fresh emotion when I think of the moment that we were safely seated in
the car and the train began to move away. How I watched and wondered as
the houses and telegraph poles flew past in our mad flight! And how I
stored my mind with facts and fancies to tell the wondering boys when I
returned! if indeed I ever should. I remember particularly how I pleaded
with the train conductor to let me keep the pasteboard ticket that had
been handed to me through the hole in the little window at the station
when I took the train. I felt that this would be a souvenir of priceless
worth, but the conductor regretfully told me that he must deny my wish.
It seems even now as if I journeyed across a continent, there were so
many things to see that were wholly new and strange. And yet my Aunt
Jane lived only twenty miles away, and the trip must have been made in
one short hour or less. Many times since then I have boarded a train to
cross half the continent. I have even stood on the platform of the
Orient Express in Paris, and waited for the signal to start on the long
journey across Europe to Constantinople; but I have never felt such
emotions as stirred my soul when the train actually moved away to take
me to see Aunt Jane.

Men and their works are indeed inconsistent. The primitive savage who
dwelt at home went to a foreign land when he moved his tent or paddled
his log canoe across the stream; but civilized man, with his machines,
inventions, and contrivances, has brought the world into such close
connection that we must journey almost around the earth to find
something new and strange.

Not time and space alone, but also men and women, were illusive to our
young minds. My Sunday-school teacher, a fat asthmatic woman, who always
held her lesson-paper between her stiff thumb and finger covered with a
black glove, seemed a wonderful personage to me. How was it possible she
could know so much about Palestine and Jerusalem and Judæa and the Dead
Sea? Surely she had never visited these mythical realms, for there was
no way to go. As easily might she have gone to the moon, or to some of
the fixed stars; and still she talked of these things with the
familiarity with which she would have spoken of a neighboring town. I
never had any idea that she was like a common woman, until one day when
I went to her house and found her with her sleeves rolled up and a great
apron reaching clear around her dress, and she was washing clothes.
After that, the spell was broken. How could anyone wash clothes if she
really knew about Paul and John the Baptist and the river Jordan?

All the grown-up men seemed strange and unreal to my mind, and to have
nothing in common with the boys. No matter what we did, we thought that
if any man should come around he had a right promptly to make us stop.
Most of the men never seemed to notice us, unless to forbid our doing
certain things, or to ask us to turn a grindstone while they sharpened
an axe or a scythe; and there were only a very few who even knew our
names. Once in a long while some man would call me “that Smith boy,” but
even then he seemed a little doubtful who I really was. If now and then
a grown-up man took a friendly interest in our sports, or called us by
our first names, we liked him, and would have voted for him for
President of the United States if we could have had the chance.

I well remember Deacon Cole. I used always to see him in one of the
front pews at church. Every Sunday morning he drove by our home, and he
was usually the very first to pass. He wore a ruffled shirt, a long
black coat, and a collar that almost hid his chin. His face was long and
sad, and he never looked to the right or left during the services at the
church. I had no doubt he was a very holy man. He always took up the
collection just before the benediction had been said, and his boots
would creak as he tiptoed from pew to pew. I did not know just what a
deacon was, or how anyone ever happened to be a deacon. I remember I
once asked my father; and although he could tell me all about Cæsar and
Plato and Herodotus, he could never make it clear how Mr. Cole ever
became “Deacon Cole.” But one day when I was down at the mill, a farmer
drove up to the door with a load of corn. He wore overalls, an old
patched coat, and a big straw hat. I looked at him closely before I
could believe that he was Deacon Cole, and then slowly another illusion
was dissolved. I found that a deacon was a man just like my father and
other men that I had known.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                              ABOUT GIRLS


In Farmington the girls were of small account. Of course we had to
tolerate them, for all of us had sisters, and then, too, we were told
that we ought to treat them more kindly than the boys: but still we
never really wanted them around.

The girls were much prettier than the boys, and they had on clean
clothes, and generally shoes, and they wore red or blue ribbons around
their necks and white or colored sashes around their waists, and their
hair was combed and fixed in long twists and tied with ribbon every day;
and it was almost always as smooth and nice at night as when they came
to school in the morning. As for us boys, our mothers combed our hair in
the morning before we went to school, and occasionally with a fine-tooth
comb; and when we left home it was usually parted on the side, and had
no snarls, and lay down smoothly on the top of our heads,—but of course
it was different before we got home. Sometimes even on our way to school
we would turn somersaults, or walk on our hands, or “skin a cat” on the
limb of a tree, and then our caps would fall off and our hair get pretty
badly mussed. Then, too, we often ran and got warm, and had to take off
our caps and fan ourselves, and run our hands through our hair; and
sometimes we wrestled and fell down, and things like that; and when we
were not playing ball we often went in swimming at noon, and of course
we could not keep our hair straight, and did not much care or try. But
the girls were different; they never would do anything that hurt their
hair, and if it got mussed the least little bit they always stopped and
combed it out so that it looked almost as well as when they went to
school. Generally they had little pocket looking-glasses; but even if
they had not, any of the girls would help the others to comb and tie
their hair. But no boy would ever think of asking another boy to help
him to fix his hair; if he had done anything like this, he would have
known pretty well what he might expect to get.

We used to wonder how the girls could keep their clothes so smooth and
nice; for many of them had a long way to walk to school, and the road
was dusty, and the dirt got on them from the long grass and weeds. We
thought the reason they looked so well was that they were different from
the boys. All of us liked to watch the girls, for they were so pretty
and behaved so well. Their side of the schoolhouse was always the
cleaner, and they never threw things on the floor, and their desks
looked better, for the books and the slates were not tumbled around as
they were on our side of the room. And there was no writing on their
desks, nor carvings made with jack-knives; and in every way one could
tell which was their side of the house, even if no scholars were in the
room.

The girls always behaved better in school than the boys; of course they
whispered some, and giggled quite a bit, but they hardly ever threw
apples, or brought in bugs, or set pins in the seat, or played jokes, or
contradicted the teacher, or refused to do what she said. As a rule,
they got their lessons better than the boys, and had more headmarks in
spelling; and the teacher hardly ever made them stand on the floor, and
did not keep them in at noon or recess or after school nearly as often
as she did the boys. Then, if one girl told another that she could have
a piece of her apple at lunch, or a bite of her stick candy, and took a
pencil and marked off how much she could have, she would always bite in
the right place, and never take any more,—if anything, she took a little
less. But if a boy held up his apple and told another boy that he could
take a little bite, not so far down as the core, very likely the boy
would have to pull his hand back quick to keep his fingers from being
bitten off. Really, no boy who was not green would let another boy take
a bite of his apple, or his candy, or his gum. If he really wanted to
give any of it away or trade it for something, he always took out his
knife and cut off just the part he wanted to give away, or else he bit
it out himself without taking any chances.

In the games we played, the girls were of no use; they could not run, or
jump, or climb a tree, or even throw a ball or a stone, or do anything
that had to be done to play a game. Sometimes they stood around and
watched us boys, and coaxed us to choose them in, and sometimes we let
them play just as we did the little fellows. But if they ever played
“fox and geese” or “pump-pullaway,” they were sure to get caught the
first thing, and they hurt the game. And when they had to catch you, of
course you couldn’t run right through and knock them down just as if
they were boys. Sometimes they coaxed us to let them play ball; but they
never could hit the ball, and if they did it only went a little ways,
and they couldn’t run to the first base, and you never knew where they
were going to throw, and they were always in the way when you were
running, and you were afraid to hit the ball as hard as you could, or to
throw it very hard, when they were around. They were not much good to
play “I spy,” for they never could hide very well. If they got behind a
tree, their dresses would stick out, and they couldn’t climb up on any
high place, or jump down, or lie down behind a log so that you couldn’t
see them; and even if they had a chance to get in first, they ran so
slow that they were always behind when they reached the post.

Of course they could jump rope pretty well, but boys seldom played such
games as jumping the rope; it wasn’t really any game at all. And then
the girls always wanted you to help to turn the rope, and maybe there
would be only a girl at the other end. They did not quarrel with the
teachers, and sometimes they told on us boys when we did something the
teachers said we mustn’t do. When any of the boys got whipped hard in
school, the girls cried and made a fuss; they never could stand anything
like boys. Always at noon when we wanted to play ball or go in swimming,
they would coax us to play “needle’s eye,” or “Sally Waters,” or some
such silly game. And in the winter, when we were sliding down hill, they
never had a sled of their own, but would always want to ride with us;
and we always had to be careful, and go only in the safest places, or
they would fall off and get hurt and cry.

When we went skating, they wanted us to draw them on a sled on the ice,
and they never dared go anywhere unless the ice was thick. If it bent
the least little bit, they ran away and cried for fear their brothers
would get drowned. When they had skates, they never would go out on the
river where the water was over their heads; and they were afraid of
holes in the ice, or of our building a fire on the ice, and we always
had to put on and take off their skates. We never could pull the straps
tight, because it hurt their feet and made them cold; and then their
skates would get loose all the time, and we had to fix them; and they
couldn’t go far away on the ice, for they were afraid they wouldn’t get
back before the school-bell or the supper-bell rang. Then, if they went
out skating, or anywhere, after dark, they could not stay late, and we
had to stop and go home with them when they got the least bit cold. They
never thought they could go home alone after dark, but they could have
gone as well as not if they had only thought so. Sometimes they went
sleigh-riding with the boys in a big sled; but this was not half so much
fun as hitching to cutters or jumping on sleds, and the girls never
could do this.

When we went to see any of the other boys, we never went into the house.
There was nothing to do in the house except to take off your hat and sit
in a chair and tell the boy’s mother how your mother was. We always
played around the yard, or went into the barn or out in the woodshed,
where we could have some fun. But the girls couldn’t go out and play in
the yard or in the barn or in the woodshed, and if they did they could
not play anything that was good fun, but they would tease us to come
into the house and look at the album while they told us who all the old
pictures were, and would want us to stay in the sitting-room, or go into
the parlor and hear them play a lot of tunes on the organ, and sing
“Shall we gather at the river,” and “Home, Sweet Home,” and duets, and
“Darling, I am growing old,” and such things, and that would spoil all
the fun. And after they got through playing the organ and singing, if it
was not time to go home they wanted us to play “Authors.” This was the
only kind of cards that girls could play.

They never were any good to go fishing, but they always wanted to go,
and we had to bait their hooks, and take off the fishes if they caught
any, but they hardly ever did; and they talked about how sorry they were
for the fishes and the worms, but they let us do all the work. And if
sometimes they went hickory-nutting or chest-nutting with us, we let
them help to pick up the nuts while we had to climb the trees and shake
them off; but they couldn’t carry any of them home, and when we came to
fences they never would climb over them for fear they would tear their
dresses, and we always had to go away around until we could find bars or
a gate or take down the fence; and they were afraid of cows and dogs,
and tried to keep us from going anywhere, and bothered us and held us
back. And then when we took them we had to be careful what we said, and
could not run or walk very fast or go very far, and we always had to get
back at a certain time, and couldn’t stay out after dark, or go across
any water, or get into swamps or places where they could get their feet
wet and catch cold.

Of course they got up parties, and wanted us to go; but these were
always in the houses, and we had to wear our best clothes and our shoes,
and be careful not to run against a chair, or tip over the lamp, or
break anything, and we had to keep still, and couldn’t go outdoors, and
had to play “needle’s-eye” and “post-office” and charades and
“blindman’s-buff.” Of course we had a little cake and sometimes some
ice-cream, but never half enough, and we were always glad when the party
was out.

In fact, in our boys’ world there was no room for girls, except that we
always liked to look at them and think how pretty and clean they were.



                               CHAPTER XV
                                FISHING


I was very small when I began to fish,—so small and young that I cannot
remember when it was. In fact, my first fishing comes to me now, not as
a distant recollection, but only as a vague impression of a far-off
world where a little boy once lived and roamed. I am quite sure that I
first dropped my line into the little muddy pool just behind our garden
fence. I am sure, too, that this line was twisted by my mother’s hands
from spools of thread, and the hook was nothing but a bended pin. I
faintly recall my protests that a real fish-line and hook bought at the
store would catch more fish than this homemade tackle that my kind
mother twisted out of thread to save the trifling expense; but all my
protests went for naught. I was told that the ones she made were just as
good as the others, and that I must take them or go without. All that
remains to me of those first fishing-days is the faint impression of a
little child sitting on an old log back of the cheese-house, his bare
feet just touching the top of the little pool, holding a fish-pole in
his hands, and looking in breathless suspense at the point where the
line was lost in the muddy stream.

More distinctly do I remember a later time, when I had grown old enough
to go down the road to the little bridge, and to have a real fish-line
and a sharp barbed hook which my brother brought me from the store. I go
out on the end of the planks and throw my line close up to the stone
abutments in the dark shadow where the water lies deep and still. The
stream is the same fitful winding creek that comes down through the
meadow behind the garden-fence; but here it seems to stop and linger for
awhile under the protecting shadows of the little wooden bridge. I have
no doubt that the spot is very deep,—quite over my head,—and with
throbbing heart I sit and wait for some kind fish to take my baited
hook. I learned later that I could wade clear under the bridge by
pulling my trousers up above my knees; but this was after I had sat and
fished. True, my older brothers had always told me that there was
nothing but minnows in the muddy pool; but how did they know? Their eyes
could see no farther into the unknown stream than mine.

