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A Child-World by James Whitcomb Riley

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A CHILD-WORLD

James Whitcomb Riley

A CHILD-WORLD

_The Child-World--long and long since lost to view--
A Fairy Paradise!--
How always fair it was and fresh and new--
How every affluent hour heaped heart and eyes
With treasures of surprise!

Enchantments tangible: The under-brink
Of dawns that launched the sight
Up seas of gold: The dewdrop on the pink,
With all the green earth in it and blue height
Of heavens infinite:

The liquid, dripping songs of orchard-birds--
The wee bass of the bees,--
With lucent deeps of silence afterwards;
The gay, clandestine whisperings of the breeze
And glad leaves of the trees.

* * * * *

O Child-World: After this world--just as when
I found you first sufficed
My soulmost need--if I found you again,
With all my childish dream so realised,
I should not be surprised._

CONTENTS

PROEM

THE CHILD-WORLD

THE OLD-HOME FOLKS

ALMON KEEPER

NOEY BIXLER

"A NOTED TRAVELER"

A PROSPECTIVE VISIT

AT NOEY'S HOUSE

"THAT LITTLE DOG"

THE LOEHRS AND THE HAMMONDS

THE HIRED MAN AND FLORETTY

THE EVENING COMPANY

MAYMIE'S STORY OF RED RIDING HOOD

LIMITATIONS OF GENIUS

MR. HAMMOND'S PARABLE--THE DREAMER

FLORETTY'S MUSICAL CONTRIBUTION

BUD'S FAIRY-TALE

A DELICIOUS INTERRUPTION

NOEY'S NIGHT-PIECE

COUSIN RUFUS' STORY

BEWILDERING EMOTIONS

ALEX TELLS A BEAR-STORY

THE PATHOS OF APPLAUSE

TOLD BY "THE NOTED TRAVELER"

HEAT-LIGHTNING

UNCLE MART'S POEM

"LITTLE JACK JANITOR"

FINALE

THE CHILD-WORLD

A Child-World, yet a wondrous world no less,
To those who knew its boundless happiness.
A simple old frame house--eight rooms in all--
Set just one side the center of a small
But very hopeful Indiana town,--
The upper-story looking squarely down
Upon the main street, and the main highway
From East to West,--historic in its day,
Known as The National Road--old-timers, all
Who linger yet, will happily recall
It as the scheme and handiwork, as well
As property, of "Uncle Sam," and tell
Of its importance, "long and long afore
Railroads wuz ever _dreamp_' of!"--Furthermore,
The reminiscent first Inhabitants
Will make that old road blossom with romance
Of snowy caravans, in long parade
Of covered vehicles, of every grade
From ox-cart of most primitive design,
To Conestoga wagons, with their fine
Deep-chested six-horse teams, in heavy gear,
High names and chiming bells--to childish ear
And eye entrancing as the glittering train
Of some sun-smitten pageant of old Spain.
And, in like spirit, haply they will tell
You of the roadside forests, and the yell
Of "wolfs" and "painters," in the long night-ride,
And "screechin' catamounts" on every side.--
Of stagecoach-days, highwaymen, and strange crimes,
And yet unriddled mysteries of the times
Called "Good Old." "And why 'Good Old'?" once a rare
Old chronicler was asked, who brushed the hair
Out of his twinkling eyes and said,--"Well John,
They're 'good old times' because they're dead and gone!"

The old home site was portioned into three
Distinctive lots. The front one--natively
Facing to southward, broad and gaudy-fine
With lilac, dahlia, rose, and flowering vine--
The dwelling stood in; and behind that, and
Upon the alley north and south, left hand,
The old wood-house,--half, trimly stacked with wood,
And half, a work-shop, where a workbench stood
Steadfastly through all seasons.--Over it,
Along the wall, hung compass, brace-and-bit,
And square, and drawing-knife, and smoothing-plane--
And little jack-plane, too--the children's vain
Possession by pretense--in fancy they
Manipulating it in endless play,
Turning out countless curls and loops of bright,
Fine satin shavings--Rapture infinite!
Shelved quilting-frames; the toolchest; the old box
Of refuse nails and screws; a rough gun-stock's
Outline in "curly maple"; and a pair
Of clamps and old krout-cutter hanging there.
Some "patterns," in thin wood, of shield and scroll,
Hung higher, with a neat "cane-fishing-pole"
And careful tackle--all securely out
Of reach of children, rummaging about.

Beside the wood-house, with broad branches free
Yet close above the roof, an apple-tree
Known as "The Prince's Harvest"--Magic phrase!
That was _a boy's own tree_, in many ways!--
Its girth and height meet both for the caress
Of his bare legs and his ambitiousness:
And then its apples, humoring his whim,
Seemed just to fairly _hurry_ ripe for him--
Even in June, impetuous as he,
They dropped to meet him, halfway up the tree.
And O their bruised sweet faces where they fell!--
And ho! the lips that feigned to "kiss them _well_"!

"The Old Sweet-Apple-Tree," a stalwart, stood
In fairly sympathetic neighborhood
Of this wild princeling with his early gold
To toss about so lavishly nor hold
In bounteous hoard to overbrim at once
All Nature's lap when came the Autumn months.
Under the spacious shade of this the eyes
Of swinging children saw swift-changing skies
Of blue and green, with sunshine shot between,
And "when the old cat died" they saw but green.
And, then, there was a cherry-tree.--We all
And severally will yet recall
From our lost youth, in gentlest memory,
The blessed fact--There was a cherry-tree.

There was a cherry-tree. Its bloomy snows
Cool even now the fevered sight that knows
No more its airy visions of pure joy--
As when you were a boy.

There was a cherry-tree. The Bluejay set
His blue against its white--O blue as jet
He seemed there then!--But _now_--Whoever knew
He was so pale a blue!

There was a cherry-tree--Our child-eyes saw
The miracle:--Its pure white snows did thaw
Into a crimson fruitage, far too sweet
But for a boy to eat.

There was a cherry-tree, give thanks and joy!--
There was a bloom of snow--There was a boy--
There was a Bluejay of the realest blue--
And fruit for both of you.

Then the old garden, with the apple-trees
Grouped 'round the margin, and "a stand of bees"
By the "white-winter-pearmain"; and a row
Of currant-bushes; and a quince or so.
The old grape-arbor in the center, by
The pathway to the stable, with the sty
Behind it, and _upon_ it, cootering flocks
Of pigeons, and the cutest "martin-box"!--
Made like a sure-enough house--with roof, and doors
And windows in it, and veranda-floors
And balusters all 'round it--yes, and at
Each end a chimney--painted red at that
And penciled white, to look like little bricks;
And, to cap all the builder's cunning tricks,
Two tiny little lightning-rods were run
Straight up their sides, and twinkled in the sun.
Who built it? Nay, no answer but a smile.--
It _may_ be you can guess who, afterwhile.
Home in his stall, "Old Sorrel" munched his hay
And oats and corn, and switched the flies away,
In a repose of patience good to see,
And earnest of the gentlest pedigree.
With half pathetic eye sometimes he gazed
Upon the gambols of a colt that grazed
Around the edges of the lot outside,
And kicked at nothing suddenly, and tried
To act grown-up and graceful and high-bred,
But dropped, _k'whop!_ and scraped the buggy-shed,
Leaving a tuft of woolly, foxy hair
Under the sharp-end of a gate-hinge there.
Then, all ignobly scrambling to his feet
And whinneying a whinney like a bleat,
He would pursue himself around the lot
And--do the whole thing over, like as not!...
Ah! what a life of constant fear and dread
And flop and squawk and flight the chickens led!
Above the fences, either side, were seen
The neighbor-houses, set in plots of green
Dooryards and greener gardens, tree and wall
Alike whitewashed, and order in it all:
The scythe hooked in the tree-fork; and the spade
And hoe and rake and shovel all, when laid
Aside, were in their places, ready for
The hand of either the possessor or
Of any neighbor, welcome to the loan
Of any tool he might not chance to own.

THE OLD-HOME FOLKS

Such was the Child-World of the long-ago--
The little world these children used to know:--
Johnty, the oldest, and the best, perhaps,
Of the five happy little Hoosier chaps
Inhabiting this wee world all their own.--
Johnty, the leader, with his native tone
Of grave command--a general on parade
Whose each punctilious order was obeyed
By his proud followers.

But Johnty yet--
After all serious duties--could forget
The gravity of life to the extent,
At times, of kindling much astonishment
About him: With a quick, observant eye,
And mind and memory, he could supply
The tamest incident with liveliest mirth;
And at the most unlooked-for times on earth
Was wont to break into some travesty
On those around him--feats of mimicry
Of this one's trick of gesture--that one's walk--
Or this one's laugh--or that one's funny talk,--
The way "the watermelon-man" would try
His humor on town-folks that wouldn't buy;--
How he drove into town at morning--then
At dusk (alas!) how he drove out again.

Though these divertisements of Johnty's were
Hailed with a hearty glee and relish, there
Appeared a sense, on his part, of regret--
A spirit of remorse that would not let
Him rest for days thereafter.--Such times he,
As some boy said, "jist got too overly
Blame good fer common boys like us, you know,
To '_so_ciate with--less'n we 'ud go
And jine his church!"

