Part 1 out of 4
by Eugene Wood
THE SAINTED MEMORY
OF HER WHOM, IN THE DAYS BACK HOME,
I KNEW AS "MY MA MAG"
AND WHO WAS MORE TO ME THAN I CAN TELL, EVEN
IF MY TARDY WORDS COULD REACH HER
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
"That she who is an angel now
Might sometimes think of me"
THE OLD RED SCHOOL-HOUSE
THE REVOLVING YEAR
THE FIREMEN'S TOURNAMENT
THE DEVOURING ELEMENT
THE COUNTY FAIR
CHRISTMAS BACK HOME
GENTLE READER: - Let me make you acquainted with my book,
"Back Home." (Your right hand, Book, your right hand. Pity's sakes!
How many times have I got to tell you that? Chest up and forward,
shoulders back and down, and turn your toes out more.)
It is a little book, Gentle Reader, but please don't let that
prejudice you against it. The General Public, I know, likes to feel
heft in its hand when it buys a book, but I had hoped that you
were a peg or two above the General Public. That mythical being
goes on a reading spree about every so often, and it selects a book
which will probably last out the craving, a book which "it will be
impossible to lay down, after it is once begun, until it is
finished." (I quote from the standard book notice). A few hours later
the following dialogue ensues:
"Aren't you 'most done reading?"
"Just as soon as I finish this chapter." A sigh and a long wait.
"Did you lock the side-door?" No answer.
"Henry! Did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Did you lock the side-door?"
"In a minute now."
"Yes, but did you?"
"M-hm. I guess so."
"'Guess so!' Did you lock that side-door? They got in at Hilliard's
night before last and stole a bag of clothes-pins."
"Oh, put down that book, and go and lock the side-door. I'll not
get a wink of sleep this blessed night unless you do."
"In a minute now. Just wait till I finish this . . . "
"Go do it now."
Mr. General Public has a card on his desk that says, "Do it Now,"
and so he lays down his book with a patient sigh, and comes back to
it with a patent grouch.
"Oh, so it is," says the voice from the bedroom. "I remember now,
I locked it myself when I put the milk-bottles out . . . . I'm
going to stop taking of that man unless there's more cream on the
top than there has been here lately."
"Oh, what is it?"
"Aren't you 'most done reading?"
"In a minute, just as soon as I finish this chapter."
"How long is that chapter, for mercy's sakes?"
"I began another."
"Aren't you coming to bed pretty soon? You know I can't go to
sleep when you are sitting up."
"Oh, hush up for one minute, can't ye? It's a funny thing if I
can't read a little once in a while."
"It's a funny thing if I've got to be broke of my rest this way. As
much as I have to look after. I'd hate to be so selfish . . . .
Henry! Won't you please put the book down and come to bed?"
"Oh, for goodness sake! Turn over and go to sleep. You make me
Every two or three hours Mrs. General Public wakes up and announces
that she can't get a wink of sleep, not a wink; she wishes he hadn't
brought the plagued old book home; he hasn't the least bit of
consideration for her; please, please, won't he put the book away
and come to bed?
He reaches "THE END" at 2:30A.M., turns off the gas, and creeps into
bed, his stomach all upset from smoking so much without eating
anything, his eyes feeling like two burnt holes in a blanket, and
wishing that he had the sense he was born with. He'll have to be up
at 6:05, and he knows how he will feel. He also knows how he will
feel along about three o'clock in the afternoon. Smithers is coming
then to close up that deal. Smithers is as sharp as tacks, as
slippery as an eel, and as crooked as a dog's hind leg. Always
looking for the best of it. You need all your wits when you deal
with Smithers. Why didn't he take Mrs. General Public's advice, and
get to bed instead of sitting up fuddling himself with that fool
That's how a book should be to be a great popular success, and one
that all the typewriter girls will have on their desks. I am
guiltily conscious that "Back Home" is not up to standard either
in avoirdupois heft or the power to unfit a man for business.