I do not remember catching a single fish either behind the cheese-house
or under the bridge; but I do remember the little bare-legged boy, with
torn straw hat, waiting patiently as he held his pole above the pool,
and wondering at the perversity of the fish. If I could only have seen
to the bottom of the stream, no doubt I should have known there were no
fishes there for me to catch; but as I could not see, I was sure that if
I sat quite still and kept my line well up to the abutment of the
bridge, the fishes would surely come swimming up eager to get caught.

Many a time I was certain that the fishes were just going to bite my
hook; but at the most critical moment some stupid farmer would drive his
noisy clattering wagon at full speed upon the sounding bridge, and as
like as not shout to me, and of course drive all the fishes off. Or,
even worse, the driver would halt his team just before he reached the
little bridge, get down from the high wagon seat, unrein his horses, and
drive them down the sloping bank to the edge of the bridge to get a
drink. The stupid horses would push their long noses clear up under the
bridge, close to the stone abutment where I had cast my line, clear down
almost to the bottom of the pool, and drink and drink until they were
fairly bursting with water, and finally they would stamp their feet, and
splash through to the other side, pulling along the great wagon-wheels
after them. Of course it was a waste of time to sit and fish after a
catastrophe like this. But although I caught no fish, still day after
day I would go back to the end of the planks and throw my baited hook
into the pool, and sit and blink in the broiling sun and wait for the
fish to bite.

But when I grew older I gave my fishing-tackle to my younger brothers
and let them sit on the old log and the end of the bridge where I had
watched so long, and, turning my back in scorn upon the little stream,
sought deeper waters farther on.

I followed my older brother up to the dam, and sat down in the shade of
the overhanging willow-trees, and cast my line over the bank into the
deep water, which was surely filled with fish. Perhaps in those days it
was not the fish alone, but the idea of fishing. It was the great pond,
which seemed so wide and deep, and which spread out like glass before my
eyes. It was the big willow-trees that stood in a row just by the
water’s edge, with their drooping branches hanging almost to the ground,
and casting their cool delicious shade over the short grass where we sat
and fished; and then the blue sky above,—the sky which we did not know
or understand, or really think about, but somehow felt, with that sense
of freedom that always comes with the open sky. Surely, to sit and fish,
or to lie under the green trees and look up through their branches at
the white clouds chasing each other across the clear blue heavens,—this
was real, and a part of the life of the universe, and also the life of
the little child.

How many castles we built from the changing forms of those ever-hurrying
clouds, moving on and ever on until they were lost in the great unknown
blue! How many dreams we dreamed, how many visions we saw,—visions of
our manhood, our great strength, and the wonderful achievements that
would some day resound throughout the world! And those castles and
dreams and visions of our youth,—where are they now? What has blasted
the glowing promises that were born of our young blood, the free air,
and the endless blue heavens above? Well, what matters is whether or not
the castles were ever really built? At least the dreams were a part of
childhood’s life, as later dreams are a part of maturer years. And,
after all, if the dreams had not been dreamed then life had not been
lived.

But here in the great pond we sometimes caught real fish. True, we
waited long and patiently, with our lines hanging listlessly in the
stream. True, the fishes were never so large or so many as we hoped to
catch, but such as they were we dragged them relentlessly from the pond
and strung them on a willow stick with the greatest glee.

I remember distinctly the time when some accident befell the dam, and
the water was drawn off to make repairs. The great surface of stone and
mud for the first time was uncovered to our sight, and I remember the
flopping and struggling fishes that found themselves with no water in
which to swim. I remember how we pounced upon these fishes, and caught
them with our hands, and almost filled a washtub with the poor helpless
things. I cannot recall that I thought anything about the fishes, except
that it was a fine chance to catch them and take them home; although the
emptying of the mill-pond must have been the greatest and most serious
catastrophe to them,—not less than comes to a community of men and women
from the sinking of a city in the sea. But we had then only seen the
world from the point of view of children and not of fishes.

But it was not until I was large enough to go off to the great river
that wound down the valley that I really began to fish. I had then grown
old enough to get first-class lines and hooks and a bamboo pole. I went
with the other boys down below the town, down where our little stream
joined its puny waters with the great river that scarcely seemed to care
whether it joined or not, and down to the long covered bridge, where the
dust lay cool and thick on the wooden floor. Here I used to sit on the
masonry just below the footpath, and throw my line into the deep water,
and wait for the fish to come along.

Where is the boy or the man who has not fished, and who does not in some
way keep up his fishing to the very last? Yet it is not easy to
understand the real joys of fishing. Its fascination must grow from the
fact that the line is dropped into the deep waters where the eye cannot
follow and only imagination can guess what may be pulled out; it is in
the everlasting hope of the human mind about the things it cannot know.
In some form I am sure I have been fishing all my life, and will have no
other sort of sport. Ever and ever have I been casting my line into the
great unknown sea, and generally drawing it up with the hook as bare as
when I threw it down; and still this in no way keeps me from dropping it
in again and again, for surely sometime something will come along and
bite! We are all fishers,—fishers of fish, and fishers of each other;
and I know that for my part I have never managed to get others to nibble
at my hook one-half so often as I have swallowed theirs.

Our youthful fishing did not all consist in dropping our hooks and lines
into the stream. In fishing, as everywhere in life, the expectation was
always one of the chief delights. How often did we begin our excursions
on the night before! We planned to get up early, that we might be ready
to furnish the fishes with their breakfast,—to come upon them after
their night’s sleep, when they were hungry and would bite eagerly at our
baited hooks. How expectantly we took the spade and went to the garden
and dug up the choicest and fattest worms,—enough to catch all the
fishes in the sea! Then at night we dreamed of fish. We went to bed at
twilight, that we might be ready in the gray morning hours. We started
out early with lines and poles and bait. We stopped awhile at the big
covered bridge and sat on the hard stone abutments, we put the wiggling
worms upon the hooks and threw our lines far out into the stream. I
cannot recollect that we thought of any pain to the fish, or still less
to the worm,—though I do not believe that I could string a twisting worm
over the length of one of those cold steel hooks to-day, no matter what
reward might come. My father did not encourage me in fishing, although I
do not remember that he said much about how cruel it really was. But he
told me never to take a fish that I could not eat, and to throw the
small ones back into the stream at once. Yet though all the fishes that
came up were smaller than I had hoped or believed, still I was always
reluctant to throw them back.

The first fishing-spot seldom fulfilled our expectations, and most of us
waited awhile and then went farther down the stream. Slowly and
carefully we followed the winding banks, and we always felt sure that
each new effort would be more successful than the last. But our
expectations were never quite fulfilled. Now and then we would meet men
and boys with a fine string of fish. These were generally of the class
my father called shiftless and worthless; but as for us, we had little
luck. Gradually, as the sun got higher in the heavens, we went farther
and farther down the stream, always hopeful for success in the next deep
hole. Finally, tired and hungry, we threw away our bait, and, with our
small string of sickly-looking fish, turned toward home. Sometimes on
our return we came upon a more patient boy who had sat quietly all day
at the hole we left and been abundantly rewarded for his pains.
Generally, weary and worn out, we would drop our fish on the woodshed
floor and go into the kitchen to get our supper. Not until the next day
would we again think of our string of fish, and then we usually found
that the cat had eaten them in the night.

When we reflected on our fishing, it was a little hard to tell where the
fun came in; but on the whole this is true of most childish sports, and,
for that matter, it holds good with all those of later years. But this
has no tendency to make us stop the sport, or rather the hope of sport,
for to give up hope is to give up life.

The last time I drove across the old covered bridge I stopped for a
moment by the stone pier where I used to sit and fish. I looked over at
the muddy stream, and the hard gray abutment where I had watched so
patiently through many hot and dusty days; and there in the same place
where I once sat and expectantly held my pole above the stream was
another urchin not unlike the one I knew, or thought I knew, so long
ago. I lingered a few moments, and shuddered as I saw the cruel boy push
the barbed hook through the whole length of the squirming worm. I
watched him throw the bait silently into the yellow stream, and, behold!
in a short time he pulled out a little wiggling fish. I went up to him
as he took the murderous hook from the writhing fish, and tried to make
him think that it was so small that he ought to throw it back. But in
spite of all I could say, the little brute stuck a willow twig through
its bleeding gills and strung it on a stick, as I had done when I was a
little savage catching fish.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                            RULES OF CONDUCT


I was very young when I first began to wonder why the world was so
unreasonable; and now I am growing old, and it is not a whit more
sensible than it used to be. Still, as a child I was in full accord with
the other boys and girls about the stupidity of the world. Of course
most of this perversity on the part of older people came from their
constant interference with our desires and plans. None of them seemed to
remember that they once were young and had looked out at the great wide
world through the wondering eyes of the little child.

It seemed to us as if our elders were in a universal conspiracy against
us children; and we in turn combined to defeat their plans. I wonder
where my little playmates have strayed on the great round world, and if
they have grown as unreasonable as our fathers and mothers used to be!
Reasonable or unreasonable, it is certain that our parents never knew
what was best for us to do. At least, I thought so then; and although
the wisdom, or at least the experience, of many years has been added to
my childish stock, I am bound to say that I think so still. Even a boy
might sometimes be trusted to know what he ought to do; and the instinct
and teachings of Nature, as they speak directly to the child, should
have some weight.

But with our parents and teachers all this counted not the least. The
very fact that we wanted to do things seemed ample reason why we should
not. I venture to say that at least nine-tenths of our requests were
denied; and when consent was granted, it was given in the most grudging
way. The one great word that always stood straight across our path was
“No,” and I am sure that the first instinct of our elders on hearing of
our desires was to refuse. I wondered then, and I wonder still, what
would happen if our elders and the world at large should take the other
tack and persuade themselves to say “Yes” as often as they could!

Every child was told exactly what he ought to do. If I could only get a
printed list of the rules given for my conduct day by day, I am sure
they would fill this book. In arithmetic and grammar I always skipped
the rules, and no scholar was ever yet found who liked to learn a rule
or could tell anything about it after it was learned.

I well remember what a fearful task it was to learn the rule for partial
payments in the old arithmetic. I could figure interest long before I
learned the rule; and although I now have no trouble in figuring
interest,—and if I have, some creditor does it for me,—still, to save my
life, I could not now repeat the rule for partial payments. When was
there ever a boy who knew how to do a sum, or parse a sentence, or
pronounce a word, because he knew the rules? We knew how because we knew
how, and that was all there was of the matter. Yet every detail of
conduct was taught in the same way as the rules in school.

I could not eat a single meal without the use of rules, and most of
these were violated when I had the chance. I distinctly remember that we
generally had pie for supper in our youthful days. Now we have dessert
for dinner, but then it was only pie for supper. Of course we never had
all the pie we wanted, and we used to nibble it slowly around the edges
and carefully eat toward the middle of the piece to make it last as long
as possible and still keep the pie-taste in our mouths.

I never could see why we should not have all the pie we could eat. It
was not because of its cost, for my mother made it herself, just the
same as bread. The only reason we could see was that we liked pie so
well. Of course we were told that pie was not good for us; but I have
always been told this about everything I liked to eat or do. Then, too,
my mother insisted that I should eat the pie after the rest of the meal
was done. Now, as a boy, I liked pie better than anything else that I
could get to eat; and I have not yet grown so old but that I still like
pie. I could see no reason why I should not eat my pie when I was hungry
for it and when it looked so good. My mother said I must first eat
potato and meat, and bread and butter; and when I had enough of these, I
could eat the pie. Now, of course, after eating all these things even
pie did not seem quite the same; my real appetite was gone before the
pie was reached. Then, too, if a boy ate everything else first, he might
never get to pie; he might be taken ill, or drop dead, or be sent from
the table, or one of the other boys might come along and he be forced to
choose between going swimming and eating pie,—whereas, if he began the
meal according to his taste and made sure of the pie, if anything else
should be missed it would not matter much.

Our whole lives were fashioned on the rules for eating pie. We were told
that youth was the time for work and study, so that we might rest when
we got old. Now, no boy ever cared to rest,—it is the very thing a boy
does not want to do; but still, by all the rules we ever heard, this was
the right way. Since I was a child I have never changed my mind. I do
not think the pie should be put off to the end of the meal. I always
think of my poor Aunt Mary, who saved her pie all through her life, and
died without eating it at last. And, besides all this, it is quite
possible that as we grow old our appetites will change, and we may not
care for pie at all; at least, the coarser fare that the hard and cruel
world is soon to serve up generously to us all is likely to make us lose
our taste for pie. For my part, I am sure that when my last hours come I
shall be glad that I ate all the pie I could get, and that if any part
of the meal is left untasted it shall be the bread and butter and
potatoes, and not the pie.

Of course we were told we should say “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am.” I
observe that this rule has been changed since I was young,—or possibly
it was the rule only in Farmington and such provincial towns. At any
rate, when I hear it now I look the second time to see if one of my old
schoolmates has come back to me. But I cannot see why it was necessary
for us to say “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am,” in Farmington, and so
necessary not to say them in the outside world.

But while the rule made us say “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am,” it did not
allow us to say much more. We were told that “Children should be seen
and not heard.” It was assumed that what we had to say was of no
account. As I was not very handsome when I was young, there was no
occasion for me to be either seen or heard. True, we were industriously
taught how to talk, yet we had no sooner learned than we were told that
we “must not speak unless spoken to.” It is true the conversation of
children may not be so very edifying,—but, for that matter, neither is
that of grown-up folk. It is quite possible that if children were
allowed to talk freely, they might have a part of their nonsense talked
out by the time they had matured; and then, too, they might learn much
that would improve the conversation of their later life. At any rate, if
a child was not meant to talk, his faculties of speech might properly be
withheld until a riper age.

