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Title: When You Were a Boy
Author: Sabin, Edwin L. (Edwin Legrand)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          WHEN YOU WERE A BOY



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



                      [Illustration: Frontispiece]



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



                                WHEN YOU
                               WERE A BOY

                                   BY
                             EDWIN L. SABIN

                            WITH PICTURES BY
                          FREDERIC DORR STEELE

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

                         [Illustration: Figure]

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

                                New York
                       THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY
              33-37 EAST 17TH STREET, UNION SQUARE (NORTH)



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



             Copyright, 1905, by THE BAKER & TAYLOR COMPANY

                                  ---

                        Published October, 1905



                The Plimpton Press Norwood Mass. U.S.A.



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



             For permission to republish the following
             sketches the author is gratefully indebted
             to the Century Magazine, the Saturday Evening
             Post, Everybody’s Magazine, and the National
             Magazine.



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



                                CONTENTS

                                   ❦


                                                  PAGE
                     I The Match Game               11
                    II You at School                39
                   III Chums                        65
                    IV In the Arena                 91
                     V The Circus                  111
                    VI When You Ran Away           135
                   VII Goin’ Fishin’               155
                  VIII In Society                  179
                    IX Middleton’s Hill            195
                     X Goin’ Swimmin’              219
                    XI The Sunday-School Picnic    239
                   XII The Old Muzzle-Loader       257
                  XIII A Boy’s Loves               277
                   XIV Noon                        297



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



                             THE MATCH GAME



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



                         [Illustration: “YOU”]



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



                          WHEN YOU WERE A BOY



                             THE MATCH GAME


      “OUR” NINE

    Billy Lunt, c
    Fat Day, p
    Hen Schmidt, 1b
    Bob Leslie, 2b
    Hod O’Shea, 3b
    Chub Thornbury, ss
    Nixie Kemp, lf
    Tom Kemp, rf
    “You,” cf.

    “THEIR” NINE

    Spunk Carey, c
    Doc Kennedy, p
    Screw Major, 1b
    Ted Watson, 2b
    Red Conroy, 3b
    Slim Harding, ss
    Pete Jones, lf
    Tug McCormack, rf
    Ollie Hansen, cf

                       We:     5   9   9    8—31
                       They:  11  14   9   16—50


FAT DAY was captain and pitcher. He was captain because, if he was
_not_, he wouldn’t play, and inasmuch as he owned the ball, this would
have been disastrous; and he was pitcher because he was captain.

In the North Stars were other pitchers—seven of them! The only member
who did not aspire to pitch was Billy Lunt, and as catcher he occupied a
place, in “takin’ ’em off the bat,” too delightfully hazardous for him
to surrender, and too painful for anybody else to covet.


[Illustration: FAT DAY]


The organization of the North Stars was effected through verbal
contracts somewhat as follows:

“Say, we want you to be in our nine.”

“All right. Will you lemme pitch?”

“Naw; Fat’s pitcher, ’cause he’s captain; but you can play first.”

“Pooh! _Fat_ can’t pitch—”

“I can, too. I can pitch lots better’n _you_ can, anyhow.” (This from
Fat himself.)

“W-well, I’ll play first, then. I don’t care.”

Thus an adjustment was reached.

A proud moment for you was it when _your_ merits as a ball-player were
recognized, and you were engaged for center-field. Of course, secretly
you nourished the strong conviction that you were cut out for a pitcher.
Next to pitcher, you preferred short-stop, and next to short-stop, first
base. But these positions, and pretty much everything, in fact, had been
preempted; so, after the necessary haggling, you accepted center-field.

Speedily the North Star make-up was complete, and disappointed
applicants—those too little, too big, too late, or not good enough—were
busy sneering about it.


[Illustration: BILLY LUNT]


The equipment of the North Star Base-Ball Club consisted of Fat’s
“regular league” ball, six bats (owned by various members, and in some
cases exercising no small influence in determining fitness of the same
for enlistment as recruits), and four uniforms.

Mother made your uniform. To-day you wonder how, amidst darning your
stockings and patching our trousers and mending your waists, she ever
found time in which to supply you with the additional regalia which,
according to your pursuits of the hour, day after day you insistently
demanded. But she always did.


[Illustration: SPUNK CAREY]


The uniform in question was composed of a pair of your linen
knickerbockers with a red tape tacked along the outside seam, and a huge
six-pointed blue flannel star, each point having a buttonhole whereby it
was attached to a button, corresponding, on the breast of your waist.
And was there a cap, or did you wear the faithful old straw? Fat Day,
you recollect, had a cap upon the front of which was lettered his
rank—“Captain.” It seems as though mother made you a cap, as well as the
striped trousers and breastplate. The cap was furnished with a
tremendously deep vizor of pasteboard, and was formed of four segments,
two white and two blue, meeting in the center of the crown.

All in all, the uniform was perfectly satisfactory; it was distinctive,
and was surpassed by none of the other three.

Evidently the mothers of five of the North Stars did not attend to
business, for their sons played in ordinary citizen’s attire of hats,
and of waists and trousers unadorned save by the stains incidental to
daily life.

The North Stars must have been employed for a time chiefly in parading
about and seeking whom they, as an aggregation, might devour, but as a
rule failing, owing to interfering house-and-yard duties, all to report
upon any one occasion. The contests had been with “picked nines,” “just
for fun” (meaning that there was no sting in defeat), when on a sudden
it was breathlessly announced from mouth, to mouth that “the
Second-street kids want to play us.”


[Illustration: HEN SCHMIDT]


“Come on!” responded, with a single valiant voice, the North Stars.

“We’re goin’ to play a match game next Tuesday,” you gave out, as a bit
of important news, at the supper-table.

“That so?” hazarded father, who had been flatteringly interested in your
blue star. “Who’s the other nine?”

“The Second-street fellows. Spunk Carey’s captain and—”

“Who is _Spunk_ Carey? Oh, Johnny, what outlandish names you boys do
rake up!” exclaimed mother.

“Why, he’s Frank Carey the hardware man’s boy,” explained father,
indulgently. “What’s his first name, John?”


[Illustration: CHUB THORNBURY]


“I dunno,” you hurriedly owned; “Spunk” had been quite sufficient for
all purposes. “But we’re goin’ to play in the vacant lot next to Carey’s
house. There’s a dandy diamond.”

So there was. The Carey side fence supplied a fine back-stop, and thence
the grounds extended in a superb level of dusty green, broken by burdock
clumps and interspersed with tin cans. The lot was bounded on the east
by the Carey fence, on the south and west by a high walk, and on the
north by the alley. It was a corner lot, which made it the more
spacious.

The diamond itself had been laid out, in the beginning, with proportions
accommodated to a pair of rocks that would answer for first and second
base; a slab dropped where third ought to be, and another dropped for
the home plate, finished the preliminary work, and thereafter scores of
running feet, shod and unshod, had worn bare the lines, and the spots
where stood pitcher, catcher, and batter.

A landscape architect might have passed criticism on the ensemble of the
plat, and a surveyor might have taken exceptions to the configuration of
the diamond, but who cared?


[Illustration: DOC KENNEDY]


“We” had promised that “we” would be there, ready to play, at two
o’clock, and “they” had solemnly vowed that “they” would be as prompt.
Tuesday’s dinner you gulped and gobbled; in those days your stomach was
patient and charitable almost beyond belief in this degenerate present.
It was imperative that you be at Carey’s lot immediately, and despite
the imploring objections of the family to your reckless haste, you
bolted out; and as you went you drew upon your left hand an old
fingerless kid glove, which was of some peculiar service in your
center-field duties.


[Illustration: RED CONROY]


Your uniform had been put on upon arising that morning. You always wore
it nowadays except when in bed or on Sundays. It was your toga of the
purple border, and the bat that you carried from early to late, in your
peregrinations, was your scepter mace.

At your unearthly yodel, from next door rushed out your crony, Hen
Schmidt, and joined you; and upon your way to the vacant lot you picked
up Billy Lunt and Chub Thornbury.

The four of you succeeded in all talking at once: the Second-streets
were great big fellows; their pitcher was Doc Kennedy and it wasn’t
fair, because he threw as hard as he could, and he was nearly sixteen;
Hop Hopkins said he’d be “empire”; Red Conroy was going to play, and he
always was wanting to fight; darn it—if Fat only wouldn’t pitch, but let
somebody else do it! Bob Leslie could throw an awful big “in,” etc.

The fateful lot dawned upon the right, around the corner of an alley
fence. Hurrah, there they are! You see Nixie and Tom Kemp, and Hod
O’Shea, and Bob Leslie, and Spunk, and Screw Major, and Ted Watson, and
Slim Harding, and the redoubtable Red Conroy (engaged in bullying a
smaller boy), and others who must be the remainder of the
Second-streets.


[Illustration: OLLIE HANSEN]


“Hello, kids,” you say, and likewise say your three companions; and with
bat trailing you stalk with free and easy dignity into the crowd.

“Where’s Fat? Who’s seen Fat?” asked everybody of everybody; for Captain
Fat was the sole essential personage lacking. However, even without him,
pending his arrival the scene was one of stirring animation.

Thick and fast flew here and there the several balls on the grounds,
each nine keeping to itself, and each boy throwing “curves”—or, at
least, thus essaying.

You yourself, brave in your splendor of blue star and red stripe,
endeavored, by now and then negligently catching with one hand, to make
it plain that you were virtually a professional.


[Illustration: BOB LESLIE]


The Second-streets were as yet ununiformed, even in sections. But they
were a rugged, rough-and-ready set, and two of them had base-ball shoes
on, proving that they were experts.

“Here’s Fat! Here comes Fat!” suddenly arose the welcoming cry; and
appareled in his regimentals, his cap announcing to all beholders his
high rank, panting, hot, perspiring, up hustled the leader of the North
Stars.

It was time to begin.

“Who’s got a ball?” demanded Umpire Hopkins, sometimes called Harry, but
more generally known as Hop or Hoptoad.

The query disclosed a serious condition. Balls there were, but not
suitable for a championship match game. They were ten- and
fifteen-centers, as hard as grapeshot or already knocked flabby.

“Where’s your ball, Fat?” you asked incautiously.

“In my pocket,” admitted Fat—a bulging fact that he could not well deny.


[Illustration: PETE JONES]


“What is it? Le’ ’s see, Fat,” demanded Captain Spunk.

“It’s a regular dollar league,” you informed glibly; and Fat, with
mingled pride and reluctance, extracted it from the pocket of his
knickerbockers,—peeled it, so to speak, into the open,—and handed it out
for inspection.

“Gee!” commented Spunk, thumbing it, and chucking it up and catching it.
“It’s a dandy! Come on, kids; here’s a ball!”

“But if you use my ball, you’ve got to give us our outs,” bargained Fat,
dismayed.


[Illustration: HOD O’SHEA]


“G’wan!” growled Red Conroy. “Don’t you do it, Spunk. ‘Tain’t goin’ to
hurt his old ball any.”

Awed by the ever-belligerent Red, Fat submitted to the customary lot by
bat. Spunk tossed a bat at him, and he caught it, with an elaborate show
of method, about the middle; then with alternate hands they proceeded to
cover it upward to the end.

The last hand for which there was space was Fat’s; by no manner of means
could Spunk squeeze his grimy fist into the two inches left.

“We’ll take our outs,” majestically asserted Captain Fat; whereat
whooped shrilly all the North Stars, and quite regardless of their
affiliations whooped shrilly the spectators also, composed of small
brothers and a few friends about equally divided between the contestant
nines.

Some preliminaries were yet to be gone through with. Doc Kennedy was
protested because he pitched so swift.

“Aw, _I_ won’t throw hard,” he assured bluffly.

“Of course not! _He’s_ easy to hit,” chorused his companions.

Then, in view of the fact that Billy Lunt had a sore finger, as
evidenced by a cylinder of whitish rag (which he slipped off,
obligingly, whenever solicited), it was agreed that he be allowed to
catch the third strike on the first bounce.


[Illustration: SCREW MAJOR]


A foul over the back-stop fence was out; a like penalty was attached to
flies over the boundary walks.

And now, turning hand-springs and otherwise gamboling exultantly, the
North Stars scattered to their respective positions.

Away out in center-field you prepared to guard your territory. You bent
over, with your hands upon your knees, and ever and anon you spat
fiercely, sometimes upon the ground and sometimes into your kid glove.
This was the performance of the players upon the town’s nine, the Red
Stockings and evidently greatly added to their efficiency.


[Illustration: TED WATSON]


Besides, on the edge of the walk just back of you were sitting and
swinging their slim legs two little girls, whom it was pleasant to
impress.

Overhead the sun was blazing hot, but not to you; underfoot the dust
from a long dry spell lay choking thick, but not to you; a
“darning-needle” whizzed past, and you scarcely ducked, although he
might be bent upon sewing up your ears. Your work was too stern to admit
of your noticing sun, or dust, or mischievous dragon-fly. So you spat
into your glove, replaced your hands on your knees, and waited. “Hello,
Johnny!” piped one of the little girls; but you deigned not to make
answer.

To right and to left were the Kemp boys, with their hands upon _their_
knees; and before were the infielders, with their hands likewise upon
_their_ knees; that is, all except the pitcher.


[Illustration: SLIM HARDING]


“Play ball!” gruffly bade the umpire.

Captain Spunk advanced to the slab.

“Gimme a low ball,” he ordered, sticking out his bat to indicate the
proper height that would meet his wishes.

Captain Fat rolled the ball rapidly between his palms, and thus having
imparted to it what he fondly believed was a mysterious twist, hurled
it.

“One ball!” cried the umpire.

Captain Spunk banged the slab with his bat.

“Aw, gimme a low ball over the plate!” he urged.

Again the pitcher rubbed twist into the sphere, and out in center—field
you hung upon his motions.

“One strike!” declared the umpire, and a great shout of derision arose
from the North Stars and their adherents.


[Illustration: TOM KEMP]


Captain Fat smiled wickedly: the unfortunate batter was being fooled by
those deceptive curves.

“What did you strike at that fer—’way up over yer head!” censured Red
Conroy, angrily.

“Darn it! gimme a good low ball! You’re ’fraid to!” challenged Captain
Spunk.

Whack! He had hit it. Right between Short-stop Chub’s legs it darted,
and you and left-field together stopped it, but too late to prevent the
runner’s reaching first.

Chub came in for a tongue-lashing from all sides; and then Spunk stole
second, and Billy threw over Bob’s head there (at the same time throwing
the rag cylinder, also, half-way to the pitcher’s box), and you
desperately fielded the ball in, and Fat got it, and threw over Hod’s
head at third, and to the wild cries of “Home! Home! Sock her home!”
Nixie got it and threw it at Billy; but nevertheless Spunk, spurred on
by the frantic exhortations of his fellows, panting “Tally one!” crossed
the slab.

Triumphantly cheered the Second—streets, and busily flashed the
jack-knife of each spectator as he cut a tally-notch in a stick.

Billy ran forward and reclaimed his precious rag.


[Illustration: NIXIE KEMP]


Ten more tallies were recorded before the half-inning closed. The whole
North Star nine was red from running after the ball and disputing with
the umpire—disputes into which everybody on the ground had earnestly
entered. Red Conroy had threatened to “smash” several North Stars, you
among them; Catcher Billy had long since witnessed his cylinder trampled
into the diamond and ruined; Captain Fat had tried all the most deadly
twists in his repertoire; when, finally, hot and irritated, you and
yours had come in.

And now, reminding Pitcher Doc that he had promised not to throw hard,
Billy stepped to the plate, to hit, to reach first, daringly to steal
second, foolishly to be caught between bases, successfully to dash past
Red, who endeavored to trip him, and out of the confusion safely to
attain third, whence soon he galloped home, and tallied.

“’Leven to five!” declared the sprawling spectators, every one a
score-keeper, to each other, as at last in scampered the Second-streets
and out lagged the North Stars.

You had not batted, and you were relieved, because batting was a great
responsibility, with your critical fellows advising you, and castigating
you whenever you missed.

In this their next inning the Second-streets made fourteen!
Notwithstanding Fat’s utmost art, as signified by his various occult
motions, they batted him only too easily, and kept infield and outfield
chasing all over the lot. Yet he angrily refused to “let somebody else
pitch.” Bob Leslie even attempted to take the ball away from him and
forcibly trade places—a mutiny which called forth an “Aw, g’wan an’ play
ball, you kids!” from the waiting batter, Screw Major.

“Why don’t you fellows stop some of them grounders, then?” retorted Fat
to derogatory accusations. “Gee whiz! You don’t stop nothin’!”

Thus it resolved into a question of whether ’t was not stopping, or
having o’ermuch to stop, that brought disaster.

It was your turn. You faced the mighty Doc. He threw, and the ball came
like a cannon—shot, you thought.

“You’re throwin’ swift!” you remonstrated.

“Shut up!” sneered Red, from third. “Who’s a—throwin’ swift? Give him
one in the head, Doc!”

Blindly you struck, and the condemnations of your mentors squatting
anear raked you fore and aft.

Quite unexpectedly you hit it. You did not know where it went, but you
scudded for first.

“Second! Second!” gesticulating frantically, bawled all your companions,
coaching you onward.

“Second! Second!” bawled with equal fervor your opponents, coaching the
fielder.

You grabbed off your cap,—it is strange how much faster a boy can run
when thus assisted,—and madly dug for second. Praise be! There you were,
beating the ball, which appeared from a mysterious somewhere, by a
hair’s-breadth.

You stuck to second, meanwhile dancing and prancing to tantalize the
pitcher, until another hit forwarded you to third, for which you slid,
not because it was absolutely necessary to slide, but because the slide
was a part of the game.

Here, at third, while you were dreaming of the home slab, and the honor
of admonishing, hoarsely, for the information of the world, “Tally me!”
Red, the ruthless, abruptly gave you a shove, hurling you from position.

“Quick, Doc!” he cried.

Doc responded with the ball.

“Out!” decreed the umpire.

“But he shoved me! He shoved me off the base!” you shrieked.

“_Who_ shoved yer? I didn’t, neither! G’wan! Yer out; don’t you hear the
empire?” snarled back Red.

“You did, too!” you asserted.

“He did, too! No fair! He shoved him like everything!” vociferated all
the North Stars and their supporters.

“You’re out! You’re out!” gibed the Second-streets, from catcher to
farthest fielder.

“Out!” majestically pronounced the umpire again.

Slowly, obedient to the higher authority represented in the
freckled-faced Hoptoad, you walked down the base-line. In some way,
apparently, you had disgraced your blue star, begrimed from your manful
slide, for “Why did you let him touch you?” accused your comrades.

The idea! How could you help it, you’d like to know.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was the first half of the fifth inning. The score, according to the
notches on the sticks, was fifty to thirty-one, in favor of the
Second-streets. Those spectators who had exercised the forethought to
start with long sticks were in clover, while those with short sticks
were having hard work to find space for all the runs.

The sun was not so high as when the game began, neither were your
spirits. Much excited chasing, and much strenuous yelling, had told upon
you. Your face was streaked; your hair was in dank disorder; your blue
star flapped, and your waistband sagged behind, mourning for departed
buttons. You were what mothers style “a perfect sight.”

The air had been rent by incessant wranglings. Tom Kemp and Screw Major
had indulged in a brief rough-and-tumble, because Screw had thought that
Tom had purposely trodden upon his sore toe, Screw injudiciously being
barefoot.

Every member of the North Stars had committed egregious errors, and had
been tartly excoriated by all hands. You yourself had muffed, and had
thrown the ball seven ways for Sunday.

Fat was still doggedly clinging to pitch, and Doc was throwing swift.
The two little girls, once your admirers, had gone away in disgust. And
the score, as remarked above, was fifty to thirty-one.

Tug McCormack it was who picked out one of Fat’s wonderful twisters and
batted it over your head. After it you raced, deliriously discarding, of
course, your sadly abused cap, that you might gain in speed. Behind you
bellowed friends and enemies, and around the bases was pelting Tug.

Where was the ball—oh, where _was_ it! It must have struck a can or
stick, and bounded crooked.

“Hurry! Hurry!” exhorted the Second-streets to Tug.

“Home! Home! Home with it!” exhorted the North Stars to you.

“Pick it up now and look for it afterward!” yelled second base.

“What’s the matter with you? It’s right there!” yelled Captain Fat.

“Darn it! Ain’t you got eyes?” yelled left-field, and “You darned fool!”
yelled right-field, converging from each side.

“Lost ball!” you screamed, tramping hither and thither to show that you
spoke truth.

“Lost ball!” screamed the Kemp brothers.

“Lost ball! Lo-o-ost ba-a-all!” chimed in the North Stars generally.

But Tug had scored.

“No fair!” objected Billy Lunt. “He’s got to go back to second. Lost
ball! Don’t you hear? Lost ball!”

“I don’t care. ’Tain’t my fault,” confuted Tug.

“Course not!” said Captain Spunk, scornfully.

“But you can’t come in on a lost ball; can he, Hop?” appealed Billy to
the umpire.

“Shut up! What yer talkin’ about? Course he can,” affirmed Red.

“Shut up yourself!” hotly bade Billy. “_You_ aren’t runnin’ the game.
Can he, Hop?”

“I dunno!” confessed Umpire Hop, digging with his toe at a mound of
dirt.

“Ya-a-a-a-ah!” sneered Red at the discomfited Billy.

“Well, he can’t just the samee!” resolved Captain Fat. “It’s my ball.”

“Just the samee, he can!” contradicted Captain Spunk. “It’s my father’s
lot.”

“Lost ball! Lo-o-ost ba-a-all!” you and Nixie and Tom had been calling
as unceasingly as the tolling of a bell; and continuing the discussion,
which abated never, the members of both nines, and the spectators, who
also were the score-keepers, scattered over the ground to assist in the
search.

It seemed that no effort or artifice, even to lying down and rolling
where the weeds were thick, could bring to light that ball, until
suddenly piped little Jamie Watson:

“Red Conroy’s runnin’ off!”

“He’s got it, I bet you! Hey! Stop, thief!” hailed Tom, quickly.

“Drop that ball! Stop, thief!” swelled the chorus.

But down the alley legged Red, and disappeared over a fence. Evidently
he had “got it.”

“Wait till I catch him!” promised Fat, in deep, wrathful tones.

                  *       *       *       *       *

You ought to have been very tired that evening at the supper-table, but
you were not, for in those days you never were tired, save momentarily.
However, you still were green and brown in spots that your hurried
washing had not touched, and dusty in other sections that your equally
hurried brushing had omitted. Your face was as red as a setting sun, and
you were full of experiences—a fulness that did not in the slightest
impair your appetite.

“Who beat?” had inquired mother, as you had come trudging in.

“We only played four innin’s, and they were fifty and we were
thirty-one, and then Red Conroy stole the ball,” you explained.

“Well, who beat?” asked father, at the table.

“Nobody did,” you stated, this solution having occurred to you. “We
didn’t finish, ’cause Red Conroy he ran off with the ball.”

“But what was the score when this happened?” pursued father.

“Fifty to thirty-one—but it was only four innings,” you answered, with a
wriggle.

“And who made the fifty?” persisted father, ignoring mother’s warning
frown.

“They—they did,” you blurted; and then you hastened to add, “But they’re
lots bigger’n us.”


[Illustration: TUG MCCORMACK]



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



                             YOU AT SCHOOL



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



[Illustration: “I WANT TO GET UP”]



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



                             YOU AT SCHOOL


NOW and again you dream one special dream. Suddenly you find yourself
back in school. There you are, a great awkward man, squeezing into the
old familiar seat and essaying some strangely mixed-up lesson. And about
you are the mates of yore, who have not, apparently, grown a bit.

Although they seem not to notice anything peculiar in your presence,
nevertheless your position is decidedly embarrassing to you. You feel
that you must mind the teacher, of course, and yet you cannot, for the
life of you, get that lesson! What a gawk you are! And how in the world
are you ever going to stand this awful reversal?

Then you awaken, and with a sigh of relief discover yourself, in the
gray of the morning, safely brought down to date, in your bed.

And once more you sigh, but this time not in relief. It is a sigh
tenderly laid by retrospection upon the urn of the past.

In your dream the schoolroom was unusually small, and your seat was
constricted to the extent that your knees were tightly pressed against
the under side of the desk, while the edge of it was creasing your
stomach. However, probably it was not that the room and the seat had
shrunk; it was that you had expanded beyond limits.

In the days when it was quite proper that you should be in school, the
room was extensive indeed, and the seat was ample for innumerable
wriggles. For instance, it permitted you to slide down until, reaching
forward with your two feet, you engaged the insteps of Billy Lunt, and
hauling back with all your might, deliciously held him so that he could
move only from the waist upward. Abruptly you released him, and his feet
dropped with a big thump that made the teacher frown.

This seat and desk was your little state, surrounded by other little
states similar to it, and all ruled by “teacher,” who, like some Pallas
Athena, from her Olympia platform surveyed and appraised, bade and
forbade.

Your state was bounded on the rear by Snoopie Mitchell’s, on the front
by Billy Lunt’s, on the right and the left by a river, or aisle, such as
at regular intervals divided the country and opened up the interior to
travel.

This was a country of equal suffrage; some of the states were feminine,
some were masculine. All, but especially the masculine, were liable to
internal troubles, produced through external agencies.

As example, the bent pin was an indefatigable disturber of the peace. It
would intrude at the slightest opportunity, and the first thing that you
knew it was in your midst—almost literally. The canny explored their
seat of state (or their state of seat, if preferred) with their hands,
before venturing to settle for the pursuance of routine duties.

Poor, long-suffering Billy Lunt (yet poor you, as well; for although you
are behind him, the mischievous Snoopie is behind _you_)! Down he
plumps, and up he jumps with a wild “Yow!” at which your whole being
exults even while your heart beats uneasily. You descry, where he is
frantically clutching, the steely glint of _it_!

“Will, sit down!” thunders the teacher.

This, forsooth, is adding insult to injury; for had he been able to sit,
assuredly he would not thus have arisen. In a moment he cautiously,
gingerly obeys, at the same time holding into sight the pin, as though
it were a monstrosity, so that all must see.

To “yow” very loudly, and to expose the cause with great ostentation to
the utmost publicity, was the resort of every pin-afflicted petty ruler.

“John, did you put that pin on Will’s seat?” demands the teacher.


[Illustration: TEACHER]


The wave of sniggers that had swelled during Billy’s antics ebbs and
dies, and all the world listens for your reply.

With the frankest astonishment—astonishment that ought to have
completely turned suspicion—you have been gazing at the Lunt
performance. Has he gone crazy? What can ail him? Who could have done it
to him?

This simulated wonder is _your_ part of the program—your voluntary part,
that is.

“John, I ask you if you put that pin there,” reiterates the persistent
examiner, judge, and executioner.

And now that the glamour of the deed has faded, how you wish that you
had _not_! For the voluntary part of the program is always followed by
an involuntary part.

All in all, the possession of a state in these united states is fraught
with peril. So much is prohibited. It is unlawful to have a poor memory
or a dull brain or a careless tongue; it is unlawful to carry on
intercourse, either written or oral or by signs, with neighbor states;
it is unlawful to import articles for consumption—such as cinnamon
drops, or lemon drops, or jujube, or licorice; while to import gum is a
capital offense.