Next after Johnty came
His little tow-head brother, Bud by name.--
And O how white his hair was--and how thick
His face with freckles,--and his ears, how quick
And curious and intrusive!--And how pale
The blue of his big eyes;--and how a tale
Of Giants, Trolls or Fairies, bulged them still
Bigger and bigger!--and when "Jack" would kill
The old "Four-headed Giant," Bud's big eyes
Were swollen truly into giant-size.
And Bud was apt in make-believes--would hear
His Grandma talk or read, with such an ear
And memory of both subject and big words,
That he would take the book up afterwards
And feign to "read aloud," with such success
As caused his truthful elders real distress.
But he _must_ have _big words_--they seemed to give
Extremer range to the superlative--
That was his passion. "My Gran'ma," he said,
One evening, after listening as she read
Some heavy old historical review--
With copious explanations thereunto
Drawn out by his inquiring turn of mind,--
"My Gran'ma she's read _all_ books--ever' kind
They is, 'at tells all 'bout the land an' sea
An' Nations of the Earth!--An' she is the
Historicul-est woman ever wuz!"
(Forgive the verse's chuckling as it does
In its erratic current.--Oftentimes
The little willowy waterbrook of rhymes
Must falter in its music, listening to
The children laughing as they used to do.)

Who shall sing a simple ditty all about the Willow,
Dainty-fine and delicate as any bending spray
That dandles high the happy bird that flutters there to trill a
Tremulously tender song of greeting to the May.

Ah, my lovely Willow!--Let the Waters lilt your graces,--
They alone with limpid kisses lave your leaves above,
Flashing back your sylvan beauty, and in shady places
Peering up with glimmering pebbles, like the eyes of love.

Next, Maymie, with her hazy cloud of hair,
And the blue skies of eyes beneath it there.
Her dignified and "little lady" airs
Of never either romping up the stairs
Or falling down them; thoughtful everyway
Of others first--The kind of child at play
That "gave up," for the rest, the ripest pear
Or peach or apple in the garden there
Beneath the trees where swooped the airy swing--
She pushing it, too glad for anything!
Or, in the character of hostess, she
Would entertain her friends delightfully
In her play-house,--with strips of carpet laid
Along the garden-fence within the shade
Of the old apple-trees--where from next yard
Came the two dearest friends in her regard,
The little Crawford girls, Ella and Lu--
As shy and lovely as the lilies grew
In their idyllic home,--yet sometimes they
Admitted Bud and Alex to their play,
Who did their heavier work and helped them fix
To have a "Festibul"--and brought the bricks
And built the "stove," with a real fire and all,
And stovepipe-joint for chimney, looming tall
And wonderfully smoky--even to
Their childish aspirations, as it blew
And swooped and swirled about them till their sight
Was feverish even as their high delight.
Then Alex, with his freckles, and his freaks
Of temper, and the peach-bloom of his cheeks,
And "_amber-colored_ hair"--his mother said
'Twas that, when others laughed and called it "_red_"
And Alex threw things at them--till they'd call
A truce, agreeing "'t'uz n't red _ut-tall_!"

But Alex was affectionate beyond
The average child, and was extremely fond
Of the paternal relatives of his
Of whom he once made estimate like this:--
"_I'm_ only got _two_ brothers,--but my _Pa_
He's got most brothers'n you ever saw!--
He's got _seben_ brothers!--Yes, an' they're all my
Seben Uncles!--Uncle John, an' Jim,--an' I'
Got Uncle George, an' Uncle Andy, too,
An' Uncle Frank, an' Uncle Joe.--An' you
_Know_ Uncle _Mart_.--An', all but _him_, they're great
Big mens!--An' nen s Aunt Sarah--she makes eight!--
I'm got _eight_ uncles!--'cept Aunt Sarah _can't_
Be ist my _uncle_ 'cause she's ist my _aunt_!"

Then, next to Alex--and the last indeed
Of these five little ones of whom you read--
Was baby Lizzie, with her velvet lisp,--
As though her Elfin lips had caught some wisp
Of floss between them as they strove with speech,
Which ever seemed just in yet out of reach--
Though what her lips missed, her dark eyes could say
With looks that made her meaning clear as day.

And, knowing now the children, you must know
The father and the mother they loved so:--
The father was a swarthy man, black-eyed,
Black-haired, and high of forehead; and, beside
The slender little mother, seemed in truth
A very king of men--since, from his youth,
To his hale manhood _now_--(worthy as then,--
A lawyer and a leading citizen
Of the proud little town and county-seat--
His hopes his neighbors', and their fealty sweet)--
He had known outdoor labor--rain and shine--
Bleak Winter, and bland Summer--foul and fine.
So Nature had ennobled him and set
Her symbol on him like a coronet:
His lifted brow, and frank, reliant face.--
Superior of stature as of grace,
Even the children by the spell were wrought
Up to heroics of their simple thought,
And saw him, trim of build, and lithe and straight
And tall, almost, as at the pasture-gate
The towering ironweed the scythe had spared
For their sakes, when The Hired Man declared
It would grow on till it became a _tree_,
With cocoanuts and monkeys in--maybe!

Yet, though the children, in their pride and awe
And admiration of the father, saw
A being so exalted--even more
Like adoration was the love they bore
The gentle mother.--Her mild, plaintive face
Was purely fair, and haloed with a grace
And sweetness luminous when joy made glad
Her features with a smile; or saintly sad
As twilight, fell the sympathetic gloom
Of any childish grief, or as a room
Were darkened suddenly, the curtain drawn
Across the window and the sunshine gone.
Her brow, below her fair hair's glimmering strands,
Seemed meetest resting-place for blessing hands
Or holiest touches of soft finger-tips
And little roseleaf-cheeks and dewy lips.

Though heavy household tasks were pitiless,
No little waist or coat or checkered dress
But knew her needle's deftness; and no skill
Matched hers in shaping pleat or flounce or frill;
Or fashioning, in complicate design,
All rich embroideries of leaf and vine,
With tiniest twining tendril,--bud and bloom
And fruit, so like, one's fancy caught perfume
And dainty touch and taste of them, to see
Their semblance wrought in such rare verity.

Shrined in her sanctity of home and love,
And love's fond service and reward thereof,
Restore her thus, O blessed Memory!--
Throned in her rocking-chair, and on her knee
Her sewing--her workbasket on the floor
Beside her,--Springtime through the open door
Balmily stealing in and all about
The room; the bees' dim hum, and the far shout
And laughter of the children at their play,
And neighbor-children from across the way
Calling in gleeful challenge--save alone
One boy whose voice sends back no answering tone--
The boy, prone on the floor, above a book
Of pictures, with a rapt, ecstatic look--
Even as the mother's, by the selfsame spell,
Is lifted, with a light ineffable--
As though her senses caught no mortal cry,
But heard, instead, some poem going by.

The Child-heart is so strange a little thing--
So mild--so timorously shy and small.--
When _grown-up_ hearts throb, it goes scampering
Behind the wall, nor dares peer out at all!--
It is the veriest mouse
That hides in any house--
So wild a little thing is any Child-heart!

_Child-heart!--mild heart!--
Ho, my little wild heart!--
Come up here to me out o' the dark,
Or let me come to you!_

So lorn at times the Child-heart needs must be.
With never one maturer heart for friend
And comrade, whose tear-ripened sympathy
And love might lend it comfort to the end,--
Whose yearnings, aches and stings.
Over poor little things
Were pitiful as ever any Child-heart.

_Child-heart!--mild heart!--
Ho, my little wild heart!--
Come up here to me out o' the dark,
Or let me come to you!_

Times, too, the little Child-heart must be glad--
Being so young, nor knowing, as _we_ know.
The fact from fantasy, the good from bad,
The joy from woe, the--_all_ that hurts us so!
What wonder then that thus
It hides away from us?--
So weak a little thing is any Child-heart!

_Child-heart!--mild heart!--
Ho, my little wild heart!--
Come up here to me out o' the dark,
Or let me come to you!_

Nay, little Child-heart, you have never need
To fear _us_,--we are weaker far than you--
Tis _we_ who should be fearful--we indeed
Should hide us, too, as darkly as you do,--
Safe, as yourself, withdrawn,
Hearing the World roar on
Too willful, woful, awful for the Child-heart!