To take off our hats in the house, to say “Thank you” and “Please” and
all such little things, were of course most strictly enjoined. It did
not occur to our elders that children were born imitators, or that they
could possibly be taught in any other way than by fixed rules.

The common moral precepts were always taught by rule. We must obey our
parents, and speak the truth. Just why we should do either was not made
clear, although the penalty of neglect was ever there. The longer I
live, the more I am convinced that children need not be taught to tell
the truth. The fact is, parents do not teach them to tell the truth, but
to lie. They tell the truth as naturally as they breathe, and it is only
the stupidity and brutality of parents and teachers that drive them to
tell lies. In high society and low, parents lie to children much oftener
than children lie to parents; it would not occur to a child to lie
unless someone made him feel the need of doing so.

I remember that when I was a child two things used to cause me the
greatest trouble. One was the fact that I had to go to bed so early at
night, and the other that I had to get up so early in the morning. I
have never known a natural child who was ready to go to bed at night or
to get up in the morning. I suppose this was because work came first,
and pie was put off to the end of the day; and we did not want to miss
any of the pie. Of course there were exceptions to the rule. We were
ready to get up in the gray dawn of the morning, to go a-fishing or
blackberrying, or to celebrate the Fourth of July, or on Christmas, or
to see a circus come to town, or on any such occasion. And likewise we
were ready to go to bed early the night before, so that we might be
ready to get up. I remember one of my lies in connection with getting up
in the morning. It was my father’s custom to call us some time before
breakfast, to help do the chores; and as this was work and the bed was
warm, we were never ready to get up. On this particular morning I was
called twice, but seemed to be sound asleep, and did not move. Thereupon
at the next call my father came up the stairs, saying, “You know what
you are going to get,” and asking why I had not come before. There was
nothing else to do, and so I promptly answered that I did not hear him
the first two times. Somehow I learned that he surmised or found out
that I had lied, and after this I regarded him as a sort of Sherlock
Holmes. I did not know then, any more than my father did, that the
reason I lied was that I was afraid of being whipped. Neither did my
parents, or any of the others, understand that to whip us for lying only
served to make us take more pains to conceal the truth.

We were given certain rules as to our treatment of animals. We were told
to be kind to them, but no effort was made to awaken the imagination of
the child so that in a way he might put himself in the place of the
helpless beings with whom he lived. I am sure that had this been done
the rule would not have been required.

In our association with each other, we were more simple and direct. When
we lied to each other, we soon found that our tales were disbelieved,
and thus the punishment was made to fit the crime. But among ourselves
we were generally truthful, no matter how long or persistently our
teachers and parents had made it seem best for us to lie. We knew that
the other boys cared very little for the things that parents and
teachers thought important; and, besides, we had no jurisdiction over
each other, except as the strongest and most quarrelsome might take for
himself, and against him we always had the right to combine for
self-defence.

I seem to be living again in the world of the little child, and so hard
is it to recross to that forgotten bourne that I cannot help wishing to
linger there. I remember that as I grew beyond the time to play
base-ball and to join in other still more youthful games, I now and then
had the rare privilege of revisiting these early scenes in sleep; and
often and often in my waking moments, when I realized that I dreamed and
yet half thought that all was real, I tried to keep my eyes tight shut
that I might still dream on. And if I can now and then forget my years
and feel again the life of the little child, why should I not cling to
the fond remembrance and tell the story which he is all too young to
make us understand?

It is rarely indeed that the child is able to prevent the sorrows of the
man or woman; and when he can prevent them, and really knows he can, no
man or woman ever looks in vain to him for sympathy or help. But the
happiness of the child is almost wholly in the keeping of men and women
of maturer years, and this charge is of the most sacred kind. If schools
for the education of children were closed, and those for the instruction
of parents were kept open, surely the world and the children would
profit by the change. No doubt men and women owe duties to themselves
that even their children have no right to take away; but these duties
are seldom inconsistent with the highest welfare of the child.

As I look back at the father and mother who nourished me, I know that
they were both wise and kind beyond others of my time and place; and yet
I know that many of my deepest sorrows would have been spared had they
been able to look across the span of years that divided them from me,
and in thought and feeling become as little children once again.

The joys of childhood are keen, and the sorrows of childhood are deep.
Years alone bring the knowledge that in thought and in feeling, as in
the heavens above, sunshine and clouds follow each other in quick
succession. In childhood the shadows are wholly forgotten in the
brilliant radiance of the sun, and the clouds are so deep as to obscure
for a time all the heavens above.

Over childhood, as over all the world, hangs the black pall of
punishment,—which is only another name for vengeance and hate. In my
day, and I fancy too often even now, parents believed that to “spare the
rod” was to “spoil the child.” It was not the refinement of cruelty that
made parents promise the child a whipping the next day or the next week,
it was only their ignorance and thoughtlessness; but many times I went
to bed to toss and dream of the promised punishment, and in the morning,
however bright the sunshine, the world was wrapped in gloom. Of course
it was seldom that the whipping was as severe as the fear that haunted
the mind of the child; but the punishment was really there from the time
it was promised until after it was given.

Few boys were mean enough to threaten to tell our parents or teacher of
our misdeeds, yet there were children who for days or even weeks would
hold this threat over their playmates and drag it forth on the slightest
provocation. But among children this species of cruelty was generally
condemned. We knew of no circumstances that could justify the threat to
tell, much less the telling. A “tattle-tale” was the most contemptible
of boys,—even more contemptible than a “cry-baby.” A “cry-baby” did not
rank much below a girl. Still, we would suffer a great deal without
flinching, to avoid this name.

In my time boys were not always so democratic as children are supposed
to be. Somehow children do pick up a great deal from their elders,
especially things they ought not to learn. I know that in our school
there was always the same aristocracy as in our town. The children of
the first families of the village were the first in the school. In games
and sports these would usually get the foremost places, and each one
soon knew where he belonged in the boys’ social scale. Certain boys were
carefully avoided,—sometimes for sanitary reasons, more often, I fancy,
for no reason at all. I am sure that all this discrimination caused the
child sorrow and suffering that he could in no way defend himself
against. So far from our teachers doing anything to show the cruelty and
absurdity of this caste spirit, it was generally believed that they were
kinder and more considerate and what we called “partial” to the children
of influential parents than to the rest. And we were perfectly sure that
this consideration had an important bearing on our marks.

As a general rule, we children did not care much to read; and, for that
matter, I am inclined to think that few healthy children do. A child
would rather do things, or see them done, than read about how someone
else has done them. So far as we did read, we always chose the things we
were told we should not read. No doubt this came from the general belief
that the imagination of children should be developed; and with the
ordinary teacher and parent this meant telling about fairies, giants,
and goblins, and sometimes even ghosts. These stories were always told
as if they were really true; and it was commonly believed that
cultivating the imagination of a child meant teaching him to see giants
instead of men, and fairies and goblins instead of beasts and birds. We
children soon came to doubt the whole brood of fairies, and we never
believed in ghosts except at night when there was no candle in the room,
and when we came near the graveyard. After these visions were swept
away, our minds turned to strong men, to kings and Indians and warriors,
and we read of them.

My parents often despaired about the rules that I would not learn or
keep, and the books I would not read. They did not seem to know that all
the rules ever made could cover only the very smallest fraction of the
conduct of a child or man, and that the one way to teach conduct was by
an appeal direct to the heart, an effort to place the child in harmony
with the life in which he lived. To teach children their duty by rule,
or develop their imaginations by stories of fairies and angels and
goblins, always was and always will be a hopeless task. But imagination
is more easily developed in the little child than in later years,
because the blood flows faster and the feelings are deeper and warmer in
our youth. The imagination of the child is aroused when it really feels
itself a part of all the living things with which its life is cast;
feels that it is of kin to the parents and teachers, the men and women,
the boys and girls, the beasts and birds, with whom it lives and
breathes and moves. If this thought and this feeling take possession of
the heart of the child, he will need no rules or lessons for his
conduct. It will become a portion of his life; and his associations with
his fellows, both human and animal, will be marked by consideration,
gentleness, and love.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                                HOLIDAYS


I remember that we boys used to argue as to which was better, summer or
winter. Each season had its special charms, and each was welcome after
the other one had run its course. One reason why we were never sure
which was best was that Christmas came in winter and Fourth of July in
summer. There were other lesser holidays that counted little with the
boy. There was Thanksgiving; but ours was a village of New England
people, and Thanksgiving was largely a religious day. The church-bells
always rang on Thanksgiving, although usually we were not compelled to
go to meeting. Then, too, Thanksgiving was the day for family reunions.
Our aunts and uncles and grandfathers and grandmothers came to take
dinner with us, or we went to visit them; and we had to comb our hair
and dress up, and be told how we had grown, and how much we looked like
our father or our mother or our aunt, or some other member of the
family; and altogether the day was about as stupid as Sunday, and we
were glad when it was over.

Then there was New Year’s day; but this was of little use. No one paid
much attention to New Year’s, and generally the people worked that day
the same as any other. Sometimes a belated Christmas present was left
over to New Year’s day, and we always had a lingering expectation that
we might get something then, although our hopes were not strong enough
to warrant hanging up our stockings again. Washington’s Birthday was of
no account whatever, and in those days Lincoln’s birthday and Labor-day
had not yet been made holidays. We managed to get a little fun out of
April Fool’s day, but this was not a real holiday, for school kept that
day.

But Christmas and Fourth of July were really made for boys. No one
thought of working on these days, and even my father did not make us
study then. Christmas was eagerly looked forward to while it was still a
long way off, and a good many of the boys and girls believed in Santa
Claus. All the children had heard the story, but my parents always told
us it was not true, and we knew that Santa Claus was really our father
and mother, or sometimes our uncles and aunts and grandparents, and
people like that. Of course we hung up our stockings; all boys and girls
did that. We went to bed early at night and got up early in the morning,
and after comparing our presents at home we started out through the
neighborhood to see what the other boys and girls had got. Then there
was the Christmas-tree in the evening at the church. This was one
occasion when there was no need to make us go to church; and we all got
a little paper horn of candy, or a candy cane, or some such treasure,
plucked fresh from the green tree among the little lighted wax candles
stuck on every branch. All day long on Christmas we could slide down
hill or skate, and sometimes we even had a new pair of skates or a sled
for a present. Altogether Christmas was a happy day to us children.

Of course there were some boys and girls who got very little at
Christmas, and some who got nothing at all, and these must have grieved
a great deal; and I wondered not a little why it was that things were so
uneven and unfair. I know now that it was cruel that this knowledge
could not have been kept from the little child until he had grown better
able to know and understand. I also realize that even to my parents, who
were not the very poorest, with so many children Christmas must have
meant a serious burden both for what they gave and what they could not
give, and that my mother must have denied herself many things that she
should have had, and my father must have been compelled to forego many
books that would have brought him comfort and consolation for his buried
hopes.

As I have grown older, and have seen Christmas-giving develop into a
duty and a burden, and often a burden hard to bear, I have come to
believe less and less in this sort of indiscriminate matter-of-course
gift-making. If one really wishes to make a present, it should be
offered freely from the heart as well as from the hand, and given
without regard to Christmas day. With care and thoughtfulness on the
part of parents, almost any day could be a holiday to little children,
and they would soon forget that “Christmas comes but once a year.”

But, after all, I think the boys of my time liked the Fourth of July
better than Christmas day. This was no doubt largely due to the fact
that children love noise. They want “something doing,” and the Fourth of
July somehow satisfies this desire more than any other day. Then we boys
ourselves had a great deal to do with the Fourth of July. In fact, there
could not have been a real Fourth without our effort and assistance. As
on Christmas eve, we went to bed early without protest on the night
before the Fourth,—so early that we could not go to sleep, and would lie
awake for hours wondering if it were not almost time for the Fourth to
begin. We always started the celebration before daylight. The night
before, we had put our dimes and pennies together and bought all the
powder we could get the stores to sell us; and then the blacksmith’s boy
had a key to the shop,—and, anyhow, his father was very “clever” to us
boys. By the help of this boy we unlocked the door, took out the anvils,
and loaded them on a wagon. We got a little charcoal stove from the boy
whose father had a tin-shop, and with it a long rod of iron; and then we
started out, before day had dawned, to usher in the Fourth. We drew the
anvils up and down the road, stopping particularly before the houses
where we knew that we would not be welcome. Then we unloaded one anvil,
turned it upside down, filled the little square hole in the bottom level
full of powder, put a damp paper over this, and a little trail of powder
to the edge, and put the other anvil on top; then the bravest boy took
the rod of iron, one end of which had been heated in the charcoal stove,
and while the rest of us put our fingers in our ears and ran away, he
boldly touched off the trail of powder,—and a mighty roar reverberated
down the valley and up the sides of the hills to their very crests.

After saluting the citizens whom we especially wished to favor or annoy,
we went to the public square and fired the anvils until day began to
break, and then we turned home and crawled into our beds to catch a
little sleep before our services should be needed later on.