Nevertheless, gum is imported and secreted by being stuck to the inner
surface of the desk-top, thence to be peeled off at recess and at
closing-time, and chewed. Sometimes it is forgotten, and the janitor
contemptuously scrapes it to the floor for his dust-heap, or a successor
to you rapturously finds it. Whenever one moves into a new state, one
runs a pleasurable chance of discovering a gum-deposit.

The principal penalties are “stayin’-after-school,” “gettin’-sent-home,”
and “lickin’s.”

It is the close of a day in this despotic monarchy, and the despot has
tapped her bell for books to be put away. The next tap will mean
dismissal; but between taps comes the allotment of punishments.

You reflect—and regret. There was once during the day when you asked
Billy Lunt if he had “the first example.” You whispered it very
circumspectly, but the unruly sibilants in your tones somehow spread
into the open. “Teacher” pricked her ears in your direction, and with
her pencil she apparently made a memorandum upon her ready slip.

Was it your name she jotted? Or was it Billy’s? He was in the act of
showing you his slate. You are ungenerous enough to hope that it was
Billy’s.

In the meantime you hold your breath (as, in similar anxiety, round
about you do your compatriots, save the goody-goodies and the “teacher’s
pets,” whose names never are read) and listen.

The kids are going swimming; the signal has been passed along. You have
set your heart upon going with them. Consequently, never have you felt
so repentant, so full of high resolves and the best intentions, and your
appealing gaze might well have moved a stone, to say nothing of a
teacher.

“Those whose names I read may remain,” she announces calmly: “Sam
Jessup, Dolly Smith, Horace Brown, Leonard Irving, Patrick Conroy, Olga
Jansen, _John Walker_!”


[Illustration: “STAYIN’-AFTER-SCHOOL”]


Crushed, you hear the second tap; freed, the others rise; out they file,
but you stay behind—you and a few companions in misery scattered at wide
intervals through the nearly deserted room.

From without sound gay shouts and laughter, growing fainter and fainter,
and dying in the distance.

You are marooned.

“Take your books and go to work at some lesson!” orders the teacher.

Maybe, if you strive hard and obediently, she will let you go soon. Some
of the prisoners shuffle angrily, and rebelliously bang things about in
their desks; but you promptly open your geography, and hoping that her
eye is noting you, pretend to apply yourself to its text. Silence falls,
broken only by the measured _tick-tock_ of the clock on the wall.

Presently you glance up. Five minutes have passed. “Teacher,” with eyes
fastened upon her desk, is engaged in correcting a quantity of
exercises. She seems to pay not the slightest attention to the clock.

You give a weary little shuffle—your first—and turn a page.

Two more minutes. Even yet you could catch the kids. How good you are!
But, blame it, what is the sense, if she does not notice?

_Tick-tock, tick-tock_, repeats the monitor on the wall, checking off
the wasted moments.

Ten minutes! Is she going to keep you all night? Doesn’t she see what
time it is getting to be? You make a lot of noise, to warn her; but she
never looks. For all that is evident, she might have forgotten the
existence of you and everybody else. She simply goes on reading and
marking.

Twelve minutes. You raise your hand. You keep it raised. You shuffle
some more, and you cough, and you shuffle again.

“Well, John, what is it?” she vouchsafes in a tired voice.

She has heard you all the time, but you don’t know it. Neither do you
know that she has been reading you while reading scrawly exercises.

“How long do I have to stay?”

“Until I tell you you may go.”

Fifteen minutes. You throw off your hypocritical sainthood, and you
lapse into your genuine boiling, raging self. Darn her. Darn the
teacher! Darn the old teacher! What does she care about going swimming?
She just wants to keep a fellow in! You’ll show her sometime! And you
shuffle and scrape and kick and bang, and she apparently pays not the
least heed to it.

The darned old thing (although, in truth, she is _not_ old, save in boy
eyes and in boy ways)!

Twenty minutes! Darn the—

“You may go now, Johnny.”

She cuts your condemnatory sentence right in the middle; and not
finishing it, you hastily throw the geography into your desk, and make
for the door. On your way you dart a glance at her, wondering if she
knows what names you have been calling her. She smiles at you, and you
feel rather sheepish.

After all, you have time for a swim, delightfully prefaced by throwing
mud at the whole crowd in ahead of you.

Staying-after-school is a penalty for misdemeanors; for crimes there is
“gettin’-sent-home”—not bad at all until you get there, furnishing, as
it does, a vacation—and “lickin’s,” which sounds worse than it really
is.

“Lickin’s” don’t hurt half the time. Never would a boy admit, outside,
that a licking hurt; he “bellered just for fun”! The fact is, lots of
the kids declared they had rather take a licking than be kept after
school, for a licking was soon over, and then you were through.

But by virtually unanimous vote the kids all asserted that they had
rather be licked, any day, or stay after school for a whole month, than
“speak.”

It is Friday afternoon—a fateful Friday when sashes and squeaky shoes
and slicked hair and significantly arrayed chairs herald “speaking day.”
And you are among the elect, as testify your red tie without and your
uneasy heart within.

Early the books are put away, and with the clearing of the desks are
cleared also the metaphorical decks.

A bustle is heard at the threshold, and in come the first of the
visitors—a pair of mothers. Whose mothers they are is speedily indicated
by the flaming ears of a very red girl and a very red boy, at whom, as
the intelligence spreads, all the school looks.

The mothers rustle chairward, settle into place, and smilingly wait.

Another bustle! More visitors! Out of the corner of your eye you slant
one apprehensive glance in their direction, and then you quickly turn
your head the other way. It is _your_ mother. You felt it even before
Snoopie gave you a painful telegraphic kick. She has come. She said that
she might. You have been alternately hoping and fearing. Now you know.

In impish ecstasy Snoopie keeps dealing you irritating jabs. _His_
mother _never_ comes.

Teacher moves from the platform and seats herself at one side. It is the
final preparation. In her hand she holds the list of prospective
performers, and somewhere adown it is your name.

You would give worlds to know just where—just whom you follow. The chief
agony attached to the afternoon is in the racking uncertainty as to when
one will be called upon. The nearer the top of the list, the better, for
thereafter one will be free to revel in the plight of others. But to be
reserved until toward the last, and to sit in a cold sweat through most
of the afternoon—ah, this is the suspense that fairly curls one’s toes!

Listen! She is going to read.

“Harry Wilson. Recitation: ‘George Nidiver.’”

Amid oppressive silence Harry clumps up the aisle, and stumbling
miserably on the platform step receives a tribute of grateful titters.
Teacher taps rebukingly with her pencil, and frowns. Harry bobs his head
for a bow, and, white and blinky, proceeds:

                    “Men have done brave deeds,
                       And bards have sung them well:
                     I of good George Nidiver
                       Now the tale will tell.

                    “In California mountains
                       A hunter bold was he:
                     Keen his eye and sure his aim
                       As any you should see.

                    “A little Indian boy
                       Followed him everywhere,
                     Eager to share the hunter’s joy,
                       The hunter’s meal to share.”

You would bask the more unrestrictedly in Harry’s presence did you not
see in him your unlucky self; and while he is speaking you feverishly go
over and over parts of your own piece.

As Harry approaches the end, his pace grows faster and faster, until at
a gallop he dashes through the concluding stanza, offers a second bob in
lieu of other punctuation, long lacking, and clumps back to his seat,
where he grins rapturously, as if he had at last had a tooth pulled.


[Illustration: “NINA GOTTLOB. COMPOSITION: ‘KINDNESS’”]


How you envy Harry’s light-heartedness as with bated breath you strain
your ears for the next announcement!

This proves to be “Nina Gottlob. Composition: ‘Kindness.’” After Nina
somebody else, not you, is summoned; and thus name after name is read,
with you hanging on by your very eyebrows, before, at the most
unexpected moment, come to you, like the crack o’ doom, the words:
“_Johnny Walker_. Recitation: ‘The Soldier of the Rhine.’”

The teacher looks at you expectantly. Snoopie trips you as you tower
into the aisle. Oh, the tremendous distance which you, all feet and
arms, traverse in getting to the platform! You mount; and here you
stand, a giant, and bow. Away below, and stretching into space remote,
are faces of friends and enemies—the ones (mostly those of little girls)
gravely staring at you, and the others twisted into hideous grimaces
calculated to make you laugh. As in a dream you witness your mother
gazing up at you with beaming, prideful, but withal anxious eye.

Very vacant-headed, you drag from your throat a thin stranger voice
which says:

 “A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers;
  There was lack of woman’s nursing, there was dearth of woman’s tears,”

and mechanically maintains the narrative for some moments, and then on a
sudden peters out!

You cast about for something with which to start it up again, but you
light upon nothing. All the faces in front watch you curiously,
amusedly, grinningly. Helpless, you look in the direction of Billy Lunt,
upon whose desk, as you passed, you had laid the book, that he might
prompt you, if necessary.

Billy has lost the place, and is desperately running his forefinger
adown the page.

“‘Tell my mother that her other sons—’” presently he assists, in husky
tones; and, as if set in motion by the vibrations, your voice, with an
apologetic “Oh, yes,” goes ahead once more.

     “‘Tell my mother that her other sons shall comfort her old age,
       For I was ay a truant bird, that thought his home a cage;
       For my father was a soldier—’”

And so forth.

Several times it stops again, but Billy sits alert to fill in each
hiatus; and vastly relieved in mind you triumphantly regain your seat,
only to ascertain, to your disgust, that you are the last of the
afternoon’s victims.

Escape from this despotism of school, with its penalties and speaking
and other disagreeable features, which combined to outweigh any possible
advantages or profit, was always engaging in prospect, although apt to
be unsatisfactory in realization.

You longed to be a man. You wondered how it would seem to walk about
paying no attention whatsoever to the old bell. Were the people outside
the school aware of their fortunate state? Gee!


[Illustration: “‘A SOLDIER OF THE LEGION LAY DYING IN ALGIERS’”]


It was an odd fact that in the week the finest and most interesting
days, out of doors, habitually were Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday, and Friday—and Sunday. The best fishing invariably came on
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday—and Sunday. You always felt
the most like having fun on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday—and Sunday. What was measly little Saturday, eclipsed so by these
other days all-glorious without!

If your folks were only like Snoopie’s folks you could play hooky once
in a while. Snoopie asserted that his father “didn’t care.” Yours
did—very much.

The sole recourse which remained for you was being sick; and insomuch as
the real article was annoyingly scarce with you, it was requisite that
you manufacture some substitute.

’Tis a spell of beautiful weather—the kind of weather that came, as
aforesaid, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays—and
Sundays. Your feet lagged to school, and your heart kept pace with them.
Now you are idling in your seat, utterly unable to work. A vagrant bee
hums in through an open window, and hums out through another. A
woodpecker drums, as on a sounding-board, upon the spire of the
Congregational church. A blue jay screams derisively, like an exultant
truant, among the elms arching the street in front. All these things
upset you, stirring as they do the _Wanderlust_ of boyhood.

The sky never has been so blue, the grass and the trees never so green,
the sunshine never so golden, nor the air so mellow, as at recess.

You hate school. You don’t want to go in. Snoopie volunteers:

“Let’s play hooky this afternoon, and go fishin’!”

“My father won’t let me,” you declare.

“Aw, come on. He’ll never know,” scoffs Snoopie.

But he would, just the same.

The only chance you have is to be sick.

It is over-late to be sick to-day, for there is a ball game after
school, and you are to take part. If you are sick this evening, when the
sports of the day are finished, your mother will accuse you of having
played too hard, and such a notion would turn your attack into a
boomerang.

You will be sick in the morning.

Accordingly, with great languidness you flop into your chair at
breakfast, and carefully dawdle over your food. You endeavor not to eat,
although, as luck would have it, the menu is one of which you are
particularly fond. But so much the better.

“Why, John, you aren’t eating! Isn’t the breakfast good?” exclaims
mother, instantly noting.

“Yes, ’m.”

“Then why don’t you eat it?”

“Come, eat your breakfast, Johnny,” supplements father.

“I don’t want to,” you plead.

“Don’t you feel well?” asks mother anxiously.

“Not very.”

“Where do you feel sick?”

“Oh, my head aches.”

“Give me your hand.”

You lay it in hers, and she thoughtfully holds it and scrutinizes you.

“I do believe that the boy has a little fever, Henry,” she says to
father.

“Maybe he’s caught cold. Better have him keep quiet to-day,” suggests
father. “I’ll do his chores this morning.”

You really begin to feel ill, the word “fever” has such a portentous
sound. And you thereby submit the easier to being stowed upon the sofa
against the wall, your head upon a pillow and the ready afghan over your
feet and legs.

“There’s so much measles about now; don’t you think we ought to have Dr.
Reese come in and look at him?” remarks mother to father, in that
impersonal mode of conversation, like an aside, which seems to
presuppose that you have no ears.

“N-n-no,” decides father. “I’d wait and see if he doesn’t feel better
soon.”

In his eye there is a twinkle, at which mother’s face clears, and they
exchange glances which you do not comprehend.

The first bell rings. The chattering boys and girls on their way to
school pass the house. But no school for you, you bet! And the last bell
rings. As you hark to some belated, luckless being scampering madly by,
you hug yourself. Let the blamed old bell bang; you don’t care!

The summons dies away in a jarring clang. Here you are, safe.

You remain prone as long as you can, but your sofa-station at last grows
unbearably irksome. It is time that you pave the way for more action.
Mother is bustling in and out of the room, and you are emboldened to
hail her:

“I want to get up.”

“Not yet,” she cautions. “Lie quiet and try to go to sleep.”

Sleep!

She places her cool palm, for a moment, upon your forehead.

“I don’t think that you’ve got much fever, after all,” she hazards. “But
lie still.”

Out of policy you strive to obey for a while longer, but every muscle in
your eager body rebels. You twist and toss; you stick up one knee, and
then the other, and then both at once; and finally a leg dangles to the
floor over the outer edge of your unhappy bed.

“I want to get up. I feel lots better,” you whine.

“No,” rebukes mother, firmly. “Papa said that you were to keep quiet.”

“But I will be quiet,” you promise.

“W-well, only you must not go outdoors,” she warns.

However, anything to be released from that narrow sofa; so off you roll,
and apply yourself further to the delicate business of gaining health
not too rapidly, yet conveniently.

It appears, however, that, according to some occult line of reasoning,
“a boy who is not well enough to do his chores or go to school is not
well enough to play”! The more vigorous you grow, the more this maxim is
rubbed into you.

When the afternoon has fairly set in, you have become so very, very well
that in your opinion you may, without risk of a relapse, play catch
against the barn—which, of course, would be a preliminary warming up,
leading to meeting the kids after school. You propose the half of your
project to your mother; but she sees only impropriety in it, and
proffers that if you really need exercise you may finish uncompleted
chores!

After school you hear the other boys tearing around; but you must “keep
quiet”! The only consideration won by your suddenly bursting health is
intimation from mother that unless you moderate, you will be deemed
strong enough to stand a “good whipping.”

In fact, the whole bright day proves more of a farce than you had
anticipated. What is the use of being sick, if you are not allowed to
have any fun?

By bedtime your mysterious malady is by common consent a thing of
antiquity and in the morning you go to school.

The time arrives when you go no more. You yourself are now of that free
company whom you have so envied. Yet it does not seem such a wonderful
company, after all. You find that your position still has limitations.
When you had lived within, it was permitted you to pass and mingle with
the life without; but now that you have chosen the without, not again
may you pass within, save in dreams.


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



                                 CHUMS



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



[Illustration]



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



                                 CHUMS


DON’T you remember when, your mother laughingly dissenting, your father
said that you might have him, and with rapture in your heart and a broad
smile on your face you went dancing through the town to _get_ him?

There was quite a family of them—the old mother dog and her four
children. Of the puppies it was hard to tell which was the best; that
is, hard for the disinterested observer. As for yourself, in the very
incipiency of your hesitation something about one of the doggies
appealed to you. Your eyes and hands wandered to the others, but
invariably came back to him.

With the mother anxiously yet proudly looking on, you picked him up in
your glad young arms, and he cuddled and squirmed and licked your face;
and in an instant the subtle bonds of chumship were sealed forever. You
had chosen.

“I guess I’ll take this one,” you said to the owner.

And without again putting him down you carried him off, and home.

How unhappy he appeared to be, during his first day in his new place! He
whined and whimpered in his plaintive little tremolo, and although you
thrust a pannikin of milk under his ridiculous nose, and playmates from
far and near hastened over to inspect him and pay him tribute, he
refused to be appeased. He simply squatted on his uncertain, wabbly
haunches, and cried for “mama.”


[Illustration]


You fixed him an ideal nest in the barn; but it rather made your heart
ache—with that vague ache of boyhood—to leave him there alone for the
night, and you went back many times to induce him to feel better.
Finally, you were withheld by your father’s: “Oh, I wouldn’t keep
running out there so much, if I were you. Let him be, and pretty soon
he’ll curl up and go to sleep.”


[Illustration]


Sure enough, his high utterances ceased, and nothing more emanated from
him. Whereupon your respect for your father’s varied store of knowledge
greatly increased.

In the morning you hastened out before breakfast to assure yourself that
your charge had survived the night; and you found that he had. He was
all there, every ounce of him.


[Illustration]


What a wriggly, rolly, awkward lump of a pup he was, anyway! How
enormous were his feet, how flapping his ears, how whip-like his tail,
how unreliable his body, how erratic his legs! Yet he was pretty. He was
positively beautiful.


[Illustration]


Your mother could not resist him. Can a woman resist anything that is
young and helpless and soft and warm? With pictures in her mind of
ruined flowers and chewed-up household furnishings, she gingerly stooped
down to pet him; and at the touch of his silky coat she was captive.

“Nice doggy!” she cooed.

Upon which he ecstatically endeavored to swallow her finger, and smeared
her slippers with his dripping mouth, and peace was established.
Thereafter mother was his stoutest champion.


[Illustration]


The christening proved a matter requiring considerable discussion. When
it comes right down to it, a name for a dog is a difficult proposition.
It may be easy to name other persons’ dogs, but your own dog is
different.

Your father and mother, and even the hired girl, proposed names, all of
which you rejected with scorn, until, suddenly, into existence popped a
name which came like an old friend. You seized it, attached it to the
pup, and it just fitted. No longer was he to be referred to as “it,” or
“he,” or “the puppy.” He possessed a personality.

The hired girl—and in those days there were more “hired girls” than
“domestics”—was the last to yield to his sway. She did not like dogs or
cats about the house; dogs caused extra-work, and cats got under foot.


[Illustration]


But upon about the third morning after his arrival you caught her
surreptitiously throwing him a crust from among the table leavings that
she was bearing to the alley; and you knew that he had won her. Aye, he
had won her. You also found out that he much preferred a crust thus
flung to him from the garbage to any carefully prepared mess of more
wholesome food.

Probably this subtle flattery pleased the girl, for although her
grimness never vanished, once in a while you descried her smiling
through it, in the course of a trip to the back fence while the puppy
faithfully gamboled at her skirts in tumultuous expectation of another
fall of manna.


[Illustration]


He grew visibly—like the seed planted by the Indian fakir. Enormous
quantities of bread and milk he gobbled, always appearing in fear lest
the supply should sink through the floor before he had eaten his fill.
Between meals his body waned to ordinary size; but, mercy! what a
transformation as he ate! At these times it swelled and swelled, until,
the pan empty, the stomach full, its diameter far exceeded its length.


[Illustration]


However, there was a more permanent growth than this, as you discovered
when you awoke to the fact that his collar was too tight for him. So you
removed it, and in the interval between removing the old and getting the
new properly engraved, his neck expanded fully an inch. The old collar
would not meet around it when, as a test, you experimented.


[Illustration]


So good-by to the collar of puppyhood, and let a real dog’s collar
dangle about his neck. The step marked the change from dresses to
trousers.


[Illustration]


Not only bread and milk and other mushy non-stimulating stuff did he
eat, but he ate, or tried to eat, everything else within his reach.
Piece-meal, he ate most of the door-mat. He ate sticks of wood, both
hard and soft, seemingly preferring a barrel-stave. He ate leaves, and
stones, and lumps of dirt, and the heads off the double petunias and the
geraniums. He ate a straw hat and a slipper. He attempted the broom and
the clothes-line, the latter having upon it the week’s wash, thus adding
to the completeness of the menu.


[Illustration]


In his fondness for using his uneasy teeth, new and sharp, he would have
eaten you, did you not repeatedly wrest your anatomy from his tireless
jaws.

As it was, you bore over all your person, and particularly upon your
hands and calves, the prints of his ravaging, omnivorous mouth.

Your mother patiently darned your torn clothing, and submitted to having
her own imperiled and her ankles nipped; while your father time and
again gathered the scattered fragments of his evening paper, and from a
patchwork strove to decipher the day’s news.


[Illustration]


And “Look at him, will you!” cried the hired girl, delighted, indicating
him as he was industriously dragging her mop to cover.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Well, like the storied peach, he “grew, and grew.” Speedily he was too
large for you to hold in your arms, and although he insisted upon
climbing into your lap, you could no more accommodate him there than you
could a huge jellyfish. He kept slipping off, and was all legs.

He fell ill. Ah, those days of his distemper were anxious days! He
wouldn’t eat, and he wouldn’t play, and he wouldn’t do anything except
lie and feebly wag his tail, and by his dumbness place upon you the
terrible burden of imagining his condition inside.

Here came to the rescue the old gardener,—Uncle Pete, black as the ace
of spades,—who gave you the prescription of a nauseous yet simple remedy
which you were compelled lovingly and apologetically to administer three
times a day; and behold, the patient was cured. You didn’t blame him any
for rising from his bed; and you wouldn’t have blamed him any for
cherishing against you a strong antipathy, in memory of what you forced
down his throat. But he loved you just as much as ever.


[Illustration]


Now he developed roaming propensities, which took the form of foraging
expeditions. Once he brought back a five-pound roast of beef, his head
high in the air, and buried it in the garden. Diligent inquiry exposed
the fact that the beef had been intended by a neighbor for a dinner for
a family of six, and for subsequent relays of hash, etc. Your mother,
with profuse apologies, promptly sent over a substitute roast, the
original being badly disfigured.

Upon another occasion he conveyed into the midst of a group consisting
of your mother and father, and the minister, guest of honor, sitting on
the front porch, a headless chicken, still quivering. You were commanded
to return the fowl, if you could; and after making a canvass of the
neighborhood you found a man who, having decapitated a choice pullet,
and having turned for an instant to secure a pan of hot water, was
mystified, upon again approaching the block, to see, in all his level
back yard, not a vestige, save the head, of the feathered victim. When
you restored to him his property, he laughed, but not as if he enjoyed
it.

Along with his foraging bent, the dog acquired a passion for digging.
One day he accidentally discovered that he _could_ dig, and forthwith he
reveled in his new power. Huge holes marked where he had investigated
flower-beds or had insanely tried to tunnel under the house.

He grew in spirit as well as in stature. He had his first fight, and was
victorious, and for days and days went around with a chip on his
shoulder, which several lickings by bigger dogs did not entirely remove.
Out of that first fight and the ensuing responsibility of testing the
mettle of every canine whom he encountered came dignity, poise, and
courage. His puppy days were over. He had arrived at doghood.


[Illustration]


What sweet years followed! It was you and the dog, the dog and you, one
and inseparable. When you whistled, he came. All the blows you gave him
for his misdemeanors could not an iota influence him against you. Other
comrades might desert you for rivals of the moment, but the dog never!
To him you were supreme. You were at once his crony and his god.


[Illustration]


When you went upon an errand, the dog was with you. When you went
fishing or swimming or rambling, the dog was with you. When you had
chores to do, the dog was your comfort; and when you were alone after
dark he was your protection. With him in the room or by your side you
were not afraid.

When you had been away for a short time, who so rejoiced at your return
as the dog? Who so overwhelmed you with caresses? Not even your mother,
great as was her love for you.


[Illustration]


Did you want to frolic? The dog was ready. Did you want to mope? He
would mope, too. He was your twin self, and never failed.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The sun and you were up together on that summer morning, and the dog
joined you as soon as you threw open the barn door. Almost you had
caught him in bed, but not quite, although he had not had time to shake
himself, and thus make his toilet.

Intuition told him that such an early awakening meant for him a day’s
outing, and he leaped and barked and wagged his glee.


[Illustration]


You worked with a will, and when the hired girl summoned you to
breakfast the kitchen wood-box had been filled, and all the other jobs
laid out for you had been performed, and you were waiting. So was the
dog, but not for breakfast. He was waiting for _you_.


[Illustration]


How he gobbled down the scraps constituting his meal; never pausing to
chew, and frequently desisting in operations in order to run around the
house and investigate lest, by hook or crook, you might be slipping off
without his knowledge!

Now your boy companion’s whistle sounded in front; and hastily
swallowing your last mouthfuls, disregarding your mother’s implorations
to “eat a little more,” with the paper packages containing your lunch of
bread and butter and sugar and two hard-boiled eggs stuffed into your
pockets, sling-shot in hand, out you scampered; and the dog was there
before you.


[Illustration]


Along the street you, gaily hied, the three of you, until the
over-arching, dew-drenched elms and maples ended, and the board walk
ended, and you were in the country.

Civilization was behind you; all the world of field and wood was ahead.


[Illustration]


Don’t you remember how balmy was the air that wafted from the pastures
where the meadow larks piped and the bobolinks rioted and gurgled? Don’t
you remember how the blackbirds trilled in the willows, and the flicker
screamed in the cottonwoods? Don’t you remember how you tried fruitless
shots with your catapult, and how the dog vainly raced for the gophers
as he sped like mad far and wide?

Of course you do.


[Illustration]


The morning through you trudge, buoyant and tireless and fancy-free;
fighting Indians and bears and wildcats at will, yet still unscathed;
roving up hill and down again, scaling cliffs and threading valleys,
essaying perilous fords, and bursting the jungles of raspberry-bushes;
and you guess at noon, and sprawl in the shade, beside the creek, to
devour your provisions.


[Illustration]


During the morning, some of the time you have seen the dog, and some of
the time you have not. Where you have covered miles he has covered
leagues, and more than leagues; for a half-hour he will have disappeared
entirely, then, suddenly, right athwart your path he hustles past, in
his orbit, as though to let you know that he is hovering about.

While you are eating, here he comes. He seats himself expectantly before
you, with lolling tongue, and gulps half a slice of bread, and looks for
more. A dog’s only selfishness is his appetite. He will freeze for you,
drown for you, risk himself in a hundred ways for you, but in the matter
of food he will seize what he can get and all he can get, and you must
take care of yourself.

The lunch is finished, and the dog, after sniffing for the crumbs, sinks
down with his nose between his paws, to indulge in forty uneasy winks
until you indicate what is to be the next event upon your program.

Presently, however, with a little whine of restlessness, he is off.

You are off, too. It is the noon siesta. The air is sluggish. The birds
and the squirrels have relaxed, and the woods are subdued. The strident
_scrape_ of the locusts rises and falls, and the distant shouts of men
in harvest-fields float in upon your ear. You are burning hot; but the
water of the creek is cool—the only cool thing in your landscape. A
swim, a swim! Your whole being demands that you go in swimming.


[Illustration]


The dog already has been in a number of times, as his wet coat has
evidenced. Feverishly following the winding stream, envying the turtles
as they plunge in, upon your approach, you arrive at a bend where the
banks are high, and the current, swinging against them, halts and forms
an eddy. Here the depths are still and dark and beckoning.

To strip those smothering garments from your sunburnt body is the work
of but an instant, and in you souse, not without some misgiving as to
possible water-snakes and snapping turtles, but spurred by a keen
rivalry as to which shall “wet over” the first.