_Child-heart!--mild heart!--
Ho, my little wild heart!--
Come up here to me out o' the dark,
Or let me come to you!_

The clock chats on confidingly; a rose
Taps at the window, as the sunlight throws
A brilliant, jostling checkerwork of shine
And shadow, like a Persian-loom design,
Across the homemade carpet--fades,--and then
The dear old colors are themselves again.
Sounds drop in visiting from everywhere--
The bluebird's and the robin's trill are there,
Their sweet liquidity diluted some
By dewy orchard spaces they have come:
Sounds of the town, too, and the great highway--
The Mover-wagons' rumble, and the neigh
Of overtraveled horses, and the bleat
Of sheep and low of cattle through the street--
A Nation's thoroughfare of hopes and fears,
First blazed by the heroic pioneers
Who gave up old-home idols and set face
Toward the unbroken West, to found a race
And tame a wilderness now mightier than
All peoples and all tracts American.
Blent with all outer sounds, the sounds within:--
In mild remoteness falls the household din
Of porch and kitchen: the dull jar and thump
Of churning; and the "glung-glung" of the pump,
With sudden pad and skurry of bare feet
Of little outlaws, in from field or street:
The clang of kettle,--rasp of damper-ring
And bang of cookstove-door--and everything
That jingles in a busy kitchen lifts
Its individual wrangling voice and drifts
In sweetest tinny, coppery, pewtery tone
Of music hungry ear has ever known
In wildest famished yearning and conceit
Of youth, to just cut loose and eat and eat!--
The zest of hunger still incited on
To childish desperation by long-drawn
Breaths of hot, steaming, wholesome things that stew
And blubber, and up-tilt the pot-lids, too,
Filling the sense with zestful rumors of
The dear old-fashioned dinners children love:
Redolent savorings of home-cured meats,
Potatoes, beans, and cabbage; turnips, beets
And parsnips--rarest composite entire
That ever pushed a mortal child's desire
To madness by new-grated fresh, keen, sharp
Horseradish--tang that sets the lips awarp
And watery, anticipating all
The cloyed sweets of the glorious festival.--
Still add the cinnamony, spicy scents
Of clove, nutmeg, and myriad condiments
In like-alluring whiffs that prophesy
Of sweltering pudding, cake, and custard pie--
The swooning-sweet aroma haunting all
The house--upstairs and down--porch, parlor, hall
And sitting-room--invading even where
The Hired Man sniffs it in the orchard-air,
And pauses in his pruning of the trees
To note the sun minutely and to--sneeze.

Then Cousin Rufus comes--the children hear
His hale voice in the old hall, ringing clear
As any bell. Always he came with song
Upon his lips and all the happy throng
Of echoes following him, even as the crowd
Of his admiring little kinsmen--proud
To have a cousin _grown_--and yet as young
Of soul and cheery as the songs he sung.

He was a student of the law--intent
Soundly to win success, with all it meant;
And so he studied--even as he played,--
With all his heart: And so it was he made
His gallant fight for fortune--through all stress
Of battle bearing him with cheeriness
And wholesome valor.

And the children had
Another relative who kept them glad
And joyous by his very merry ways--
As blithe and sunny as the summer days,--
Their father's youngest brother--Uncle Mart.
The old "Arabian Nights" he knew by heart--
"Baron Munchausen," too; and likewise "The
Swiss Family Robinson."--And when these three
Gave out, as he rehearsed them, he could go
Straight on in the same line--a steady flow
Of arabesque invention that his good
Old mother never clearly understood.
He _was_ to be a _printer_--wanted, though,
To be an _actor_.--But the world was "show"
Enough for _him_,--theatric, airy, gay,--
Each day to him was jolly as a play.
And some poetic symptoms, too, in sooth,
Were certain.--And, from his apprentice youth,
He joyed in verse-quotations--which he took
Out of the old "Type Foundry Specimen Book."
He craved and courted most the favor of
The children.--They were foremost in his love;
And pleasing _them_, he pleased his own boy-heart
And kept it young and fresh in every part.
So was it he devised for them and wrought
To life his quaintest, most romantic thought:--
Like some lone castaway in alien seas,
He built a house up in the apple-trees,
Out in the corner of the garden, where
No man-devouring native, prowling there,
Might pounce upon them in the dead o' night--
For lo, their little ladder, slim and light,
They drew up after them. And it was known
That Uncle Mart slipped up sometimes alone
And drew the ladder in, to lie and moon
Over some novel all the afternoon.
And one time Johnty, from the crowd below,--
Outraged to find themselves deserted so--
Threw bodily their old black cat up in
The airy fastness, with much yowl and din.
Resulting, while a wild periphery
Of cat went circling to another tree,
And, in impassioned outburst, Uncle Mart
Loomed up, and thus relieved his tragic heart:

"'_Hence, long-tailed, ebon-eyed, nocturnal ranger!
What led thee hither 'mongst the types and cases?
Didst thou not know that running midnight races
O'er standing types was fraught with imminent danger?
Did hunger lead thee--didst thou think to find
Some rich old cheese to fill thy hungry maw?
Vain hope! for none but literary jaw
Can masticate our cookery for the mind!_'"

So likewise when, with lordly air and grace,
He strode to dinner, with a tragic face
With ink-spots on it from the office, he
Would aptly quote more "Specimen-poetry--"
Perchance like "'Labor's bread is sweet to eat,
(_Ahem!_) And toothsome is the toiler's meat.'"

Ah, could you see them _all_, at lull of noon!--
A sort of _boisterous_ lull, with clink of spoon
And clatter of deflecting knife, and plate
Dropped saggingly, with its all-bounteous weight,
And dragged in place voraciously; and then
Pent exclamations, and the lull again.--
The garland of glad faces 'round the board--
Each member of the family restored
To his or her place, with an extra chair
Or two for the chance guests so often there.--
The father's farmer-client, brought home from
The courtroom, though he "didn't _want_ to come
Tel he jist saw he _hat_ to!" he'd explain,
Invariably, time and time again,
To the pleased wife and hostess, as she pressed
Another cup of coffee on the guest.--
Or there was Johnty's special chum, perchance,
Or Bud's, or both--each childish countenance
Lit with a higher glow of youthful glee,
To be together thus unbrokenly,--
Jim Offutt, or Eck Skinner, or George Carr--
The very nearest chums of Bud's these are,--
So, very probably, _one_ of the three,
At least, is there with Bud, or _ought_ to be.
Like interchange the town-boys each had known--
His playmate's dinner better than his own--
_Yet_ blest that he was ever made to stay
At _Almon Keefer's, any_ blessed day,
For _any_ meal!... Visions of biscuits, hot
And flaky-perfect, with the golden blot
Of molten butter for the center, clear,
Through pools of clover-honey--_dear-o-dear!_--
With creamy milk for its divine "farewell":
And then, if any one delectable
Might yet exceed in sweetness, O restore
The cherry-cobbler of the days of yore
Made only by Al Keefer's mother!--Why,
The very thought of it ignites the eye
Of memory with rapture--cloys the lip
Of longing, till it seems to ooze and drip
With veriest juice and stain and overwaste
Of that most sweet delirium of taste
That ever visited the childish tongue,
Or proved, as now, the sweetest thing unsung.

ALMON KEEFER

Ah, Almon Keefer! what a boy you were,
With your back-tilted hat and careless hair,
And open, honest, fresh, fair face and eyes
With their all-varying looks of pleased surprise
And joyous interest in flower and tree,
And poising humming-bird, and maundering bee.

The fields and woods he knew; the tireless tramp
With gun and dog; and the night-fisher's camp--
No other boy, save Bee Lineback, had won
Such brilliant mastery of rod and gun.
Even in his earliest childhood had he shown
These traits that marked him as his father's own.
Dogs all paid Almon honor and bow-wowed
Allegiance, let him come in any crowd
Of rabbit-hunting town-boys, even though
His own dog "Sleuth" rebuked their acting so
With jealous snarls and growlings.

But the best
Of Almon's virtues--leading all the rest--
Was his great love of books, and skill as well
In reading them aloud, and by the spell
Thereof enthralling his mute listeners, as
They grouped about him in the orchard grass,
Hinging their bare shins in the mottled shine
And shade, as they lay prone, or stretched supine
Beneath their favorite tree, with dreamy eyes
And Argo-fandes voyaging the skies.
"Tales of the Ocean" was the name of one
Old dog's-eared book that was surpassed by none
Of all the glorious list.--Its back was gone,
But its vitality went bravely on
In such delicious tales of land and sea
As may not ever perish utterly.
Of still more dubious caste, "Jack Sheppard" drew
Full admiration; and "Dick Turpin," too.
And, painful as the fact is to convey,
In certain lurid tales of their own day,
These boys found thieving heroes and outlaws
They hailed with equal fervor of applause:
"The League of the Miami"--why, the name
Alone was fascinating--is the same,
In memory, this venerable hour
Of moral wisdom shorn of all its power,
As it unblushingly reverts to when
The old barn was "the Cave," and hears again
The signal blown, outside the buggy-shed--
The drowsy guard within uplifts his head,
And "'_Who goes there?_'" is called, in bated breath--
The challenge answered in a hush of death,--
"Sh!--'_Barney Gray!_'" And then "'_What do you seek?_'"
"'_Stables of The League!_'" the voice comes spent and weak,
For, ha! the _Law_ is on the "Chieftain's" trail--
Tracked to his very lair!--Well, what avail?
The "secret entrance" opens--closes.--So
The "Robber-Captain" thus outwits his foe;
And, safe once more within his "cavern-halls,"
He shakes his clenched fist at the warped plank-walls
And mutters his defiance through the cracks
At the balked Enemy's retreating backs
As the loud horde flees pell-mell down the lane,
And--_Almon Keefer_ is himself again!