It was generally eight or nine o’clock before we got our hurried
breakfast and met again at the public square. We visited the shops and
stores, and went up to the little knots of men and women to hear what
they had to say about the cannonading, and intimated very broadly that
we could tell who did it if we only would. Then we lighted our bits of
punk and began the fusillade of fire-crackers that was next in order on
our programme. At this time the cannon fire-cracker, with all its
terrors, had not come; and though here and there some boy had a small
cannon or a pistol, the noise was confined almost entirely to
fire-crackers. Most of us had to be very saving of them; they were
expensive in those days, and our funds were low especially after the
heavy firing in the early hours. We always felt that it was not fair
that we should be obliged to get up before daylight in the morning and
do the shooting, and buy the powder too, and once or twice we carried
around a subscription paper to the business-men to raise funds for the
powder; but this met with poor success. Farmington never was a very
public-spirited place.

There were always plenty of boys who could shoot a fire-cracker and hold
it in their hands until it went off, and now and then one who could hold
it in his teeth with his eyes shut tight. But this last exploit was
considered dangerous, and generally was done only on condition that we
gave a certain number of fire-crackers to the boy who took the risk.
While we were all together, to hear someone else shoot fire-crackers was
a very different thing from shooting them yourself. Although you did
nothing but touch the string to a piece of lighted punk and throw the
fire-cracker in the air, it sounded better when you threw it yourself
than when some other boy threw it in your place.

Often on the Fourth of July we had a picnic in the afternoon, and
sometimes a ball-game too. This, of course, was in case it did not rain;
rain always stopped everything, and it seemed as if it always did rain
on the Fourth. Some people said this was because so much powder was
exploded; but it could not be so, because it generally rained on picnic
days whether it was the Fourth or not. And then on Saturday afternoons,
at the time of our best base-ball matches, it often rained; and this
even after we had gone to the neighboring town, or their boys had come
to visit us. In fact, rain was one of the crosses of our young lives.
There was never any way of knowing whether it would come or not; but
there it was, always hanging above our heads like the famous sword of
Damascus—or some such man—that our teachers told us was suspended by a
hair. Of course, when we complained and were rebellious about the rain
our parents told us that if it did not rain we should have no wheat or
corn, and everything would dry up, and all of us would starve; but these
were only excuses,—for why could it not rain on Sunday, when there was
nothing to do and no one to be harmed? Besides, there were six other
days in the week besides Saturday, and only one holiday in the whole
long summer; and how could there be any use of making it rain on those
days?

Another thing that caused us a good deal of annoyance was that Fourth of
July and Christmas sometimes came on Sunday. Of course, either a
Saturday or a Monday was usually chosen in its place; but this was not
very satisfactory, as some of the people would celebrate on Saturday,
and some on Monday,—and, besides, we could not have a “truly Fourth” on
any day except the Fourth.

When we had a “celebration,” it was generally in the afternoon, and was
held in a grove beside the river below the town. Everyone went to the
celebration, not only in Farmington but in all the country round. On
that day the brass-band came out in its great four-horse wagon, and the
members were dressed in uniform covered with gold braid. Some of them
played on horns almost as long and as big as themselves; and I thought
that if I could only be a member of the band and have one of those big
horns, I should feel very proud and happy. There was always someone
there to sell lemonade, which looked very nice to us boys, although we
hardly ever had a chance to get any after the powder and the
fire-crackers had been bought. There were swings, and things like that;
but they were not much fun, for there were so many boys to use them,
and, besides, the girls had to have the swings most of the time, and all
we could do was to swing them.

Then we had dinner out of a basket. We always thought that this would be
a great deal of fun; but it never was. The main thing that everyone
carried to the dinner was cold chicken, and I hated chicken; and even if
I managed to get something else, it had been smeared and covered over
with chicken gravy, and wasn’t fit to eat,—and then, too, the butter was
melted and ran over everything, and was more like grease than butter.
Besides, there were bugs and flies and mosquitoes getting into
everything, to say nothing of the worms and caterpillars that dropped
down off the trees or crawled up on the tablecloth. I never could see
any fun in a basket picnic, even on the Fourth of July.

After we were through with our dinners, Squire Allen came on the
platform with the speaker of the day. The first thing Squire Allen did
was to put on his gold spectacles; then he took a drink of water from a
pitcher that stood on a stand on the platform; then he came to the front
of the platform and said: “Friends and fellow-citizens: The exercises
will begin by reading the Declaration of Independence.” Then he began to
read, and it seemed as if he never would finish. Of course I knew
nothing about the Declaration of Independence, and neither did the other
boys. We thought it was something Squire Allen wrote, because he always
read it, and we did not think anyone else could read the Declaration of
Independence. We all came up quite close and kept still when he began to
read, but we never stood still until he got through. And we never had
the least idea what it was about. All I remember is the beginning, “When
in the Course of Human Events”; and from what I have learned since I
think this is all that anyone knows about the Declaration of
Independence,—or, for that matter, all that anyone cares.

When Squire Allen finally got through the reading, he introduced the
speaker of the day. This was always some lawyer who came from Warner,
the county-seat, twenty miles away. I had seen the lawyer’s horse and
buggy at the hotel in the morning, and I thought how nice they were, and
how much money a lawyer must make, and what a great man he was, and how
I should like to be a lawyer; and I wondered what one had to study to be
a lawyer, and how long it took, and how much brains, and a lot of things
of this sort. The lawyer never seemed to be a bit afraid to stand up
there on the platform before the audience, and I remember that he wore
nice clothes,—a good deal nicer than those of the farmers and other
people who came to hear him talk,—and his boots looked shiny, as if they
had just been greased. He talked very loud, and seemed to be mad about
something, especially when he spoke of the war and the “Bridish,” and he
waved his hands and arms a great deal, and made quite a fuss about it
all. I know that he said quite a lot about the Declaration of
Independence, and a lot about fighting, and how glorious it was; and
told us all about Europe and Asia and Africa, and how poor and
downtrodden and ignorant all those people were, and how free we were,
all on account of the Declaration of Independence, and the flag, and the
G. A. R., and because our people were such good fighters. He told us
that whatever happened, we must stand by the Declaration of Independence
and the flag, and be ready to fight and to die if we ever had a chance
to fight and die. And the old farmers clapped their hands and nodded
their heads, and said he was a mighty smart man, and a great man, and
thoroughly patriotic, and as long as we had such men the country was
safe; and we boys went away feeling as if we wanted to fight, and
wondering why the people in other countries ever let the rulers run over
them the way they did, and feeling sorry they were so poor and weak and
cowardly, and hoping we could get into a war with the “Bridish” and help
to free her poor ignorant serfs, and wondering if we were old enough to
be taken if we did have a war, and wishing if we did that the lawyer
could be the General, or the President, or anything else, for he
certainly was a great man and could talk louder than anyone we had ever
heard. I usually noticed that the lawyer was running for some office in
the fall, and everyone said that he was just the man that we ought to
have,—he was such a great patriot.

  After the speech was over we went home to supper; and after dark, to
the square to see the fireworks. This was a fitting close to a great
day. We always noted every stage of preparation. We knew just how they
put up the platform, and how they fixed the trough for the sky-rockets.
We knew who touched them off, who held the Roman candles, and who
started the pin-wheels, and just what they all cost. We sat in wonder
and delight while the pin-wheels and Roman candles were going through
their performance; but when the sky-rockets were touched off, we watched
them until they exploded in the air, and then raced off in the darkness
to find the sticks.

After the fireworks we slowly went home. Although it had been a long day
since we began shooting the anvils in the gray morning, it was hard to
see the Fourth actually over. Take it all together, we agreed that the
Fourth of July was the best day of all the year.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                               BASE-BALL


My greatest regret at growing old was the fact that I must give up
playing ball. Even while I could still play, I began to think how soon
it would be when I could no longer take an active part, but must simply
stand and watch the game. Somehow base-ball has always seemed to me the
only thing in life that came up to my hopes and expectations. And thus
it is by Nature’s fatal equation that the sensation that gave me the
greatest pleasure has caused me the most regret. So, after all, in the
final balance base-ball only averages with the rest. I know that, as a
youth, I thought that nothing felt so good as a toothache—after it had
stopped. Perhaps the world is so arranged that joys and sorrows balance
one another, and the one who has the happiest life feels so much regret
in giving it up that he comes out with the same net result as the one
who feels pleasure in escaping a world of sorrow and despair.

But I meant to tell about my base-ball days. These began so long ago
that I do not know the time, but I am sure they commenced as the game
began, for base-ball was evolved from our boyish game of “two-old-cat
and three-old-cat,” which we played while very young. Since I batted my
last ball I have often sat on the bleachers of our great towns to see
the game. But base-ball now is not the base-ball of my young days. Of
course I would not admit that there are better players now than then,
but the game has been brought to such a scientific state that one might
as well stand and watch the thumping of some great machine as a modern
game of ball. There used to be room for individual merit, for skill, for
blunders and mistakes, for chance and luck, and all that goes to make up
a game.

The hired players of to-day are no more players than mercenary troops
are patriots. They are bought and sold on the open market, and have no
pride of home and no town reputation to maintain. Neither I nor any of
my companions could any more have played a game of base-ball with
Hartford against Farmington than we could have joined a foreign army and
fought against the United States. And we would have scorned to hire
mercenaries from any other town. We were not only playing ball, but we
were fighting for the glory and honor of Farmington. Neither had the
game sunk to any such ignoble state that we were paid for our services.
We played ball; we did not work at the trade of amusing people,—we had
something else to do. There was school in the spring and autumn months;
there were the grist-mill, the blacksmith-shop, and the farms in the
summer-time, and only Saturday afternoons were reserved for ball,
excepting such practice as we might get in the long summer twilight
hours. We literally left our callings on the day we played ball,—left
them as Cincinnatus left his plough in the furrow and rode off to war in
obedience to his country’s call.

At school we scarcely took time to eat our pie or cake and cheese, but
crammed them into our mouths, snatched the bat, and hurried to the
ball-grounds, swallowing our luncheon in great gulps as we went along.
At recess we played until the last tones of the little bell had died
away, and the teacher with exhausted patience had shut the door and gone
back to her desk; then we dropped the clubs and hurried in. When school
was out, we went home for our suppers and to do our few small chores,
and then rushed off to the public square to get all the practice that we
could.

Well do I remember one summer Saturday afternoon long years ago,—how
long, I cannot say, but I could find the date if I dared to look it up.
The almanacs, when we got the new ones at the store about Christmas, had
told us that there would be an almost total eclipse of the sun that
year. The people far and near looked for the eventful day. As I recall,
some wise astronomers hired a special ship and sailed down to the
equator to make observations which they could not make at home. We
children smoked little bits of glass over a lighted candle, that we
might look through the blackened glass straight at the dazzling sun.

When the day came round, there it was a Saturday afternoon! Of course we
met as usual on the public square; we chose sides and began the game. We
saw the moon slowly and surely throwing its black shadow across the sun;
but we barely paused to glance up at the wonders that the heavens were
revealing to our view. We did not stop the game until it grew so dark
that we could hardly see the ball, and then sadly and reluctantly we
gathered at the home-base, feeling that the very heavens had conspired
to cheat us of our game. Impatiently we waited until the moon began to
drift so far past the sun that his friendly rays could reveal the ball
again; and then we quickly took our places, and the game went on. It
could not have been too dark to play for more than twenty or thirty
minutes at the most, yet this marvel sank into insignificance in
comparison with the time we lost from our game of ball.

Our usual meeting-place was on the public square. This was not an ideal
spot, but it was the best we had. The home-base was so near the hotel
that the windows were in constant danger, and the dry-goods store was
not far beyond the second base. Squire Allen’s house and a grove of
trees were only a little way back of the third base, and many a precious
moment was lost in hunting for the ball in the grass and weeds in his
big yard. The flag-pole and the guide-post, too, stood in the most
inconvenient spots that could be found. We managed to move the
guide-post, but the mere suggestion of changing the flag-pole was
thought to be little less than treason; for Farmington was a very
patriotic town.

We played base-ball for many years before we dreamed of such
extravagance as special suits to play it in. We came to the field
exactly as we left our work, excepting that some of us would manage to
get a strap-belt to take the place of suspenders. We usually played in
our bare feet, for we could run faster in this way; and when in the
greatest hurry to make first-base, we generally snatched off our caps
and threw them on the ground.

We had a captain of the team, but his rule was very mild, and each boy
had about as much to say as any of the rest. This was especially true
when the game was on. Not only did each player have a chance to direct
and advise, in loud shouts and boisterous words, but the spectators
joined in all sorts of counsel, encouragement, and admonition. When the
ball was struck particularly hard, a shout went up from the gathered
multitude as if a fort had fallen after a hard-fought siege. Then every
person on the field would shout directions,—how many bases should be
run, and where the fielder ought to throw the ball,—until the chief
actors were so confused by the babel of voices that they entirely lost
their heads.

Finally we grew so proud of our progress in base-ball that after great
efforts we managed to get special suits. These were really wonders in
their way. True, they were nothing but a shirt and a pair of trousers
that came down just below the knee. But all the boys were dressed alike,
and the suits were made of blue with a red stripe running down the side
of the legs to help the artistic effect. After this, we played ball
better than before; and the fame of our club crept up and down the
stream and over beyond the hills on either side. Then we began issuing
challenges to other towns and accepting theirs. This was still more
exciting. By dint of scraping together our little earnings, we would
contrive to hire a two-horse wagon and go out to meet the enemy in
foreign lands. In turn, the outside clubs would come to visit us. The
local feeling spread from the boys to their families and neighbors, and
finally the girls got interested in the game and came to see us play.
This added greatly to our zeal and pride. Often, in some contest of more
than common interest, the girls got up a supper for the club; and when
the game was done we ranged ourselves on the square and gave three
cheers for the other club, and then three cheers for the girls. This
they doubtless thought was pay enough.