Oh, the glorious, vivifying thrill that permeates you as you part the
waters!


[Illustration]


The dog again! From the bank he surveys the proceedings with mingled
curiosity and apprehension, and finally, with a whine of excitement,
dashes into the shallows and makes for your side. You are neck-deep, and
he is swimming. His hair feels queer and clammy against your skin, and
his distended claws raise a welt upon your bare shoulder as he
affectionately tries to climb on top of you. You duck him, and grab at
his tail; and convinced that you are in no immediate danger, he plows
for the shore, where he contents himself with barking at you.

Despite the dog’s remonstrances and entreaties, you sported in that
blissful spot until the sun was well down the west; now you frolicked in
the cool eddy, now you dabbled amid the ripples of the shoals just
below, and now you dawdled on the warm, turfy banks. The dog stretched
himself by your clothing and went to sleep.


[Illustration]


At length, with blue lips and chattering teeth, and a ring of mud
encircling your mouth, marking where years later the badge of manhood
would appear, you donned your clothes, and, weak but peaceful, to the
rapture of the dog started homeward.

He did not know that you were going home. When you had left home in the
morning he did not know that you were coming here. He did not care then;
and he does not care now. You are doing something, and he is a partner
in it; and that is sufficient.


[Illustration]


Homeward, homeward, through woods and across meadows where the birds
were gathering their evening store and voicing their praises and thanks
because the sun had been so good. Homeward, homeward, not talking so
much as when your faces were turned the other way, not frisking so much
as formerly, and with the dog trotting soberly near your heels.

You were dead tired, the three of you.

When you were about a block from the house, the dog pricked up his ears
and trotted ahead, to wait for you at the gate. While you ate your
supper he slept on the back porch; and after his own supper he slinked
straight into the barn, to bed.

And soon, he in his nest up-stairs in the barn, you in your nest
up-stairs in the house, alike you were slumbering; for neither could
possibly sleep sounder than the other.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Years sped by, and the dog remained an integral part of the household.
Such a quaint, quizzical, knowing old chap, with an importance
ridiculous yet not unwarranted, with an individuality all his own,
thoroughly doggish, but well-nigh human. He was affectionate toward the
rest of the family, but you he adored. He might occasionally bluffly
growl at others, but never at you. You could make him do anything,
anything. To him you were perfect, omnipotent, and with you at hand he
was happy.

You emerged from the grammar school into the high school. Then arrived
that summer when you went to visit your aunt and uncle, and stayed three
weeks. You remember the visit, don’t you?

And when you disembarked at the station on your return, and your mother
was there to meet you, even while kissing her you looked for the dog.

“Where’s Don?” you asked.

“Why, John,” reproved your mother, as so often she had jokingly done
before, “do you think more of seeing your dog than of seeing me?”

This silenced you.

But when you had entered the yard, and next the house, ungreeted by the
familiar rush and volley of barks, you were impelled to inquire again:

“Where _is_ Don, mother?”

Mother put her arm around you, and laid her lips to your forehead; and
even before she spoke you felt what was coming.

“Johnny dear, you never will see Don any more,” she said; and she held
you close while you sobbed out your first real grief upon her breast.

When you could listen she told you all—how they had found him, lifeless,
where he had crawled under the porch; how they had buried him, decently
and tenderly, where you might see his grave and put up a headboard; how
they had kept the news from you, so that your visit should not be
spoiled; and how, all the way from the depot, her heart had ached for
you.

Thus the dog vanished from your daily life, and for weeks the house and
yard seemed very strange without him. Then, gradually, the feeling that
you were to come upon him unexpectedly around some corner wore off. You
grew reconciled.

But to this day you are constantly encountering him in dreamland. He
hasn’t changed, and in his sight apparently you haven’t changed. You are
once more boy and dog together. This leads you to hope and to
trust—indeed, to believe—that, notwithstanding your mother’s gentle
admonition, you _will_ see him again, in fact as well as fancy, after
all.


[Illustration]


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



                              IN THE ARENA



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



[Illustration: “‘WE GOT EACH OTHER DOWN’”]



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



                              IN THE ARENA


WHEN a boy retorted with the direct challenge, “An’ you da’sn’t back
it!” it was a case, if you did not wish to lose caste, of your either
taking the aggressive or effecting some honorable compromise.

It was difficult to explain to an outsider, to one not in sympathy with
the duello, the deep significance of “da’sn’t back it.” You felt the
term, but you could not elucidate it, save, to some extent, by example;
you yourself, with a red spot on your forehead, a scratch on your nose,
a torn collar to your waist, a rent in your knickerbockers, and a proud
spirit in your bosom, being the example.

“Now, I _should_ like to know what you were fighting about,” declared
your mother, holding you prisoner at her knee while she stitched your
collar so as to make you presentable for supper.

You squirmed, realizing the task before you.

“Well, we were playin’, an’ Ted he tripped me, an’ I said he did it on
purpose (an’ he did, too), an’ he said he didn’t an’ I said he did, an’
he said I was a liar an’ da’sn’t back it, an’ I went to back it, an’ he
hit me, an’—”

“But what _is_ to ‘back it’?” interrupted your mother.

“Why, to back it—to back it, you know. He said I da’sn’t _back it_, an’
I had to or else I’d be a coward, an’ he hit me, an’ I hit him, an’—”

“But how could you back being a liar? I don’t understand.”

She was a darling mother, yet at times surprisingly dense.

“I _did_ back it, though, just the same.” That ought to be exposition
enough, and you galloped on with your narrative: “An’ I hit him, an’ he
hit me right on the forehead,—but it didn’t hurt,—an’ I—an’ then we got
each other down, an’ I was gettin’ on top, an’ then the kids pulled him
off, an’ a man came by an’ wouldn’t let us fight any more. Ted’s ten,
an’ I’m only nine.”

Thus, with a little valorous touch, you finished your story. This much
you accomplished, even though you evidently had failed in bringing your
mother to a clear perception of “backing it.”

Father looked at you inquiringly.

“What’s that, John? Fighting! With whom?”

“John had a fight this afternoon; have you heard about it?” asked your
mother, gravely, of your father at supper.


[Illustration: “‘SAY, SPECK SAYS HE CAN LICK YOU’”]


It was a portentous moment.

“Ted Watson. He tripped me on purpose an’ nearly made me fall when I was
runnin’, an’ then he told me I da’sn’t back it. But we didn’t fight
long, ’cause a man came by an’ stopped us.”

“You can see he scratched his nose, and his collar was torn almost off
his shirt,” supplemented your mother.

“I tore _his_ collar, too—an’ I bet he’s goin’ to have a black eye,” you
hastened to state, in palliation.

“W-w-well, I’m astonished, John!” asserted your father, very solemnly.

You fastened your eyes upon your plate, and could think of nothing to
say in rebuttal. You had stalked homeward a hero, fondly expecting that
your parents would be proud of you, who, only nine, had combatted a boy
of ten, and were “gettin’ on top”; but witness how they had
wet-blanketed you!

“I told him that he ought to have refused to fight, and it would have
made the other little boy ashamed,” informed your mother.

“By all means,” approved your father.

Coming from your mother, the advice, while of course absurd, had not
seemed so strange; after all, she never had been a boy, and girls didn’t
fight; but your father’s traitorous acquiescence goaded you to
desperation.

“Did _you_ ever da’sn’t back it when you were a boy like me, papa?” you
appealed; and although you were not fully cognizant of the fact, you had
him hip and thigh.

He glanced at your mother, and had you been looking at him instead of
still eying your plate, you would have seen his mouth twitch in a funny
way.

“You do as mama says. She’s always right,” he answered, and you had a
dim suspicion that he was begging the question.

The little encounter between Ted and you was described much more quickly
than it had occurred. The duello as practised in your corps did not
admit of undue precipitancy in falling to blows. A certain amount of
palaver was obligatory first—an exchange of witticism and defiance,
beyond which, as often as not, one did not proceed.

When Ted had tripped you, and you had angrily accused him of having done
it on purpose, he had denied it just as angrily:

“Didn’t, neither!”

“Did’t, either!” said you.

“Didn’t, neither!” said he.

“Did’t, either!” said you.

“Didn’t, neither. You’re a liar!” said he.

“Did’t, either. You’re another!” said you.

“You’re another ’nother!” said he.

“You’re twice as big as anything you can call me!” said you—a crusher,
and quite unanswerable.

“You’re twice as big as that, an’ you da’sn’t back it!” said he, also
scoring a point.


[Illustration: “YOU LET YOUR FOLLOWING FEEL YOUR MUSCLE”]


“He says you da’sn’t back it! Ya-a-a-a-ah! he says you da’sn’t back it!”
gibed the boys about you, glorying in the crisis.

Ted and you were now uncomfortably in the center of a circle which was
ever being increased by the jubilant cries of “Fight! Fight!” which
summoned spectators from all quarters.

“G’wan an’ back it! You can lick him!” urged your supporters.

“Aw, he’s ’fraid to! He’s ’fraid to!” scoffed your rivals.

Ted and you, grimy fists doubled, not knowing exactly what to do, faced
each other. Neither of you wanted to fight. Fighting was being forced
upon you. You were to amuse the pitiless crowd.

“I ain’t, either, afraid,” you asserted sullenly.

“I wouldn’t let him trip _me_ up that way, you bet,” inspired a friend
on your right, boldly.

“An’ call me a liar an’ everything!” added a friend on your left.

Oh, how solicitous of your honor were they who were not to do the
fighting!

“He _is_ a liar if he says I tripped him on purpose,” stoutly reiterated
Ted, slightly qualifying his former blunt statement.

“You’re another!” you returned. “Anyhow, it _looked_ as if you tripped
me on purpose.”

You, likewise, were hedging a mite.

“There! He called _you_ a liar, too!” admonished the circle to Ted.

“Then he’s another, an’ he da’sn’t back it,” responded Ted, grimly
performing his duty.

This harmless verbal fencing might have been continued up to the very
present, and the ethics of the duello not have been violated, had not
some over-zealous enthusiast pushed Ted and you together, with the
result that, in fending each other off, you, according to the eager
verdict of the highly observant critics, “backed it,” and he hit you,
simultaneously; whereupon, not seeing anything else left to do, at each
other you went like a couple of jumping-jacks, until (fortunately, you
held, for Ted) the approach of the man caused him to be removed from on
top of you.


[Illustration: “YOU ... ARE THE INVENTOR OF A PECULIAR, IRRESISTIBLE
BLOW”]


Flushed, excited, and disheveled, you went your way; and flushed,
excited, and disheveled, Ted went his way. Throughout your route, you
and your babbling escorts, with many a “Gee!” and “Darn!” discoursed
upon what you had done, and what Ted had not done, and what would have
happened had the fight lasted only a minute longer.

Loudly you wrangled with them as to which got the worst of it, quite
blind to the fact, which now you are free to acknowledge, that the one
who got the worst of it was your mother, for she had to mend your
clothes.

She was always getting the worst of it. She was the unlucky
non-combatant.

The duello produced the best of feeling between Ted and you. Fights were
for mutual benefit. Swelling dignity and biceps so demanded expression
that they could not forever be gratified by merely playfully poking
chums in the ribs.

Therefore it is plain why, when a friend mischievously reported to you,
“Say, Speck says he can lick you,” it was all that was required. Like to
a strutting cockerel who hears a distant crow, you bristled in answer.

“He can’t, either. I can lick him with one hand tied behind my back.”

Fast flew the news to Speck, and Speck promptly resented the slur, as he
should. The boys of the neighborhood were pleased.

Now you, and likewise Speck, are the objects of much flattering
attention. You let your following feel your muscle, and they let you
feel theirs, and you are firmly convinced that yours is the hardest.
Also, you are convinced that you have a great knack at fisticuffs, and
are the inventor of a peculiar, irresistible blow which you deliver, the
knuckle of the middle finger carefully protruded, under your warding
left arm. More or less secretly you have demonstrated it while “fooling”
with your companions.

You can chin yourself six times, and you are, in valor and strength, a
boy wonder.

Your companions favor you with adulation to a degree compatible with
their own self-respect; for most of them, too, are boy wonders.

Well as Speck and you are satisfied with bravado and careful avoidance
of each other, it is inevitable that you meet.

“There’s Speck—see? Come on; _you_ ain’t afraid of _him_!”

You have committed yourself too far for graceful retreat, and in the
midst of your crowd you advance boldly to join Speck and his crowd.

The rival clans come together and mingle, but Speck and you pretend not
to see each other.

“John says he can lick you, Speck!”

Yes, you have said so, but it was under provocation of, presumably, a
direct challenge from him. However, the duello does not thrive on
explanations, and Speck and you are in the hands of your friends.

The all-engaging topic has been broached. Speck apparently does not
hear. Maybe the matter will be dropped. But no.

“He says he can lick you with one hand—aw, Speck!”

“He can’t, though,” defends Speck.

“Speck says he can’t, either,” obligingly announces his backers.

“Well, he can, I bet you.”

“Bet you he can’t.”

“He’ll show him whether he can or not.”

“Huh! I’d just like to see him once!”

You find yourself hustled forward and set against Speck, who in like
manner has been pressed to the front. Your hands hang limply by your
side; so do Speck’s. You feel very tame and pale and artificial; not a
whit mad; not a whit like fighting. The pugnacity is your seconds’.


[Illustration: “‘KNOCK THAT OFF, IF YOU DARE’”]


Somebody laboriously balances a small block on Speck’s shoulder.

“Knock that off, if you dare,” bids a Speck chorus.

“I will if I want to,” you assert.

“Well, do it, then!” invites Speck.

“I will if I want to.”

“Well, do it, then!”

“I will if I want to.”

You strive to work up steam by biting your lips, and raising your voice,
and spitting ferociously into the dust; you are assisted by the
irritating shoves bestowed upon you from behind.

“Well, do it, then!”

“I will if I want to.”

Impatient fingers supply you also with a gage of defiance, an
impertinent sliver laid athwart your collarbone.

“Now let’s see Speck knock _that_ off!”

Speck disdainfully lifts his hand and brushes the offending chip to the
ground.

“Hit him, John!”

“Don’t you stand that!”

“There!” you say, tapping him gently on the breast.

“There!” he answers, tapping you a little harder.

“There!” you return, tapping him harder still.

“There!” he retaliates, tapping you yet harder.

Then with a final “There!” that breaks through all restraint, and amid
shrill, rapturous cheers, two pairs of arms begin to whirl with wild
rapidity, the sole thought of their owners being a blind offense
according to hit-who-hit-can rules.

The engagement did not last long. A horrified and meddlesome old lady
interfered, and after informing you both many times that “little boys
shouldn’t fight,” your temperature down again to normal, she sent you
off with your disappointed encouragers, while she conscientiously
watched you out of sight.

Up to date the question whether you can lick Speck or Speck can lick you
is no further settled. Henceforth the spirit of amity prevailed between
you. Mettle had been proved, the fight had been fought, and now somebody
else must furnish entertainment.

Although victory, actual or prospective, of course never was doubtful
(either you were winning, or the other fellow was winning, according as
to which did the telling), at some times it appeared to a spectator more
decisive than at others.

You were feeling very spunky that noon when amid your preserves you
descried a stranger boy; but civilly you challenged him. One may witness
two bluff but wary fox-terriers thus approach each other, accost, and
investigate.

“Hello!” you wagged; that is, said.

“Hello, yourself!” wagged he.


[Illustration: “TWO PAIRS OF ARMS BEGIN TO WHIRL”]


“Say—what’s your name?” you inquired, as you had every right to do.

“Puddin’ tame; ask me again, an’ I’ll tell you the same,” he replied
insolently.

At the unmerited rebuff you stiffened.

“Better not give _me_ any of your sass!” you growled.

“Pooh! What’ll _you_ do!” he growled back.

“I’ll show you what I’ll do.”

“You couldn’t hurt a flea.”

“I couldn’t, couldn’t I?”

“Naw, you couldn’t, ‘couldn’t I.’”

Walking circles around each other, after this fashion you and he sowed
crimination and recrimination, while larger and larger waxed an audience
hopeful of seeing them spring up as blows.

Only when the flurry came did you discover too late how much taller and
stronger and older than you he was. Your bleeding nose showed this to
you; and cowed and weeping, you retreated in bad order.

“I’ll tell my big brother, an’ _he_’ll fix you!” you howled
threateningly.

“Aw, he ain’t got any big brother,” jeered the heartless crowd, who saw
no pathos in your abused organ.

That was true; you had none.

“I’ll tell my father, then,” you wailed angrily—another empty boast; and
still sniffling and, fearsomely gory, with the handkerchiefs of yourself
and your one faithful companion quite exhausted, you reached the haven
of a friendly pump.

Yet you had not been whipped—not exactly.

“Got licked, didn’t you?” unkindly commented various friends and
enemies.

“I didn’t, either!” you asserted, indignant. “I had to quit ’cause my
nose was bleedin’. It takes more’n him to lick me.”

“He gave you a bloody nose just the samee.”

You would not admit so much as that.

“He didn’t, either; he never touched my nose. It bleeds awful easy. It
bleeds sometimes when you just _look_ at it—don’t it, Hen?”


[Illustration]


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



                               THE CIRCUS



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



                               THE CIRCUS


                     TIME: When “You” were a Boy
                     PLACE: Up-stairs in Hen’s Barn

                            DRAMATIS PERSONÆ

                 HEN SCHMIDT, Proprietor and Ringmaster
                 YOU, Proprietor and Contortionist
                 BILLY LUNT, Trapeze and Tumbling
                 TOM KEMP, Trapeze and Juggling
                 NIXIE KEMP, Trapeze and Tight Rope
                 FAT DAY, Clown
                 SNOOPIE MITCHELL, Everything

          ADMISSION—Ten Pins to All, including Grand Menagerie



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



                               THE CIRCUS


CIRCUS was in the air. Circus had been in the air for some time, exhaled
broadcast by village billboards and fences, and the fronts and exposed
sides of numerous buildings. Breathing this atmosphere, small wonder is
it that you and your compatriots were circus-crazy, and cared not who
knew it.

The circus came. From half-past four, in the pink of the dawn, until
nightfall, it was given your unremitting aid and presence—the two in
one. Your fellows were equally assiduous. Nothing that might be done
outside the tent was left undone; nothing that might be inspected was
overlooked. As for the inside, some of your friends penetrated, like
yourself, with the escort of father, mother, uncle, brother, or
neighbor; some, like Snoopie Mitchell, “snuk under”; but all were there.

The circus went. Behind it remained, as evidences of its visit, the
still contagious bills; one more welt in the shape of a ring, added to
the other similar but older welts upon the face of that historic pasture
patch; and a burning ambition in the breast of every youth.


[Illustration]


Now witness each back yard a training-school for tumblers,
trapeze-experts, weight-slingers, jugglers, bareback-riders, and
tight-rope walkers. Right among the foremost were _you_.

“Hen and me are goin’ to have a circus,” you vouchsafed importantly at
the family board.

“Hen and who?” queried father, quizzically.

“Hen and _me_.” Why fuss with grammar, when greater things were
impending? It is not what one says, but what one does, that counts: at
least, according to your copy-book at school, in which you had
laboriously written, “Deeds, not Words,” twenty times.

“We’re goin’ to give it in Hen’s barn, and you and mama’ve got to come.”

“I don’t know that I can get away, having just been to one,” stated
father, gravely. “I didn’t expect another so soon.”

“_I_’ll come,” comforted mother. “When is it?”

“We dunno yet; but everybody that gets in has got to bring ten pins—and
bent ones don’t count, either. Hen’s mother’s comin’.”

“Do you think we can spare ten pins?” inquired mother of father.

The idea seemed preposterous to you, with a whole cushion bristling on
the bedroom bureau; but nevertheless you awaited, with considerable
anxiety, father’s reply.

“I guess so,” answered father. “But members of the performers’ families
ought to go in free. How’s that, John?”

You shook your head decidedly. Such a suggestion must be nipped in the
bud.

“_Naw_, sir! Everybody has to pay!”

                  *       *       *       *       *

There was no dearth of performers; they were as plenty as ball-players,
and you had an embarrassing number of volunteers, who offered themselves
as soon as the news of your circus spread through the neighborhood.

Snoopie Mitchell was among the earliest.

“Say, I’ll be in your circus,” he proposed. “I can skin the cat twice,
an’ do the giant’s swing, an’ turn flip-flops both ways, an’—”


[Illustration]


“Pooh! That’s nothin’. So can I,” scoffed Hen.

“You can’t, neither!” contradicted Snoopie. “Le’ ’s see you, now.”

Hen obligingly cut a caper.

“Aw, gee!” sneered the redoubtable Snoopie, in high scorn. “That ain’t
no hand-spring! That’s a cart-wheel! Anybody can turn a cart-wheel! Aw,
gee! Lookee here! Here’s the way _you_ did.” He demonstrated.
“Lookee!”—and again he demonstrated.—“_That’s_ a reg’lar hand-spring.”

“Well—I can do it, only my back’s lame,” faltered the abashed Hen. “And
I can skin the cat, too. Can’t I, John?”

You nodded.

“But I’ve skun it twice, an’ John’s seen me, haven’t you, John?”
trumpeted Snoopie.

You nodded confirmation to this, also.

“Yep,” you said; “he did, Hen; truly he did.”

“Without changin’ hands?” insisted Hen.

“Of course,” asserted Snoopie.

Snoopie was accepted.

Tom Kemp and Nixie Kemp were organizing a circus of their own, but
consented to be in yours if you’d be in theirs.

Over Billy Lunt occurred almost a fight, because a rival company set up
the claim that he had promised them; but by bribe of a jews’-harp he was
won to your side. Fat Day was asked chiefly on account of his pair of
white rats, which would prove a valuable addition to the prospective
menagerie.


[Illustration]


“If you’ll lemme be clown, I’ll bring ’em,” consented Fat.

“But John he’s clown,” explained Hen.

This was true. Before advertising for talent, Hen had preempted
ringmaster, and you, clown, as the choice positions, which was only the
part of ordinary discretion.

“I tell you, Fat: you can be fat boy, and wiggle your ears and make
folks laugh,” suggested Hen, eagerly.

“Uh-uh! If I can’t be clown, I won’t be nothin’,” declared Fat. “An’ you
can’t have my white rats, either.”

Hen looked at you dubiously.

“All right. I don’t care. Let him,” you assented moodily, kicking up the
dirt with your toe.

“You can be one clown, Fat, and John’ll be the other,” proffered Hen,
with fine diplomacy. “And you and he can make b’lieve fight, and things.
We ought to have two clowns, you know.”

But the glowing picture of the two clowns did not appeal to Fat’s
imagination.

“Naw,” he whined. “If anybody else is goin’ to be clown, _I_ don’t want
to.”

Accordingly Fat was awarded the clownship, and you said you’d just as
lief be contortionist, which he _couldn’t_ be.

Clowns were really a drug on the market. Not a boy but aspired to the
chair, and it required no little tact to steer them into other lines.

The organization, as finally effected, was as follows:

Hen, ringmaster.

You, contortionist.

Billy, who could hang by his toes and do other things on the trapeze,
and who, as a tumbler, could stand on his head (sometimes) without
touching his hands.

Tom, who could do things on the trapeze, and who was a juggler learning
to keep three balls going in the air.

Nixie, who also could do things on the trapeze, and who was an aspiring
(and at times almost an _ex_piring) clothes-line walker.

Fat, who could wiggle his ears.

Snoopie, indefatigable, marvelous, a genius of one suspender, whom a
special providence seemed to have endowed.


[Illustration]


Menagerie (in prospect): Don, your dog; Snap, the Kemps’ dog; Lunt’s
cat; Fat’s white rats; Hen’s “bantie” rooster.

A rehearsal was not only unnecessary, but impracticable as well; that
is, a rehearsal in company. However, individual practice went on daily,
and not a member of the troupe but emulated the most daring feats
produced under Barnum’s tent, as could be testified to by the most
casual observer, and by that emergency Band of Mercy, the Sisterhood of
Mothers, adepts with court-plaster and needle.

“Oh, John!” sighed your own mother. “How _do_ you manage to tear your
pants so! This is the third time, and in the very same place! Can’t you
be careful?”


[Illustration]


“I’m practisin’ splits,” you offered.

“‘Splits’?” repeated mother, densely ignorant.

“Yes. You straddle, and you keep on straddlin’, and see how near you can
come to sittin’; and you’ve got to get up again without usin’ your
hands. There was a man and woman and little girl and boy no bigger ’n me
in the circus that could go clear down till they touched. I can ’most do
it.”

“John!” exclaimed mother, in horror. Then she noted something else. “And
your waist, too!”

You condescended to explain farther.

“Yes; I tumbled off the trapeze when I was swingin’. Look here!” Pulling
up your sleeve you proudly exhibited an elbow. It was an elbow that
earned you distinction among your comrades, although Nixie had a knee
which he boasted was “skinned” much worse.

The date of the circus was set for Wednesday afternoon, and that morning
a show-bill, tacked upon the Schmidt front gate-post, announced it to
all the world.

All the little girls of the neighborhood were by turns flippant and
wheedling, and boys, your rivals, were positively libelous in their
derision.

Schmidt’s barn-loft had long been empty of hay and tenanted chiefly by
spiders and rats and mice. It was a splendid place for the circus, a
commodious tent being lacking.

Throughout the morning you and Hen, assisted by your associate
performers, labored like fury, a profound secrecy enveloping your
operations. No one except Billy’s small brother (he having sacredly been
sworn “not to tell,” an investiture of confidence that gave him a
decided strut) was admitted to gaze upon the advance proceedings; but
the noise of hammering and other preparations was carried afar, together
with a cloud of dust out of the open loft door.

“Where was your parade?” asked father at noon, when, hot and excited and
somewhat grimy, you feverishly attacked your well-heaped plate.

“Didn’t have any,” you mumbled. “Fat wouldn’t let us take his rats out
on the street, ’cause he said they’d get away; and, besides, we didn’t
have wagons enough for all the cages.”

But to the timid inquiries of the little girls during the morning you
had replied boldly:

“There ain’t goin’ to be any parade. Of course there ain’t! Do you
s’pose we’re goin’ to let everybody see what we got?”

At half-past one o’clock the public was invited to ascend. The
ticket-taker was Billy’s small brother aforesaid, and never was
receiving-teller of a national bank more vigilant or particular.

“You didn’t gimme only nine!” he would accuse shrilly. “You didn’t,
either! You didn’t, either! You’ve got to gimme another pin or you
sha’n’t come in!”

“I gave you ten! I did! I did! Didn’t I, Susie? You dropped one.”

Peace would be restored by the number being made up through the
prodigality of a friend, and the ruffled damsel would pass in.


[Illustration]


Your mother and Hen’s mother, and your hired girl, and the Schmidt hired
girl arrived together, their appearance causing a flurry and
contributing to the circus the importance due it. Mrs. Schmidt panted
heavily after the toilsome climb,—she was a large, short-winded
woman,—and, choosing a seat near the door, fanned herself vigorously.

A few boys, after poking their heads above the floor and grinningly
surveying the scene, ended by trooping in with apologetic and bantering
mien. But in the main the spectators were feminine.