Excepting few, they were not books indeed
Of deep import that Almon chose to read;--
Less fact than fiction.--Much he favored those--
If not in poetry, in hectic prose--
That made our native Indian a wild,
Feathered and fine-preened hero that a child
Could recommend as just about the thing
To make a god of, or at least a king.
Aside from Almon's own books--two or three--
His store of lore The Township Library
Supplied him weekly: All the books with "or"s--
Sub-titled--lured him--after "Indian Wars,"
And "Life of Daniel Boone,"--not to include
Some few books spiced with humor,--"Robin Hood"
And rare "Don Quixote."--And one time he took
"Dadd's Cattle Doctor."... How he hugged the book
And hurried homeward, with internal glee
And humorous spasms of expectancy!--
All this confession--as he promptly made
It, the day later, writhing in the shade
Of the old apple-tree with Johnty and
Bud, Noey Bixler, and The Hired Hand--
Was quite as funny as the book was not....
O Wonderland of wayward Childhood! what
An easy, breezy realm of summer calm
And dreamy gleam and gloom and bloom and balm
Thou art!--The Lotus-Land the poet sung,
It is the Child-World while the heart beats young....

While the heart beats young!--O the splendor of the Spring,
With all her dewy jewels on, is not so fair a thing!
The fairest, rarest morning of the blossom-time of May
Is not so sweet a season as the season of to-day
While Youth's diviner climate folds and holds us, close caressed,
As we feel our mothers with us by the touch of face and breast;--
Our bare feet in the meadows, and our fancies up among
The airy clouds of morning--while the heart beats young.

While the heart beats young and our pulses leap and dance.
With every day a holiday and life a glad romance,--
We hear the birds with wonder, and with wonder watch their flight--
Standing still the more enchanted, both of hearing and of sight,
When they have vanished wholly,--for, in fancy, wing-to-wing
We fly to Heaven with them; and, returning, still we sing
The praises of this lower Heaven with tireless voice and tongue,
Even as the Master sanctions--while the heart beats young.

While the heart beats young!--While the heart beats young!
O green and gold old Earth of ours, with azure overhung
And looped with rainbows!--grant us yet this grassy lap of thine--
We would be still thy children, through the shower and the shine!
So pray we, lisping, whispering, in childish love and trust
With our beseeching hands and faces lifted from the dust
By fervor of the poem, all unwritten and unsung,
Thou givest us in answer, while the heart beats young.

NOEY BIXLER

Another hero of those youthful years
Returns, as Noey Bixler's name appears.
And Noey--if in any special way--
Was notably good-natured.--Work or play
He entered into with selfsame delight--
A wholesome interest that made him quite
As many friends among the old as young,--
So everywhere were Noey's praises sung.

And he was awkward, fat and overgrown,
With a round full-moon face, that fairly shone
As though to meet the simile's demand.
And, cumbrous though he seemed, both eye and hand
Were dowered with the discernment and deft skill
Of the true artisan: He shaped at will,
In his old father's shop, on rainy days,
Little toy-wagons, and curved-runner sleighs;
The trimmest bows and arrows--fashioned, too.
Of "seasoned timber," such as Noey knew
How to select, prepare, and then complete,
And call his little friends in from the street.
"The very _best_ bow," Noey used to say,
"Haint made o' ash ner hick'ry thataway!--
But you git _mulberry_--the _bearin_'-tree,
Now mind ye! and you fetch the piece to me,
And lem me git it _seasoned_; then, i gum!
I'll make a bow 'at you kin brag on some!
Er--ef you can't git _mulberry_,--you bring
Me a' old _locus_' hitch-post, and i jing!
I'll make a bow o' _that_ 'at _common_ bows
Won't dast to pick on ner turn up their nose!"
And Noey knew the woods, and all the trees,
And thickets, plants and myriad mysteries
Of swamp and bottom-land. And he knew where
The ground-hog hid, and why located there.--
He knew all animals that burrowed, swam,
Or lived in tree-tops: And, by race and dam,
He knew the choicest, safest deeps wherein
Fish-traps might flourish nor provoke the sin
Of theft in some chance peeking, prying sneak,
Or town-boy, prowling up and down the creek.
All four-pawed creatures tamable--he knew
Their outer and their inner natures too;
While they, in turn, were drawn to him as by
Some subtle recognition of a tie
Of love, as true as truth from end to end,
Between themselves and this strange human friend.
The same with birds--he knew them every one,
And he could "name them, too, without a gun."
No wonder _Johnty_ loved him, even to
The verge of worship.--Noey led him through
The art of trapping redbirds--yes, and taught
Him how to keep them when he had them caught--
What food they needed, and just where to swing
The cage, if he expected them to _sing_.

And _Bud_ loved Noey, for the little pair
Of stilts he made him; or the stout old hair
Trunk Noey put on wheels, and laid a track
Of scantling-railroad for it in the back
Part of the barn-lot; or the cross-bow, made
Just like a gun, which deadly weapon laid
Against his shoulder as he aimed, and--"_Sping!_"
He'd hear the rusty old nail zoon and sing--
And _zip!_ your Mr. Bluejay's wing would drop
A farewell-feather from the old tree-top!
And _Maymie_ loved him, for the very small
But perfect carriage for her favorite doll--
A _lady's_ carriage--not a _baby_-cab,--
But oilcloth top, and two seats, lined with drab
And trimmed with white lace-paper from a case
Of shaving-soap his uncle bought some place
At auction once.

And _Alex_ loved him yet
The best, when Noey brought him, for a pet,
A little flying-squirrel, with great eyes--
Big as a child's: And, childlike otherwise,
It was at first a timid, tremulous, coy,
Retiring little thing that dodged the boy
And tried to keep in Noey's pocket;--till,
In time, responsive to his patient will,
It became wholly docile, and content
With its new master, as he came and went,--
The squirrel clinging flatly to his breast,
Or sometimes scampering its craziest
Around his body spirally, and then
Down to his very heels and up again.

And _Little Lizzie_ loved him, as a bee
Loves a great ripe red apple--utterly.
For Noey's ruddy morning-face she drew
The window-blind, and tapped the window, too;
Afar she hailed his coming, as she heard
His tuneless whistling--sweet as any bird
It seemed to her, the one lame bar or so
Of old "Wait for the Wagon"--hoarse and low
The sound was,--so that, all about the place,
Folks joked and said that Noey "whistled bass"--
The light remark originally made
By Cousin Rufus, who knew notes, and played
The flute with nimble skill, and taste as wall,
And, critical as he was musical,
Regarded Noey's constant whistling thus
"Phenominally unmelodious."
Likewise when Uncle Mart, who shared the love
Of jest with Cousin Rufus hand-in-glove,
Said "Noey couldn't whistle '_Bonny Doon_'
Even! and, _he'd_ bet, couldn't carry a tune
If it had handles to it!"

--But forgive
The deviations here so fugitive,
And turn again to Little Lizzie, whose
High estimate of Noey we shall choose
Above all others.--And to her he was
Particularly lovable because
He laid the woodland's harvest at her feet.--
He brought her wild strawberries, honey-sweet
And dewy-cool, in mats of greenest moss
And leaves, all woven over and across
With tender, biting "tongue-grass," and "sheep-sour,"
And twin-leaved beach-mast, prankt with bud and flower
Of every gypsy-blossom of the wild,
Dark, tangled forest, dear to any child.--
All these in season. Nor could barren, drear,
White and stark-featured Winter interfere
With Noey's rare resources: Still the same
He blithely whistled through the snow and came
Beneath the window with a Fairy sled;
And Little Lizzie, bundled heels-and-head,
He took on such excursions of delight
As even "Old Santy" with his reindeer might
Have envied her! And, later, when the snow
Was softening toward Springtime and the glow
Of steady sunshine smote upon it,--then
Came the magician Noey yet again--
While all the children were away a day
Or two at Grandma's!--and behold when they
Got home once more;--there, towering taller than
The doorway--stood a mighty, old Snow-Man!

A thing of peerless art--a masterpiece
Doubtless unmatched by even classic Greece
In heyday of Praxiteles.--Alone
It loomed in lordly grandeur all its own.
And steadfast, too, for weeks and weeks it stood,
The admiration of the neighborhood
As well as of the children Noey sought
Only to honor in the work he wrought.
The traveler paid it tribute, as he passed
Along the highway--paused and, turning, cast
A lingering, last look--as though to take
A vivid print of it, for memory's sake,
To lighten all the empty, aching miles
Beyond with brighter fancies, hopes and smiles.
The cynic put aside his biting wit
And tacitly declared in praise of it;
And even the apprentice-poet of the town
Rose to impassioned heights, and then sat down
And penned a panegyric scroll of rhyme
That made the Snow-Man famous for all time.