A game of ball in those exciting times was not played in an hour or two
after the day’s work was done. It began promptly at one o’clock and
lasted until dark; sometimes the night closed in before it was finished.
The contest was not between the pitcher and the catcher alone; we all
played, and each player was as important as the rest. Our games never
ended with four or five sickly tallies on a side. A club that could get
no more runs than this had no right to play. Each club got forty or
fifty tallies, and sometimes more; and the batting was one of the
features of the game. Of course, we boys were not so cool and deliberate
and mechanical as players are to-day. We had a vital interest in the
game; and this, more than any other activity, was our very life. The
base-ball teams of these degenerate days are simply playing for pay; and
they play ball with the same precision that a carpenter would nail
shingles on a roof. Ball-playing with us was quite another thing. The
result of our games depended as much upon our mistakes, and those of the
other side, as upon any good playing that we did. In a moment of intense
excitement the batter would knock the ball straight into the
short-stop’s hands; it was an easy matter to throw it to first-base and
head off the runner, and every boy on the field and every man in the
crowd would shout to the short-stop just what to do. He had time to
spare; but for the moment the game was his, and all eyes were turned on
him. As a rule, he eagerly snatched the ball and threw it clear over the
first-baseman’s head, so far away that the batter was safely landed on
third-base before the ball was again inside the ring. The fielder, too,
at the critical time, when all eyes were turned toward him, would get
fairly under the flying ball, and then let it roll through his hands
while the batter got his base. At any exciting part of the game the
fielding nine could be depended upon to make errors enough to let the
others win the game.

Then, as now, the umpire’s place was the hardest one to fill. It was the
rule that the umpire should be chosen by the visiting club; and this
carried him into a violently hostile camp. Of course, he, like everyone
else, could be relied on in critical times to decide in favor of his
friends; but such decisions called down on him the wrath of the crowd,
who sometimes almost drove him off the field.

It was a famous club that used to gather on the square. Whether in
batting, catching, or running bases, we always had a boy who was the
best in all the country round, and the base-ball club added not a little
to the prestige that we all thought belonged to Farmington.

One game I shall remember to the last moment of my life. The fight had
been long and hard, with our oldest and most hated rivals. The day was
almost done, and the shadows already warned us that night was close at
hand. We had come to the bat for the last half of the last inning, and
were within one of the score of the other side, with two players out,
and two on bases. Of course no more exciting situation could exist; for
this was the most critical portion of the most important event of our
young lives. It came my turn to take the bat. After one or two feeble
failures to hit the ball, I swung my club just at the right time and
place and with tremendous force. The ball went flying over the roof of
the store, and rolled down to the river-bank on the other side. I had
gone quite around the ring before anyone could get near the ball. I can
never forget the wild ovation in which I ran around the ring, and the
mad enthusiasm when the home-plate was reached and the game was won.
Whenever I read of Cæsar’s return to Rome, I somehow think of this great
hit and my home-run which won the game.

All the evening, knots of men and boys gathered in the various public
places to discuss that unprecedented stroke. Next day at church almost
every eye was turned toward me as I walked conspicuously and a little
tardily up the aisle, and for days and weeks my achievement was the
chief topic of the town. Finally the impression wore away, as all things
do in this busy world where everybody wants the stage at once, and then
I found myself obliged to call attention to my great feat. Whenever any
remarkable play was mentioned or great achievement referred to, I would
say, “Yes, but do you remember the time I knocked the ball over the
store and made that home-run?” Many years have passed since then, and
here I am again relating this exploit and writing it down to be printed
in a book.

Since that late summer afternoon when I ran so fast around the ring
amidst the plaudits of my town, I have had my rightful share of triumphs
and successes,—especially my rightful share in view of the little Latin
I knew when I started out in life. But among them all fame and time and
fortune have never conspired to make my heart so swell with pride
through any other triumph of my life as when I knocked the ball over the
dry-goods store and won the game.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                               AUNT MARY


Like everything else in my early life, my Aunt Mary is a memory that is
shrouded in mist. I have no idea when I first heard of her or first saw
her, but both events were while I was very young. Neither can I now
separate my earlier impressions of Aunt Mary from those that must have
been formed when I had grown into my boyhood. It was some time after she
was fixed in my mind before I knew that there was an Uncle Ezra, and
that he was Aunt Mary’s husband. They had never had any children, and
had always lived alone. Whenever either one was spoken of, or any event
or affair connected with their lives was referred to, it was always Aunt
Mary instead of Uncle Ezra.

When I first remember them, they were old, or at least they seemed old
to me. They had a little farm not far from our home; and I sometimes
used to go down the dusty road to their house for eggs, butter, and
buttermilk. Aunt Mary was famed throughout the region for the fine
butter she made; and, either from taste or imagination, I was so fond of
it that I would eat no other kind.

Aunt Mary lived in a two-story white house with a wing on one side. In
front was a picket fence, whitewashed so often that it fairly shone. Two
large elm-trees stood just outside the fence, and a little gate opened
for the footpath from the road, and next to this were bars that could be
taken down to let teams drive in and out. In the front yard were a
number of evergreen trees trimmed in such a way as to leave a large
green ball on top. A door and several windows were in the front of the
house, and another door and more windows on the side next the wing,
which was mainly used for a woodshed and summer kitchen. A little path
ran from the gate to the side door, and this was covered with large flat
stones, which were kept so clean that they were almost spotless. There
was no path running to the front door, although two stone steps led down
to the ground. The house was always white, as if freshly painted the day
before. Each of the windows had outside shutters (which we called
blinds), and these were painted blue. I well remember these shutters,
for all the others that I had ever seen were painted green, and I
wondered why everyone did not know that blue was much the most beautiful
color for blinds. The front door was never opened, and the front
shutters were always tightly closed. Whenever any of us went to the
house, we knew that we must go to the side door. If perchance a stranger
knocked at the front door, Aunt Mary would come around the corner of the
house and ask him to come to the kitchen.

Through all the country Aunt Mary was known for her “neatness.” This had
grown to a disease, the ruling passion of her life. It was never easy to
get any of the other boys to go with me to Aunt Mary’s when I went for
butter. None of them liked her, and they all knew that she did not care
for them. I remember that when I first used to go there she would meet
me at the side door and ask me to stay out in the yard or go into the
woodshed while she got the butter or eggs. Then she would bring me a
lump of sugar or a fried cake (which she called a nut-cake) made from
dough boiled in lard, and which was very fine, especially when fresh and
hot, and tell me not to get any crumbs on the stone steps or on the
woodshed floor. Sometimes Uncle Ezra would come in from the barn or
fields while I was there, and he always seemed to be kind and friendly,
and would take me out to the pigpen while he poured the pails of swill
into the trough. I used to think it great sport to see the grunting hogs
rushing and shoving and tumbling over each other, and standing in the
trough to get all the swill they could. None of them ever seemed to have
enough, or to care whether the others had their share of swill or not. I
shall always feel that I learned a great deal about human nature by
helping Uncle Ezra feed his hogs.

Uncle Ezra was a man who said but little. I never found him in the
house; he was always out on the farm, or in the barn, or sometimes in
the woodshed. This seemed the nearest that he ever came to the house.
Uncle Ezra was a short man with a bald head and a round face. He had
white whiskers and a little fringe of white hair around his head. He had
no teeth, at least none that I can remember to have seen. He was
slightly stooping, and was lame from rheumatism; and he wore a round
black hat, and a brown coat buttoned tightly around his waist, and
trousers made of some sort of brown drilling, and almost always rubber
boots. In the woodshed he kept another pair of trousers and clean boots,
which he put on when he went into the house to get his meals, or after
it was too late to stay outside. I never heard him joke or laugh, or say
anything angry or unkind. He always spoke of Aunt Mary as “the old
woman,” and showed no feeling or emotion of any sort in connection with
her. Whenever he was asked about any kind of business, he directed
inquirers to “the old woman.”

Aunt Mary was tall and thin and very straight. Her hair was white, and
done up in a knot on the back of her head. It seems as if she wore a
sort of striped calico dress, and an apron over this. No doubt she
sometimes wore other clothes; but she has made her impression on my
memory in this way. Poor thing! like all the rest of the mortals who
ever lived and died, she doubtless tried to make the best impression she
could, and at some fateful time this image was cast upon my mind, and
there it stayed forever, and gets printed in a book,—the only one that
ever held her name. The real person may have been very different indeed,
and the fault have been not at all with her, but with the poor substance
on which the shadow fell.

I can remember Aunt Mary only in one particular way; and when her name
is called, and she steps out from the dim, almost forgotten past, I see
the tall, spare old woman, with two or three long teeth and a wisp of
snow-white hair, and a dress with stripes running up and down, making
her seem even taller and thinner than she really was. I see her, through
the side door which opened from the room which was kitchen, dining-room,
and living-room combined. I am a barefooted child standing on the stone
steps outside, and looking in through the open door. I am nibbling
slowly and prudently at a delicious nut-cake, and wondering if there are
any more where that one came from, and if she will bring me another when
this is eaten up, and thinking that if I really knew she would I need
not make this one last so long. Almost opposite the door stands the
cooking-stove. I can see it now, with its two short legs in front, and
its two tall ones in the back. There is the sliding hearth, used to
regulate the draught. Back of this, and above the hearth, is the little
square iron box where wood is put in; over this are the holes for pots
and kettles; and farther back, and above all, is the tall oven almost on
a level with Aunt Mary’s shoulders. On the oven is a pan of dish-water,
and she is wringing out a rag and for the thousandth time wiping the
spotless oven. When this is done, she goes downstairs to the cellar, and
gets the butter in the little tin pail, then goes to the cupboard and
finds another nut-cake and brings them to the door. Then she looks
carefully down to the stone steps to see if I have left any crumbs, and
puts the pail and the nut-cake into my waiting hands. Before I go, she
asks me about my father and mother, my brothers and sisters; whether the
washing has been done this week; whether my sister is going to take
music-lessons this fall; whether there is water enough in the dam to run
the mill; and then she bids me hurry home lest the butter should melt on
the way.

Aunt Mary did not live in the kitchen because there was no other room.
After a time I learned that there were a parlor and a spare bedroom on
the lower floor, and that the front door opened into a hall that led to
the parlor and then on to the kitchen at the back. As I grew older and
gained her confidence, she told me that if I would go out in the tall
grass by the pump and wipe my feet carefully she would let me come into
the house. As I came up to the door, she looked at me suspiciously, to
see that there was no dirt on my feet or clothes, and set me down in a
straight wooden chair; then she kept on with her dish-rag, and plied me
with questions as to the health of the various members of the family,
and how they were progressing with their work. She never left the high
oven, with its everlasting dish-pan, except to wipe imaginary dirt from
some piece of furniture, and then go back to wring the cloth from the
water once again. Although she almost always gave me a nut-cake or a
piece of pie, she never invited me to dinner, and always asked me to go
outside to eat.

By slow degrees she told me about her parlor and spare bedroom. And one
day, after watching me wipe my feet with special care, she took me into
the hall, cautiously opened the parlor door, and let me into the
forbidden room. As we went into the hall and the parlor, she took pains
that no flies should follow through the doors; and then, when these were
closed and we were safely inside the cool dark room, she slowly and
cautiously pushed back the curtains, raised the window just enough to
put through her long thin hand and turn the little blue slats of the
window-blinds to let in some timid rays of light. Then she pointed out
the various pieces of furniture in the parlor, with all the pride of
possession and detail of description of a lackey who shows wandering
Americans the belongings of an old English castle or country seat. On
the floor was a real Brussels carpet, with great red and black flower
figures. A set of cane-seated chairs—six in all—were placed by twos
against the different sides of the walls; while a large rocking-chair
was near the spare bedroom, and in the corner a walnut whatnot on which
were arranged shells and stones. Near the centre was a real marble-top
table, with a great Bible and a red plush album in the middle. A square
box sheet-iron stove, with black glistening pipe, stood on one side of
the room on a round zinc base. On the walls were many pictures hung with
big red cord on large glass-headed nails. There was a crayon portrait of
her father, a once famous preacher, and also one of her mother; two or
three yarn mottoes in black walnut frames hung above the doors, and some
chromos, which she said had come with tea, completed the adornment of
the walls. The elegance of all I saw made the deepest impression on my
childish mind. Not a fly was in sight, and everything was without
blemish or spot. I could not refrain from expressing my admiration and
surprise, and my regret that everyone in town could not see this
beautiful parlor. Then Aunt Mary confided to me that sometime she was
going to have a party and invite all her friends. Then she began looking
doubtfully at the streaks of sunlight in the room, and casting her eyes
around the ceiling and the walls to see if perchance a stray fly might
have come through the door; and then she went to the window and pushed
back the long stiff lace curtains, and closed the blinds, leaving us
once more in the dark. Of course I never could forget that parlor,
though Aunt Mary did not take me there again.

Sometime afterwards, when I went for butter, I missed her at the high
oven where she always stood with the dish-cloth in her hand. When I
knocked, Uncle Ezra let me in. The big rocker had been drawn out into
the kitchen, near the stove; and Aunt Mary, looking very white, sat in
the chair propped up with pillows. I asked her if she was sick, and she
answered no, but that she had been “feeling poorly” for some time past.