The amphitheater, constructed of boards laid across boxes, in two lines,
slowly filled. As the etiquette of the profession required that
circus-performers not be seen until the time for their act, you and Hen
and the other stars remained in close seclusion, huddled in the
dressing-room—the far corner, veiled by a calico curtain (from the
Schmidt clothes-press) tacked to convenient rafters. Meanwhile the
public might enjoy the collection arrayed at one side of the loft, where
was conspicuously exposed the sign, in white chalk: “Managerie.”

In a soap-box with slats across the front wrathfully crouched Lunt’s
gaunt gray Thomas-cat, who had been rudely awakened from a matutinal
slumber in the Lunt cellar and ignominiously confined. At regular
intervals he uttered an appealing, protesting “Yow!” while he glared
through his bars.

Next to him was Hen’s red “bantie,” also in a soap-box, but more
composed.

Then came Don, for whom no cage procurable was ample enough; so he was
tied to a nail, which afforded him liberty to fawn impartially upon old
and young, and occasionally to make frantic endeavors to reach you in
the dressing-room.

Next to him was Snap, the Kemps’ black-and-tan, miserable in close
quarters; and at the end of the row, quaking in abject terror over the
proximity of so many enemies, were Fat’s precious white rats.

“Is _that_ all the m’nag’rie you kids got? Aw, gee!” sneered the
invidious boys among the spectators.

“It’s more’n _you_ got, anyhow!” you and Hen retorted from your covert.

“Don’t you touch those rats!” commanded Fat, with a jealous eye out for
meddling fingers. “They’re my rats.”

It was very hard restraining the members of the troupe in their quarters
until time was ripe. Fat, his face streaked in red and white
water-colors, and wearing a costume devised by his mother from
large-figured calico, was wild to exhibit himself; and Snoopie, bursting
with prowess, demanded careful watching or he would anticipate the
program.

“Stay in here, darn you! You’ve all got to wait till the ringmaster says
to come.”


[Illustration]


“Let go of me, will you!”

“You sha’n’t go out! ’Tain’t your circus!”

“Who’s goin’ out!”

Signs of revolt manifested themselves.

“Why don’t you begin?”

“Gee, I’m hot!”

“If you don’t begin pretty soon I’m goin’ home, and I’ll take my rats,
too!”

So, urged from behind, Ringmaster Hen stalked forth and announced:

“We’re ready to begin now.”

He swaggered and magnificently cracked his whip—a treasure consisting of
a double length of leather lash, cut by the shoemaker from a square of
oak calf, with a twine snapper and a skilfully whittled stock.

Fat Day, needing no second summons, immediately bolted out. He gamboled
and pranced and grimaced and “wiggled” his ears, to the applause of the
amphitheater and the tremendous excitement of the menagerie.

“Lem_me_! It’s my turn!” besought Snoopie.

“No, lem_me_!” implored Nixie.

“You said _I_ could go first, didn’t you, John?” reminded Billy.

Privately, you thought that the honor should be yours; but you waived
your rights as proprietor and decreed:

“Yes, let Billy go first, ’cause I promised.”

Out went Billy and distinguished himself by all the feats in his
repertoire, after each one saluting with the expansive gesture of the
real professional. Having exhausted the trapeze, and having poised for a
breathless instant on his head, he finished by vaulting over three
saw-horses, in lieu of elephants, and plunging into the dressing-room.

“Now _I_’m goin’,” asserted Snoopie.

“Naw; it’s my turn!” opposed Tom and Nixie together.

But Snoopie shoved between them and past you, and was in the ring.

Snoopie Mitchell—ragged, wandering, independent, but at times despised
Snoopie—was as one inspired. Never before had he such a circle of
witnesses, and the wine went to his brain.

He flip-flopped frontward clear across the loft from the dressing-room
corner into Mrs. Schmidt’s lap, and flip-flopped backward to the
dressing-room again; and bowed. He walked about on his hands; and bowed.
He stood on his head (“That ain’t fair!” called Billy. “I did that!”)
longer than Billy did, and while in that position spit, besides; and
bowed. He did the “splits” farther than you could, and kissed his hand,
while the spectators murmured various acknowledgments of his posture.

He rubbed his palms and lightly sprang to the trapeze dangling from the
beam.

_He_ skinned the cat, but he skinned it twice, and half into the third,
and impishly hung poised, while his shoulder-joints cracked and the
Schmidt hired girl moaned:

“Howly saints!”

_He_ hung by his toes and threw wide his arms; but, suddenly letting go,
with preconceived adroitness fell on his back, amidst muffled shrieks.

_He_ chinned himself, but he did it ten times.

“Come in! That’s enough!” you ordered.

He obeyed you not. Instead, he hung by his knees; he hung by one elbow
and swayed and kicked; he straddled the bar and went around it faster
and faster; and with feet between hands, soles against it, he went
around that way, too.


[Illustration]


In the dressing-room reigned despair and lamentation.

“’Tain’t fair!” wailed Tom, hotly. “I was goin’ to do some of those
things myself.”

“So was I!” declared Nixie.

Snoopie was now juggling balls while traversing the official tight rope
stretched between two of the saw-horses.

“Make him come in, Hen!” you called.

Hen snapped his whip at Snoopie’s bare legs, and brought him to the
boards.

“Quit, will you!” snarled Snoopie. “Don’t you go whippin’ _me_, or I’ll
paste you!”

“You darned old fool!” you scolded.

He wiggled his ears—wiggled them much more than Fat could his—and
twitched his scalp, accommodatingly turning to right and to left so that
all might see.

Then, breathless, crimson, perspiring, he walked on his hands into the
dressing-room.

“What did you do all that for?” demanded you, angrily.

“Do what?” retorted Snoopie. “_I_ didn’t do nothin’! What’s the matter
with you kids, anyhow?”

“You did, too!” berated Nixie. “You showed off an’ spoilt everything.
_I_ ain’t goin’ out.”

“Don’t you—an’ we won’t, either!” chorused Tom and Billy.

“Oh, Jock! Fat’s got his rats and he’s takin’ ’em away with him!”
announced Hen.

“You come back, there, Fat! Darn you! bring them back!” you cried,
rushing to the rescue.

Too late. Fat was stamping rebelliously down the stairs. The
disintegration of Schmidt & Walker’s United Shows, through jealousy, had
begun.

“Aren’t you fellows comin’ out?” queried Hen.

“Uh-uh! ’Tain’t any fun,” grunted Billy, spokesman.

“They say they won’t play any more,” you reported to Hen.

“I guess that’s all, then,” stated Hen to the spectators.

With high hoots from the boys, and rustling of dresses from the ladies,
the amphitheater was emptied.

“_I_ didn’t do nothin’,” insisted Snoopie, grinning. “You needn’t go to
blamin’ _me_!”

But nobody answered him; and with a derisive, “Ya-a-a! Your old show
ain’t worth shucks!” he scampered below, to join riotous, admiring
spirits elsewhere.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“How was the circus?” asked father, politely, at supper.

“Aw, Snoopie Mitchell spoilt it,” you accused.

“What was the matter with Snoopie?”

“Why, he went and did everything ’fore the rest had any chance—didn’t
he, mama!” you asserted.

“Is that so?”

Father glanced at mother, and they exchanged a subtle smile.

“What’s become of the receipts?” he inquired.

You did not comprehend.

“Papa means the pins you took in,” explained mother.

“Oh, I dunno,” you responded, your chief interest just now being in your
dish of strawberries.


[Illustration]


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



                           WHEN YOU RAN AWAY



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



                           WHEN YOU RAN AWAY

                   Oh, the noble king of France,
                     He had ten thousand men;
                   He marched them up the hill one day
                     And he marched them down again.


FATHER and mother not only cherished the idea that “it was good for boys
to have some work to do,” but they cherished it in a distorted form.
’Twas not as though you were opposed to work, per se. No, indeed; there
was a time for work and a time for play, and any day you would have been
very willing to stay out of school and run errands or pile wood or rake
up. Then, work would have been (just as your copy-book informed) a
“privilege.”

But witness: only Saturdays and after-school and vacation would do for
that, and the privilege was changed into a hardship, with your father,
from his security, recollecting what he did “when he was a boy,” and
evidently taking it out on you!

For “when he was a boy” father “had to work,” and rather vaingloriously
(egotistically, to say the least) presented himself as a living, moving
argument to apply to your case. However, he was of little weight with
you because, privately, you bet with yourself that he never had to work
as hard as you—never! Other fellows could skip off fishing, and
everything, while _you_’d got to pile wood or rake the yard.

“Can I go fishin’ to-morrow?”

With a bluffness cloaking sundry misgivings you laid the question before
mother, hoping that she would unwittingly answer yes, and that you might
entrap her into a family division. Alas, mother was not to be entrapped.

“Ask your father,” she evaded, just as you had feared that she might.

So, reluctantly, you sought father.

“Well, John?” he prompted as you stood before him.

Sharpened to X-ray acuteness through strenuous sire-ship, he interpreted
perfectly what was forthcoming.

“Can I go fishin’ to-morrow?”

“But you have the yard to rake, you know, don’t you?”

“I’ll rake it after school next week.”

The promise tumbled eagerly out for inspection, and father summarily
condemned it.

“You promised that if I let you off last Saturday you’d rake it _this_
week—”

“It rained,” you faltered.

So it did. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday you had carefully
reconnoitered, estimated, circled the prospect, so to speak; given the
yard every chance within your power to rake itself, and thus add to
nature phenomena; and then, on Friday, when you had got all ready, had
come the rain, and balked your farther efforts.

Yes. You had done your best, and now was it for you or yours to
discourage Providence? But father rashly plunged ahead.

“I guess you’d better rake and have it done with. Then you can go.”

“I promised Snoopie and Fat I’d go to-morrow. Fishin’ will be dandy
to-morrow. It’s always best right after a rain.”

You had begun to whine.

“John!”

When father said “John!” in that tone, and with one exclamation-point,
it indicated that your cause was finally and flatly dismissed. An
additional exclamation-point might mean committal for contempt.
Accordingly, unwilling to provoke this, after sniffling a moment, on the
safe side of his newspaper, and morosely kicking the porch railing, you
stalked off, slamming behind you the inoffensive gate, and quite ripe
for any desperate deed that could readily be undone, if necessary.

The next day dawned splendidly. Never was a better fishing day—never!
Never would be another so good—never! Yet father and mother did not seem
to care, and ate breakfast as indifferently as though raking the yard
was fully as much fun for a boy as pulling out bullheads!

From in front somebody whistled persistently.

“There’s Snoopie. He wants me to go,” you reminded.

Still remained time for a revision of the program, if—if—

“I hear him,” responded mother, mildly.

“Run out and tell him, so he won’t wait,” suggested father.

Enveloped in sorrow and shame you emerged to the impatient Snoopie and
broke the news.

“I can’t go. My father says I’ve got to rake the yard.”

Snoopie stared in amaze. _He_ never had any yard to rake, for his father
was dead, or something, and his mother worked out by the day. He never
had to change his clothes, and he could play hooky whenever he pleased.
Sometimes you almost envied Snoopie.

“Aw, hang the old yard!” advised Snoopie, incredulous. “Come on. She’s a
daisy day.”

“I can’t,” you confessed miserably.

“Pooh! You bet _I_’m goin’, tho’, all the samee! You’re missin’ it!”

And on he passed, whistling, with ostentatious blitheness, a disjointed
tune, leaving you to lean disconsolately over the fence and remark him,
and then to retire to face the flinty tyrants within.

You plumped into your breakfast chair, and ruthlessly banged your plate
with your knife, and scowlingly bolted your food. But nobody appeared to
notice. After breakfast the routine of the day was calmly taken up as
usual. Father went down town, to business; mother bustled about
household duties; Maggie the girl sang as she removed the breakfast
dishes. It seemed to be accepted as a matter of course that you should
rake. For this was such a morning made—raking. You raked.

Higher rose the sun, and higher rose your wrath. Happily scratched the
poultry, and viciously you scratched, with the rake. What was your life,
anyway, but one unremitting round of coercion! Who cared whether you had
any fun? Nobody! Other boys could do as they chose; but not you. No; not
you. You were always being made to do things that you didn’t want to do.
You were nothing but a slave. And you would submit to it no longer.

The darned old fools! You would show them! You would run away!

Then—_then_ (you hoped) would come upon that household the time when,
gathered together, one member would say to another:

“I wish that Johnny was here.”

“Yes,” would confess father; “if he were only here he might go fishing
whenever he pleased. I would be kinder to him; the yard could wait.”

“And I, too,” would quaver mother. “I understand, now. I used to send
him after a yeast-cake, and never think how tired he must be.”

“And I’d never mind again his being in the kitchen,” would sob Maggie
the girl. “No, indeed. He should have all the cake and lumps of brown
sugar he wanted.”

“Oh, Johnny, Johnny!” would wail all. “Come back and try us once more.
We’ll be so different.”

But they would plead too late. You would be far away; perhaps at the
very moment dying, unknown, miserable, forlorn and forsaken; dying in
the gutter or by the roadside, of starvation and exposure; and the
people who found you would inquire, among themselves, pityingly:

“Who is he? Has he no friends?”

And the answer would be:

“None. He is only a poor little outcast, driven by abuse from home.”

That would be a grand way to die, if only the household would know about
it. Your eyes grew wet, while your heart swelled triumphant, as the
picture took hold upon your sympathies.

The aroma of fresh cookies floated through the kitchen’s open door. You
were aware that Maggie would be expecting you. When warm cookies were
heralded, she had good reason to expect you. You hesitated, and for some
time you held off, with the vague purpose of spiting her or your mother.
If only one or the other would try to coax you in! But one or the other
didn’t. So, finally (the aroma proving beyond human endurance) you
tramped moodily in, and from the fragrant pile abstracted a handful of
the luscious disks.

Even as you did so you were proudly conscious that another cooky day,
and the pile would await your coming, in vain. Very likely, after you
were gone, they would not bake cookies any more. Or, if they did, the
dough would be all salty with tears. Maybe, as an almost hopeless
resort, mother would say:

“Maggie, bake cookies to-day just as you used to. Leave the door and
windows open, and perhaps—who knows—our Johnny may be lingering about,
and when he smells them baking he will understand that we are waiting
and calling.”

“Yes, ma’am—who knows?” would reply Maggie, chokingly.

You also, choked. For even then you would be dead, dead, dead. You could
die in a week, couldn’t you?

You gulped down the last mouthful of warm cooky, and suddenly as you
raked you waxed brighter. Why die? Why not live on, and become famous?
Would not that be far better revenge? Some day, then, would reach
household ears word of a new star in the firmament of glory; a name
would be read, a name would be spoken, a name resounding through the
whole world, name of intrepid explorer, dashing leader,
multi-millionaire, potentate over savage peoples, what-not. And father
would say to mother:

“Why—that’s our Johnny!”

“It certainly is!” would exclaim mother.

And she would call Maggie, and all would discuss the strange tidings.
Soon the village would be ringing with your exploits.

The household would send messages to you, of course, pleading for one
sign of forgiveness; for a visit, a token. But you would return with
scorn their missives, and ignore their entreaties.

Or would it not be well to heap coals of fire upon their heads? ’Twas a
difficult matter to decide.

At any rate, you would run away. That very afternoon should witness you
steadfastly plodding onward, face to the west, fortune and revenge
before, ungrateful, cruel home behind. When tea was ready Maggie, and
then mother, would summon you in vain.

Mother would say to father:

“Why, I can’t find Johnny!”

“Oh, he’ll come,” would assert father.

But you wouldn’t. They would eat supper without you; they would be
alarmed; they would inquire among the neighbors; they would search
up-stairs and down; nothing would give them a hint—or would it be a more
subtle rôle to leave a note, a tear-stained note, with simply “Good-by”
writ within? That was another point to be considered.

However, the truth would dawn upon them. At first they would refuse to
believe it. They would think:

“Oh, he’ll be back. You see if he isn’t.”

You would _not_ come back. Evening would merge into night—but no Johnny.
The night would settle down; there would be weeping, running to and fro,
searching and calling, and all the while you would be out in the dark
and the dew (and it got cold, too, in the middle of the night) at the
mercy of storm and prowling beasts.

When came the morn, it would find the household red-eyed, distraught,
and repentant—but still no Johnny.

Possibly the minister, in church, would refer to you during his sermon;
not mentioning outright your name, because that would be too direct and
hard upon your folks, but nevertheless by an allusion that should be
unmistakable. The congregation would know to what he was referring, and
all would turn and look at the family pew—the pew of shame.

Your desk at school would be empty. The news of your departure would
spread about. Teacher would break down and cry when she reached your
name in the roll-call, and as a mark of respect your seat would not be
given to another, ever. It would remain untenanted, sacred, an
object-lesson to parents. Maybe it would be draped with crape, like the
desk of Harry Peters, who died. Say!

Yes, you would run away.

You were unusually quiet and subdued that noon, at dinner. It was the
quietness of resolve, the subduedness of pity. Here was the last meal
that you ever should eat at this board—and none save yourself knew it.
Ah, what a blow was about to fall upon the household. What a secret was
locked within your breast.

It seemed almost a missed opportunity. If the folks might only suspect,
and try to make advances. Then might you coolly rebuff them,
deliberately freeze them out, torture them with shallow denials, and
thus enjoy their suspicions while denying them your confidence.

But the meal progressed, and nobody acted curious. That made you mad.

“All raked, John?” asked father, kindly.

“Yes, sir.”

You answered him as briefly as was possible and safe.

“That’s good. Do you think he has earned a pair of white rabbits,
mamma?”

White rabbits!

“He has been a very good boy, and worked hard,” assured mother, smiling
upon you.

“Well, we’ll see,” hinted father, also smiling.

Gee! White rabbits were a serious menace to your outworks. You perceived
your defenses giving way. Stand firm, John; stand firm. You have
resolved, you know; don’t be lured by tardy bribes. What are white
rabbits to freedom, and revenge?

No, you will not be a traitor to yourself. Let the white rabbits
come—but, like much else, they will come too late. There will be no
John—no Johnny, no—no Johnny here to give them to. And you smile in
sickly fashion and say nothing.

You have the afternoon before you, and your preparations to make. While,
wilfully unconscious of your sinister purpose, the household again
proceeds about its routine duties, you make ready. You will not carry
much with you. Maybe you will take nothing at all. Shall you leave your
drawers and your treasures untouched, and merely fade mysteriously from
local ken, or shall you select articles enough to signify your decision?

Oliver Optic’s boys, when escaping from the authority of a harsh
step-father or uncle, went away with their possessions either slung over
their shoulder, tied in a bandanna handkerchief, at the end of a stick,
or else contained in a trunk toted by aid of a wheelbarrow.

With tears (tears well very easily) blurring your eyes and occasionally
dropping from the end of your nose, in your little room you hastily
overhaul your belongings.

Upon the bed (dear little bed!) you spread a bandanna ’kerchief, and in
it you place an extra pair of stockings and your best necktie, and—well,
there doesn’t seem to be much else worth taking, in the clothing line. A
boy doesn’t need much; one outfit can last a long time. Besides, the
raggeder you get, the better, for the more pitiable will be your plight.
Your pockets already hold your jack-knife and your jew’s-harp, and
thereto you add your burning-glass, and your cap-pistol (robbers and
bears might not tell it from a real pistol) and a fish-line.

Cast one farewell look about the little room (dear little room!). It
shall know you no more. Does it hate to see you go? But it mutely
implores in vain. You settle your cap firmly upon your head, and
stifling a sob over the pathos of it all you descend the stairs.

You stick the bandanna packet underneath your jacket. It would be nice
if the household might suspect it, and still not see it. But the
delicate medium is rather difficult to attain. Besides, it is too late
for them to try to stop you, now.

Mother is in the sitting-room as you pass through the hall, kitchenward.

“Where are you going, Johnny boy?” she hails, cheerily.

“Nowhere,” you falter. “Just off.”

You pause, irresolutely, a second. If only you might be encouraged to go
in to her, and with strange meaning in your caress kiss her, while she
wondered at your tenderness; then in after days she would recall, and
feel all the worse.

“Well, be sure and be home in time for supper. We’re going to have hot
biscuits and honey!”

What a callous way to let you depart!

Noting, with minute care, each familiar object—ah, those inanimate
things; _they_ know and feel bad!—you proceed into the kitchen. Here,
right before Maggie’s eyes, you boldly provision with two cookies and an
apple. You reck not whether she sees, or not; the die is cast. You
defiantly press on, straight out of the house, and through the back
gate.

The deed is done. You have gone. You are in the alley, and many a long
year will elapse before that back gate again swings to your hand.

You wish that the folks knew—but they don’t. Your heart aches for
yourself; your going is so unheeded, the piteousness of it so wasted.

You grow angry, and stiffen your neck. All right; they need not care, if
they don’t want to. Perhaps they think you are fooling. You’ll show
them—yes, you’ll show them! Oh, if they would only call after you, and
beg you to turn, so that you _might_ show them. You’d never even glance.
The darned old fools!

You stanchly round the alley corner, and march away, down the street.
Wild horses cannot drag you back. You wish they’d try.

Two whole blocks have you put behind you. Your stern pace lags a bit.
With the sky so blue and the sun so bright and the maples o’erhead so
rustly and the sidewalk so flecked with gold and the yards and houses
along the way so comfortable and friendly, really, it is getting to be
hard work keeping up steam. You have to think of it constantly, or your
fires die down.

The darned—the darned old fools!

You have been longer in traversing this third block. Another block, and
the maples and the sidewalk and the comfortable, friendly houses, cease;
the country begins. W-well, you’ll go that far, anyhow.

D-darn ’em!

You have come to the end of the street; here is your Rubicon. You feel
that once started upon that country road, with your handkerchief slung
over your shoulder, then it _will_ be too late! The idea rather awes
you. It looks a long way, into the world. And dying does not, somehow,
seem the attractive revenge that it once did. You slacken—and halt.

You take the bandanna packet from beneath your jacket, and inspect it.

Humph! Darn ’em, you meant it when you started, just the samee.

You uncertainly move forward again. If it wasn’t for those white
rabbits—. You walk slower. You blink hard. You stop, as if run
down—which, in truth, you are. You blink, and finger the cookies in your
jacket pocket.

Are the folks at home missing you? Supposing that they find out you have
run away, and as a punishment deny you the white rabbits, after all! The
thought stings. You hesitate, and sitting by the roadside eat the two
cookies and the apple.

You are reminded that there are “biscuits and honey” for supper.

Perhaps—perhaps you have gone far enough. Perhaps you’d better not do
“it,” this time.

                  *       *       *       *       *

When, rather sheepishly, you reënter that back gate, you encounter no
signs of confusion and agitation. Although it seems to you that you have
been gone a long, long while, everything appears serene and just as you
had left it. Nobody notices you.

You slip up-stairs. The little room welcomes you; you eye it
diffidently, and challenge it to ridicule you; but it only welcomes.

You restore to their places burning-glass and pistol and fish-line. You
untie the bandanna handkerchief, and return to their drawer the
stockings and the best tie. You fold up the handkerchief itself, and put
it away. You do not need them; not yet. You have changed your mind. But
only they and you know what a narrow squeak of it this peaceful house
has just had.


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



                             GOIN’ FISHIN’



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



[Illustration: “‘IT’S NOTHIN’ BUT A SNAG!’”]



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



                             GOIN’ FISHIN’


IT was twenty feet long, and cost ten cents—a whole week’s
keeping-the-woodbox-filled wages. To select it from amid its sheaf of
fellows towering high beside the shop entrance summoned all your
faculties and the faculties of four critical comrades, assisted by the
proprietor himself.

“That’s the best of the lot,” he encouraged, not uninfluenced by a
desire to be rid of you.

So you planked down your money, and bore off the prize; and a beautiful
pole it was—longer by three feet, as you demonstrated when they were
laid cheek by jowl, than that of your crony Hen.

Forthwith you enthusiastically practised with it in the back yard, to
show its capabilities, while the hired girl, impeded by its gyrations,
fretfully protested that you were “takin’ all outdoors.”

Your father viewed its numerous inches and smiled.

You clothed it with hook and line, an operation seemingly simple, but
calling for a succession of fearful and wonderful knots, and a delicate
adapting of length to length.

Thereafter it always was ready, requiring no fitting of joint and joint,
no adjustment of reel, threading of eye, and attaching of snell. In your
happy-go-lucky ways you were exactly suited the one to the other.


[Illustration: “AT LAST YOU WERE OFF”]


During its periods of well-earned rest it reposed across the rafters
under the peak of the woodshed, the only place that would accommodate
it, although in the first fever gladly would you have carried it to bed
with you.

Half the hot summer afternoon Hen and you dug bait, for you and he were
going fishing on the morrow. Had you been obliged to rake the yard as
diligently as you delved for worms you would have been on the verge (for
the hundredth time) of running away and making the folks sorry; but
there is such a wide gulf betwixt raking a yard and digging bait that
even the blisters from the two performances are totally distinct.

With a prodigality that indicated at the least a week’s trip, you plied
your baking-powder can—the cupboard was continually stripped of
baking-powder cans, in those days—with long, fat angle worms and short,
fat grubs; and topping them with dirt to preserve their freshness, you
set them away till the morning.

Then, with mutual promises to “be on time,” Hen and you separated.

“I suppose,” said father, gravely, to mother, across the table, at
supper, “that I needn’t order anything at Piper’s (Piper was the
butcher) for a few days.”

“Why so?” asked mother, for the moment puzzled.

“We’ll have fish, you know.”

“Sure enough!” agreed mother, enlightened, and glancing at you. “Of
course; Johnny’s going fishing.”

From your end of the table you looked keenly at the one and at the other
and pondered. If the show of confidence in you was genuine, how
gratified and proud you felt! But was it? Father went on soberly eating;
mother, transparent soul, smiled at you, as if in reparation, and winked
both eyes.

You grinned confusedly, and bent again to your plate. Yes, they were
making fun of you. But who cared! And you had mental revenge in the
thought that perhaps you’d _show_ them.

You turned in early, as demanded by the strenuous day ahead. To turn you
out no alarm-clock was necessary. The sun himself was just parting the
pink hangings of the east, and on earth apparently only the roosters and
robins were astir, when, with a hazy recollection of having fished all
night, you scrambled to the floor and into your clothes.

Mother’s voice sounded gently outside the door.

“Johnny?”

“Yes; I’m up.”

“All right. I was afraid you might oversleep. Now be careful to-day,
won’t you, dear?”

Again you assured her. You heard her soft steps going back down the
stairs. She never failed to make your rising her own, both to undertake
that you should not be disappointed and to deliver a final loving
caution.

Your dressing, although accompanied by sundry yawns, was accomplished
quickly, your attire for the day being by no means complicated. Your
face and hair received what Maggie, the girl, would term “a lick and a
promise,” and kitchenward you sped.

To delay to eat the crackers and milk that had been provided was a waste
of time; but you had been instructed, and so you gobbled them down. On
the kitchen table was your lunch, tied in shape convenient to stow about
your person. It was a constant fight on your part with mother to make
her keep your lunches at the minimum. Had she her way, you would have
traveled with a large basket; and what boy wanted to be bothered with
baskets and pails and things?

Upon the back porch, where you had stationed them in minute preparation,
had been awaiting you all night the can of bait and the loyal pole. You
seized them. Provisioned and armed, you ran into the open and looked
expectantly for Hen.

From Hen’s house came no sign of life. You whistled softly; no Hen. Your
heart sank. Once or twice before Hen had failed you. Affairs at his
house seemed to be not so systematized as at yours.

You whistled louder; no Hen. You called, your voice echoing along the
still somnolent street.