And though, as now, the ever warmer sun
Of summer had so melted and undone
The perishable figure that--alas!--
Not even in dwindled white against the grass--
Was left its latest and minutest ghost,
The children yet--_materially_, almost--
Beheld it--circled 'round it hand-in-hand--
(Or rather 'round the place it used to stand)--
With "Ring-a-round-a-rosy! Bottle full
O' posey!" and, with shriek and laugh, would pull
From seeming contact with it--just as when
It was the _real-est_ of old Snow-Men.

"A NOTED TRAVELER"

Even in such a scene of senseless play
The children were surprised one summer-day
By a strange man who called across the fence,
Inquiring for their father's residence;
And, being answered that this was the place,
Opened the gate, and with a radiant face,
Came in and sat down with them in the shade
And waited--till the absent father made
His noon appearance, with a warmth and zest
That told he had no ordinary guest
In this man whose low-spoken name he knew
At once, demurring as the stranger drew
A stuffy notebook out and turned and set
A big fat finger on a page and let
The writing thereon testify instead
Of further speech. And as the father read
All silently, the curious children took
Exacting inventory both of book
And man:--He wore a long-napped white fur-hat
Pulled firmly on his head, and under that
Rather long silvery hair, or iron-gray--
For he was not an old man,--anyway,
Not beyond sixty. And he wore a pair
Of square-framed spectacles--or rather there
Were two more than a pair,--the extra two
Flared at the corners, at the eyes' side-view,
In as redundant vision as the eyes
Of grasshoppers or bees or dragonflies.
Later the children heard the father say
He was "A Noted Traveler," and would stay
Some days with them--In which time host and guest
Discussed, alone, in deepest interest,
Some vague, mysterious matter that defied
The wistful children, loitering outside
The spare-room door. There Bud acquired a quite
New list of big words--such as "Disunite,"
And "Shibboleth," and "Aristocracy,"
And "Juggernaut," and "Squatter Sovereignty,"
And "Anti-slavery," "Emancipate,"
"Irrepressible conflict," and "The Great
Battle of Armageddon"--obviously
A pamphlet brought from Washington, D. C.,
And spread among such friends as might occur
Of like views with "The Noted Traveler."

A PROSPECTIVE VISIT

While _any_ day was notable and dear
That gave the children Noey, history here
Records his advent emphasized indeed
With sharp italics, as he came to feed
The stock one special morning, fair and bright,
When Johnty and Bud met him, with delight
Unusual even as their extra dress--
Garbed as for holiday, with much excess
Of proud self-consciousness and vain conceit
In their new finery.--Far up the street
They called to Noey, as he came, that they,
As promised, both were going back that day
To _his_ house with him!

And by time that each
Had one of Noey's hands--ceasing their speech
And coyly anxious, in their new attire,
To wake the comment of their mute desire,--
Noey seemed rendered voiceless. Quite a while
They watched him furtively.--He seemed to smile
As though he would conceal it; and they saw
Him look away, and his lips purse and draw
In curious, twitching spasms, as though he might
Be whispering,--while in his eye the white
Predominated strangely.--Then the spell
Gave way, and his pent speech burst audible:
"They wuz two stylish little boys,
and they wuz mighty bold ones,
Had two new pairs o' britches made
out o' their daddy's old ones!"
And at the inspirational outbreak,
Both joker and his victims seemed to take
An equal share of laughter,--and all through
Their morning visit kept recurring to
The funny words and jingle of the rhyme
That just kept getting funnier all the time.

AT NOEY'S HOUSE

At Noey's house--when they arrived with him--
How snug seemed everything, and neat and trim:
The little picket-fence, and little gate--
It's little pulley, and its little weight,--
All glib as clock-work, as it clicked behind
Them, on the little red brick pathway, lined
With little paint-keg-vases and teapots
Of wee moss-blossoms and forgetmenots:
And in the windows, either side the door,
Were ranged as many little boxes more
Of like old-fashioned larkspurs, pinks and moss
And fern and phlox; while up and down across
Them rioted the morning-glory-vines
On taut-set cotton-strings, whose snowy lines
Whipt in and out and under the bright green
Like basting-threads; and, here and there between,
A showy, shiny hollyhock would flare
Its pink among the white and purple there.--
And still behind the vines, the children saw
A strange, bleached, wistful face that seemed to draw
A vague, indefinite sympathy. A face
It was of some newcomer to the place.--
In explanation, Noey, briefly, said
That it was "Jason," as he turned and led
The little fellows 'round the house to show
Them his menagerie of pets. And so
For quite a time the face of the strange guest
Was partially forgotten, as they pressed
About the squirrel-cage and rousted both
The lazy inmates out, though wholly loath
To whirl the wheel for them.--And then with awe
They walked 'round Noey's big pet owl, and saw
Him film his great, clear, liquid eyes and stare
And turn and turn and turn his head 'round there
The same way they kept circling--as though he
Could turn it one way thus eternally.

Behind the kitchen, then, with special pride
Noey stirred up a terrapin inside
The rain-barrel where he lived, with three or four
Little mud-turtles of a size not more
In neat circumference than the tiny toy
Dumb-watches worn by every little boy.

Then, back of the old shop, beneath the tree
Of "rusty-coats," as Noey called them, he
Next took the boys, to show his favorite new
Pet 'coon--pulled rather coyly into view
Up through a square hole in the bottom of
An old inverted tub he bent above,
Yanking a little chain, with "Hey! you, sir!
Here's _comp'ny_ come to see you, Bolivur!"
Explanatory, he went on to say,
"I named him '_Bolivur_' jes thisaway,--
He looks so _round_ and _ovalish_ and _fat_,
'Peared like no other name 'ud fit but that."

Here Noey's father called and sent him on
Some errand. "Wait," he said--"I won't be gone
A half a' hour.--Take Bud, and go on in
Where Jason is, tel I git back agin."

Whoever _Jason_ was, they found him there
Still at the front-room window.--By his chair
Leaned a new pair of crutches; and from one
Knee down, a leg was bandaged.--"Jason done
That-air with one o' these-'ere tools _we_ call
A '_shin-hoe_'--but a _foot-adz_ mostly all
_Hardware_-store-keepers calls 'em."--(_Noey_ made
This explanation later.)

Jason paid
But little notice to the boys as they
Came in the room:--An idle volume lay
Upon his lap--the only book in sight--
And Johnty read the title,--"Light, More Light,
There's Danger in the Dark,"--though _first_ and best--
In fact, the _whole_ of Jason's interest
Seemed centered on a little _dog_--one pet
Of Noey's all uncelebrated yet--
Though _Jason_, certainly, avowed his worth,
And niched him over all the pets on earth--
As the observant Johnty would relate
The _Jason_-episode, and imitate
The all-enthusiastic speech and air
Of Noey's kinsman and his tribute there:--

"THAT LITTLE DOG"

"That little dog 'ud scratch at that door
And go on a-whinin' two hours before
He'd ever let up! _There!_--Jane: Let him in.--
(Hah, there, you little rat!) Look at him grin!
Come down off o' that!--
W'y, look at him! (_Drat
You! you-rascal-you!_)--bring me that hat!
Look _out!_--He'll snap _you!_--_He_ wouldn't let
_You_ take it away from him, now you kin bet!
That little rascal's jist natchurly mean.--
I tell you, I _never_ (_Git out!! _) never seen
A _spunkier_ little rip! (_Scratch to git in_,
And _now_ yer a-scratchin' to git _out_ agin!
Jane: Let him out!) Now, watch him from here
Out through the winder!--You notice one ear
Kindo' _in_ side-_out_, like he holds it?--Well,
_He's_ got a _tick_ in it--_I_ kin tell!
Yes, and he's cunnin'--
Jist watch him a-runnin',
_Sidelin'_--see!--like he ain't '_plum'd true_'
And legs don't 'track' as they'd ort to do:--
Plowin' his nose through the weeds--I jing!
Ain't he jist cuter'n anything!

"W'y, that little dog's got _grown_-people's sense!--
See how he gits out under the fence?--
And watch him a-whettin' his hind-legs 'fore
His dead square run of a miled er more--
'Cause _Noey_'s a-comin', and Trip allus knows
When _Noey_'s a-comin'--and off he goes!--
Putts out to meet him and--_There they come now!_
Well-sir! it's raially singalar how
That dog kin _tell_,--
But he knows as well
When Noey's a-comin' home!--Reckon his _smell_
'Ud carry two miled?--You needn't to _smile_--
He runs to meet _him_, ever'-once-n-a-while,
Two miled and over--when he's slipped away
And left him at home here, as he's done to-day--
'Thout ever knowin' where Noey wuz goin'--
But that little dog allus hits the right way!
Hear him a-whinin' and scratchin' agin?--
(_Little tormentin' fice!_) Jane: Let him in.

"--You say he ain't _there?_--
Well now, I declare!--
Lem _me_ limp out and look! ... I wunder where--
_Heuh_, Trip!--_Heuh_, Trip!--_Heuh_, Trip!... _There_--
_There_ he is!--Little sneak!--What-a'-you-'bout?--
_There_ he is--quiled up as meek as a mouse,
His tail turnt up like a teakittle-spout,
A-sunnin' hisse'f at the side o' the house!
_Next_ time you scratch, sir, you'll haf to git in,
My fine little feller, the best way you kin!
--Noey _he_ learns him sich capers!--And they--
_Both_ of 'em's ornrier every day!--
_Both_ tantalizin' and meaner'n sin--
Allus a--(_Listen there!_)--Jane: Let him in.