Of course I must have heard all about her illness at the time, but this
has faded from my mind. I remember only that Uncle Ezra came to the
house one day, looking very sad, and when he spoke he simply said, “The
old woman is dead.”

We children were all taken to the funeral. I shall always remember this
event, for when we went through the little gate there stood the front
door wide open, and we went in through the hall. Aunt Mary was lying
peacefully in her coffin in the front parlor. All the chairs in the
house had been brought in. Uncle Ezra sat with downcast head near the
spare bedroom door, a few neighbors and relatives were seated in chairs
around the room, and overhead, on the white ceiling, the flies were
buzzing and swarming as if in glee. The old preacher was there, and I
remember that in his sermon he referred to Aunt Mary’s “neatness”; and
here I know that Uncle Ezra groaned.

The day was rainy, and the neighbors had tracked mud on the nice
Brussels carpet. I looked around the room that Aunt Mary had shown me
with such pride and care. The muddy shoes of the neighbors who had
gathered about the coffin were making great spots on the floor; the
ceiling was growing blacker each minute with the gathering flies. A
great bluebottle, larger than the rest, was buzzing on the glass above
Aunt Mary’s head, trying to get inside the lid. The windows were wide
open, the curtains drawn aside, and the blinds thrown back. Slowly I
looked at the muddy floor, the swarming flies, and the people gathered
in Aunt Mary’s parlor; and then I thought of the party that she had told
me she was going to give.



                               CHAPTER XX
                              FERMAN HENRY


It was when I began to go to the district school that I first heard of
Ferman Henry and his house. Just after we had waded through the little
stream that ran across the road, we came in full sight of the place. The
house stood about half-way up the hill that rose gently from the little
creek, and in front of it was a large oak-tree that spread its branches
out over the porch and almost to the road. There were alder-bushes and
burdocks along the fence,—or, rather, where the fence was meant to be;
for when I first knew the place almost half of it was gone, and the
remaining half was never in repair. On one side of the house was a well,
and in this was a wooden pump. We used often to stop here to get a
drink,—for there never yet was a boy that could pass by water without
stopping for a drink. I remember that the pump always had to be primed,
the valves were so old and worn; and when we poured water in at the top
to start it, we had to work the handle very hard and fast, until we got
quite red in the face, before the water came, and then we had to keep
the handle going, for if we stopped a single moment the water would run
down again and leave the pump quite dry. I never knew the time when the
pump was in repair, and I do not know why it was that we boys spent our
breath in priming it and getting water from the well. Perhaps it was
because we had always heard that the water was so very cold; and
perhaps, too, because we liked to stop a moment at the house,—for Ferman
Henry and his family were the “cleverest” people we knew. City people
may not know that in Farmington we used the word “clever” to mean kind
or obliging,—as when we spoke of a boy who would give us a part of his
apple, or a neighbor who would lend us his tools or do an errand for us
when he went to town.

I had always been told that Ferman Henry was a very shiftless man. The
neighbors knew that he would leave his buggy or his harness out of doors
under the apple-trees all summer long, exposed to sun and rain; and that
he did not like to work. Our people thought that everyone should not
only work, but also like to work simply for the pleasure it brought. I
recall that our copy-books and readers said something of this sort when
I went to school; and I know that the people of Farmington believed, or
thought they believed, that this was true.

Ferman Henry was a carpenter, and a good one, everybody said, although
it was not easy to get him to undertake a job of work; and if he began
to build something, he would never finish it, but leave it for someone
else when it was partly done. He was a large, fat man, and when I first
knew him he wore a colored shirt, and trousers made of blue drilling
with wide suspenders passing over his great shoulders; sometimes one of
these was broken, and he often fastened the end to his trousers with a
nail that slipped through a hole in the suspender and in the cloth,
where a button was torn off. He often wore cowhide boots, with his
trousers legs sometimes inside and sometimes outside; but generally he
was barefoot when we went past the house. I do not remember seeing him
in winter-time, perhaps because then he was not out of doors under the
big oak-tree. At any rate, my memory pictures him only as I have
described him.

When I first heard of Ferman Henry, I was told about his house. This was
begun before the war, and he was building it himself. He began it so
that he might be busy when he had no other work to do; and then too his
family was always getting larger, and he needed a new home. He had
worked occasionally upon the house for six or seven years, and then he
went out as a soldier with the three-months’ men. This absence hindered
him seriously with his work; but before he went away he managed to
inclose enough of the house so that he was able to move his family in,
intending to finish the building as soon as he got back.

The house was not a large affair,—an upright part with three rooms above
and three below, and a one-story kitchen in the shape of an L running
from the side. But it was really to be a good house, for Ferman Henry
was a good carpenter and was building it for a home.

After he got back from the war he would take little jobs of work from
the neighbors now and then, but still tinkered at his house. When any
work of special importance or profit came along, he refused it, saying
he must first “finish up” his house.

I can just remember the building as it appeared when I commenced going
to the district school. The clapboards had begun to brown with age and
wind and rain. The front room was done, excepting as to paint. The back
room below and the rooms upstairs were still unfinished, and the L was
little more than a skeleton waiting for its bones to be covered up. The
front doors and windows had been put in, but the side and back windows
were boarded up, and no shutters had appeared. Back of the house was a
little barn with a hen-house on one side, and on the other was a pen
full of grunting pigs, drinking swill, growing fat, climbing into the
trough, and running their long snouts up through the pen to see what we
children had brought for them to eat.

I remember Ferman Henry from the time when I first began to go to
school. He was fat and “clever,” and always ready to talk with any of
the boys; and he would tell us to come into the yard and take the dipper
and prime the pump, whenever we stopped to get a drink. He generally sat
outside, under the big oak-tree, on the bench that stood by the fence,
where he could see all who passed his door.

Mrs. Henry was almost as large and fat as he, and she too was “clever”
to the boys. She wore a gray dress that was alike from head to foot, and
she never seemed to change it or get anything new. They had a number of
children, though I cannot tell now how many. The boys were always
falling out of the big oak-tree and breaking their arms and carrying
them in a sling. Two or three of those I knew went to school, and I
believe that some were large enough to work out. The children who went
to school never seemed to learn anything from their books, but they were
pleasant and “clever” with their dinners or their marbles, or anything
they had. We boys managed to have more or less sport at their expense.
The fact that they were “clever” and cheerful never seemed to make the
least difference to us, unless to give the chance to make more fun of
them on that account. They never seemed to bring much dinner to school,
excepting bread-and-butter, and the bread was cut in great thick slices,
and the butter never seemed very nice. I know it was none of Aunt
Mary’s.

We boys could tell whether folks were rich or poor by the dinners the
children brought to school. If they had pie and cheese and cake and
frosted cookies, with now and then a nice ripe apple, we knew that they
were rich. We thought bread-and-butter the poorest kind of a lunch; and
sometimes we would stop on the way and open our dinner-pails and throw
it out.

We always knew the Henrys were poor. They had no farm, only a bit of
land along the road that ran a little way up the hill. They kept one
cow, and sometimes a horse, and two or three long-eared hounds that used
to hunt at night, their deep howls filling the valley with doleful
sounds.

Everyone said that Ferman Henry would work only when his money was all
gone, and that when he had enough ahead for a few weeks he would give up
his job. Sometimes he would work at the saw-mill and get a few more
boards for his house, or at the country store and get nails or glass.
After he came back from his three-months’ service he was given a small
pension, and for a few days after every quarterly payment the family
lived as well as the best, and sometimes even bought a little more
material for the house.

Year after year, as the family grew, he added to the building, sometimes
plastering a room, sometimes putting in a window or a door; and he
always said it would be finished soon.

But however poor they were, every time a circus came near the town the
whole family would go. The richest people in the village had never been
to as many circuses as the Henry boys; and even if they knew nothing
about the Romans or the Greeks, they could tell all about the latest
feats of skill and strength.

I often saw Ferman Henry tinkering around the mill, where he came to do
some odd job to get a sack of meal or flour. Once I well remember that
the water-wheel had broken down and we had to stop the mill for several
days; my father tried to get him to come and fix the wheel, but he said
he really had not the time,—that he must finish up his house before cold
weather set in.

As long as I went up and down the country road to school, I saw Ferman
Henry’s unfinished house. We boys used to speculate and wonder as to
when it would be done, and how it would look when it finally should be
finished. Our elders always told us that Ferman Henry was too shiftless
and lazy ever to complete his house, and warned us by his example. When
we left our task undone, or made excuses for our idleness, they asked us
if we wanted to grow up as shiftless and lazy as Ferman Henry.

After I left the district school, and went the other way to the Academy
in the town, I still used to hear about Ferman Henry’s house. The people
at the stores would ask him how the work was coming on; and he always
answered that he would plaster his house in the fall, or paint it in the
spring, or finish it next year.

Before I left Farmington, the growing Henry family seemed to fill every
crack and crevice of the house. The kitchen had been inclosed, but the
porch was not yet done. The shutters were still wanting, the plastering
was not complete, and the outside was yet unpainted; but he always said
that he would go at it in a few days and get it done.

The last time I went to Farmington I drove past the house. Ferman Henry
sat upon the little bench under the big oak-tree. A pail of water, with
a dipper in it, stood by the pump. Mrs. Henry came out to see if I had
grown. A group of children were grubbing dirt in the front yard. I drew
up for a moment under the old tree, in the spot where I had so often
rested when a child. Ferman Henry seemed little changed. The years had
slipped over him like days or weeks, and scarcely left a furrow on his
face or whitened a single hair. At my questioning surprise, he told me
that the small children in the yard belonged to his sons who lived
upstairs. I looked at the house, now falling to decay. The roof was
badly patched, the weather-boards were loose; the porch had not been
finished, and the building had never seen a coat of paint. I asked after
his health and prosperity. He told me that all the family were well, and
that he was getting on all right, and expected to finish his house that
fall and paint it in the spring. Out in the back yard I heard the hogs
grunting in the pen, as in the old-time days. I saw the laughing
children playing in the dirt. Mrs. Henry stood on the porch outside, and
Ferman sat on the old bench and smiled benignly on me as I drove away.
Then I fell to musing as to who was the wiser,—he or I.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                              AUNT LOUISA


If I had only known, when I opened the long-closed door of the past, how
fondly I should linger around the old familiar haunts, I am sure that I
never should have taken a look back. I intended only to set down the few
events that connect me with to-day. I did not know that the child was
alien to the man, and that the world in which he lived was not the gray
old world I know, but a bright green spot where the sun shone and the
birds sang all day long, and the passing cloud left its shower only to
make the landscape fairer and brighter than before.

And here, once more, while all reluctantly I was about to turn the bolt
on that other world, comes a long-forgotten scene, and a host of
memories that clamor for a place in the pages of my book. I cannot
imagine why they come, or what relation they bear to the important
events of a living world. I had thought them as dead as the tenants of
the oldest and most forgotten grave that had long since lost its
headstone and was only a sunken spot in the old churchyard.

But there is the picture on my mind,—so clear and strong that I can
hardly think the scientists tell the truth when they say that our bodies
are made entirely new every seven years. I am still a child at the
district school. The day is over, and I have come back down the long
white country road to the little home. My older brother and sister have
come from school with me. As we open the front gate we have an instinct
that there is “company in the house”; how we know, I cannot tell,—but
our childish vision has caught some sign that tells us the family is not
alone.

“Company” always brought mixed emotions to the boy. We never were quite
sure whether we liked it or not. We had more and better things for
supper than when we were alone; we had more things like pie and cake and
preserves and cheese, and we did not have to eat so much of the things
we liked less, such as bread-and-butter and potatoes and mush and milk.
Then, too, we were not so likely to get scolded when strangers were
around. I remember that I used to get some of the boys to go home with
me, when I had done something wrong that I feared had been found out and
would get me into trouble; and we often took some of the children home
with us when we wanted to ask permission to do something or go
somewhere,—or, better still, we got them to ask for us. These things, of
course, were set down on the good side of having company.

But, on the other hand, we always had a clean tablecloth, and had to be
much more particular about the way we ate. We had to make more use of
our knives and forks and spoons, and less of our fingers; and we always
had to put on our boots, and wash our faces and hands, and have our hair
combed before we could go in to supper, or even into the front room
where the company was. And when we spoke we had to say “Yes, sir,” and
“No, sir,” and “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am.” And we were not supposed
to ask for anything at the table a second time; and if anything was
passed around the second time and came to us, we were not to take it,
but pass it on as though we already had enough. And we were always to
say “Please” and “Thank you,” and such useless words,—just as though we
said them every day of our lives. Sometimes, of course, we would forget,
and ask for something without stopping to say “Please,” and then our
mother would look sharply at us, as if she would do something to us when
the company was gone, and then she would ask us in the sweetest way if
we had not forgotten something, and we would have to begin all over and
say “Please.”

Well, I remember that on this particular evening we all went round to
the back door, for we knew there was company in the house; and when we
went into the kitchen, our mother told us to be very still, and to wash
our feet and put on our stockings and shoes, for Aunt Louisa was there.
We asked how long she was going to stay; and she said she was not quite
sure, but probably at least until after supper.