“All right,” suddenly responded Hen, sticking his head out of his
window.

He was not even up!

You were disgusted. One might as well not go fishing as to start so late
and have all the other fellows there first; and you darned “it”
gloomily.

After seemingly an age, but with his mouth full and with other tokens of
haste, Hen emerged from the side door.

“Bridget promised to call me and she forgot to wake up,” he explained.

Had Hen _your_ mother, he would have been better cared for. But, then,
households differ.

At last you were off, your jacket, necessary as a portable depository,
balanced with lunch, and the can of worms snugly fitted into a pocket,
over the hard-boiled eggs; your mighty pole, become through many
pilgrimages a veteran, sweeping the horizon; and your gallant old straw,
ragged of contour and prickly with broken ends, courting, like some
jaunty, out-at-the-elbow, swash-buckler cavalier, every passing breeze.

As you and Hen hurried along, how you chattered, the pair of you, with
many a brag and “I bet you” and bit of exciting hearsay! How big you
were with expectations!

“By jinks! I pity the fish to-day!” bantered “Uncle” Jerry Thorne, hoe
in hand in his garden patch, stiffly straightening to watch you as you
pattered by.

You did not answer. Onward stretched your way. Moments were precious.
Who could tell what might be happening ahead at the fishing-place?
Busier cackled the town hens, into view rolled the town’s sun, from town
chimneys here and there idly floated breakfast smoke. The town was
entering upon another day, but you—ah, you were destined afar and you
must not stay.

To transport your pole, at times inclined to be unruly, with its line
ever reaching out at mischievous foliage and its hook ever leaving butt
or cork and angling for clothing, was an engineering feat demanding no
slight ingenuity. The board walk, which later would be baking hot, so
that the tender soles of barefooted little girls would curl and shrink
and seek the grass, was gratefully cool, blotched as it was with
dampness from the dripping trees. When the walk ceased, the road lay
moist and velvety, the path was wet and cold, the fringing bushes
spattered you with diamonds, and the lush turf, oozing between your
toes, gave to your eager tread.

Rioted thrush and woodpecker and all their feathered cousins; higher
into the silver-blue sky climbed the sun, donning anon his golden robes
of state; one last impatient halt, to extract your hook from your coat
collar, and now, your happy legs plashed knee over with dew and clinging
dust, you had reached your goal.

You and Hen were not the first of the day’s fishermen. As the vista of
bank and water unfolded before your roving eyes you descried a rival
already engaged. By his torn and sagging brim, by his well-worn shirt,
by his scarred and faded overalls, draggling about his ankles and
dependent upon one heroic strap, you recognized a familiar. It was
Snoopie—Snoopie Mitchell, who always was fishing, because he never had
to ask anybody’s permission.


[Illustration: “‘JUS’ A BULLHEAD’”]


Snoopie’s flexible life appeared to you the model one.

“Hello, Snoop!” called you and Hen.

“Hello!” responded Snoopie, phlegmatically, desisting a moment from
watching his cork, as he squatted over his pole.

“Caught anything yet?”

“Jus’ come,” vouchsafed Snoopie. “They ain’t bitin’ much. But
yesterday—gee! you ought to’ve been here yesterday!”

No doubt; that usually was the way when you had to stay at home.

You tugged your bait from its tight lodgment; you peeled off your coat
and tossed it aside as you would a scabbard; with feverish fingers, lest
Hen should beat you, hopeful that you might even outdo Snoopie, you
unwrapped your gallant pole of its line, and selecting a plump worm,
slipped it, despite its protesting squirms, adown the hook.

The favorite stands at this resort were marked by their colonies of
tinware—bait-cans cast away upon the grass and mud, some comparatively
bright and recent, many very rusty and ancient, their unfragrant sighs
horrifying the summer zephyrs. You sought _your_ stand and threw in.

From his stand Hen also threw in.

An interval of suspense ensued. The placid water was full of delightful
possibilities. What glided therein that _might_ be caught! You besought
your bobber with a gaze almost hypnotic; but the bobber floated
motionless and obdurate.

“Snoopie’s got a bite!”

At the announcement you darted apprehensive glances in Snoopie’s
direction. You were greedy enough to harbor the wish—but, ah!

“Snoopie’s got one! Snoopie’s got one!”

Snoopie’s pole had energetically reared upward and backward, and, as if
at its beckoning, something small, black, and glistening had popped
straight out from the glassy surface before and had flown high into the
brush behind.

Snoopie rushed after, and Hen and you discarded everything and rushed,
too.

“Jus’ a bullhead!”

So it was, and quite three inches long.

Snoopie ostentatiously strung it on a bit of cord and tethered it, at
the water’s edge, to a stake. Then he threw in again and promptly caught
another.

Somehow, Snoopie invariably did this. He was lucky in more respects than
one.

From each side Hen and you sidled toward him and put your bobbers as
near his as you dared.

“G’wan!” objected Snoopie, with shrill emphasis. “What you kids comin’
here for? Go find your own places. I got this first.”

Presently, to your agony, Hen likewise jerked out an astonished pout.

“Ain’t you had any bites yet?” he fired triumphantly at you.

“How deep you got your hook?” you replied.

Hen held his line so that you might see. To miss no chances, you
measured accurately with a reed. Once more you adjusted your cork,
moving it up a fraction of an inch, and you spat on your baited hook.

Again you threw in, landing your now irresistible lure the length of
your pole and line from the shore.

“Quit your splashin’!” remonstrated Snoopie. “I had a dandy bite, an’
you scared him away. Darn you! can’t you throw in easy?”

The ripples caused by your bobber widened in concentric circles and
died. You watched and waited. A kingfisher dived from his post upon a
dead branch, and rising with a minnow in his bill to show you how easy
it was, dashed away, laughing derisively.

With a quick exclamation, Hen swished aloft the tip of his pole.

“Golly! but I had a big nibble! He took the cork clear under!” he cried.

You wondered fiercely why _you_ couldn’t have a nibble.

As if in answer to your mute prayer, your bobber quivered, spreading a
series of little rings. An electric thrill leaped through your whole
body, and your fingers tightened cautiously around the well-warmed butt,
which they had been caressing in vain.

“I’ve got a bite! I’ve got a bite!” you called gleefully.

Hen and Snoopie turned their faces to witness what might take place.

Then your cork was stricken with intermittent palsy, and then it
staggered and swung as though it had a drop too much. Your sporting
blood aflame, you bided the operations of the rash meddler who was
causing this commotion.

The cork tilted alarmingly, so that the water wetted it all over. With a
jump and a burst of pent-up energy (no cat after a mouse could be
quicker), you whipped the heavens with your great pole; but only an
empty hook followed after.

“Shucks!” you lamented.

“Aw, you jerked too soon!” criticised Snoopie.

“Darn him! he ate all my bait, anyhow!” you declared. “See?”


[Illustration: “‘BITIN’ AGAIN’”]


With utmost speed you fitted another worm and very smoothly let down
exactly in the same spot.

Scarcely had the cork settled when it resumed its erratic movements. Its
persecutor, whatsoever he might be, was a persistent chap.

“Bitin’ again?” inquired Snoopie, noting your strained attitude.

You nodded; the moment was too vital to admit of conversation.

“I got him! I got him! I—”

You had exulted too soon. Out like a feather you had whisked the
meddlesome fellow, but in mid-air, unable to maintain the sudden pace,
he parted company with the impaling steel. Down he dropped, and while
the lightened hook went on without him he dived into the shallows where
mud meets water.

You abandoned your pole; you plunged after him. Upon hands and knees you
wallowed and grappled with him. With fish instinct, he was wriggling for
the deeps and safety. You grasped him. He slid through your clutch. You
grabbed at him again and obtained a pinching hold on his tail. He broke
the hold and was off.

“Get him!” shrieked Snoopie.

“Get him!” shrieked Hen.

Desperately you scooped up the slime. Once more you had him. He stabbed
you with his needle-like spines, but you flinched not. You hurled him
inshore and tore after, not allowing him an instant’s respite.

There! He lay gasping upon the drier bank. He had lost, and out of his
one piggish eye not plastered shut he signaled surrender.

Of the two parties to the wrestle you were much the muddier.

“How big?” queried Hen, anxiously.

“Oh, ’bout as big as the first one Snoop caught,” you replied, which was
strictly the truth.

You devoted a few seconds to squeezing your pricked thumb; then
pleasantly aware that several new arrivals were viewing your success,
you gingerly strung him and deposited him, thus secured, in his native
element. Here he flopped a moment, but finding his efforts useless,
sulked out of sight.

You baited up; you were more contented.

Two pole-lengths from shore occurred a quick splash and a swirl.

“Gee!” burst simultaneously from the three of you; and you stared with
wide eyes at the spot where the bubbles were floating.

“What was that?” ejaculated Hen.

“A big bass, I bet you,” averred Snoopie.

Nobody—within your memory, at least—ever had actually caught a “big
bass” in these haunts, but upon various occasions, such as the present
one, he had made himself known. To doubt his existence was heresy. He
was here; of course he was. Nearly to see him was an exploit
accomplished by many; nearly to catch him was accomplished by only a few
less: but really to haul him out had been accorded to none.

In the meantime he cruised about, in his mysterious way, and now and
then made a rumpus on the surface, to wring a tribute of hungry “Gees!”
from the astounded spectators of his antics.

You gripped closer your pole and barely breathed. Perhaps he was heading
in your direction; perhaps, at last, he would accept your worm, and,
glory! _you_ would be the boy to carry him through town, and home! Could
anything be more deliriously grand?

On the other hand, misery! perhaps he was heading for Snoopie or Hen.
However, he might turn aside.

Silence reigned; the atmosphere was tense with expectation. Another
swirl, a small one, off a brush-pile nearer the shore, just to your
left. Cautiously you tiptoed down there and craftily introduced your
tempting hook.

The cork vibrated. For an instant you lost your breath. The cork dipped.
You poised, rigid but alert, daring to stir not even a toe. The cork
righted, dipped again, and slowly, calmly sank into the pregnant depths.

Furiously you struck. Your good pole bent and swayed. You were wild with
excitement.

“Say! Look there! Look at John!” exclaimed Hen.

“Hang on to him! Don’t let him get away!” bawled Snoopie.

Spurred by your down-curving pole and your violent endeavors, they
scampered madly to your succor.

“Don’t you give him slack!” instructed Snoopie. “He’ll get loose!”

“Don’t bust the pole, either!” warned Hen.

As for you, you were fighting with all your strength. The line was taut,
sawing the water, as valiantly you hoisted with the writhing tip. Your
antagonist yielded a few inches, only to demand them back again. You
were in deadly fear lest the hook would not hold. You hoped that he had
swallowed it. But who might tell?

At any rate, you were determined that he should not have a vestige more
of line if you could help it.

“Can you feel him?” asked Hen.

“Uh huh,” you panted affirmatively.

“Gim_me_ the pole,” ordered Snoopie.

You shook your head. You wanted to do it all yourself.

Little by little, in response to the relentless leverage that you
exerted, your victim was being dragged to the surface. Higher and higher
was elevated your pole, and the wet line followed. The cork appeared and
left the water. Victory was almost yours, but you would not relax.

“It’s nothin’ but a snag!” denounced Snoopie.

You would not believe. It was—if it was not the big bass, it was
something else wonderful.

A second—and up through the heaving area upon which were fixed your eyes
broke a black stem. Swifter it exposed itself, and suddenly you had
hoisted into the sunlight an ugly old branch, soaked and dripping,
wrenched by your might from the peaceful bed where it long had lain.

Amid irritating jeers you swung it to shore.

“Well, I _had_ something all right—and it was a bass, too; and he
snagged my hook on me. He took the bobber under in less’n no time, I
tell you!” you argued defensively.

That was a favorite trick of the “big bass” and other prodigies of these
waters—to be almost caught and to escape by cleverly snagging the hook.


[Illustration: “YOU LUXURIOUSLY DINED”]


Hen and Snoopie returned to their stations. You ruefully twisted your
hook from the rotten wood and tried in a new place for bullheads.

You tired of this location and changed to a log; and tiring of the log,
you changed to a rock; and tiring of the rock, you changed to a jutting
bank; and tiring of the bank, you waded into the shallows, where, at
least, the flies could not torment your legs. In the course of your
wanderings your can toppled; you snatched at it but it evaded you,
gurgled, and gently sank beneath. You borrowed bait from more or less
unwilling brethren, or appealed to the most respectable of the riffraff
cans scattered about. From the zenith the sun glared down upon your
neck, and from the water the sun glared up into your face, and neck and
face waxed red and redder; turtles poked their heads forth and inspected
you; and dragon-flies darted at your bobber and settled upon it, giving
you starts as you thought for an instant that you had a bite. You
pricked your fingers on the “stingers” of vengeful victims, and you cut
your feet on tin and shell and sharp root and branch; you luxuriously
dined on butter-soaked bread and salt-less eggs (the salt being
spilled), and you drank of water which, in these scientific later days,
we know with horror to have been alive with deadly bacilli; and Snoopie,
lying on his back, with his hat over his eyes, tied his line to his big
toe and went to sleep.

Finally, spotted with mud and mosquito-bumps, scarlet with burn and
bristling with experiences, in the sunset glow homeward you trudged,
over your shoulder your faithful pole, and your hapless spoil, ever
growing drier and dustier and more wretched, dangling from your hand.

“Mercy, John! What _do_ you bring those home for!” expostulated mother,
from a safe distance surveying your catch, none thereof longer than a
clothes-pin.

“Why, to eat,” you explained.

And she fried them for you, her very self.


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



                               IN SOCIETY



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



                               IN SOCIETY


YOU looked fine; simply fine! And well you might, for had you not just
gone through with the ordeal of an extra bath—a process which even when
regular and weekly nagged you almost beyond endurance, and now as a
superfluity certainly ought to bring recompense. It seemed to you that
if a boy went swimming summers, during the season intervening a good
scrubbing as far as half-way down his neck should answer all purposes.

With your face shining like a red apple, with your hair slickly
brushed—by mother, and your fresh waist neatly adjusted—by mother, and
your Sunday jacket and knickerbockers faithfully brushed—by mother, and
your shoes blacked and harmoniously buttoned—by mother again, there you
stood between mother’s knees while she coaxed into an expansive knot
your blue polka-dotted tie.

Then she turned you about for inspection.

“Well, well!” commented father, in acknowledgment of your effect.

Mother settled your hat delicately upon your smooth crown.

“Now, be a good boy,” she cautioned. “Be polite, and don’t be rough in
your play, and remember to say good-night to Helen and her mama, and
don’t act greedy when the things to eat are passed.”

She kissed you, and father kissed you, and escorted to the front door
out you strutted.

“Be a good boy!” called mother after you.

You decorously yodeled for Hen; Hen, arrayed, like you, in purple and
fine linen, decorously made exit and joined you; and decorously the two
of you walked side by side up the street, bound for the “Daner party.”

Along the way, restrained by your feeling of spick-and-spanness from
customary gambolings, you and Hen sought relief in a preliminary review
of the prospective menu.

“I bet you we have ice cream—I seen Mr. Daner orderin’ it!” avowed Hen,
by his abundance of enthusiasm atoning for his lack of grammar.

“Gee! I hope it’s chocolate!” you exclaimed.

“Or strawberry an’ vaniller mixed!” supplemented Hen, with a smack of
anticipation.

You “geed” again, and offered an unvoiced prayer that, whatever the
flavor or flavors, the dishes be large.

On ahead was disclosed the house of the party. It was lighted from top
to bottom, and at the impressive sight your courage, buoyed in vain by
ice-cream, chocolate, or strawberry and vanilla mixed, began to sink.

“You go in first,” you suggested to Hen.

“Naw, sir! _You!_” objected Hen. “You know ’em better’n I do.”

“But I’ll keep right close behind. Honest, I will,” you promised.

“You wouldn’t, either. You’d run off and leave me alone!” accused Hen,
suspicious and diffident.

With the question of precedence still unsettled, slowly and more slowly
you and he approached. Hanging to the palings of the fence, in front,
were the luckless (and invidious) uninvited; among them Snoopie
Mitchell, of course. Snoopie never missed anything, if within his reach,
and he wore the same clothes wherever he went, be it fishing or into the
_crème de la crème_ of civilization.

Your arrival was the signal for a shrill chorus of jeering cries; why,
nobody may know; yet they caused you to flush with an unreasonable sense
of shame.

“Hello, Jocko!” greeted Snoopie, affably (Jocko, and not, as stated the
family Bible, John, being your actual name).

“Hello!” you responded feebly.

“Hello, Hen!” continued Snoop, determined to be impartial.

“Hello!” said Hen, also feebly.

“Ain’t you goin’ in?” queried Snoop. “G’wan in! What you ’fraid of?”

“G’wan in yourself!” you retorted.

“Well, I would if I was dressed up, you bet!” asserted Snoopie—oblivious
of the fact that he was not expected.

“Huh!” scoffed Hen. “You ain’t invited! Ya-a-ah!”

“I know it; but I could have been if I’d wanted to!” declared Snoopie,
insinuating his superiority. “I wouldn’t go to their old party!”

“Good reason why!” scoffed you and Hen.

This brief exchange of courtesies having been accomplished, attended by
mocking tongues and glances you two proudly entered the gate, leaving on
the outside these your social inferiors, and advancing up the walk,
studiously elbow to elbow, mounted the porch steps.

“You ring!” insisted Hen.

“No! You!”

Whereupon, in the midst of the discussion the listening door opened, and
into the dazzling interior you sidled together, and red as peonies
received your welcome.

                  *       *       *       *       *

On the one side of the parlor were clustered the girls, a close
corporation in stiff little dresses and stiff big sashes, and locks
wonderfully curled or tied with ribbons. They whispered and giggled. On
the opposite side were banded the boys, in embarrassing Sunday clothes
and squeaky shoes. And they whispered and sniggered.

Betwixt this side of the parlor and that stretched a seemingly
impassable chasm, which must be bridged. Upon busy Mrs. Daner,
engineer-in-chief of the occasion, devolved the task of establishing
communication.

“Clap-in and clap-out!” she heralded briskly.

The little girls were hustled, still giggling, into the adjoining room,
and the folding doors were drawn. You boys waited. Presently the doors
parted for a crack, and Mrs. Daner, as official announcer, called,
between them:

“Harry Peters!”

“Aw, Harry!” derided you all. Assisted by obliging hands, Harry stumbled
through the crack, and the doors met behind him. You in the outer room
listened breathlessly. An instant—and then came a tremendous burst of
clapping and laughter, and Harry, blushing and flustrated, plunged back
into your midst.

“Aw, Harry! Got clapped out! Aw, Harry!”

“I did it on purpose!” averred Harry, stoutly. “I guess _I_ knew. I
don’t want any girl kissin’ _me_, you bet!”

“Henry Schmidt!” summoned Mrs. Daner.

Hen, being notoriously afraid of girls, must have blindly plumped down
into the very first chair available, for scarcely had he entered ere out
he fled, headlong, in dire confusion, before a volley of gay voices and
staccato palms.

“Johnny Walker!”

That was you. You had been hoping, and now you had arrived. Beset by the
usual ridicule—Harry and Hen the leaders in it—reluctantly, after all,
you left the safe society of your fellows, and slipping through the
fateful crack uncertainly looked about you.

The atmosphere was distinctly feminine. Fourteen little girls stood each
behind an empty chair, in almost a circle, and eyed you roguishly.
Nobody spoke. You felt as graceful as a hippopotamus and twice as large.

Your wandering glance fell upon Mary Webster. Mary nodded invitingly.
And upon Lucy Rogers. Lucy stared at you with intense soberness.

“Hurry up, Johnny. Choose a chair,” urged Mrs. Daner, she being, among
her other functions, the discourager of hesitancy.

Poor soul, it devolved upon her to see that the programme moved forward
swiftly, so that no one, from the belle and the beau to the fat and the
cross-eyed, should be slighted through lack of time.

Mary had nodded. It must be Mary who had called for you; else why should
she have nodded? With confidence you darted at Mary’s chair, and seated
yourself.

How they shrieked, and how they clapped; none louder than Mary, and none
more vengefully than Lucy—Lucy, who, in truth, had called you, and whom
you had unwittingly exasperated. Boys are so stupid!

Another victim of female duplicity, out you dived for the refuge of your
own sex. You resolved that sometime you would pay Mary Webster back.

Billy Lunt went in next. What befell Billy was signalized by a sudden
uproar of laughter and soprano cries, but no clapping!

Billy was being kissed!

“A-a-aw, Billy!” and all of you pointed your fingers at him, and prodded
him in the ribs, when, crimson and rumpled, he reappeared.

“Who kissed you?”

“Mary Webster; she tried to but she didn’t do it square! I skinned out
an’ they grabbed holt of me, an’ I broke away!” boasted Billy.

After clap-in and clap-out was instituted post-office, and after
post-office, drop-the-handkerchief, and after drop-the-handkerchief
ensued King William, sung with whatever variations local tongues had
given to the old, old rhyme:

             King _Will_-yum was King _James’s_ son,
             And he-e-e th’ royal _race_ did run;
             Upo-o-on his breast he wore a sta-a-ar
             Which pe-e-eople called the _sign_ of war.
             Now cho-o-ose the east, now cho-o-ose the west,
             And cho-o-ose the one that _you_ love best;
             If _she’s_ not here to _take_ your part,
             Go cho-o-ose another with _all_ your heart.
             Down _on_ this carpet _you_ must kneel,
             As su-u-ure’s th’ grass grows _in_ the field—

and then, as everybody knows, you are supposed to “kiss your sweet,” and
“rise up_on_ your feet.” Some couples kissed, but some wouldn’t.

The gulf ’twixt the boy and the girl factions has long since been
effectually spanned. Mindful of Mary’s meanness in befooling you into
accepting her inhospitable chair, you devote yourself to Lucy. At first
Lucy is lukewarm, and with a pout of distaste only languidly pursues you
after you have deposited the handkerchief behind her. You obey a command
to “bow to the wittiest, kneel to the prettiest, and kiss the one you
love the best,” but although this last honor you would bestow upon Lucy,
and struggle desperately to salute her, she grants you merely the tip of
an ear.

You persevere in your attentions, and by repeatedly twitching her
hair-ribbon into disorderly streamers, you arouse her interest in you.
You chase her, screaming, up-stairs and down; and in return she, with
screaming unabated, chases you down-stairs and up, and chastises you
with playful little slaps and pinches.

Other couples are similarly engaged. Yet you all are “good,” as goodness
goes, among your generation.

Out of what is rapidly verging upon chaos, the summons to refreshments
brings organization once more. The majority of the boys, comprising the
ruder spirits and the so-to-speak unattached, gather in a corner, where
it is each for himself and pillage your neighbor. The politer boys,
which class includes yourself, stimulated to their duty by Mrs. Daner,
attend upon the fair ladies.

You watch protectingly over Lucy, gallantly letting her have the largest
piece of cake, although you covet it yourself, and essaying to practise
other denials such as have been impressed upon your memory by your
mother.

You and Lucy converse. Your “Gee! ain’t this bully!” and her ecstatic
response, “My! ain’t it, though!” establish between you a delightful
understanding. For her entertainment you dexterously insert into your
mouth a whole cookie.

“Oh, Johnny! How awful!” she sniggers.

The ice-cream is chocolate and vanilla, and everybody takes both. Hen
seems not to be aggrieved by the absence of strawberry. Not being a
ladies’ man, he is in the corner with kindred souls, but you can hear
him.

The dishes are large.

“Piggie!” upbraids Lucy, when, having been solicited, you accept a
second. Nevertheless, she does not refuse a spoonful from it, now and
then.

Last come the candies, amidst which are fascinating motto-wafers, always
the source of much mirth and amusement.

All the company exchange mottoes. You and Lucy limit your operations
chiefly to one another. For instance, you present her with a pink motto,
shaped like a four-leaf clover, which says;

“Are you fickle-minded?”

“You are too stout!” replies Lucy, with a circular disk in cream color.

“Forget me not,” you entreat—the words being done in red upon a white
diamond.

“All in life is dear,” answers Lucy, rather vaguely, with a greenish
hexagon.

“Are you in earnest?” you query—a pink heart.

“Ask pa’s consent,” suggests Lucy, unmaidenly as the encouragement may
appear, with an indented square.

You have to trade around among various friends before you can
effectually respond. Sly Mary Webster supplies you with “Say now!” of
which you immediately avail yourself.

“Will you marry me?” asks Lucy, dared thereto by companions, while those
in the secret whoop and shriek at her boldness.

“Of course I will,” you assure her, providentially possessing the very
reply, on a yellow oval.

“That’s what!” comments Lucy.

The remark deserves better, but the best that you can do is a “With all
my heart,” on a pink star.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The festivities of the evening are over. It is time to go home. Most of
the mottoes have eventually been eaten, and the rest of them have been
stuffed, along with other sweets, into greedy pockets. Already some of
the girls have been called for by kinspeople, and some of the boys have
scrambled through the hall, and noisily fled into the street. You
encounter Lucy at the foot of the stairs, and hastily thrust into her
hand a motto that you have been saving—a fine shamrock in yellow, which
says for you:

“May I see you home to-night?”

There is a motto-wafer with a mitten on it; has Lucy one, and will she
be moved to give it to you, as a mischievous rebuff? No; lacking ready
answer, she only giggles and attempts to pass on.

“But may I? I ain’t foolin’—truly I ain’t!” you beseech, husky in the
stress of the moment.

“_I_ don’t care,” calls back Lucy, half-way up the flight.

And so, much to the disgust of Hen, who had counted upon your society
going as well as coming, you “saw her home” in the most exemplary
fashion—you keeping to one edge of the walk, and she to the other, and
between your parallel routes space for a coach and four.

“Edith Lucas is mad ’cause I said I’d go home with _her_,” vouchsafes
Lucy.

“Pooh! We don’t mind, do we?” you affirm, employing a delightful plural.

“Uh-uh,” agrees Lucy.

Beatific silence thenceforth encompassed your route until the Rogers
front gate was reached.

“Good-night!” piped Lucy, scampering for the door.

“Good-night!” cried you, running deliriously down the street.

And the next day all the boys in town pestered you with their teasing:
“Aw, John! went home with a girl!” and you find “John Walker is Lucy
Roger’s beau,” chalked upon horse-blocks and walks and gate-posts.


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



                            MIDDLETON’S HILL



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



[Illustration: “‘WANT TO GO DOWN, ONCE? I’LL TAKE YOU’”]



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



                            MIDDLETON’S HILL


[Illustration: “‘CLEAR THE TRACK’”]


ALL night those new and cherished acquisitions, your copper toed boots,
had served patient sentry-duty beside your peaceful couch, now wistfully
to wonder why their lord and master did not awaken and see what had
happened.

The rising-bell summoned you, but you only protested, blind, and
snuggled for another snooze.

“Snowing, John! Get up!” called father.

“Scrape, scrape,” came to your ears the warning of an early shovel.

Your heart gave a wild hurrah, open popped your eyes, to the floor you
floundered, to the window you staggered. Sure enough! The sill was
heaped to the lower panes, and in the air the flakes were as thick as
swarming bees.

Ecstatically alive, you hustled on your clothes, bestowed on face and
hair a cold lick and a hasty promise, and in the copper-toed boots
(eager for the fray) raced noisily down the stairs.

You found the household less exhilarated and enthusiastic than you had
expected.