Here's a book. Is it long? No. Is it exciting? No. Any lost
diamonds in it? Nup. Mysterious murders? No. Whopping big
fortune, now teetering this way, and now teetering that, tipping
over on the Hero at the last and smothering him in an avalanche of
fifty-dollar bills? No. Does She get Him? Isn't even that. No
"heart interest" at all. What's the use of putting out good money
to make such a book; to have a cover design for it; to get a man
like A. B. Frost to draw illustrations for it, when he costs so
like the mischief, when there's nothing in the book to make a man
sit up till 'way past bedtime? Why print it at all?
You may search me. I suppose it's all right, but if it was my
money, I'll bet I could make a better investment of it. If worst
came to worst, I could do like the fellow in the story who went to
the gambling-house and found it closed up, so he shoved the money
under the door and went away. He'd done his part.
And yet, on the other hand, I can see how some sort of a case can
be made out for this book of mine. I suppose I am wrong - I
generally am in regard to everything - but it seems to me that
quite a large part of the population of this country must be
grown-up people. If I am right in this contention, then this large
part of the population is being unjustly discriminated against. I
believe in doing a reasonable amount for the aid and comfort of the
young things that are just beginning to turn their hair up under,
or who rub a stealthy forefinger over their upper lips to feel the
pleasant rasp, but I don't believe in their monopolizing everything.
I don't think it 's fair. All the books printed - except, of
course, those containing valuable information; we don't buy those
books, but go to the public library for them - all the books printed
are concerned with the problem of How She can get Him, and He can
Well, now. It was either yesterday morning or the day before that
you looked in the glass and beheld there The First Gray Hair. You
smiled a smile that was not all pure pleasure, a smile that petered
out into a sigh, but nevertheless a smile, I will contend. What
do you think about it? You're still on earth, aren't you? You'll
last the month out, anyhow, won't you? Not at all ready to be laid
on the shelf? What do you think of the relative importance of
Love, Courtship, and Marriage? One or two other things in life
just about as interesting, aren't there? Take getting a living,
for instance. That 's worthy of one's attention, to a certain
extent. When our young ones ask us: "Pop, what did you say to Mom
when you courted her?" they feel provoked at us for taking it so
lightly and so frivolously. It vexes them for us to reply: "Law,
child! I don't remember. Why, I says to her: 'Will you have me?"
And she says: 'Why, yes, and jump at the chance.'" What difference
does it make what we said, or whether we said anything at all? Why
should we charge our memories with the recollections of those few
and foolish months of mere instinctive sex-attraction when all that
really counts came after, the years wherein low passion blossomed
into lofty Love, the dear companionship in joy and sorrow, and in
that which is more, far more than either joy or sorrow, "the
daily round, the common task?" All that is wonderful to think of
in our courtship is the marvel, for which we should never cease to
thank the Almighty God, that with so little judgment at our disposal
we should have chosen so wisely.
If you, Gentle Reader, found your first gray hair day before
yesterday morning, if you can remember, 'way, 'way back ten or
fifteen years ago . . . er . . . er . . . or more, come with me.
Let us go "Back Home." Here's your transportation, all made out to
you, and in your hand. It is no use my reminding you that no
railroad goes to the old home place. It isn't there any more, even
in outward seeming. Cummins's woods, where you had your robbers'
cave, is all cleared off and cut up into building lots. The cool
and echoing covered bridge, plastered with notices of dead and
forgotten Strawberry Festivals and Public Vendues, has long ago
been torn down to be replaced by a smart, red iron bridge. The
Volunteer Firemen's Engine-house, whose brick wall used to flutter
with the gay rags of circus-bills, is gone as if it never were at
all. Where the Union Schoolhouse was is all torn up now. They are
putting up a new magnificent structure, with all the modern
improvements, exposed plumbing, and spankless discipline. The quiet
leafy streets echo to the hissing snarl of trolley cars, and the
power-house is right by the Old Swimming-hole above the dam. The
meeting-house, where we attended Sabbath-school, and marveled at
the Greek temple frescoed on the wall behind the pulpit, is now a
church with a big organ, and stained-glass windows, and folding
opera-chairs on a slanting floor. There isn't any "Amen Corner,"
any more, and in these calm and well-bred times nobody ever gets
But even when "the loved spots that our infancy knew" are
physically the same, a change has come upon them more saddening
than words can tell. They have shrunken and grown shabbier. They
are not nearly so spacious and so splendid as once they were.