None of us liked Aunt Louisa. She was old, and had reddish false hair,
and was fat, and took snuff, and talked a great deal. She belonged to
the United Presbyterian church, and went every Sunday, and sat in a pew
clear up in front and a little on one side. Father and mother did not
like her, though they were nice to her when she came to visit them, and
sometimes they went to visit her. They said she came to see what she
could find to talk about and then would go and tell it to the neighbors;
and for this reason we must be very careful when she was there.

Aunt Louisa was a “widow woman,” as she always said; her husband had
been killed by a horse many years before. She used often to tell us all
about how it happened, and it took her a long while to tell it, and my
father said that each time it took her longer than before. She had a
little house down a lane about three-quarters of a mile away, and a few
acres of ground which her husband had left her; and she used to visit a
great deal, calling on all the neighbors in regular turn, a good deal
like the school-teacher who boarded around.

I remember that we had a nice clean tablecloth and a good supper the
night she came, and we all got along well at the table. We said “Please”
every time, and our mother never once had to look at us. After supper we
went into the parlor for a visit with Aunt Louisa. This must have been
only a little while before my mother’s death; for I can see her plainer
that night than at any other time. I wish I could remember the tones of
her voice; but their faintest echo has entirely passed away, and I am
not sure I should know them if they were spoken in my ear. Her face,
too, seems hidden by a mist, and is faded and indistinct. Yet there she
sits in her little sewing-chair, rocking back and forth, with her needle
in her hand and her basket on her lap. Poor woman! she was busy every
minute, and I suppose she never would have had a chance to rest if she
had not gone up to the churchyard for her last long sleep when we were
all so young.

Aunt Louisa has brought her work; she is knitting a long woollen
stocking, and the yarn is white. She puts on her glasses, unwinds the
stocking, pulls her long steel needles out of the ball of yarn and
throws it on the floor; then she begins to knit. The knitting seems to
help her to talk; for as she moves the needles back and forth, she never
for a moment stops talking or lacks a single word. Something is said
that reminds her of her husband, and she tells us of his death: “It was
nearly thirty years ago. He went out to the barn to hitch up the colt.
The colt was one that Truman had just got that summer. He traded a pair
of oxen for it, to a man over in Johnston, but I disremember his name.
It was a tall rangy colt, almost as black as coal, but with a white
stripe on its nose and white hind feet. He was going out to draw in a
load of hay from the bottom meadow. It was a little late in the season,
but the spring had been dry, and it had rained almost all the summer,
and he hadn’t had a chance to get in his hay any sooner. He was doing
his work that year alone, for his hired man had left because his father
died, and it was so late in the season that he thought he would get on
alone for the rest of the year.” I do not yet know how her husband was
really killed, although she told us about it so many times, stopping
often to sigh and take a pinch of snuff, and wipe her nose and eyes with
a large red and black handkerchief. She said she had never felt like
marrying since, and that she had no consolation but her religion.

After she had finished the story of her husband’s death, she began to
tell us about the neighbors. She seemed especially interested in some
man who lived alone in the village and who had done something terrible;
I cannot now tell what it was, and in fact I hardly understood then what
she meant. But she said she had been talking with Deacon Cole and with
Squire Allen, and they thought it was a burning shame that the men folks
didn’t do something about it—that Squire Allen had told her there was no
law that could touch him, but she thought if the men had any spirit they
would go there some night and rotten-egg him and ride him on a rail and
drum him out of town. I cannot remember that my mother said anything
about the matter, but she seemed to agree, and Aunt Louisa kept on
talking until it was almost nine o’clock; then she said she thought it
was about time for her to go home. My mother said a few words about her
staying overnight, but Aunt Louisa said she ought to go “so as to be
there early in the morning.” I know I thought at the time that my mother
did not urge her very much, and that if she had, Aunt Louisa would most
likely have stayed. Then my father told my older brother and me to get a
lantern and go home with her. Of course there was nothing else to do.
All along the road she kept talking of the terrible things the man had
done, and how she thought the men and boys of the village ought to do
something about it.

A few nights afterwards I heard that something was to happen in the
town. I cannot now remember how I heard, but at any rate I went to bed,
and took care not to go to sleep. About midnight my brother and I got up
and went to the public square. Twenty or thirty men and boys had
gathered at the flag-pole. I did not know all their names, but I knew
there were some of the best people in the place. I am certain I saw
Deacon Cole, and I know that we went over to Squire Allen’s
carriage-house and got a large plank which he had told the crowd they
might have. The men had sticks and stones and eggs, and we all went to
the man’s house. When we reached the fence, we opened the gate and went
inside and began throwing stones and sticks at the house and through the
windows; and we broke in the front door with Squire Allen’s plank. All
the men and boys hooted and jeered with the greatest glee. I can still
remember seeing a half-dressed man run out of the back door of the
house, down the garden path, to get away. I can never forget his scared
white face as he passed me in the gloom. After breaking all the doors
and windows, we went back home and went to bed, thinking we had done
something brave and noble, and helped the morals of the town.

The next day little knots of people gathered around the house and in the
streets and on the square, to talk about the “raid.” Nearly all of them
agreed that we had done exactly right. There were only a few people, and
those by no means the best citizens, who raised the faintest objection
to what had been done.

Aunt Louisa was radiant. She made her tour of the neighborhood and told
how she approved of the bravery of the men and boys. She said that after
this everyone would know that Farmington was a moral town.

The hunted man died a year or so afterwards, and someone bought him a
lonely grave on the outskirts of the churchyard where he could not
possibly harm anyone who lay slumbering there, and then they buried him
in the ground without regret. There was much discussion as to whether or
not he should have a Christian funeral; but finally the old preacher
decided that the ways of the Lord were past finding out, and the
question should be left to Him to settle, and that he would preach a
regular sermon, just as he did for all the rest.

When it came Aunt Louisa’s turn for a funeral, the whole town was in
mourning. The choir practised the night before the funeral, so they
might sing their very best, and the preacher never spoke so feelingly
before. All the people in the room cried as if she were their dearest
friend. Then they took her to the little graveyard and lowered her
gently down beside Truman. Everyone said it was a “beautiful funeral.”
In a few months a fine monument was placed on the little lot,—one almost
as grand as Squire Allen’s. She left no children, and in her will she
provided that all the property should be taken for the funeral and for a
monument, except a small bequest to foreign missions.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                          THE SUMMER VACATION


If I were to pick out the happiest time of my life, I should name the
first few days of the summer vacation after the district school was out.

In those few rare days all thoughts of restraint were thrown away. For
months we had been compelled to get up at a certain time in the morning,
do our tasks, and then go to school. Every hour of the day had been laid
out with the precision of the clock, and each one had its work to do.
Day after day, and week after week, the steady grind went on, until
captivity almost seemed our natural state. It was hard enough through
the long fall and winter months and in the early spring; but when the
warm days came on, and the sun rose high and hot and stayed in the
heavens until late at night, when the grass had spread over all the
fields and the leaves had covered all the twigs and boughs until each
tree was one big spot of green, when the birds sang on the branches
right under the schoolhouse eaves, and the lazy bee flew droning in
through the open door, then the schoolhouse prison was more than any boy
could stand.

In the first few days of vacation our freedom was wholly unrestrained.
We chased the squirrels and chipmunks into the thickest portions of the
woods; we roamed across the fields with the cattle and the sheep; we
followed the devious ways of the winding creek, clear to where it joined
the river far down below the covered bridge; we looked into every
fishing-pool and swimming-hole, and laid our plans for the summer
campaign of sports just coming on; we circled the edges of the pond, and
lay down on our backs under the shade of the willow-trees and looked up
at the chasing clouds, while we listened to the water falling on the
wheel and the dozy hum of the grinding mill. In short, we were free
children once again, left to roam the fields and woods to suit our whims
and wills.

But even our liberty grew monotonous in a little while, as all things
will to the very young,—and, for that matter, to the very old, or to
anyone who has the chance to gain freedom and monotony. So in a short
time we thought we were ready to do some work. We wished to work; for
this was new, and therefore not work but play.

When I told my father of my desire to work, he seemed much pleased, and
took me to the mill. But I noticed that as we left the house he put a
small thin book in the pocket of his coat. Later in the day, I found
that this was a Latin grammar, and that he had really taken me to the
mill to study Latin instead of work. I protested that I did not want to
study Latin; that I wished to work; that school was out, and our
vacation-time had come; and that I had studied quite enough until the
fall term should begin. But my father insisted that I ought to study at
least a portion of the day, and that I really should be making some
progress in my Latin grammar. Of course the district school did not
teach Latin; the teacher knew nothing about Latin, and, indeed, that
study did not belong to district school.

I argued long with my father about the Latin, and begged and protested
and cried; but it was all of no avail. I can see him now, as he gravely
stood by the high white dusty desk in the little office of the mill.
Inside the desk were the account-books that were supposed to record the
small transactions of the mill; but these were rarely used. The toll was
taken from the hopper, and that was all that was required. Even the
small amount of book-keeping necessary for the mill, my father scarcely
did,—for on the desk and inside were other books more important far to
him than the ones which told only of the balancing of accounts.

My father stands beside the dusty desk with the Latin grammar in his
hand, and tells me what great service it will be to me in future years
if I learn the Latin tongue. And then he tells me how great my
advantages are compared with his, and how much he could have done if
only his father had been able to teach him Latin while he was yet a
child. In vain I say that I do not want to be a scholar; that I never
shall have any use for Latin; that it is spoken only by foreigners,
anyhow, and they will never come to Farmington, and I shall never go to
visit them. I ask my father if he has ever seen a Latin, much less
talked with one; and when he tells me that the language has been dead
for a thousand years, I feel still more certain that I am right. But he
persists that I cannot be a scholar unless I master Latin.

It was of no avail to argue with my father; for fathers only argue
through courtesy, and when the proper time comes round they cease the
argument and say the thing must be done. And so, against my judgment and
my will, I climbed upon the high stool in the little office and opened
the Latin grammar, while the old miller bent over my shoulder and taught
me my first lesson.

Can I ever forget the time I began to study Latin? Outside of the little
door stands the hopper full of grain; a tiny stream is running down the
centre, like the sands in an hourglass, and slowly and inevitably each
kernel is ground fine between the great turning stones. All around, on
every bag and bin and chute, on every piece of furniture and on the
floor, lies the thick white dust that rises from the new-ground flour.
Outside the windows I can see the water running down the mill-race and
through the flume, before it tumbles on the wheel. The hopper is filled
with grain, the wheat is tolled, the water keeps falling over the great
wheel, the noise of the turning stones and moving pulleys fills the air
with a constant whir. My father leaves the mill at its work, comes into
the little office, shuts the door, and tells me that _mensa_ is the
Latin word for “table.” This is more important to him than the need of
rain, or the growing wheat, or the low water in the pond. Then he tells
me how many different cases the Latin language had, and exactly how the
Romans spoke the word for “table” in every case; and he bids me decline
_mensa_ after him. Slowly and painfully I learn _mensa_, _mensæ_,
_mensæ_, _mensam_, _mensa_, _mensa_, and after this I must learn the
plural too. And so with the whirring of the mill is mingled my father’s
voice, saying slowly over and over again, “_mensa_, _mensæ_, _mensæ_,
_mensam_, _mensa_, _mensa_.” I stammer and stutter, and cry and mutter,
and think, until I can scarcely distinguish between the whirring of the
mill and the measured tones of my father’s voice repeating the various
cases of the wondrous Latin word.

Sometimes he lets me leave my lesson and go to the great pile of cobs
that fall from the corn-sheller, and go over these to take off the
kernels that the sheller left. But in a little while my hands are so red
and sore that I am glad to go back to my Latin word again. Then he lets
me cut the weeds along the edges of the mill-race; but the constant
stooping hurts my back, and the sun is hot, and this, too, soon grows to
be like work, and no easier than sitting on the high stool with the
Latin grammar in my hand. Now and then a farmer drives up to the mill
with his team of horses or slow heavy oxen, and I try to make myself
useful in helping him to unload the grain. This is easier than shelling
corn or cutting weeds or learning Latin; for it is only a little time
until the farmer is gone, and then perhaps another takes his place.
Somehow I never want these farmers or the boys to know that I am
studying Latin at the mill, for they would wonder why my father made me
study Latin, and what he could possibly see in me to make him think it
worth the while. I wondered, too, when I was young; I could not
understand why he should make me study it, as if his life and mine
depended on the Latin that I learned. Surely he knew that I did not like
Latin, and at best learned it slowly and with the greatest pains, and
there was little promise in the efforts that he made in my behalf.

I could not then know why my father took all this trouble for me to
learn my grammar; but I know to-day. I know that, all unconsciously, it
was the blind persistent effort of the parent to resurrect his own
buried hopes and dead ambitions in the greater opportunities and broader
life that he would give his child. Poor man! I trust the lingering spark
of hope for me never left his bosom while he lived, and that he died
unconscious that the son on whom he lavished so much precious time and
care never learned Latin after all, and never could.

But still, all unconsciously, I did learn something from my lessons at
the mill. From the little Latin grammar my father passed to the Roman
people, to their struggles and conquests, their triumphs and decline, to
the civilization that has ever hovered around the Mediterranean Sea. He,
alas! had scarce ever gone outside the walls of Farmington, and had
seldom done as much as to peep over the high hills that held the little
narrow valley in its place. But through his precious books and his still
more precious dreams he had sailed the length and breadth of the
Mediterranean Sea,—and though since then I have stood upon the deck of a
ship that skims along between the blue waters below and the soft blue
sky above, and have looked off at the sloping, fertile uplands to the
high mountain-tops of Italy, and even over to Africa on the other side,
still my Roman empire will ever be the mighty kingdom of which my father
talked, and my Mediterranean that far-off blue sea of which he told when
he tried so hard to make me study Latin in the little office of the
mill; and ever and ever the soft murmur of the blue white-crested waves
crawling up the long Italian beach will be mingled with the lazy whir of
the turning stones and my father’s gentle eager voice.