“Well, this _is_ a snowstorm!” commented mother, in a blank way, pouring
the coffee.

“Um-m-m! You bet!” you mumbled.

“It’s good for all day, I guess,” said father solemnly, sipping from his
cup as he gazed out.

“Oh, dear! Do you think so?” sighed mother, aghast.

“Oh, gee! I hope so!” sighed you, fervently.

“Shouldn’t wonder if we had a foot or more, by night,” continued father.

You heard him rapturously. Father knew—but it seemed almost too good!

Fourteen buckwheat cakes were all that you could allow yourself, this
morning. The snow needed you; and grabbing cap and scarf and mittens,
with a battle-cry of defiance and joy you rushed, by the back door, into
the furious vortex. The crackling stove, the cheery carpet, the warm,
balmy, comfortable atmosphere of indoors appealed not to you.

First, exultantly you dragged forth for a preliminary canter your
faithful sled, long since extricated from summer quarters and held in
readiness for action. The snow proved satisfactory.

“Ain’t this dandy!” you shouted through the driving flakes, across from
chores in your back yard to Hen at chores in his back yard.


[Illustration: “‘AIN’T THIS DANDY’”]


“You bet you!” agreed Hen.

So it was, for boys; and Madam Nature, hovering anxiously near, knew
that her efforts were appreciated.

“Won’t the hill be bully, tho’!” you jubilated.

“Golly!” reflected Hen.

“Got your runners polished yet?” he asked. “Mine’s all rust.”

“So are mine,” you replied.

Down crowded the snow—there never are such snows, nowadays; so jolly, so
welcome, so free from disagreeable features—and in school and as you
ploughed back and forth and shoveled your paths, you and your comrades
were riotously happy.

Down tumbled the snow—great, soft flakes of it like shredded
wool-pack—until, when it ceased, as much had fallen as heart of boy
could wish for, which was considerable more than would have satisfied
the majority of other people.

The hill was covered, and “sliding” was to be “dandy”—and that was your
sole thought. Why else had the snow come?

To-day you remember that hill, don’t you? Middleton’s Hill! Of course
you do! The best hill that ever existed. Perfect—for coasting. Ideal—for
coasting. Grand—for coasting. Therefore an invaluable possession,
although, be it said, of importance rather underestimated by the public
generally.

The hill started off gently; suddenly, with a dip, increased its slope;
and after a curve, and a splendid bump over a culvert, merged with the
level roadway. Difficult enough to ascend in muddy spring, in dusty
summer, and even in hard fall, when with the winter it came into its own
and was polished by two hundred runners, horse and man usually sought
another route. It was practically surrendered to you and yours, as your
almost undisputed heritage.

To be sure, occasionally some rebellious citizen attempted to adapt it
to his own selfish ends by sprinkling ashes, in a spasmodic fashion,
athwart it; but a little snow or water soon nullified the feeble essay.
To be sure, occasionally a stubborn driver, his discretion less than his
valor, tilted at the glistening, glassy acclivity; and while his horses,
zigzagging and slipping, toiled upward, you and yours hailed him as a
special gift of Providence and gleefully hitched on behind.


[Illustration: “HAILED HIM AS A SPECIAL PROVIDENCE”]


Yes, it was a paragon of a hill, with a record of pleasure to which here
and there a broken bone (soon mended) lent but additional zest.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The hill is ready. The track, at first traced by the accommodating sleds
and feet of a pioneer few, gradually has been packed and polished until
now it lies smooth, straight-away, inviting.

The hill is ready. So are you. Your round turban-like cap is pulled
firmly upon your head and over your ears, your red tippet (mother knit
it) twice encircles your neck, crosses your breast, and is tied (by
mother) behind in a double knot, your red double mittens (mother knit
them and constantly darns them) are on your hands, and your legs and
feet are in your stout copper-toed, red-topped boots. And your cheeks
(mother kissed them) are red, too.

Twitched by its leading-rope, follows you, like a loyal dog, your sled—a
very fine sled, than which none is finer.

“Say, but she’s slick, ain’t she!” glories Hen, as you and he hurriedly
draw in sight of your goal. From all quarters other boys, and girls as
well, are converging, with gay chatter, upon this Mecca of winter sport.
Far and wide has gone forth the word that Middleton’s hill is “bully.”

“Ain’t she!” you reply enthusiastically.

With swoop and swerve and shrill cheer down scud the sleds and bobs of
the earlier arrivals, and the spectacle spurs you to the crest.

Panting, you reach it.

“You go first,” you say, to Hen.

“Naw; you,” says he.

“All right. I’d just as lief,” you respond.

Breast-high you raise your sled, its rope securely gathered in your
hands.

“Clea-ear the track!” you shriek.

“Clea-ear the track!” echoes down the hill, from the mouths of
solicitous friends.

You give a little run, and down you slam, sled and all, but you
uppermost; a masterly exposition of “belly-bust.” Over the crest you
dart. The slope is beneath you, and now you are off, willy-nilly.

“Clea-ear the track!” again you shriek, with your last gasp.

You have begun to fall like a rocket, faster, faster, ever faster,
through the black-bordered lane. The wind blinds your eyes, the wind
stops your breath, the wind sings in your ears, like an oriflamme stream
and strain your tippet-ends, and the snow-crystals spin in your wake.
Dexterously applying your toes you steer more by intuition than by
sight. You dash around the curve; you strike the culvert, and it flings
you into the air until daylight shows ’twixt you and your steed;
ka-thump! you have landed again; and presently over the level you glide
with slowly decreasing speed until, the last glossy inch covered, the
uttermost mark possible, this time, attained, you arise, with eyes
watery and face tingly, and stand aside to watch Hen, who comes apace in
your rear.

“Aw, that ain’t fair! You’re shovin’! That don’t count!” you assert, as
Hen, in order to equal your mark, evinces an inclination to propel with
his hands, alligator fashion.

Hen sheepishly desists, and scrambles to his feet.

“Cracky! That’s a reg’ler old belly-bumper, ain’t it!” he exclaims
joyously.

He refers to the delicious culvert. You assent. The culvert is a
consummation of bliss to which words even more expressive than Hen’s may
not do justice.

Up the slope, in the procession along its edge, you and he trudge; and
down again, in the procession along its middle, you fly. Over and over
and over you do it, and the snow fills sleeve and neck and boot-leg.

Occasionally, with much noise but little real speed, adown the track
comes a girl, or two girls. The majority of them, however, use a track
of their own—a shorter, slower track, off at one side. Poor things,
condemned by fate to their own company and that of the smallest,
timidest urchins, they pretend to have exciting times.

They sit up straight, girls do, the ethics of society seeming to deny
them the privilege of “belly-buster,” and on high sleds—nothing can be
more ignominious than a “girl’s sled”—scraping and screaming, showing
glimpses of red flannel petticoats as they prod with their heels, acting
much like frightened hens scuttling through a yard they plough to their
goal.

For a girl to essay the big hill appears to be “no end of” an
undertaking. First she—or, probably they, inasmuch as girls usually
adventure in pairs, to encourage each other; first they, then, squat on
their flimsy sled, girl fashion (another reproach this: “girl fashion”),
and titter and shriek; and the one on behind urges by “hitching” with
her feet in the peculiar girl way, and the one on before holds back with
her feet and says:

“Wait!”

They wait for bob and sled to precede, until with frantic unanimity of
action they seize upon a favorable interim betwixt coasters, and with
trepidation are off.


[Illustration: “GIRL FASHION”]


But you overtake them.

“Look out!” you yell, as on your bounding courser you eat up the trail.

“Look out!”

You try to retard your speed by dragging your copper toes. Anticipating
the shock of collision you lift the forward part of you, like a worm
reconnoitering.

“Look ou-out!”

One last agonizing appeal. And now the pesky girls, glancing behind with
sudden apprehension in utmost haste and terror-stricken confusion,
amidst wild cries, by dint of laboring feet veer ditchward, stop on the
brink, and as you shoot past rise flustrated and gaze after.

Well, they have spoiled your slide. You had a grand start, and goodness
knows where you might have gone to. Darn it, why can’t girls stay on
their own track!

Yes, indeed. Nevertheless, budding chivalry grafted upon natural
superiority prompts you to take Somebody down on a real ride. You would
like this Somebody, if the other boys would only let you; but most of
the time you cannot afford to.

A sparkling little figure in white hood, fur-trimmed jacket, white
mittens strung about her neck, and plaid skirt well wadded out over long
leggins, with her ridiculously high sled (girl-sled) she stands by
looking on.

“Want to go down, once? I’ll take you,” you offer bluffly.

From amidst the giggling society of her sex she bravely advances, and
obediently seats herself on your sled.

“Oh, Lucy! I’d be ’shamed! Sliding with a boy! Oh, Lucy!”

Lucy wriggles disdainfully.

“Don’t you wish _you_ could!” she retorts.

“Aw, John! Takin’ a girl! ’Fore I’d be seen takin’ a girl!” joins in the
gibing chorus of your mates.

You hurriedly shove off.

“You got room enough?” asks your solicitous passenger.

“Lots,” you affirm huskily; and crouched to steer you leave the derisive
crest behind you.

Down you spin—you and Lucy, both gripping hard the sled; your shoulder
pressing against her soft back, and her hair-ribbon whipping across your
mouth as you peer vigilantly ahead.

Here is the culvert.

“Hold on tight!” you warn.

“Whisk—slam!”

With a tiny scream from Lucy you have landed, right side up, the three
of you.

“Wasn’t that bully?” you query reassuringly.

But Lucy must first recover her breath.

This she does when finally, the sled having entirely ceased motion, you
and she must fain disembark.

“My!” she gasps. “I jus’ love to go fast like that, don’t you?”

Her tone conveys volumes. Suffused with proud gratification you pick up
the rope.

“You’re a splendid steerer, aren’t you!” she says admiringly.

“Huh!” you scoff. “Steerin’’s easy.”

“Get on and I’ll haul you up,” you proffer.

“Won’t I be too heavy?” she objects, delighted.

“Naw,” you assert. “You’re nothin’.”

Ignoring jeers and flings you carry out your voluntary program, to the
very end.

“Thank you ever so much,” pipes Lucy, nimbly running to rejoin her own
kind.

Shamefacedly you lift your sled, and with a tremendous belly-buster are
away again; and when once more you reach the crest your straggle from
grace will have been forgotten.

And at last, wet through and through, countenance like a polished
Spitzenburgh (you have a right to the simile, as the barrel in the
cellar will testify), hands and feet like parboiled lobsters, reluctant
to withdraw but monstrously hungry, you arrive at home to be fed.

“_John!_ Don’t come in here that way! Go right into the kitchen and take
off your boots. Mercy!” expostulates mother, as in you stamp, leaving a
slushy trail and munching a doughnut as a sop to that clamorous stomach.

Wearily you return to the kitchen, and apply your oozy, slippery boots
to the bootjack. Then, having abandoned your footgear, their once gay
tops now a sodden maroon and their copper toes already showing effects
of the friction whereby they steered you down the hill, to steam behind
the kitchen stove, you obey orders to go upstairs and change into the
dry clothing that mother has thoughtfully laid out.

What a nuisance mothers are! Oh, dear, won’t supper _ever_ be ready!

“Billy Lunt an’ Chub Thornbury’s got a bob. Let’s us make one,” proposed
Hen.

“Let’s,” you agreed.

So, combining equipments, you and he proceeded, in emulation. The two
sleds were connected by a board seven feet long, bolted as securely as
possible to the rear sled, and fastened to the front one by a single
bolt which acted as a pivot—and which, at a sudden jerk, would pull out,
and throw the major portion of the bob upon its own resources.

However, the bob was a very good bob, and when cleverly shoved off and
expertly steered gallantly maintained itself against all comers; even
against Fat Day’s more aristocratic “boughten” bob, which, with its gay
paint and varnish and rail “hand-holts,” was the pride of Fat’s heart
and the apple of his stingy eye.

Hen steers (for steering is a science) and you shove off (for shoving
off is an art). Between you two, pilot and captain of the craft, it
packed, on occasion, an inconceivable number of passengers, with always
room for one more.

“Gimme a ride. Lem_me_ ride!” beseech friends.

“Aw, you can’t! There ain’t any room!”

“There is, too! I can get on, all right.”


[Illustration: “THE BOB WAS A VERY GOOD BOB”]


“G’wan! Don’t you let him, John! Don’t you let him, Hen! We’re all
squashed now!”

This from the jealous load already booked.

“Shove up, can’t you! Aw, shove up! What’s the matter with you! There’s
lots of room!”

And the pestiferous intruder squeezes in. The bob looks like a gigantic
caterpillar upside down, so thick are the heads and shoulders in a
series of ridges. The board creaks. The load also complains, grunting
uneasily as each boy, fitting like a bootjack into the boy before, his
legs stretched horizontally along either flank, tries to “shove up
closer.” Hen, his feet braced against the stick nailed across the points
of the guiding sled, is the only unit of the mass that enjoys any
elbow-space. But then, the pilot of a vessel is _ex officio_ the favored
personage.

“Darn it, lift up your feet, there!”

“Then somebody hold ’em! Grab my feet, somebody!”

“Whose feet _I_ got, anyway?”

“Aw, quit your shovin’ so!”

“G’wan an’ push off. We don’t want any more.”

“Gimme some room!” you plead. “I only got about an inch!”

They hitch along, and cede you another inch.

“Clea-ear the track!”

You bend and push. The bob starts. It gathers way. One concluding
effort, and you land aboard just as it is outstripping you; and kneeling
upon your scant two inches, hanging for dear life to the shoulders of
the boy in front of you, are embarked for your rapturous yet
excruciating flight.

With lurch and leap, with whoop and cheer, down zips the bob, every lad
clutching his neighbor as he may, each cemented to each—but you, out in
the cold, clutching most desperately of all.

“I’m fallin’ off!” you announce wildly.

The two inches are only one and a half.

“Jocko’s fallin’ off!”

How delightful—for the others! The news of your lingering predicament is
received with hoots of wicked glee.

Around the curve, with everybody leaning, and the rear sled slewing
outward whilst you balance on its extreme edge. Going—

Over the culvert, a double jounce, and now you are all but gone. Going,
going—

On the level, nearing the finish, speed slightly abated; and now your
tired fingers relax, you cannot hang on any longer, your knees slip,
going, going—_gone_; but gone more gracefully than you had reason to
expect.


[Illustration]


“You didn’t gimme any room!” you accuse, angrily, when you meet your
squad as in rollicking mood they tow the bob back toward the crest.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The old hill is not what it used to be. It has been “graded.” No more do
the sleds flash adown as they once did. A new-fangled set of city
ordinances forbids. Hazardous curve and inspiring “belly-bumper,” tippet
and copper-toed boots, clipper and bob, have vanished together, leaving
only a few demure little boys in overcoats, and demure little girls in
muffs and boas, who sit up straight and properly descend, at a proper
pace, along the outskirts—and think that they are having fun!

Good-by, old hill.


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



                             GOIN’ SWIMMIN’



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                             GOIN’ SWIMMIN’


THE sun was laying a fervid course higher and higher athwart the bending
blue; in household kitchens was the odor of sassafras tea—and in your
mouth the taste of it; the air was humid, the earth was mellow, winter
flannels a sticky burden, shoes burning shackles; snakes had long been
out, and turtles were emerging, to bask, and to pop in, as of old, with
exasperating freedom; you yearned to follow them.

The water _looked_ warm. Snoopie Mitchell, always authority on
everything, bluffly asserted that it _was_ warm. But Snoopie appeared to
have a hide impervious to discomfort. Snoopie did as he pleased, and
nothing ever hurt him, notwithstanding. Sometimes you wished that your
father and mother would observe, and learn, to your profit.

“Dare you to go in swimmin’!” volunteered Billy Lunt, that hot spring
noon, when it seemed to you that you must burst out of your smothering
clothes as a snake out of his skin.

“Aw, we ain’t afraid; are we, Hen?” you answered promptly, enrolling Hen
for support.

“No. We’ll go if you will,” retorted Hen.

“Snoop Mitchell—he’s been in an’ he says it’s dandy,” informed Billy.

Of course! That Snoopie! He was well named.

“Aw—I bet he ain’t, just the sam-ee,” you faltered enviously.

“He has, too. You ask him, now.”

And Snoopie at the moment opportunely sauntering near, Billy hailed him:

“Snoopie! Ain’t you been in swimmin’ already?”

Snoopie grandly nodded, and nonchalantly spat betwixt two front upper
teeth.

“Course I have,” he answered. “Ain’t you kids been in yet? Aw, gee!”

“Was it warm?” you inquired humbly.

“Jus’ right. Makes you feel fine. We go in every day, about—me an’ Spunk
Carey.”

That settled it. The swimming season had opened.

During the afternoon at school you and Hen and Billy were in an ecstatic
tremor. From behind his geography Billy darted into sight two fingers,
you responded, daringly, with two fingers, and Hen telegraphed quick
accord with like two fingers—the mysterious “V” sign of the Free Masonry
of swimmers.

Teacher saw, and frowned; but “teacher,” by reason of her limitations of
sex, could not appreciate what you were having, and what she was
missing.

With a proud consciousness, you and Hen and Billy foregathered after
school and started creekward.

“We’re goin’ swimmin’!” you called back to former associates.

“Aw, it’s too cold!” they complained.

“We don’t care. ‘Twont’ hurt us.”

“Bet you don’t go in!”

“Bet you a hundred dollars we do!”

“Bet you two hundred you don’t!”

(Dollars meant so much less to you in those days than in these.)

“You come along and see!”

“Uh-uh. We’re goin’ to play ball.”

Very well; let them stay and play ball, if they liked. You would be
entitled to strut on the morrow.

In the afternoon sun the creek lay smiling, inviting, deluding. Upon its
bank a new crop of tin cans testified that the fishing season, also, had
opened. Some of the cans were yours. The grass was soft, and sitting on
it you vied with Hen and Billy in pulling off shoes and stockings.

“First in!” challenged Billy, hastily peeling.

You fumbled with the buttons which united waist with knickerbockers, and
silently resolved that you would let him beat. Evidently Hen was of mind
identical. Billy, now naked like some young faun, but singularly white
and spindly, gave a coltish little kick and prance, and, with
ostentatious gusto, advanced to the water’s edge.

Yourself exposed to the world, feeling oddly bare and defenseless—a
feeling which with wont would disappear, as the summer wore on—you stood
and, shivering, wrapped yourself in your arms and watched him.

Billy stuck a toe into the water and quickly drew it back.

“Is it cold?” you queried.

“Naw! Come on!” he urged.

“Let’s see you go in first.”

“That ain’t fair. You come in, too!”

“Naw! You dared us. You got to do it first,” declared Hen.

“Huh, I ain’t afraid,” asserted Billy.

Resolutely he put one foot in. Involuntarily he flinched—but he followed
it with the other. Witnessing his actions, reading that his toes were
curling, you and Hen jeered and whooped. As you jeered, you continued to
huddle, and to shrink within yourself. Gee, but it was cold! Somehow,
the sun did not warm, and a little breeze, heretofore unnoted, enveloped
you with an icy breath. You humped your shoulders, and your teeth
chattered. Hen’s teeth, also, were chattering. You could hear them.

“Go on! Duck over!” you told Billy, derisively.

Billy was game. Suddenly, with water up to his quaking knees, he ducked.
In an instant he was upright again—staggering, gasping, sputtering, but
triumphant.

“Come on in!” he implored, wildly solicitous that you and Hen, hooting
your glee, should participate more actively. “’Tain’t cold. What’s the
matter with you?”

Followed by Hen you diffidently moved forward. Shivering, gingerly you
teetered down, twigs and little stones hurting your yet tender soles.

Billy ducked again, apparently with the utmost relish, and floundered
and splashed, his energy very marked.

You experimented with a foot—and hastily jerked it out.

“Gee!” you exclaimed. “I ain’t goin’ in! It’s too cold.”

“I ain’t, neither,” decreed Hen.

“Aw, ’tain’t cold a bit when you’ve wet over,” assured Billy eagerly—but
suspiciously blue. “Take a dare—aw, I wouldn’t take a dare! You’re
stumped! Yah-ah! I’ve stumped you!”

Diabolically did Billy flounder and gibe. He paused, expectantly, for
you planted a foot, and gasped, and followed with the other; so did Hen.

Billy playfully splashed you.

“Come on!” he cried. “Come on!”

“Ouch! Quit that, will you?” you snarled, as the poignant drops stung
your thin skin. “I’m comin’, ain’t I?”

Deeper, a little deeper, you went, with your piteously pleading flesh
trying to recede from that repellant glacial line creeping up, inch by
inch.

Billy shrieked with joy. What is misery when it has company!

“Duck!” he cackled. “Duck! ’Twon’t be cold after you’ve ducked.”

Must you? Oh, must you? Yes. You drew a long breath, shut your eyes, and
desperately butted under. So, you dimly were conscious, did Hen.

Ugh! You choked; your stomach clove flat against your backbone, and in
you was not space for air. Blindly you recovered, and lurched and clawed
and fought for breath, while Billy rioted with wicked exultation.

“’Tain’t c-c-cold, is it?” you gasped defiantly.

“No; ’tain’t c-c-cold a bit,” chattered Hen.

“I told you ’twasn’t cold,” sniggered Billy.

But you impetuously plashed for shore; so did Hen; so did Billy. With
numbed fingers you made all haste to pull your clothes over the
goose-flesh of your weazened limbs and your shuddering little body. You
began to grow warmer. You tried to control rattling teeth.

“’Twasn’t cold!”

“Of course it wasn’t!”

“We’ll tell all the kids it’s bully.”

“Gee! I feel fine, don’t you?”

“You bet!”

“Let’s come again.”

“Let’s come to-morrow.”

“N-no, I can’t come to-morrow,” you declared.

“I can’t, either,” said Hen.

Retrospect was most delightful; but prospect—well, here was a case where
the prospect did _not_ please. Anyhow, you had not been stumped. Your
honor was intact—and you could rest on your laurels. You could nicely
combine discretion with valor; so why not?

“I’ve been in swimmin’,” you ventured, with becoming modesty, at the
supper-table that evening.

“John! When?” reproved mother, aghast

“To-day, after school.”

You endeavored to speak with the carelessness befitting a seasoned
nature such as yours—but you awaited with some inward trepidation family
developments.

“Why!” ejaculated mother.

You felt that she was gazing across at father. Much depended, you
realized, upon father. However, he had been a boy, and he surely would
understand.

“But wasn’t the water too cold?” she questioned anxiously.

“Uh-uh,” you signified, steadily eating.

“It _must_ have been cold,” insisted mother. “Why, the sun hasn’t had
time to warm it yet. I should think you’d have frozen to _death_!”

“It was dandy. Makes you feel fine,” you assured boldly. “Billy Lunt
dared Hen and me, and—”

“I suppose if some other boy dared you to jump off the top of the church
steeple you’d do it, then,” stated mother severely.

“He’d have to do it first,” you explained with a giggle.

“Well, I _should_ think you’d have frozen,” murmured mother, with an
appealing glance at father.

Perhaps _she_ would have frozen—being, like “teacher,” of a sex
unfortunate. But not you—nay, not mighty, dauntless, much-experienced
you, with your ten long years backing you up. Huh!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Not always was swimming thus a task; the embrace of the creek, deceitful
and inhospitable.

Ah, those glorious, piping, broiling summer days, when from the faded
sky the heat streamed down, and from the simmering earth the heat
streamed up; when abroad, in the maples and the elms and the apple-trees
incessantly scraped with ghoulish glee the locusts, and in the fields
the quail cried perseveringly, “Wet! More wet! More wet!” when the sun
ruled absolutely, and everybody—save you and your fellows—stewed and
panted under his sway; “dog-days”—aye, and, boy-days! Then, then, at the
swimming-hole the kingdom of boyhood held high carnival.

All nature lay lax and heaving, seeking shade and avoiding exertion, as
outward bound through the stifling afternoon you and Hen hastened for
the swimming-hole. Even the birds were subdued, and the drone of the
bumble-bee was languid, protesting; but what did you and Hen care about
such things as temperature or humidity? Goodness! You were “goin’
swimmin’!”

As you pattered on, you and he, the boards of the sidewalk scorched your
bare soles, toughened as they were, and even the baked earth of the
pathway along the vacant lots tortured, so than with “ouches” and “gees”
you hopped for shaded spots or sought the turf. Beat down upon your
flapping straws the strenuous sun—his beams, after all, not unfriendly,
but merely testing, and in a hearty way, welcoming.

He recognized you two as akin to the meadowlarks and the gophers, and he
knew that he might not harm you. You were immunes.

The outskirts of the village are reached right speedily; and now off at
a tangent, athwart the drowsy, palpitating pasture where the bees are
busy amidst the clover, making for a fringe of trees leads a path worn
by many a hurrying, bare, and buoyant sole.

You can hear, ahead of you, an enthusing medley of gay shrieks and cries
and laughter.

“Crickety!” you say to Hen, quickening the pace. “There’s a whole lot in
already!”

And you are not even undressed!

On before, between the tree-trunks at your destination, you can glimpse,
strewn over the sod or hanging from low branches, rejected and dejected
garments—limp shirts, hickory, checked, tinted; stumpy trousers,
dangling or down-flung. You descry the patchy blue of Snoopie Mitchell’s
one-suspendered overalls; so you know that Snoopie is there. You know
who else is there, too. The apparel is evidence.

The sight redoubles your efforts. In rivalry with Hen, panting,
perspiring, eager, you penetrate the trees and stop short on the bank.
You have arrived.

Yes, here they are: Snoopie, and Billy Lunt, and Fat Day (his body
covered with hives), and Skinny, and Chub, and Nixie Kemp (who can
exhibit the biggest vaccination mark of all of you), and Tom Kemp (who
is always peeling, somewhere), and—oh, a glorious company, wallowing
like albino porpoises, threshing like whales!

“A-a-a-ah, lookee, lookee!” greets Snoopie (indefatigable, omnipresent)
shrilly, grinning up at you; and for your benefit he stands on his head
and waves his brown legs above the surface.

“Hello, Fat!”

“Hello, Skinny!”

“Hello, Jocko!”

“Hello, Hen!”

“Hello, Nix!”

“Come on in! Come on in!”

“Gee! It’s dandy!”

“Water’s jus’ fine! Warm as milk.”

“You’re missin’ it! We been in all day.”

Harrowing announcement!

Nor you nor Hen needs invitation by word of mouth. You are ripping
feverishly at your obstinate buttons, and tugging feverishly at your
pestering clinging garments. But how absurdly simple was your attire, as
reviewed to-day from your environment of starch and balbriggan, hosiery
and collar. Nevertheless, many a time, in your agony of haste, you
envied Snoopie, who with a single movement slipped the one suspender of
his overalls and ducked out of his voluminous shirt, and with a whoop
was in!—happy Snoopie!

Now, investing apparel cast aside in an ignominious heap, at last free
and untrammeled you stride forward. From knee down and from neck up you
are dark-brown; between, you are whitish-brown. Before the season closes
you will be an even brown all over (like Snoopie), if your ambition is
realized.

First you must wet your head. This is the law; else you may get cramps.
You hurriedly wet it.

“Look out!” you warn with a significant step or two backward, to gain
momentum.

You give a little run, and with a rapturous shout and a grand splash
_you_ are in. So is Hen.