"--O! yer so _innocent!_ hangin' yer head!--
(Drat ye! you'd _better_ git under the bed!)
--Listen at that!--
He's tackled the cat!--
Hah, there! you little rip! come out o' that!--
Git yer blame little eyes scratched out
'Fore you know what yer talkin' about!--
_Here!_ come away from there!--(Let him alone--
He'll snap _you_, I tell ye, as quick as a bone!)
_Hi_, Trip!--_Hey_, here!--What-a'-you-'bout!--
_Oo! ouch!_ 'Ll I'll be blamed!--_Blast ye!_ GIT OUT!
... O, it ain't nothin'--jist _scratched_ me, you see.--
Hadn't no idy he'd try to bite _me_!
_Plague take him!_--Bet he'll not try _that_ agin!--
Hear him yelp.--(_Pore feller!_) Jane: Let him in."

THE LOEHRS AND THE HAMMONDS

"Hey, Bud! O Bud!" rang out a gleeful call,--
"_The Loehrs is come to your house!_" And a small
But very much elated little chap,
In snowy linen-suit and tasseled cap,
Leaped from the back-fence just across the street
From Bixlers', and came galloping to meet
His equally delighted little pair
Of playmates, hurrying out to join him there--
"_The Loehrs is come!--The Loehrs is come!_" his glee
Augmented to a pitch of ecstasy
Communicated wildly, till the cry
"_The Loehrs is come!_" in chorus quavered high
And thrilling as some paean of challenge or
Soul-stirring chant of armied conqueror.
And who this _avant courier_ of "the Loehrs"?--
This happiest of all boys out-o'-doors--
Who but Will Pierson, with his heart's excess
Of summer-warmth and light and breeziness!
"From our front winder I 'uz first to see
'Em all a-drivin' into town!" bragged he--
"An' seen 'em turnin' up the alley where
_Your_ folks lives at. An' John an' Jake wuz there
Both in the wagon;--yes, an' Willy, too;
An' Mary--Yes, an' Edith--with bran-new
An' purtiest-trimmed hats 'at ever wuz!--
An' Susan, an' Janey.--An' the _Hammonds-uz_
In their fine buggy 'at they're ridin' roun'
So much, all over an' aroun' the town
An' _ever_'wheres,--them _city_-people who's
A-visutin' at Loehrs-uz!"

Glorious news!--
Even more glorious when verified
In the boys' welcoming eyes of love and pride,
As one by one they greeted their old friends
And neighbors.--Nor until their earth-life ends
Will that bright memory become less bright
Or dimmed indeed.

... Again, at candle-light,
The faces all are gathered. And how glad
The Mother's features, knowing that she had
Her dear, sweet Mary Loehr back again.--
She always was so proud of her; and then
The dear girl, in return, was happy, too,
And with a heart as loving, kind and true
As that maturer one which seemed to blend
As one the love of mother and of friend.
From time to time, as hand-in-hand they sat,
The fair girl whispered something low, whereat
A tender, wistful look would gather in
The mother-eyes; and then there would begin
A sudden cheerier talk, directed to
The stranger guests--the man and woman who,
It was explained, were coming now to make
Their temporary home in town for sake
Of the wife's somewhat failing health. Yes, they
Were city-people, seeking rest this way,
The man said, answering a query made
By some well meaning neighbor--with a shade
Of apprehension in the answer.... No,--
They had no _children_. As he answered so,
The man's arm went about his wife, and she
Leant toward him, with her eyes lit prayerfully:
Then she arose--he following--and bent
Above the little sleeping innocent
Within the cradle at the mother's side--
He patting her, all silent, as she cried.--
Though, haply, in the silence that ensued,
His musings made melodious interlude.

In the warm, health-giving weather
My poor pale wife and I
Drive up and down the little town
And the pleasant roads thereby:
Out in the wholesome country
We wind, from the main highway,
In through the wood's green solitudes--
Fair as the Lord's own Day.

We have lived so long together.
And joyed and mourned as one,
That each with each, with a look for speech,
Or a touch, may talk as none
But Love's elect may comprehend--
Why, the touch of her hand on mine
Speaks volume-wise, and the smile of her eyes,
To me, is a song divine.

There are many places that lure us:--
"The Old Wood Bridge" just west
Of town we know--and the creek below,
And the banks the boys love best:
And "Beech Grove," too, on the hill-top;
And "The Haunted House" beyond,
With its roof half off, and its old pump-trough
Adrift in the roadside pond.

We find our way to "The Marshes"--
At least where they used to be;
And "The Old Camp Grounds"; and "The Indian Mounds,"
And the trunk of "The Council Tree:"
We have crunched and splashed through "Flint-bed Ford";
And at "Old Big Bee-gum Spring"
We have stayed the cup, half lifted up.
Hearing the redbird sing.

And then, there is "Wesley Chapel,"
With its little graveyard, lone
At the crossroads there, though the sun sets fair
On wild-rose, mound and stone ...
A wee bed under the willows--
My wife's hand on my own--
And our horse stops, too ... And we hear the coo
Of a dove in undertone.

The dusk, the dew, and the silence.
"Old Charley" turns his head
Homeward then by the pike again,
Though never a word is said--
One more stop, and a lingering one--
After the fields and farms,--
At the old Toll Gate, with the woman await
With a little girl in her arms.

The silence sank--Floretty came to call
The children in the kitchen, where they all
Went helter-skeltering with shout and din
Enough to drown most sanguine silence in,--
For well indeed they knew that summons meant
Taffy and popcorn--so with cheers they went.

THE HIRED MAN AND FLORETTY

The Hired Man's supper, which he sat before,
In near reach of the wood-box, the stove-door
And one leaf of the kitchen-table, was
Somewhat belated, and in lifted pause
His dextrous knife was balancing a bit
Of fried mush near the port awaiting it.

At the glad children's advent--gladder still
To find _him_ there--"Jest tickled fit to kill
To see ye all!" he said, with unctious cheer.--
"I'm tryin'-like to he'p Floretty here
To git things cleared away and give ye room
Accordin' to yer stren'th. But I p'sume
It's a pore boarder, as the poet says,
That quarrels with his victuals, so I guess
I'll take another wedge o' that-air cake,
Florett', that you're a-_learnin_' how to bake."
He winked and feigned to swallow painfully.--

"Jest 'fore ye all come in, Floretty she
Was boastin' 'bout her _biscuits_--and they _air_
As good--sometimes--as you'll find anywhere.--
But, women gits to braggin' on their _bread_,
I'm s'picious 'bout their _pie_--as Danty said."
This raillery Floretty strangely seemed
To take as compliment, and fairly beamed
With pleasure at it all.

--"Speakin' o' _bread_--
When she come here to live," The Hired Man said,--
"Never ben out o' _Freeport_ 'fore she come
Up here,--of course she needed '_sperience_ some.--
So, one day, when yer Ma was goin' to set
The risin' fer some bread, she sent Florett
To borry _leaven_, 'crost at Ryans'--So,
She went and asked fer _twelve_.--She didn't _know_,
But thought, _whatever_ 'twuz, that she could keep
_One_ fer _herse'f_, she said. O she wuz deep!"

Some little evidence of favor hailed
The Hired Man's humor; but it wholly failed
To touch the serious Susan Loehr, whose air
And thought rebuked them all to listening there
To her brief history of the _city_-man
And his pale wife--"A sweeter woman than
_She_ ever saw!"--So Susan testified,--
And so attested all the Loehrs beside.--
So entertaining was the history, that
The Hired Man, in the corner where he sat
In quiet sequestration, shelling corn,
Ceased wholly, listening, with a face forlorn
As Sorrow's own, while Susan, John and Jake
Told of these strangers who had come to make
Some weeks' stay in the town, in hopes to gain
Once more the health the wife had sought in vain:
Their doctor, in the city, used to know
The Loehrs--Dan and Rachel--years ago,--
And so had sent a letter and request
For them to take a kindly interest
In favoring the couple all they could--
To find some home-place for them, if they would,
Among their friends in town. He ended by
A dozen further lines, explaining why
His patient must have change of scene and air--
New faces, and the simple friendships there
With _them_, which might, in time, make her forget
A grief that kept her ever brooding yet
And wholly melancholy and depressed,--
Nor yet could she find sleep by night nor rest
By day, for thinking--thinking--thinking still \
Upon a grief beyond the doctor's skill,--
The death of her one little girl.

"Pore thing!"
Floretty sighed, and with the turkey-wing
Brushed off the stove-hearth softly, and peered in
The kettle of molasses, with her thin
Voice wandering into song unconsciously--
In purest, if most witless, sympathy.--

"'Then sleep no more:
Around thy heart
Some ten-der dream may i-dlee play.
But mid-night song,
With mad-jick art,
Will chase that dree muh-way!'"