The dust and mould of many ages lie over Cæsar and Virgil and Horace and
Ovid. The great empire of the Roman world long since passed to ruin and
decay. The waves of the blue Mediterranean have sung their requiem over
this mighty Mistress of the Sea, and many others, great and small, since
then. The Latin tongue lives only as a memory of the language of these
once proud conquerors of a world. And no less dead and past are the
turning wheel, the groaning mill, the crumbling dam, and the kindly
voice that told me of the wonders of the Roman world. And as my mind
goes back to the Latin grammar and the little dusty office in the mill,
I cannot suppress the longing hope that somewhere out beyond the stars
my patient father has found a haven where they still can speak the Latin
tongue, and where he comes nearer to Cæsar and Virgil and Ovid and to
the blue Mediterranean Sea than while the high hills and stern
conditions of his life kept him busy grinding corn. At all events, I am
sure that when my ears are dulled to all earthly sounds, I shall fancy
that I hear the falling water and the turning wheel and the groaning
mill, and with them the long-silenced voice repeating, in grave, almost
religious tones,—

_Mensa_, _mensæ_, _mensæ_, _mensam_, _mensa_, _mensa_.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                              HOW I FAILED


Somehow I can identify my present self only with the boy who went to the
Academy on the hill. Back of this, all seems a vision and a dream; and
the little child from whom I grew is only one of the old boyish group
for whose sake the sun revolved and the changing seasons came and went.

It must be that for a long time I looked forward to going to the Academy
as an event in my boyish life. For I know that when I first went up the
hill, I wore a collar and a necktie and shoes,—or, rather, boots. I must
have felt then that I was growing to be a man, and that it was almost
time to put off childish things. When I went to the Academy, we called
the teacher “Professor,” and he in turn no longer called me Johnny, or
even John, but spoke to me as “Smith.” A certain dignity and
individuality had come to me from some source, I knew not where. When we
boys came from the playground into the open door, it was not quite the
mad rush of noisy and boisterous urchins that carried all before it,
like a rushing flood, in the little district school.

Almost unconsciously some new idea of duty and obligation began to dawn
upon my mind, and I had even a faint conception that the lessons of the
books would be related in some way to my future life. Among us boys, in
our relation to each other, the difference was not quite so great as
that between the teacher and ourselves; but our bearing toward the girls
was still more changed. In the district school they had seemed only
different, and rather in the way, or at least of no special interest or
importance in the scheme. Now, we stood before them quite abashed and
awed. They had put on long dresses, and had taken on a reserved and
distant air; and much that we said and did in the Academy was with the
conscious thought of how it would look to them. This, too, was a reason
why we should wear our collars and our boots, and comb our hair, and not
be found always at the bottom of the class.

I began about this time to get letters at the post-office,—letters
addressed directly to me, and which I could open first, and show to the
others or not as I saw fit. And I began to know about affairs,
especially to take an interest in politics, and to know our side—which
of course was always beaten. I, like all the rest of the boys, inherited
my politics and my religion. I said,—like all the boys; but I should
have said like all people, whether boys or men. So little do we have the
habit of thought, that our opinions on religion and politics and life
are only such as have come down to us from ignorant and remote
ancestors, influenced we know not how.

So, too, the same feeling seemed to steal over us at home and in our
family group. The old sitting-room was quieter and wore a more serious
look as we gathered round the lighted lamp on the great table with our
books. The lessons were always tasks, but we tried to get through them
for the sake of the magazine or book of travel or adventure that we
could read when the work was done. My father was as helpful and
interested as ever in our studies, and constantly told us how this task
and that would affect our future lives. More and more he made clear to
us his intense desire that we should reach the things that had been
beyond his grasp.

Almost unconsciously I grew into sympathy with his ideals and his life,
seeing faintly the grand visions that were always clear to him, and
bewailing more and more my own indolence and love of pleasure that made
them seem so hard for me to reach. I learned to understand the tragedy
of his obscure and hidden life, and the long and bitter contest he had
waged within the narrow shadow of the stubborn little town where he had
lived and struggled and hoped so long. It was many years before I came
to know fully that the smaller the world in which we move, the more
impossible it is to break the prejudices and conventions that bind us
down. And so it was many, many years before I realized what must have
been my father’s life.

As a little child, I heard my father tell of Frederick Douglass, Parker
Pillsbury, Sojourner Truth, Wendell Phillips, and the rest of that
advance army of reformers, black and white, who went up and down the
land arousing the dulled conscience of the people to a sense of justice
to the slave. They used to make my father’s home their stopping-place,
and any sort of vacant room was the forum where they told of the black
man’s wrongs. My father lived to see these disturbers canonized by the
public opinion that is ever ready to follow in the wake of a battle
fought to a successful end. But when his little world was ready to
rejoice with him over the freedom of the slave, he had moved his soiled
and tattered tent to a new battlefield and was fighting the same
stubborn, sullen, threatening public opinion for a new and yet more
doubtful cause. The same determined band of agitators used still to come
when I had grown to be a youth. These had seen visions of a higher and
broader religious life, and a fuller measure of freedom and justice for
the poor than the world had ever known. Like the despised tramp, they
seemed to have marked my father’s gate-post, and could not pass his
door. They were always poor, often ragged, and a far-off look seemed to
haunt their eyes, as if gazing into space at something beyond the stars.
Some little room was always found where a handful of my father’s friends
would gather, sometimes coming from miles around to listen to the voices
crying in the wilderness, calling the heedless world to repent before it
should be too late. I cannot remember when I did not go to these little
gatherings of the elect and drink in every word that fell upon my ears.
Poor boy! I am almost sorry for myself. I listened so rapturously and
believed so strongly, and knew so well that the kingdom of heaven would
surely come in a little while. And though almost every night through all
these long and weary years I have looked with the same unflagging hope
for the promised star that should be rising in the east, still it has
not come; but no matter how great the trial and disappointment and
delay, I am sure I shall always peer out into the darkness for this
belated star, until I am so blind that I could not see it if it were
really there.

After these wandering minstrels returned from their meetings to our
home, they would sit with my father for hours in his little study, where
they told each other of their visions and their hopes. Many and many a
time, as I lay in my bed, I listened to their words coming through the
crack with the streak of lamplight at the bottom of the door, until
finally my weary eyes would close in the full glow of the brilliant
rainbow they had painted from their dreams.

After all, I am glad that my father and his footsore comrades dreamed
their dreams. I am glad they really lived above the sordid world, in
that ethereal realm which none but the blindly devoted ever see; for I
know that their visions raised my father from the narrow valley, the
dusty mill, the small life of commonplace, to the great broad heights
where he really lived and died.

And I am glad that as a youth and a little child it was given me to
catch one glimpse of these exalted realms, and to feel one aspiration
for the devoted life they lived; for however truly I may know that this
ideal land was but a dream that would never come, however I may have
clung to the valleys, the flesh-pots, and the substantial things, I am
sure that some part of this feeling abides with me, and that its tender
chord of sentiment and memory reaches back to that hallowed land of
childhood and of youth, and still seeks to draw me toward the heights on
which my father lived.

I never knew that I was growing from the child to the youth; that the
life and experience and even the boy of the district school was passing
forever into the realm of clouds and myth. Neither can I remember when I
grew from the youth to the man, nor when the first stoop came to my
shoulders, the first glint of white to my hair, or the first crease upon
my face. I know that I wear glasses now,—but how did my sight begin to
fail, and in what one moment of all the fleeting millions that hurried
past did I first need to put glasses on my eyes? How lightly and gently
time lays its hand upon all who live! I can dimly remember a period when
I was very small, and I can distinctly remember when I went to the
Academy on the hill and began to think of maturer things if not to think
maturer thoughts. I remember that I began to realize that my father was
growing old; he made mistakes in names, and hesitated about those he
well knew. Still, this is not a sure sign of growing years, for I find
that I am doing this myself, and many times lately have determined that
I must take more pains about my memory, and cultivate it rather than
continue to be as careless as I have always been. And only yesterday
around an accustomed table with a few choice friends, I told a long and
detailed story that I was sure was very clever and exactly to the point.
I had no doubt that the pleasant tale would set the table in a roar. But
although all the guests were most considerate and kind and seemed to
laugh with the greatest glee, still there was something in their eyes
and a certain cadence in their tones that made me sure that sometime and
somewhere I had told them this same story at least once before.

I gradually realized that many plans my father seemed to believe he
would carry out could never come to pass. I knew that for a long time he
had talked of building a new mill. True, he did not say when or how,—but
he surely would sometime build the mill. At first I used to think he
would; and we often talked of the mill, and just where it would stand,
and how many run of stones the trade demanded, and whether we should
have an engine to use when there was no water in the dam. But gradually
I came to realize that my father never would live to build another mill,
and that doubtless no one else would replace the one he had run so long.
Yet he kept talking of the mill, as if it would surely come. Nature,
after all, is not quite so brutal as she might be. However old and gray
and feeble her children grow, she never lets them give up hope until the
last spark of life has flown.

Even when my father talked with less confidence of the mill, he was sure
to build a new water-wheel, for the old one had turned over and over so
many times that there was scarce a sound place no matter where it
turned. But this, too, I slowly found would never be; yet after a while
I grew to encouraging him in his illusions of what he would sometime do,
and even in his wilder and fonder illusions of what I would sometime do.
Gradually I knew that he stooped more and rested oftener, and that his
face was whiter; and I forgot his age, and never under any circumstances
would let anyone tell me how old he was.

As I myself grew older, I came to have a stricter feeling of right and
wrong,—to see clearly the sharp lines that separate the good and the
bad, to grow hard and unforgiving and more intolerant of sin. But this,
like the measles, whooping-cough, and other childish complaints, I
luckily lived through. It is one of the errors of childhood to believe
in sin, to see clearly the division between the good and the bad; and,
strangely enough, teachers and parents encourage this illusion of the
young. It is only as we grow into maturer years that we learn that there
are no hard-and-fast laws of life, no straight clear lines between right
and wrong. It is only our mistakes and failures and trials and sins that
teach how really alike are all human souls, and how strong is the fate
that overrides all earthly schemes. It is only life that makes us know
that pity and charity and love are the chief virtues, and cruelty and
hardness and selfishness the greatest sins.

As I grew older, one characteristic of my childhood clung about me
still. My plans never came out as I expected, and none of the visions of
my brain grew into the perfect thing of which I hoped and dreamed. I
never seemed able to finish any work that I began; some more alluring
prospect ever beckoned me toward achievements grander than my brain had
conceived before. The work was contrived, the plan was formed, the
material prepared,—but the structure was only just begun.

And so this poor book but illustrates my life. Long I had hoped to write
my tale, much I had planned to tell my story; and here, after all my
hopes and plans, I have gone off in quite another way, babbling of the
schemes of my boyhood days, the thoughts and desires, the hopes and
feelings, of a little child. So long and so fondly have I lingered in
this fairy-land that now it is too late, and I must close the book
before my story really has begun.

That fatal trip back to my old home was the cause of my undoing, and has
robbed me of the fame that I had hoped to win. But I felt that I could
not write the story unless I went back once more to visit the town of my
childhood, and to see again the companions of my early life. But what a
revelation came with this simple journey to the little valley where my
father lived! I had looked at my face in the glass each day for many
years, and never felt that it had changed; but when I went back to my
old familiar haunts, and looked into the faces of the boys I once knew,
I saw scarcely a line to call back their images to my mind. These
bashful little boys were bent and gray and old, and had almost reached
their journey’s end. And when I asked for familiar names, over and over
again I was pointed to the white stones that now covered our old
playground and were persistently crawling up the hill beyond the little
rivulet that once marked the farthest limits of the yard. So many times
was I referred to the graveyard for the answer to the name I called,
that finally I did not dare to ask, “Where is John Cole?” or Thomas
Clark, but instead of this I would break the news more gently to myself,
and say, “Is John Cole living still?” or, “Is Thomas Clark yet dead?”

I am most disconsolate because I could not tell the story that I meant
to write, and I can scarce forgive this weird fantastic troop that
pushed themselves before my pencil and would not let me tell my tale.
Yet, after all,—the everlasting “after all” that excuses all, and in
some poor fashion decks even the most worthless life,—yet, after all,
there was little that I could have told had I done my very best. Even
now I might sum up my story in a few short words.

All my life I have been planning and hoping and thinking and dreaming
and loitering and waiting. All my life I have been getting ready to
begin to do something worth the while. I have been waiting for the
summer and waiting for the fall; I have been waiting for the winter and
waiting for the spring; waiting for the night and waiting for the
morning; waiting and dawdling and dreaming, until the day is almost
spent and the twilight close at hand.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. Changed ‘it’ to ‘is’ on p. 170.
 2. Silently corrected typographical errors.
 3. Retained anachronistic and non-standard spellings as printed.
 4. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.
 5. Superscripts are denoted by a carat before a single superscript
      character or a series of superscripted characters enclosed in
      curly braces, e.g. M^r. or M^{ister}.





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