Oh, bliss! The caressing, rollicking flood envelops you to the
shoulders. You wade, you kick, you sputter, you blow, you plunge your
length, you squeal your joy intense—you convince yourself and would
convince others that you swim; and your comrades wade, and kick, and
sputter, and blow, and plunge their lengths, and squeal—and
ostentatiously paddle. While Snoopie, crawling about under water, grabs
legs; presently grabbing yours, and down you go, beneath, to emerge
strangling, clutching, incensed.

Stirred from the very bottom, all the pool is beaten to foam, the sun
looks down between the spangling leaves and smiles, and the trees fondly
overhang, stretching down friendly boughs.

                  *       *       *       *       *

What a wonder you were, as a water performer!

“See me float!” you yell—this being the popular pitch of conversation.

And you _could_ float—almost, that is, until your feet or your face sank
too far and forced you to rally.

“Aw, that ain’t floatin’! Jus’ watch me!” decrees Snoopie.

Snoopie really could float—and challenging admiring eyes he proceeds to
display.

“Watch _me_!” implores Fat.

“Aw, gee! Watch Fat! Aw gee! That ain’t floatin’! That ain’t floatin’,
is it, Snoop? Fat wiggles his hands down by his sides!”

“Don’t either!” declares Fat, angrily, flopping his mottled self to a
standing position.

“You do, too! Don’t he?”

You could stand Snoopie’s superiority, but not Fat’s.

“Well, I didn’t wiggle ’em much, anyhow,” grumbles Fat.

With breath tight held and head tilted stanchly back, launching yourself
and paddling furiously dog-fashion, you can easily imagine that you are
cleaving a path through the murky flood.

“You’re touchin’ bottom! Aw, you touched bottom!” accuses Fat.

“I wasn’t, either, darn you! I started ’way up there at that stick and I
come ’way down here!” (The distance is at least a yard.)

Betimes, splashing out, you all seek the banks, amphibious-like; to
streak yourselves fantastically with mud, to cover yourselves
luxuriously with hot sand, to race, to gambol, or to loll on the turf
and emulously compare sunburn, “peels,” and vaccination scars.

In again you scamper, and the pool resumes its cauldron turmoil.

The sun, from his new station low in the west, sends rays slanting in
beneath the trees to signal “Home.”

“Come on, I’m goin’ out!” says Hen. “You’d better, too. Your lips are
blue as the dickens.”

“So are yours,” you retort. “Ain’t they, kids! Ain’t Hen’s lips bluer’n
mine?”

A farewell wallow, and out you wade reluctantly. One by one out wade
all. Your hands are shriveled with long soaking. You are water-logged.
There is sand in your hair. Languidly you dress.

With Snoopie and Hen and Fat and Skinny and the others—a company now
chastened and subdued—back you stroll across the pasture, the setting
sun in your face, the robins piping their even-song, the locusts done
and quiescent, katydids tentatively tuning up as their successors. The
sky is golden in the west, pink overhead, blue in the east. Upon the
clover the dew is collecting, annoying o’erzealous bees. Skinny and Nix
drop off to the left, Snoopie to the right, each lining his straightest
course for home.

“Good-night, kids!” they call back.

Now in the village, the little group rapidly dwindles. Presently only
you and Hen and Billy remain.

Billy turns in.

At his gate Hen stops.

The next gate is yours. You are glad. You are tired—so tired—so very
limp and tired—and so hungry!


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                        THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL PICNIC



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                        THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL PICNIC


’TWAS the day of the picnic—the Baptist picnic. You yourself were not,
by family persuasion, a member of that denomination, but the Schmidts,
next door, were, and by the grace of Hen, your crony, you were enabled
to gain admittance, upon occasion, into the Baptist ’bus.

The ’bus was not scandalized. You had been in it before, as Methodist,
Congregationalist, Unitarian—what not. So had Hen. Only a few little
girls were shocked, and gazed at you disdainfully.

“_You_ ain’t a Baptist!” they accused.

“Neither’s Blanche Davis!” you retorted, carrying the debate into the
enemy’s country. “I guess I’ve got as much right here as she has!”

“I came with Lucy Barrett,” informed Blanche, primly.

“An’ I come with Hen Schmidt. His father’s a deacon, too!” you asserted.

“Oh, he ain’t—is he, Mr. Jones? He ain’t—is he?” appealed the little
girls, shrilly.

Mr. Jones, beaming with long-suffering, Sunday-school-superintendent
good humor, obligingly halted.

“Henry Schmidt’s father ain’t a deacon, is he?”

“Yes, I believe so,” affirmed Mr. Jones, pleasantly.

Thus you valiantly maintained your position—and Hen’s.

When you and Hen had pantingly arrived at the rendezvous you had found
yourselves in the midst of baskets and bustle. The baskets gave forth
fascinating, mysterious clinks. In your individual capacity of guest you
had brought no basket of your own, but you had helped Hen carry down the
Schmidt contribution, and you knew of what it spake and smelled, and you
had peeked in under the cover. Besides, Hen had told you, in detail.

Clad in necessarily stout shoes, but quite superfluously clean waists,
you and he, with the basket between, had hastened to the place of
assembly.

Other boys appeared. Poor indeed was that wight who could not rake up a
Baptist friend—particularly if his own church gave picnics. Therefore,
behold, as at the millennium, the creeds of your world united to-day
under one flag—which happened to be the Baptist.

Snoopie Mitchell, of course, was there. Snoopie usually went fishing or
skating on Sunday; but at picnic-time and Christmas even he did not deny
the comforts of the church.

“Hello!” you said.

“Hello!” said Snoopie nonchalantly. “Aw, you kids are too late!”

Snoopie never was too late. He had the instincts of the ranging shark,
and, moreover, perfect freedom to obey them.

“Why?” demanded you and Hen breathlessly.

“They took it away. Gee! Two freezers bigger’n me!”

“More’n the Methodists had?” you inquired eagerly.

“You bet!” affirmed Snoopie.

You sighed—a happy, satisfied sigh.

The passenger ’buses arrived, two of them. They were greeted with a
cheer, and scarcely had the gaunt, rusty, white horses of the foremost
one swung about to back ere into it you all scrambled.

You and Hen promptly plumped down at the end—end seats and the seat with
the driver being the choice ones.

“Children! Children! Be careful!” appealed the superintendent,
mechanically. Poor man, already he had done a hard day’s work!

As well might he have cautioned a river running down-hill. Jostled past
you girls and boys, elbows in ribs, shoulder thrusting shoulder, in a
competition that recognized no sex. Like lightning the hack is occupied
to overflowing; packed with two lines, facing each other, of flushed,
excited children, with here and there a flustered matron; you and Hen,
as stated, holding the end seats, Billy Lunt (he wasn’t a Baptist,
either) up with the driver, but Snoopie, crafty, ragged Snoopie, hanging
on at the steps!

The ’bus rolls off. You all shout back derisively at your outstripped
associates.

Father had darkly hinted that you should take an umbrella and rubber
boots, and spoken of “total immersion,” whatever that might be; but, lo,
the sky is cloudless, the morn is of sparkling summer, the air is fresh,
everything is lovely, the town is behind and the picnic before, and you
don’t care, any more than you know, what he meant! You are in the ’bus;
and the only person you envy is Snoopie, perilously clinging to its
rear.

With the horses at a trot he springs on and off, drags his feet or
sprints behind, and is continually saying “Lookee!” while he performs
some new, adroit, impish deed. The women gasp and exclaim “Oh!” “I wish
he wouldn’t!” and “Mrs. Miller, can’t _you_ stop him!” Then somebody’s
hat blows off and creates a diversion.

Half a block in your wake is the other ’bus, and occasionally jogs apace
a carriage, with suggestive rattle of dishes and bulge of hamper.

Your vehicle rumbles over a creek bridge and slowly rounds a curve.

“I see it! I see it!” announces Billy, wriggling on his elevation.

You all stretch necks to “see it,” too. Yes, there, just before, in the
woods to the right, are the forms of the earlier invaders—the good men
and women constituting the volunteer band of provision-arrangers.

The ’bus turns to the roadside. Issues from the driver a long and
relieved “Whoa-oa!” But, even as he says it, you and the other boys are
out, over the sides. Under the fence you scoot, to race, madly whooping,
up the wooded slope, fearful lest you are missing something. After you
scamper, more timidly, the little girls, and last of all, ungallantly
consigned to bring the picnic odds and ends, toil your elders.

The ’bus rolls back to town, carrying a man or so delegated to get
inevitably forgotten articles.

Now all the wood is riotous with scream and shout. It is a wood filled
with possibilities. Early somebody discovers a garter-snake, and at the
rallying-cry destruction violently descends upon the harmless thing.
Immediately, dangling from the end of a stick, it spreads confusion
wherever feminine humanity may be encountered. At its approach the
little girls squeal and run, the larger girls shriek and expostulate,
and the various mothers shrink and glare indignantly. The superintendent
it is who boldly interferes, takes the limp reptile, and throws it away.

“There!” sigh glad onlookers.

But Snoopie marks its fall, and presently recovers it; thereafter to
carry it around in his pocket, intent upon sticking it down unsuspecting
comrades’ backs.

In the ravine is the shallow creek. As a means of entertainment the
creek is about as good as the dead snake. ’Tis jump it and rejump it;
’tis wade it with shoes on and ’tis wade it with shoes off; and ’tis
splash far and wide, to see which boy shall get the wetter.

Milder spirits may elect to search for “pretty flowers,” or “help
mamma,” or play “Pussy Wants a Corner,” and “Ring Around a Rosie,” where
solicitous eyes might fondly oversee; where busily labor and perspire
the superintendent and assistants, hanging swings and hammocks, lifting,
opening, and unpacking; where benignly moves the minister, diffusing
unspoken blessings. But you and yours must have more strenuous
recreation. So already, when word is transmitted that “they’re makin’
the lemonade,” your knickerbockers are torn from shinning up trees, your
waist is limp from romping through the creek, and your face is red, and
scratched, and streaming, and dirty.

You are having fun.

Lemonade! Two tubs of it, in the middle of each a lump of ice, about the
ice floating disks of lemon, and a thirsty crowd encircling all.

“Be careful, children. Let the little girls drink first, boys. My, my!
That’s not the way!” cautioned Mr. Jones, as, the supply of tin cups
proving insufficient, some of you evinced a disposition to “get in all
over.”

The little girls politely tripped off, wiping their mouths with their
best handkerchiefs. You and Hen _et al._ lingered. Eventually the tubs
were left unguarded. The moment seemed propitious for new diversion.

“Let’s see who can drink the most!” proposed Hen.

The idea was brilliant. To hear was to act.

It was plunge in your cup and gulp; and plunge it in and gulp; and fail
not to throw the residue in your neighbor’s face. Fast and furious waxed
the play, with Snoopie appearing to be sure winner.

“Aw, you ain’t drinkin’ it all! That ain’t fair!” you accused, and the
other boys joined in.

“Shut up! I am, too!” replied Snoopie, angrily; and proceeded with his
count: “Fourteen.”

Distanced, his competitors paused, and jealously, but half admiringly,
watched.

“Bo-oys! Bo-oys!”

The gentle soprano voice with the reproachful, shocked inflection made
you drop tin cups, the batch of you, and hastily look.

’Twas the minister’s wife. In power she stood above the superintendent,
even, and only slightly below the minister himself.

“Why, why! You mustn’t do that!” she objected, bearing down.

Mustn’t you? Well, all right; there was lots else to do, and, soaked
without and within, reeking of lemonade, you withdrew to do it.

“Gee—I drunk fifteen!” boasted Snoopie, patting his stomach.

He proved to be high man. Yourself had to your score only the modest
aggregate of ten.

Behind, at the scene of the late contest, arose sounds of lamentation
and dismay over the state of the tubs.

Stately, mute, impenetrable, with baffling rag-carpet covering their
tops, in the shade stand the two ice-cream freezers, and on all sides of
them the feet of you and your cronies, and of the little girls as well,
have well-nigh worn bare the woodland sod. But now, torn away by less
exalted emotions, you and Hen revolve around Mrs. Schmidt’s tablecloth
spread on the ground and weighted down with dishes.

Here is to be your station at dinner. Other cloths there are, spread
about, but Hen recommends his mother’s. There will be a family feeling,
and less chance of neglect.

Drag slower and slower the minutes. Hen goes foraging, and returns
gleefully with a cooky apiece. The delicious smell of sliced tongue and
ham and boiling coffee permeates the air.

“Henry, if you and John don’t keep out from under foot, I’ll take you
right straight home!” threatens Mrs. Schmidt, exasperated.

Other women, too, lower at you.

“Yes, boys,” chimes in the superintendent; “run away and play, and don’t
bother the people getting dinner. When we’re ready we’ll call you.”

But, oh, dear, supposing something should be all eaten up before you got
there!

At last, at the very last—as the French emphatically express it, _à la
fin des fins_—your rebuffs are over. You are actually bidden to advance.
’Tis barely the wink of an eyelash, but ’tis enough; and before a word
is spoken you are there, the two of you, sitting elbow to elbow, on your
calves, against the cloth: greedy-eyed, watery-mouthed, faint-stomached.

From right and left come trooping young and old, none of them, save one
or two couples from the Bible-class, trooping from very far. They settle
like pigeons fluttering down to corn. About each cloth a circle is
formed. Nobody is homeless. And isn’t it time to start in? Alas! not
yet.

From his place (“Mr. Jones, _do_ sit down! You look tired to death. Sit
right here!” has been the imploration, and he has yielded) the
superintendent bobs up and loudly claps his hands, and says: “Sh!”

“Sh!” assist sundry whispers, as warning to you and your mates.

It is the blessing, for, as Mr. Jones subsides, the minister rises.

He prays long and fervently. Out of the corners of your eyes you
continue to scan sandwich, and cake, and jelly, and pickles, while your
nose wriggles like the nose of an inquiring rabbit. You wonder why the
minister cannot quit; but, ignoring every good stopping-point, he
proceeds on and on. You hear Hen groan with pent-up disgust. You slyly
groan back.

“Amen.”

It has come! Mrs. Schmidt’s glance flashes rebuke in your direction, but
neither you nor Hen cares. High swells an instant chorus of talk and
rattling staccato of dishes. Hither and thither flit busy servers; and,
behind the backs of the circle, down your way is progressing in solemn
state a huge tray of sandwiches.

You watch it eagerly. It brushes your shoulder. You and Hen grab
together. They are bun sandwiches, with cold boiled ham between. Your
mouth opens against yours, and your teeth meet through it.

“Yum, yum!” you mumble ecstatically to Hen.

“Yum, yum!” agrees Hen.

Come other sandwiches—tongue and beef and potted ham; come cold fried
chicken and pressed veal loaf; come jelly—several kinds—and pickles,
sweet and sour. Sometimes you hesitate.

“I will if you will,” dares Hen; therefore you generally do.

Comes coffee, and more lemonade; comes pie—apple, lemon, blueberry,
custard; comes cake—chocolate, lemon-layer, jelly-layer, plain, frosted,
cocoanut, spice, angel-food.

“Um! Um!” revels Hen at intervals.

“Um! Um!” you respond, in perfect sympathy.

Comes ice cream in “heaping” saucers!

Come cookies and sweet crackers, ginger-bread, cream-puffs, kisses and
oranges.

You both have been obliged to kneel—expanding, as it were, from your
sitting posture. And now the feast is done. Vainly you view the débris;
you have accomplished marvels, but you can do no more. You sigh, and,
sucking an orange, reluctantly you stand. You waddle off, feeling fat
and stuffy, to convene with the other boys, and compare notes.

“Aw, you ought to been at _our_ table!” claims Billy Lunt. “We had
chocolate cake with chocolate an inch thick—didn’t we, Buck?”

“Buck” promptly assents.

“So’d we! So’d we!” retorts Hen. “An’ we had jelly-cake, an’—”

“So’d we!” inform rivals, bound to uphold the honors of their boards.
“An’ lemon pie—”

“An’ custard, an’—”

“An’ pickled peaches—”

“Golly! I’m ’bout busted!” chuckles Billy, complacently.

Standing companionably by, Snoopie harkens and grins, but says little.
Only from a bulging pocket he extracts another orange and drills into
it. One may be certain that _he_, at least, has missed nothing.

Prudence might dictate a period of quiescence as a tribute to digestion.
But the day is short, and a half a bun skimming into your midst—that is,
into the midst of the group, not into your own midst, where it would
have hard work to find lodgment—arouses you to retaliation. Back and
forth and across fly the remnants from the various tablecloths, and
applause greets every hit. Snoopie introduces a popular feature by
plastering against a tree-trunk a fragment of a custard pie. Forthwith
custard and lemon pie are at a premium, these being the kinds that
stick. Then, interrupting the pleasant pastime, charge upon your ranks
horrified witnesses, suddenly awakening to the crisis.

“Boys! Stop it! Stop it at once! The idea!”

Expostulating, they drive you all, shame-faced but sniggering, from the
premises. You leave the plot looking as though a caisson laden with
cartridges of lunch had exploded there!

The principal event of the day being over, your elders relax into a
state more or less lethargic. The women sit and crochet and chat. The
minister goes to sleep with a handkerchief on his face, and even some of
your juniors follow suit—members of the infant class seeking the pillow
of their mothers’ laps. The Bible-class wanders off in couples. The
superintendent, only, is kept active by demands of “Swing me, Mr. Jones;
please swing me!” from the little girls.

Naturally the inspiration for you and yours is to follow the Bible-class
couples and spy upon them; when they think themselves nicely secluded
and comfortably ensconced, to steal upon them; and in the midst of their
innocent confidences to hoot upon them (with such delicate insinuations
as “Aw, Mr. Johnson’s Miss Saxby’s beau!”—or “Say, Miss Lossing, Mr.
Pugsley wants to kiss you!”)—and then to flee, riotously giggling.

It is four o’clock. Prolonged shouts from the throats of the
superintendent and assistants echo through the woods, calling together
the stragglers. The ’buses have arrived. Home-going must be accomplished
early, on account of the “little ones.”

All right. If the day is done, another day is coming. You rush down, and
you and Hen again secure the end seats. The ’bus fills, its load, on the
whole, not so sprightly, nor so enthusiastic, nor so clean as in the
morning.

Snoopie hangs on at the rear.

The driver says “Gid-dap!” Somebody replies with “Whoa!” “Whoa-oa!”
supplement a score of voices. To frantic encouragement descends the
hill, scurrying as if from Indians or bears, a belated, last Bible-class
couple.

“Gid-dap!” once more urges the driver.

The ’bus moves. You yawn. Hen yawns. You are tired and sticky. Hen,
also, is tired and sticky.

“Lookee!” bids Snoopie.

He throws away his dead snake; his pockets are empty again.

Yet in the depth of the aftermath you brighten. Your thoughts travel
ahead. The Presbyterians are to have _their_ picnic next week!

“You goin’?” asks Hen.

“You bet!” you reply confidently.


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



                         THE OLD MUZZLE-LOADER



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



                         THE OLD MUZZLE-LOADER


THE old muzzle-loader was so much the taller that when you stood opposed
to it, only by a series of hitches, a few inches at a time, could you
extract the ramrod from the slot. In your aiming exercises you leaned so
far backward that you formed almost a half circle. The stock was
scarred, the hammer was loose, the barrel was rusted and the sight awry,
but it was a fine gun; yes, a fine gun, fit for a boy to worship.

And when, with father coaching you, its barrel firmly supported in the
crotch of the apple tree and its butt pressed against your throbbing
chest, you shut your eyes and jerked the trigger, as you picked yourself
up while invidious spectators gamboled and cheered, with what gusto did
you assert that “it didn’t hurt a bit,” and avowed that you wanted to do
it again.

How it happened that here you were, headed for the open country with the
old muzzle-loader hoisted athwart your shoulder, probably no one alive
remembers, but you—and Hen Schmidt, your aider and abettor as accessory
after the fact. Dangling against your right knee was the powder flask,
dangling against your left knee was the shot flask, and the two banged
and rattled as you walked. In one trousers pocket were wads, in the
other caps.

“Lemme carry it?” pleaded Hen.

You refused.

“Naw, sir!” you rebuked. “You don’t know how.”

“Just to that big tree,” persisted Hen.

You relented; and under your watchful eye Hen proudly bore the ennobling
piece to the tree adown the dusty roadside. Exactly at the tree you
claimed possession again.

To-day, looking back, can you not see yourself, a sturdy little figure
trudging valorously onward, with the two flasks swaying and jiggling and
the old gun cutting like sin into your uncomplaining flesh, and with
heart so buoyed by the glorious present that it refused to think on the
dubious future; and Hen, scarcely less elate, solicitous to relieve you
of your burden, keeping pace, step for step?

The birds, flitting over or hopping upon either hand along your route,
witnessed and gaily laughed. Well might they laugh, because with
impunity. Your death-dealing weapon was not loaded; not yet. But
presently you halt and in an angle of the rail fence you load, do the
two of you, yourself operating, while Hen, keenly critical, at each
movement declaims and suggests.

“Aw, gee! That ain’t enough powder!” scoffs Hen. “What you ’fraid of? If
it was mine, you bet I’d put in twice as much!”

“I guess I know,” you retort. “Guess I’ve seen my father load more times
’n you ever have! What you want to do, bust it?”

The powder is dumped into the muzzle, the gun being propped slantwise so
that you may work conveniently. The invincible grains fall in a tinkling
shower through the black cylinder. You stuff in a wad.

“Here—” says Hen. “Lemme do it.”

You ram it down, and Hen rams it down. In goes the shot, No. 4, nice and
large. You insert the final wad. You ram, and Hen rams.

“Look out!” you warn Hen, who edges so close as to joggle you; and with
breathless care you press upon the nipple a cap, the way you have seen
your father do, and you lower the protecting hammer over it, also the
way you have seen your father do. Assisted by Hen you restore the ramrod
to its groove. You straighten up. You are ready. You shoulder arms.

You and Hen climb the fence and scale the hill, upon whose slope begins
your favorite patch of timber. Making sport of your backs, along the
fence that you have just quitted scampers a chipmunk, but you do not
know. Your thoughts are ahead.

The consciousness that your gun is charged imbues you with a strange
thrill of importance. You are deadly. Come what may, lion, bear,
wildcat, squirrel, rabbit, eagle, owl, partridge, you are prepared, so
let them one and all beware.

You and Hen talk in guarded tones, whilst your four eyes rove hither and
thither, greedy to sight prey. But under-foot, stealthy though you fancy
your advance, rustle the dried leaves, spreading afar the news of your
passage; and hushed though you consider your voices, they penetrate into
sharp ears attuned to catch the slightest alien sound. Eyes, sharper
than yours, widen and wait.

You would give the world to see a rabbit or a squirrel. You have just as
much chance of seeing a rabbit or a squirrel as you have of seeing a
hippopotamus. However, it doesn’t matter.

Hist! On before something twitters.

“There’s a bird!”

“Sh, can’t you! I hear him!”

Cautiously you and Hen steal forward, tip-toeing over crackling leaf and
twig, your gaze riveted on the distance.

“I see him!” announces Hen, excitedly.

“Where?” you whisper.

“There—in that tree! Now he’s runnin’ ’round the trunk! He’s a
woodpecker.” (Naturalists might cavil and term him a “warbler,” but just
the same he acts like a woodpecker!) “Can’t you see him?”

Alas, you can’t—at least, you don’t. Hen cannot abide such stupidity.
Besides, the thing is liable to make off.

“Ain’t you got any eyes? Gee whizz! Gimme the gun. I can pop him from
here.”

Give Hen the gun? Well, hardly! You clutch it the tighter, and strain
and peer. Now you glimpse him—a tiny chap in a pepper-and-salt suit,
busily engaged in pecking at the bark beneath his toes.

“I see him!” you mutter exultantly.

You stoop; Hen stoops. You glide up, making service of covert afforded
by tree and bush, and your flasks catch, and sometimes you step on them.
Hen, too, glides, just behind, imitating your every movement.

The hour is portentous, but the dare-devil bird braves it and maintains
his post at table. Possibly, deceived by your woodcraft (as you fondly
suppose), he is oblivious to the fact that yard by yard two boys are
drawing closer and closer. You are breathing hard, and to your rear
pants Hen, for the advance has been onerous.

“G’wan and shoot! He’ll fly away,” urges Hen, hoarsely.

Yes, you are near enough. No. 4 shot at fifteen yards ought to do the
business for that chap. You slowly settle upon your knees, behind the
tree trunk which is your shelter, and cock your piece. At the click the
“woodpecker” for an instant ceases operations, and flirts his tail
inquisitively.

“Darn it—you’ve scared him!” you accuse Hen, who shifts and squirms at
your back, in attempts to secure a better view. Hen holds himself in
suspense, apparently well-nigh suffocating with the effort. You bring
your piece to bear, but it is so long and awkward that you are being
worsted in the struggle, when Hen eagerly proposes:

“Lay it on my shoulder!”

You recede a little, and Hen wriggles forward, the transfer being
accomplished with mingled fear and haste.

Hen’s shoulder is rather low for an ideal rest, but you may not
complain. You sink as far as possible, and aim. The muzzle projects
beyond the tree trunk, and wavers in space. Beyond the space is your
suspicious woodpecker, a creature of the most unexpected and eccentric
movements imaginable. He never stays “put.” Just as the sight approaches
him, he changes position; and just as he approaches the sight, it
changes. A conjunction of the two seems hopeless.

“Why don’t you shoot? What’s the matter with you?” gasps Hen.

You shut both eyes. Boom!

Backward you keel, head down, heels up, and the gun, jumping from Hen’s
shoulder, rasps along the tree to the ground.

“Did I hit him? Where’d he go?” you cry frantically, staggering to your
feet.

Hen is bounding toward the tree whereon the impudent bird had been
foraging. You wonder that the tree yet remains, but there it is, to all
appearances as hale as ever.

“Did I hit him?” you repeat, seizing the gun and following.

“I dunno. But he flew off kind of funny,” reports Hen.

“Find any blood? I bet I wounded him like everything, anyhow!” you
assert. The woodpecker must have bled internally, for, search as you two
might, no tell-tale splashes of gore could be discovered. There were
even no feathers. You scanned the tree, but upon close inspection it
still persisted in acknowledging no damage, despite the frightful leaden
deluge to which you had subjected it.

“Aw, you missed him! Aw, gee!” suddenly bemoans Hen, overcome by
disappointment.

“Didn’t neither. He flew just when I shot, and I couldn’t stop!” you
reply, defensively—unmindful of the discrepancy evident between your
denial and your excuse.

“If you’d let me shoot I’d have got him,” declares Hen, unplacated.

You proceed to load. Hen moodily holds aloof from helping you ram, and
you regain in some measure your lost caste only when you offer him the
privilege of the ammunition flasks. These he dons, and by this little
touch of diplomacy you smooth over his ill humor.

Together you and he scout along the crispy ridge, ever on the qui vive
for another mark, beast or bird. Crows scold. Ah, if you could but bag a
crow! But they always flap off too soon. Bluejays jeer. You would stop
that mighty quick if they would give you a chance. But they don’t. Even
woodpeckers fight shy of that inimical, albeit not unerring, gun.

The gun aforesaid is now growing so heavy that the fact cannot be
ignored. You balance it on one portion of your anatomy, and on another;
yet the more it weighs and the sharper wax its angles, and you can
secure no lasting ease.

“I’ll carry it,” volunteers Hen, prompt to take advantage of your
significant maneuvers.