"That-air besetment of Floretty's," said
The Hired Man,--"_singin_--she _inhairited_,--
Her _father_ wuz addicted--same as her--
To singin'--yes, and played the dulcimer!
But--gittin' back,--I s'pose yer talkin' 'bout
Them _Hammondses_. Well, Hammond he gits out
_Pattents_ on things--inventions-like, I'm told--
And's got more money'n a house could hold!
And yit he can't git up no pattent-right
To do away with _dyin'_.--And he might
Be worth a _million_, but he couldn't find
Nobody sellin' _health_ of any kind!...
But they's no thing onhandier fer _me_
To use than other people's misery.--
Floretty, hand me that-air skillet there
And lem me git 'er het up, so's them-air
Childern kin have their popcorn."

It was good
To hear him now, and so the children stood
Closer about him, waiting.

"Things to _eat_,"
The Hired Man went on, "'s mighty hard to beat!
Now, when _I_ wuz a boy, we was so pore,
My parunts couldn't 'ford popcorn no more
To pamper _me_ with;--so, I hat to go
_Without_ popcorn--sometimes a _year_ er so!--
And _suffer'n' saints!_ how hungry I would git
Fer jest one other chance--like this--at it!
Many and many a time I've _dreamp_', at night,
About popcorn,--all busted open white,
And hot, you know--and jest enough o' salt
And butter on it fer to find no fault--
_Oomh!_--Well! as I was goin' on to say,--
After a-_dreamin_' of it thataway,
_Then_ havin' to wake up and find it's all
A _dream_, and hain't got no popcorn at-tall,
Ner haint _had_ none--I'd think, '_Well, where's the use!_'
And jest lay back and sob the plaster'n' loose!
And I have _prayed_, what_ever_ happened, it
'Ud eether be popcorn er death!.... And yit
I've noticed--more'n likely so have you--
That things don't happen when you _want_ 'em to."

And thus he ran on artlessly, with speech
And work in equal exercise, till each
Tureen and bowl brimmed white. And then he greased
The saucers ready for the wax, and seized
The fragrant-steaming kettle, at a sign
Made by Floretty; and, each child in line,
He led out to the pump--where, in the dim
New coolness of the night, quite near to him
He felt Floretty's presence, fresh and sweet
As ... dewy night-air after kitchen-heat.

There, still, with loud delight of laugh and jest,
They plied their subtle alchemy with zest--
Till, sudden, high above their tumult, welled
Out of the sitting-room a song which held
Them stilled in some strange rapture, listening
To the sweet blur of voices chorusing:--

"'When twilight approaches the season
That ever is sacred to song,
Does some one repeat my name over,
And sigh that I tarry so long?
And is there a chord in the music
That's missed when my voice is away?--
And a chord in each heart that awakens
Regret at my wearisome stay-ay--
Regret at my wearisome stay.'"

All to himself, The Hired Man thought--"Of course
_They'll_ sing _Floretty_ homesick!"

... O strange source
Of ecstasy! O mystery of Song!--
To hear the dear old utterance flow along:--

"'Do they set me a chair near the table
When evening's home-pleasures are nigh?--
When the candles are lit in the parlor.
And the stars in the calm azure sky.'"...

Just then the moonlight sliced the porch slantwise,
And flashed in misty spangles in the eyes
Floretty clenched--while through the dark--"I jing!"
A voice asked, "Where's that song '_you'd_ learn to sing
Ef I sent you the _ballat_?'--which I done
Last I was home at Freeport.--S'pose you run
And git it--and we'll all go in to where
They'll know the notes and sing it fer ye there."
And up the darkness of the old stairway
Floretty fled, without a word to say--
Save to herself some whisper muffled by
Her apron, as she wiped her lashes dry.

Returning, with a letter, which she laid
Upon the kitchen-table while she made
A hasty crock of "float,"--poured thence into
A deep glass dish of iridescent hue
And glint and sparkle, with an overflow
Of froth to crown it, foaming white as snow.--
And then--poundcake, and jelly-cake as rare,
For its delicious complement,--with air
Of Hebe mortalized, she led her van
Of votaries, rounded by The Hired Man.

THE EVENING COMPANY

Within the sitting-room, the company
Had been increased in number. Two or three
Young couples had been added: Emma King,
Ella and Mary Mathers--all could sing
Like veritable angels--Lydia Martin, too,
And Nelly Millikan.--What songs they knew!--

_"'Ever of Thee--wherever I may be,
Fondly I'm drea-m-ing ever of thee!_'"

And with their gracious voices blend the grace
Of Warsaw Barnett's tenor; and the bass
Unfathomed of Wick Chapman--Fancy still
Can _feel_, as well as _hear_ it, thrill on thrill,
Vibrating plainly down the backs of chairs
And through the wall and up the old hall-stairs.--
Indeed young Chapman's voice especially
Attracted _Mr. Hammond_--For, said he,
Waiving the most Elysian sweetness of
The _ladies_' voices--altitudes above
The _man's_ for sweetness;--_but_--as _contrast_, would
Not Mr. Chapman be so very good
As, just now, to oblige _all_ with--in fact,
Some sort of _jolly_ song,--to counteract
In part, at least, the sad, pathetic trend
Of music _generally_. Which wish our friend
"The Noted Traveler" made second to
With heartiness--and so each, in review,
Joined in--until the radiant _basso_ cleared
His wholly unobstructed throat and peered
Intently at the ceiling--voice and eye
As opposite indeed as earth and sky.--
Thus he uplifted his vast bass and let
It roam at large the memories booming yet:

"'Old Simon the Cellarer keeps a rare store
Of Malmsey and Malvoi-sie,
Of Cyprus, and who can say how many more?--
But a chary old so-u-l is he-e-ee--
A chary old so-u-l is he!
Of hock and Canary he never doth fail;
And all the year 'round, there is brewing of ale;--
Yet he never aileth, he quaintly doth say,
While he keeps to his sober six flagons a day.'"

... And then the chorus--the men's voices all
_Warred_ in it--like a German Carnival.--
Even _Mrs_. Hammond smiled, as in her youth,
Hearing her husband--And in veriest truth
"The Noted Traveler's" ever-present hat
Seemed just relaxed a little, after that,
As at conclusion of the Bacchic song
He stirred his "float" vehemently and long.

Then Cousin Rufus with his flute, and art
Blown blithely through it from both soul and heart--
Inspired to heights of mastery by the glad,
Enthusiastic audience he had
In the young ladies of a town that knew
No other flutist,--nay, nor _wanted_ to,
Since they had heard _his_ "Polly Hopkin's Waltz,"
Or "Rickett's Hornpipe," with its faultless faults,
As rendered solely, he explained, "by ear,"
Having but heard it once, Commencement Year,
At "Old Ann Arbor."

Little Maymie now
Seemed "friends" with _Mr. Hammond_--anyhow,
Was lifted to his lap--where settled, she--
Enthroned thus, in her dainty majesty,
Gained _universal_ audience--although
Addressing him alone:--"I'm come to show
You my new Red-blue pencil; and _she_ says"--
(Pointing to _Mrs._ Hammond)--"that she guess'
You'll make a _picture_ fer me."

"And what _kind_
Of picture?" Mr. Hammond asked, inclined
To serve the child as bidden, folding square
The piece of paper she had brought him there.--
"I don't know," Maymie said--"only ist make
A _little dirl_, like me!"

He paused to take
A sharp view of the child, and then he drew--
Awhile with red, and then awhile with blue--
The outline of a little girl that stood
In converse with a wolf in a great wood;
And she had on a hood and cloak of red--
As Maymie watched--"_Red Riding Hood!_" she said.
"And who's '_Red Riding Hood'?_"

"W'y, don't _you_ know?"
Asked little Maymie--

But the man looked so
All uninformed, that little Maymie could
But tell him _all about_ Red Riding Hood.

MAYMIE'S STORY OF RED RIDING HOOD

W'y, one time wuz a little-weenty dirl,
An' she wuz named Red Riding Hood, 'cause her--
Her _Ma_ she maked a little red cloak fer her
'At turnt up over her head--An' it 'uz all
Ist one piece o' red cardinal 'at 's like
The drate-long stockin's the store-keepers has.--
O! it 'uz purtiest cloak in all the world
An' _all_ this town er anywheres they is!
An' so, one day, her Ma she put it on
Red Riding Hood, she did--one day, she did--
An' it 'uz _Sund'y_--'cause the little cloak
It 'uz too nice to wear ist _ever'_ day
An' _all_ the time!--An' so her Ma, she put
It on Red Riding Hood--an' telled her not
To dit no dirt on it ner dit it mussed
Ner nothin'! An'--an'--nen her Ma she dot
Her little basket out, 'at Old Kriss bringed
Her wunst--one time, he did. And nen she fill'
It full o' whole lots an' 'bundance o' good things t' eat
(Allus my Dran'ma _she_ says ''bundance,' too.)
An' so her Ma fill' little Red Riding Hood's
Nice basket all ist full o' dood things t' eat,
An' tell her take 'em to her old Dran'ma--
An' not to _spill_ 'em, neever--'cause ef she
'Ud stump her toe an' spill 'em, her Dran'ma
She'll haf to _punish_ her!