“Uh-uh,” you decline stanchly. You compromise by suggesting, in a
moment, with off-hand bluffness: “Say, let’s sit down a while. There’s
nothin’ up here to shoot.”

“Naw,” responds Hen, “I’ll tell you—let’s shoot woodchucks!”

The idea appeals. After “shooting” woodpeckers, “shooting” woodchucks
ought to prove a pleasing diversion.

With the gun as angular as ever, but with your hunting instincts piqued
anew, you followed while Hen led to the nearest woodchuck hole: that
burrow under the stump on the side of the hill, across from Squire
Lucas’s pasture; a matchless lair for an old ’chuck such as was the
occupant, whence he could sally forth and wallow in the squire’s clover
to his heart’s and stomach’s content.

Many a covetous glance had the boys of town and country cast toward this
burrow; many a fruitless attack had silly dogs made upon its
unresponsive portals; from time to time fresh earth about the entrance
popularly indicated that the ’chuck was enlarging and remodeling his
apartments, and it was commonly believed that he had tunneled clear
through the hill: laughing to scorn the foes that vainly compassed him
about, he lived and fattened, and spoiled as much clover as he could.

With bated breath and gingerly tread, you and Hen sneaked to ambush
under cover of the zigzag rail fence that diagonally skirted the foot of
the hill, before the woodchuck’s dwelling. Ah, how many other boys had
lurked there, for hope springs eternal.

You trained your grim weapon upon the region of the hole. You allowed
Hen to have a squint adown the trusty, and rusty, barrel.

“Gee! I bet that’ll pepper him!” commended Hen; and laying aside his
flasks he equipped himself with a rock in each hand, for aiding in the
proposed job.

Very peaceful and cozy was it there, against the fence, with Indian
Summer (in retrospect, those falls were all Indian Summer) around you,
the warm sun shining upon you, and the warm grass and pungent weeds an
elastic cushion underneath. It was an agreeable change, to surrender
your gun to the fence, and relax.

“Sh!” whispered Hen, angrily, when you sought to straighten a leg.

“I don’t believe he’s comin’ out,” you whispered back.

“Yes, he will,” averred Hen.

“Maybe he doesn’t stay there any more,” you hazarded anxiously.

“Course he does!”

“Maybe he’s gone to sleep for the winter, though.”

“Sh! Shut up! He won’t come out as long as you’re talkin’!”

You subsided, and with cheekbone glued to the gunstock, and eyes
ferociously glaring along the barrel, at the hole beyond, you
expectantly bided the first rash movement on the part of Mr. ’Chuck.

In the meantime, what of that woodchuck? Lured afield by the pleasant
weather, from his predatory tour he was leisurely returning—halting now
to nuzzle amidst the stubble, now to scratch—for a mid-day nap within
his subterrene retreat. He waddled into a dried ditch and out again,
slipped through his private wicket in a boundary hedge, and gradually
working up the slope was approaching his home, on the side opposite to
your rail fence, when Hen, suddenly espying him, was astounded into the
yelp: “There he is! Shoot! Shoot!”

Startled into immobility, the woodchuck stared about with quivering
whiskers and bulging eyes. Boys!

As in a dream, you vaguely saw a squat, furry shape, a cleft, vibrant
nose and two broad, yellow teeth; and with the remembrance that your gun
was pointing in the general direction of this combination, you
desperately tugged at the trigger. Your sole thought was to “shoot,
shoot,” the quicker the better. The report was the thing.

But no report came. The trigger would not budge.

“Darn it! You old fool, you! You ain’t got it cocked!” shrieked Hen,
grabbing at your weapon.

With a whistle of decision the woodchuck bolted for sanctuary. He
clawed, he slid, he sprawled, all at once. Hen frenziedly delivered both
rocks. The ’chuck, at the mouth of his burrow, in a second more would
have swung on the pivot of his four short, stout little legs and have
whisked in like a brindled streak, when, having succeeded in cocking
your piece, you blindly let go—bang!

The butt slammed you under the chin, knocking your teeth together upon
your lower lip. You noted it not.

“We got him! We got him!”

Thus Hen, tumbling over the rail fence, was wildly bellowing—with a
pardonable extension of the subject pronoun.

“Hurrah!”

You were on your feet in a twinkling, and were dashing in the wake of
Hen, up the incline, midway of which, just below the stump, on his side
lay the woodchuck, limp and still.

Hen circumspectly reached and stirred him with the tip of a toe; then,
emboldened into the attitude of Victor, recklessly kicked him.

“He’s dead!”

“Je-rusalem! I should say he was!” you agreed, poking the inert mass.
“Wasn’t that a dandy shot, though?”

“You bet!” praised Hen.

And so it was—considering the attendant circumstances.

Gloatingly you and Hen examined your prize, inch by inch, investigating
him from his two front teeth to his scraggly tail. Most of all did you
gloat upon the blood, striking proof of your valor, and ere you had
finished you well-nigh could have drawn a diagram of the shot holes.

’Twas established that the aim had been perfect (yourself demonstrating
to Hen precisely what had been your course of action), that the gun had
shot tremendously, and that the woodchuck was a very prodigy of size and
strength.

Poor ’chuck! He had made his last foray, long enough had he dared to
live, and now, despite his cunning, he had fallen to a boy who shut both
eyes before firing.

Homeward, is it? Certainly! Nothing is left to be gained on the trail.
With the stride of conquerors, you and Hen march through the village—you
with gun and ammunition flasks, Hen with the woodchuck, which he has
appropriated, dangling by the tail.

“Well, well! Where did you get that fellow?” query the men.

“Oh, John and me shot him,” explains Hen.

“Crickety, but ain’t he a big one! How’d you get him?” query the boys.

“We shot him! And he was runnin’, too!” boasts Hen.

“Aw, you found him!”

“Didn’t neither—did we, John? You come here and I’ll show you the shot
holes in him!”

So, side by side, you and Hen gallantly stepped, with the visible tokens
of your calling, homeward bound. At the entrance to your alley, however,
Hen inclined to lag; and as the back yard was being traversed he fell
further behind. Your own pace was slower and less confident, now.

Hen flung you the woodchuck.

“I’ve got to go,” he maintained. “You can take him.”

The back door opened, and mother stood and gazed upon you, even as Hen
was discreetly retiring.

“John!” she said. “What have you been doing?”

Beneath its powder grime your face paled. At once you began to realize
how your lip was puffing, and how your shoulder was aching.

“We were huntin’ woodchucks,” you quavered.

“The idea!” said mother.

“We got one, too,” you offered, in piteous defense.

“Mercy!” exclaimed mother, at the sight. “Leave it right there, and come
straight into the house!”

“Ya-a-a!” bantered Hen, gleefully, from the other side of the fence.
“You’re goin’ to ketch it!”

Here the door closed behind you, shutting you in with your shame.


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



                             A BOY’S LOVES



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



[Illustration]



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



                             A BOY’S LOVES


IN the utmost beginning of things—in that time when roosters were very
large, and geese were very fierce, and only mother could avert the
thousand perils, heal the thousand wounds—existed a mythical partner
established in family annals as “Your Little Sweetheart.”


[Illustration]


“Annie? Don’t you remember Annie! Why, she was Your Little Sweetheart.
You used to play together day in and day out. It was so cute to see
you!”

But no. You may catch here a bit of blue ribbon, there an echo of a
laugh, yet, try as you will, you may not recall her. Evidently when Your
Little Sweetheart Annie was put away along with dresses and curls, she
was put away so far that she was lost forever.

What space of months, or of years, elapses, you cannot tell.
Nevertheless, suddenly you do witness yourself, still of age most
immature, (you recollect that somewhere in this period you were
miserably spelled down on “fish”), laying votive offerings upon the desk
of your First Love, a girl with brown eyes and rounded, rosy cheeks.


[Illustration]


These offerings are in the shape of bright pearl buttons and carnelian
pebbles. The transfer requires much breathless daring. Down the aisle of
the school-room you march, your gift tightly clutched in your hand,
which swings carelessly by your side. Past her seat you scuttle, and,
without a single glance, you leave the treasure upon the oaken top,
beneath her eyes. Away you hurry, affrighted, ashamed, apprehensive, but
hopeful. Presently, blushing, from your seat you steal a look across at
her. She smiles roguishly. The offering is gone. It is accepted; for she
holds it up that you may see. And you grin back, as red as a beet, while
your heart, exultant, goes thumpity, thumpity, thumpity.

In company with another boy, who must have been a rival, you descry
yourself hanging about her gate, turning somersaults, wrestling, and
performing all kinds of monkey-shines, in the brazen fancy that she may
be peeking out of a window and admiring you. She is framed, for an
instant, by the pane. You and he scamper up and deposit in plain
view—you upon the right gate-post, he upon the left—a handful apiece of
hazelnuts. Then the pair of you withdraw to a discreet distance and
wait. Out she trips, and gathers in your handful; but his she
disdainfully sweeps off upon the ground.

He whooped in contempt and swaggered in derision; and you—you—what was
it you did? Alas! the picture is cut here abruptly, as by a knife; the
First Love vanishes, and the Second Love succeeds.

She is the minister’s daughter, a gentle, winsome little lass, not at
all like the saucebox of the brown eyes and the rich cheeks. In the case
of this Second Love there seems to have been no studied wooing, no
sheepish bribery by pearl buttons and carnelians and nuts. You fall in
with each other as a matter of course. In playing drop-the-handkerchief
you nearly always favor her, and she you; and when either favors some
one else the understanding between you is perfect that this is done
merely for the sake of appearances.

Your mutual affection is of the telepathic order. Others in the party
may romp and squeal and shout in the moonlight, but you and she sit
together on the wheelbarrow, and look on in tolerant, eloquent silence.

In games you have occasionally kissed just the tip of her ear, and that
was sufficient. Teasing companions may cry: “Aw, kiss her! Fraidie!
fraidie! _That_ ain’t kissin’!” But you know _she_ knows, and
smacks—those boisterous smacks current in the realm—are superfluous.

In addition to the kissing games, and the state of exaltation upon the
wheelbarrow, you are able to conjure up yourself in another rôle: at the
frozen river’s edge, strapping on her skates—your first remembered
gallantry.

Assailed by the shrill scoffings of your rude comrades, under the
refining influence of love you kneel before her as she is struggling
with a stiff buckle. Like to the manner born, she permits you to assist.
Then—then you skated, you and she, for each other’s sake enduring all
the pursuing gibes? This point is not clear. You may not further linger
with her, the minister’s daughter, your Second Love, for in a hop, skip,
and jump you are worshiping at the skirts of the Third Love.

Her eyes are black—large and black. You are desperately smitten. You
live, move, and have your being in a very ecstasy of fervor.


[Illustration]


Her name is Lillian. Somewhere, somehow, you have run upon the lines of
Tennyson:

                  “Airy, fairy Lilian,
                   Flitting, fairy Lilian,
                   When I ask her if she love me,
                   Clasps her tiny hands above me;
                   ·  ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·
                   She’ll not tell me if she love me,
                   Cruel little Lilian.”

They appeal to you. They touch a spot which seems not to be reached by
even Oliver Optic or “The Gorilla Hunters.” You _must_ have poetry, and
you memorize them, and repeat them over and over to yourself, regardless
of the fact that she, your inspiration, is neither airy, fairy, nor
flitting, but of substantial, buxom proportions.

The Third Love, with her bold black eyes and her generous plumpness, is
not so submissive as was that gentle Second Love. She flouts you. When
the mood is upon her, she makes faces at you. At a party, when you
stammer:

                     “The stars are shining bright;
                      May I see you home to-night?”

as like as not she turns up her nose, or else she tosses her head and
snaps ungraciously: “Oh, I s’pose so!”

You never are sure of her; yet always you find yourself meekly at her
apron-strings.

You willingly go to church (you conceive that your family does not know
why, but in this you are much mistaken), because she sits in front of
you. What a blissful, comfortable feeling you have, with her safely
installed near at hand, twitching her short braids not more than three
feet before your happy nose!

When the pew is filled to overflowing, then, sometimes, you are crowded
out into her pew. Embarrassed of mien, you decorously slide into your
new location, she receiving your presence with a shrug and a sniff, and
you growing redder and redder as you imagine that all the congregation
must be reading your secret.

In a moment she darts at you a sly glance (the coquette! How vastly
superior she is to you in the wiles of love!), and you swell and swell,
until it seems to you that you are towering into the raftered heights
above.

And at the conspicuousness thus entailed you blush yet deeper.

Ah, her folks are about to leave town; she is to move away! The news
comes with sickening directness, and on top of the announcement she
pitilessly asserts that she is glad. You muster courage to declare that
you are “going to write.” She flirts her bangs, and retorts grudgingly:
“_I_ don’t care.”

Which is all the good-by that you get.

Beyond childish notes, you never have written to a girl; and what a
bothersome time this first letter gives you! The chief trouble lies in
the start. “Dear Friend,” which appears to be the address sanctioned by
society, is too common-place and formal; “Dear Lillian” may err in the
other direction, she is ridiculously touchy. You want something unique,
and in your researches you encounter “Chérie”—where, history reveals
not.

“Chérie” sounds nice; you do not know what it means, but all the better,
for consequently it is finely ambiguous; and, proud of your originality,
you take it. Once started, you occupy four pages, in your scrawling
script, with what you deem to be clever badinage. Badinage is the main
conversational stock in trade of girl-and-boy days.


[Illustration]


Principally you rail her about a certain youth of your town with whom
she used, to your torment, to run races. You hope that she will reply in
a manner to convey that really she despised that other chap and is
longing for you.

Two weeks of waiting. Then, one noon, your father, with an arch remark,
fishes from an inside pocket a little square envelope, and passes it to
you, at the dinner-table. The dinner-table, of all public places!

You endeavor calmly to receive it with a cursory glance; but you deposit
it in your jacket well aware that your trembling frame emanates
confusion.

Having bolted your dinner, you retire to the barn loft to revel in the
missive. The double sheet of miniature stationery has a rosebud
imprinted at the top.

Alas! underneath are the thorns.

    FRIEND WILL: No, I don’t have George Brown to run races with any
    more, but I have somebody lots better, and we run races every night.
    Don’t you wish you knew who it was, smartie?

Even yet the lines rankle. They but indicate the tenor of the whole
letter—a letter from which you failed, no matter how earnestly you pored
over it, to obtain one grain of comfort.

You try her again, with another clumsy essay at wit. Answer never comes,
and for a while you sneak about afraid that the truth will leak out, and
you be made a butt by your schoolmates.

The queen is dead! Live the queen! This Fourth Love is a “new girl,” a
stranger who one morn dawns upon your vision in the school-room. She is
an adorable creature, with blue eyes, golden hair, and a bridling air
that challenges your attention. With joy you learn, at home, that your
folks know her folks; and when your mother proposes that you go with her
to make a friendly call, so that “the little girl won’t get lonesome for
want of acquaintances,” you accede unhesitatingly.

You are presented at court, and, sitting with her upon the sofa, do your
best to be entertaining while the elders chat about “help” and church.
You grasp, from her sprightly remarks, that she is well accustomed to
boy admirers. She speaks of her “fellow”! She writes to him! He “felt
awful bad” to have her leave! Beside hers, your experience in the ways
of the world—particularly boy-ways and girl-ways, mingled—appears
pitifully meager, and beneath her assertions and giggling sallies you
are ofttimes ill at ease.

Impressed with her value, you depart, escorting your mother; and that
night, before you go to sleep, you firmly resolve to win this girl or
perish.

The Fourth Love resolves into a sad thing of mawkish sentiment. You
are not given to mooning or spooning. You are too healthy.
Drop-the-handkerchief, clap-in and clap-out, post-office—these
tumultuous kissing games, open and aboveboard, are the alpha and omega
of the caresses in your set. However, the new girl instils another
element, hitherto foreign to the social intercourse.


[Illustration]


To-day you recall, with great vividness, that winter evening before
supper, when you lingered, on your way home, in the front hall at her
house, planning with her to go skating.

“Oh, isn’t it dark!” she piped suddenly. “I can’t see you at all.”

“And I can’t see you, either,” you responded.

Silence.

“Where are you?” she whispered.

“Oh, I’m here by the door. Are you ’fraid?” you bantered innocently.

Silence.

“S’posing you kissed me! Wouldn’t that be awful!” she tittered in
pretended horror.

But you—you summoned your chivalry, and went forth secure in the
knowledge that you had not taken advantage of her helplessness.

This was the end. From that evening dated her coldness. Another boy
jumped in and supplanted you. You encountered them together, and they
looked upon you and laughed. He informed you that she said you “hadn’t
any sense.” You sent back a counter-accusation, which he gladly
reported. But enough; away with this Eve. What becomes of her you are
able to decipher not. Let us consider the Fifth Love.

Her you acquire deliberately, with purpose aforethought, so to speak. A
love is now absolutely necessary to you, and casting about, you hit upon
the girl across the street. You have known her virtually all your life.
She is not very pretty; she is just a plain, jolly, wholesome lassie,
who is continually running over to your house, and with whom you are as
free as with your own sister; but she will do.

Forthwith you begin a campaign. You walk home with her; you lend her
books; you take her riding—a real, ceremonious ride, and not, as
formerly, merely a lift down-town; you strive as hard as you can to
enthuse over her and remark beauties in her. And she, meantime a little
flustered and astonished at your unwonted assiduousness, accepts your
crafty attentions and frankly confides to your sister that she wishes
_she_ had a brother.

Unsuspicious girl! She treats you with a camaraderie which should warn
you, but which only proves your undoing.

Mindful of the lesson gained at the hands of the Fourth Love, she the
sentimental, you resolve that you will not be classed, in this present
instance, as having “no sense.” Accordingly, one evening, upon parting
with the Fifth Love at her gate, you baldly propose—well, you blurt
awkwardly:

“Let’s kiss good night.”

With what scorn she spurns the suggestion! Then, while your ears are
afire and you hang your head, she administers a severe, virtuous lecture
upon the impropriety of an act such as you mention.

“But lots of boys and girls do it,” you hazard.

She does not believe you; and, anyway, _she_ never would. And she packs
you home. You trudge across the street, angry, irritated, abashed,
uncertain as to whether she was hoaxing you or whether she was sincere.

Girls are the _darndest_ creatures!


[Illustration]


Evidently here closes the episode of the Fifth Love. It was but natural
that thereafter you should be rather disconcerted when in her presence;
and although she might act as if nothing had happened, _you_ (plagued
unmercifully by your sister) could not forget.

And the Sixth Love? Yes, she followed, with scarce a decent interval,
hard upon the exit of the all too high-minded Fifth. Maybe it was in a
spirit of pique that you sought her. Whatever the preliminary
circumstance, regard yourself eventually head over heels again, immersed
in the current of a passion equaled only by your affair with that Third
Love—“cruel little Lilian.”

This Sixth Love, too, has black eyes and an engaging plumpness. Black
eyes, apparently, are the eyes most fatal to you. For the Sixth Love you
would unflinchingly die, if life without her were the alternative; and
you picture to yourself the manner in which she would mourn (you hope)
when you are lying cold and still, with just your white face showing, in
the family parlor.

No matter how circuitous it makes your route, going and coming you
always manage to pass her house.


[Illustration]


You wonder if she is proud of you because you can throw a curve. You
would like to have her see that you are strong, and skilled in all the
exercises to which boys are heir. You want to be her ideal, her knight.
Some times you suspect that she does not thoroughly appreciate your
prowess and good points, for she prates of other boys who do so and so,
whereas you can easily do as much and more.

Now, whether or not it was due to the snake-curves (every boy is
positive, soon or late, that he can throw a snake-curve), looking back
you behold yourself possessed at last of this maiden of your choice. Of
course no word of love has been uttered between you. That would be too
silly and theatrical, almost morbid; furthermore, it is unnecessary. She
has shyly confessed to you that she “likes” you, and this is sufficient.
You generously refrain from urging her beyond this maiden admission.

Aye, ’tis distance lends enchantment to the view! You have been so
accustomed to the excitement of the chase that with idleness you wax
restive. The Sixth Love verges upon being a nuisance. Her black eyes,
beaming for you alone, pall upon you. You grow callous toward her. You
tire of always having her choose you at parties; you tire of her eternal
assumption of proprietorship over you; you wish that she would not come
so much to see your sister, and thrust herself upon you in your home.

And you set out to shake her off; you skip by the back door as she
enters by the front; you avoid her at parties; you show her, in a dozen
ways, that you do not fancy her any more.

Poor anxious, forsaken Sixth Love! It is she who turns the wooer; it is
she who passes and repasses _your_ house; it is she who haunts _your_
steps, hoping that she may catch a glimpse of you. Regardless of the
fact that you yourself so often have played this game, you remain
obdurate. Finally pride rises to her rescue, and she sends notice that
she “hates you.”

“Pooh! Who cares!” you sniff, with a curl of the lip.

Thus lapses behind you the Sixth Love; and although you have a faint
vision of her parading, to meet your eyes, your most despised enemy,
whom, in bravado, she had immediately adopted, memory indicates that you
were unaffected by the sight, save to sneer, and that already the
Seventh Love was engrossing your attention.

For there was a Seventh Love, and an Eighth, and more besides, to
constitute a long train of wee, innocent heart-troubles as evanescent as
a dream, but at their time just as real; until from this series of
shallow, dancing ripples of Boy’s Love, lo! one day you suddenly emerged
upon the deep ocean of Man’s Love, and anchored in the quiet haven where
She awaited—She, the gracious embodiment of the best in these her
girlish predecessors.


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



                                  NOON



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



                                  NOON


AFTER all, it is no fun posing at being a man. It is not, as you would
inform the other boys, the pleasant sinecure that it is currently
presumed to be, amongst your kind. The picture has more depth than
appears at the distance. As you approach, you note only the surface
tints; but when you have arrived, then begin to unfold aspects
previously quite unsuspected.

So now, having had experience, you fain would turn back, and doffing for
all time those starchy, heavy, strait-jacket garments which you have
mistakenly donned, you would resume the free-and-easy blouse and
knickerbockers and tattered brim, and would rejoin your gay brethren of
school and vacation. You have learned your lesson, and you will leave
them no more.

So be it. But alas, unavailingly you stop on your way down-town, beside
the vacant lot where the other boys are playing ball, and look wistfully
in upon them. None yells:

“Come on, Jocko. You’re tenth fielder.”

Once the ball rolls your way. You toss it back—toss it awkwardly,
somehow, proving that you are out of practice. However, you can limber
up right speedily. You have been away, they should know.

“Aw, you’re out! You’re out! You are too! Ask that man. He’s out, ain’t
he, Mister?”

You wait for “that man,” wherever he may be, to reply. But you yourself
are the sole spectator, and you gaze right and left, puzzled.

“He’s out—ain’t he!”

_You!_ It is you to whom they are appealing! You nod, confusedly.

“Ya-a-a! The man says you’re out!”

The man! The word gives you a little shock. They are styling you “man”!
A sensation of disappointment and surprise sweeps through you; here you
are, Rip Van Winkle, whom nobody knows. If only these your former
cronies might see through and recognize what lies behind this thin
disguise, they would realize that you really are but ten, and one of
them.

All in the broad sun the other boys are “goin’ fishin’.” It is a prime
day. Your being tingles for the poise of the trusty old pole upon your
shoulder, and the feel of the fat bait-can in your jacket pocket. Hang
business! You repudiate its tyranny. That “engagement” may importune, in
vain. The perch are running, the kids are “all catchin’ ’em,” “fishin’”
is “dandy.” Hurrah! The old-time _wanderlust_ is stirring in your veins.
You will go. But—something holds you back. It will not be much fun to
fish alone. Something tells you that even though you “fire” your shoes
and stockings and strip to shirt and trousers, and boldly enter the
fray, still will you be an alien, and looked upon askance. You are a
“man,” and perch and bullheads are not for the likes of you.

Nevertheless, you can try. There hastens Hen—or, at least, one who might
be Hen—pattering down the street, all accoutered for the ranks of joy
and rivalry.

“Goin’ fishin’?” you demand bluffly.

“Yes, sir.”

“Sir!” In a word has he relegated you to your place. He knows you—knows
that you have no fish-worms in your pocket, and that to match his mighty
pole you have only a paltry jointed “rod.”

He pauses impatiently. He has little time to waste with you.

“Any good?”

“Yes, sir.”

Irksomely respectful, now with a wriggle he is off, onward into his
magic realms, leaving you to gaze after, chastened, chagrined.

Oh, this hideous disguise—this iron metamorphosis which wizard Time, the
inexorable, has laid upon you! There is no dropping it.

You turn to Nature; surely Nature has the acumen to recognize that you
have grown not at all, save, perhaps, in stature. But the sun burns, the
rain wets, the snow chills—each uncompromising and austere. The pond
that once stretched away like an ocean shrinks and shallows at your
coming, till you can almost step from bank to bank; the once limitless
wood, as wild and as romantic as the Carpathians, mischievously
contracts so that you can see through from side to side; the highroad is
dusty, and the paths refuse to lead, but are finished in a stride.
Everything conspires to remind you that you are foreign, Brobdingnagian,
a personage apart, and that too late have you faced about.

To the pleasures and to the favors that were you have forfeited the
“Open, sesame!”

You may not reinstate yourself by the company that you keep, for the
company of old—where is it? Vanished; changed, like yourself;
resistlessly urged on and ever on by the current which there is no
stemming. Hen is a “man”—he runs a grocery store. Billy Lunt is a
“man”—and an M.D., to boot. “Fat” Day is a “man”—even an alderman.
“Snoopie” Mitchell, aye, the independent, envied Snoopie, whom naught,
you believed, could coerce, is a “man”—for sometimes you are whirled
along behind his engine. They all seem to glory in their estate and its
attributes. And to them, _you_ are a “man.”

Exists only one authority to support your quest of boyhood; only one
heart, besides your own, which apparently would be glad to have you
again in blouse and knickerbockers; and to her you are still a boy, with
the freckles concealed, merely, by that pointed beard at which she
gently rails even in her pride. Mother! You can depend upon mother, as
of yore. She is no older, herself; she is the same. Mother never
changes. You are no older, yourself; you are the same. Let the other
boys call you “man” and say “sir”; let sun and rain and snow, and pond
and wood and path, deny you their one-time hospitality. To all the world
without you may be a “man,” but to mother you are her “boy.”

Yet Time, forsooth, wrests even this anchorage from you. Comes an hour
when, confronted by the inevitable, helpless in its grip, unreconciled
even in your resignation, you dully stand by a bedside and
wait—wait—wait.

Suddenly the eyes open and look up into yours with understanding. The
graying, wrinkled face faintly smiles.

“What a great big boy you are getting to be, Johnny,” she murmurs, in
vague surprise.

That is all. She is gone, and with her departs your last hold upon the
things that were. Your morning is passed forever. It is noon. You must
turn away, irrevocably the man.


                                THE END



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


                                THE POET
                            MISS KATE AND I

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

                                   BY
                          MARGARET P. MONTAGUE

            Handsomely Decorated and Illustrated. Net, $1.50
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                           A CHRISTMAS CAROL

                                  AND

                       THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH

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

                                   BY
                            CHARLES DICKENS

With Introduction and Illustrations in Color and Line, by George Alfred
    Williams. 4to, $2.00

Mr. Williams is best known to the public as the artist of “Ten Boys from
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              -------------------------------------------

                         THE BAKER & TAYLOR CO.

                    33-37 East 17th Street, New York



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



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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