An' nen--An' so
Little Red Riding Hood she p'omised she
'Ud be all careful nen an' cross' her heart
'At she wont run an' spill 'em all fer six--
Five--ten--two-hundred-bushel-dollars-gold!
An' nen she kiss her Ma doo'-bye an' went
A-skippin' off--away fur off frough the
Big woods, where her Dran'ma she live at.--No!--
She didn't do _a-skippin'_, like I said:--
She ist went _walkin'_--careful-like an' slow--
Ist like a little lady--walkin' 'long
As all polite an' nice--an' slow--an' straight--
An' turn her toes--ist like she's marchin' in
The Sund'y-School k-session!

An'--an'--so
She 'uz a-doin' along--an' doin' along--
On frough the drate big woods--'cause her Dran'ma
She live 'way, 'way fur off frough the big woods
From _her_ Ma's house. So when Red Riding Hood
She dit to do there, allus have most fun--
When she do frough the drate big woods, you know.--
'Cause she ain't feared a bit o' anything!
An' so she sees the little hoppty-birds
'At's in the trees, an' flyin' all around,
An' singin' dlad as ef their parunts said
They'll take 'em to the magic-lantern show!
An' she 'ud pull the purty flowers an' things
A-growin' round the stumps--An' she 'ud ketch
The purty butterflies, an' drasshoppers,
An' stick pins frough 'em--No!--I ist _said_ that!--
'Cause she's too dood an' kind an' 'bedient
To _hurt_ things thataway.--She'd _ketch_ 'em, though,
An' ist _play_ wiv 'em ist a little while,
An' nen she'd let 'em fly away, she would,
An' ist skip on adin to her Dran'ma's.

An' so, while she uz doin' 'long an' 'long,
First thing you know they 'uz a drate big old
Mean wicked Wolf jumped out 'at wanted t' eat
Her up, but _dassent_ to--'cause wite clos't there
They wuz a Man a-choppin' wood, an' you
Could _hear_ him.--So the old Wolf he 'uz _'feared_
Only to ist be _kind_ to her.--So he
Ist 'tended like he wuz dood friends to her
An' says "Dood-morning, little Red Riding Hood!"--
All ist as kind!

An' nen Riding Hood
She say "Dood-morning," too--all kind an' nice--
Ist like her Ma she learn'--No!--mustn't say
"Learn," cause "_Learn_" it's unproper.--So she say
It like her _Ma_ she "_teached_" her.--An'--so she
Ist says "Dood-morning" to the Wolf--'cause she
Don't know ut-tall 'at he's a _wicked_ Wolf
An' want to eat her up!

Nen old Wolf smile
An' say, so kind: "Where air you doin' at?"
Nen little Red Riding Hood she says: "I'm doin'
To my Dran'ma's, 'cause my Ma say I might."
Nen, when she tell him that, the old Wolf he
Ist turn an' light out frough the big thick woods,
Where she can't see him any more. An so
She think he's went to _his_ house--but he haint,--
He's went to her Dran'ma's, to be there first--
An' _ketch_ her, ef she don't watch mighty sharp
What she's about!

An' nen when the old Wolf
Dit to her Dran'ma's house, he's purty smart,--
An' so he 'tend-like _he's_ Red Riding Hood,
An' knock at th' door. An' Riding Hood's Dran'ma
She's sick in bed an' can't come to the door
An' open it. So th' old Wolf knock _two_ times.
An' nen Red Riding Hood's Dran'ma she says
"Who's there?" she says. An' old Wolf 'tends-like he's
Little Red Riding Hood, you know, an' make'
His voice soun' ist like hers, an' says: "It's me,
Dran'ma--an' I'm Red Riding Hood an' I'm
Ist come to see you."

Nen her old Dran'ma
She think it _is_ little Red Riding Hood,
An' so she say: "Well, come in nen an' make
You'se'f at home," she says, "'cause I'm down sick
In bed, and got the 'ralgia, so's I can't
Dit up an' let ye in."

An' so th' old Wolf
Ist march' in nen an' shet the door adin,
An' _drowl_, he did, an' _splunge_ up on the bed
An' et up old Miz Riding Hood 'fore she
Could put her specs on an' see who it wuz.--
An' so she never knowed _who_ et her up!

An' nen the wicked Wolf he ist put on
Her nightcap, an' all covered up in bed--
Like he wuz _her_, you know.

Nen, purty soon
Here come along little Red Riding Hood,
An' _she_ knock' at the door. An' old Wolf 'tend
Like _he's_ her Dran'ma; an' he say, "Who's there?"
Ist like her Dran'ma say, you know. An' so
Little Red Riding Hood she say "It's _me_,
Dran'ma--an' I'm Red Riding Hood and I'm
Ist come to _see_ you."

An' nen old Wolf nen
He cough an' say: "Well, come in nen an' make
You'se'f at home," he says, "'cause I'm down sick
In bed, an' got the 'ralgia, so's I can't
Dit up an' let ye in."

An' so she think
It's her Dran'ma a-talkin'.--So she ist
Open' the door an' come in, an' set down
Her basket, an' taked off her things, an' bringed
A chair an' clumbed up on the bed, wite by
The old big Wolf she thinks is her Dran'ma.--
Only she thinks the old Wolf's dot whole lots
More bigger ears, an' lots more whiskers, too,
Than her Dran'ma; an' so Red Riding Hood
She's kindo' skeered a little. So she says
"Oh, Dran'ma, what _big eyes_ you dot!" An' nen
The old Wolf says: "They're ist big thataway
'Cause I'm so dlad to see you!"

Nen she says,--
"Oh, Dran'ma, what a drate big nose you dot!"
Nen th' old Wolf says: "It's ist big thataway
Ist 'cause I smell the dood things 'at you bringed
Me in the basket!"

An' nen Riding Hood
She say "Oh-me-oh-_my_! Dran'ma! what big
White long sharp teeth you dot!"

Nen old Wolf says:
"Yes--an' they're thataway," he says--an' drowled--
"They're thataway," he says, "to _eat_ you wiv!"
An' nen he ist _jump_' at her.--

But she _scream_'--
An' _scream_', she did--So's 'at the Man
'At wuz a-choppin' wood, you know,--_he_ hear,
An' come a-runnin' in there wiv his ax;
An', 'fore the old Wolf know' what he's about,
He split his old brains out an' killed him s'quick
It make' his head swim!--An' Red Riding Hood
She wuzn't hurt at all!

An' the big Man
He tooked her all safe home, he did, an' tell
Her Ma she's all right an' ain't hurt at all
An' old Wolf's dead an' killed--an' ever'thing!--
So her Ma wuz so tickled an' so proud,
She divved _him_ all the dood things t' eat they wuz
'At's in the basket, an' she tell him 'at
She's much oblige', an' say to "call adin."
An' story's honest _truth_--an' all _so_, too!

LIMITATIONS OF GENIUS

The audience entire seemed pleased--indeed
_Extremely_ pleased. And little Maymie, freed
From her task of instructing, ran to show
Her wondrous colored picture to and fro
Among the company.

"And how comes it," said
Some one to Mr. Hammond, "that, instead
Of the inventor's life you did not choose
The _artist's?_--since the world can better lose
A cutting-box or reaper than it can
A noble picture painted by a man
Endowed with gifts this drawing would suggest"--
Holding the picture up to show the rest.
"_There now!_" chimed in the wife, her pale face lit
Like winter snow with sunrise over it,--
"That's what _I'm_ always asking him.--But _he_--
_Well_, as he's answering _you_, he answers _me_,--
With that same silent, suffocating smile
He's wearing now!"

For quite a little while
No further speech from anyone, although
All looked at Mr. Hammond and that slow,
Immutable, mild smile of his. And then
The encouraged querist asked him yet again
_Why was it_, and etcetera--with all
The rest, expectant, waiting 'round the wall,--
Until the gentle Mr. Hammond said
He'd answer with a "_parable_," instead--
About "a dreamer" that he used to know--
"An artist"--"master"--_all_--in _embryo_.

MR. HAMMOND'S PARABLE

THE DREAMER

I

He was a Dreamer of the Days:
Indolent as a lazy breeze
Of midsummer, in idlest ways
Lolling about in the shade of trees.
The farmer turned--as he passed him by
Under the hillside where he kneeled
Plucking a flower--with scornful eye
And rode ahead in the harvest field
Muttering--"Lawz! ef that-air shirk
Of a boy was mine fer a week er so,
He'd quit _dreamin'_ and git to work
And _airn_ his livin'--er--Well! _I_ know!"
And even kindlier rumor said,
Tapping with finger a shaking head,--
"Got such a curious kind o' way--
Wouldn't surprise me much, I say!"

Lying limp, with upturned gaze
Idly dreaming away his days.
No companions? Yes, a book
Sometimes under his arm he took
To read aloud to a lonesome brook.
And school-boys, truant, once had heard
A strange voice chanting, faint and dim--
Followed the echoes, and found it him,
Perched in a tree-top like a bird,

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