Some one comes up to you and calls you by your name. His voice
echoes in the chambers of your memory. You hold his hand in yours
and try to peer through the false-face he has on, the mask of a
beard or spectacles, or a changed expression of the countenance.
He says he is So-and-so. Why, he used to sit with you in Miss
Crutcher's room, don't you remember? There was a time when you and
he walked together, your arms upon each other's shoulders. But this
is some other one than he. The boy you knew had freckles, and could
spit between his teeth, ever and ever so far.
They don't have the same things to eat they used to have, or, if
they do, it all tastes different. Do you remember the old well,
with the windlass and the chain fastened to the rope just above
the bucket, the chain that used to cluck-cluck when the dripping
bucket came within reach to be swung upon the well-curb? How cold
the water used to be, right out of the northwest corner of the well!
It made the roof of your mouth ache when you drank. Everybody said
it was such splendid water. It isn't so very cold these days, and I
think it has a sort of funny taste to it.
Ah, Gentle Reader, this is not really "Back Home" we gaze upon when
we go there by the train. It is a last year's bird's nest. The
nest is there; the birds are flown, the birds of youth, and noisy
health, and ravenous appetite, and inexperience. You cannot go
"Back Home" by train, but here is the magic wishing-carpet, and here
is your transportation in your hand all made out to you. You and I
will make the journey together. Let us in heart and mind thither
I went to the Old Red School-house with you. Don't you remember me?
I was learning to swim when you could go clear across the river
without once "letting down." I saw you at the County Fair, and
bought a slab of ice-cream candy just before you did. I was in the
infant-class in Sabbath-school when you spoke in the dialogue at
the monthly concert. Look again. Don't you remember me? I used
to stub my toe so; you ought to recollect me by that. I know plenty
of people that you know. I may not always get their names just
right, but then it's been a good while ago. You Il recognize them,
though; you'll know them in a minute.
THE OLD RED SCHOOL-HOUSE
Oh, the little old red school-house on the hill,
(2d bass: On the hill.)
Oh, the little old red school-house on the hill,
(2d bass: On the hi-hi-hi-yull)
And my heart with joy o'erflows,
Like the dew-drop in the rose,*
Thinking of the old red SCHOOL-HOUSE I o-o-on the hill,
(2d tenor and 1st bass: The hill, the hill.)
THE MALE QUARTET'S COMPENDIUM.
* I call your attention to the chaste beauty of this line, and the
imperative necessity of the chord of the diminished seventh for the
word "rose." Also "school-house" in the last line must be very loud
and staccato. Snap it off.
If the audience will kindly come forward and occupy the vacant seats
in the front of the hall, the entertainment will now begin. The male
quartet will first render an appropriate selection and then . . . .
Can't you see them from where you are? Let me assist you in the
The first tenor, the gentleman on the extreme left, is a stocky
little man, with a large chest and short legs conspicuously curving
inward. He has plenty of white teeth, ash-blonde hair, and goes
smooth-shaven for purely personal reasons. His round, dough-colored
face will never look older (from a distance) than it did when he was
nine. The flight of years adds only deeper creases in the multitude
of fine wrinkles, and increasing difficulty in hoisting his tiny,
patent-leather foot up on his plump knee.
The second tenor leans toward him in a way to make another man
anxious about his watch, but the second tenor is as honest as the
day. He is only "blending the voices." He works in the bank. He
is going to be married in June sometime. Don't look around right
away, but she's the one in the pink shirt-waist, the second one from
the aisle, the one . . . two . . . three . . . the sixth
row back. See her? Say, they've got it bad, those two. What d'
ye think? She goes down by the bank every day at noon, so as to
walk up with him to luncheon. She lives across the street, and as
soon as ever she has finished her luncheon, there she is, out on the
front porch hallooing: "Oo-hoo!" How about that? And if he so much
as looks at another girl - m-M!
The first bass is one of these fellows with a flutter in his voice.
No, I don't mean a vibrato. It's a flutter, like a goat's tail.
It is considered real operatic.
The second bass has a great, big Adam's apple that slides up and
down his throat like a toy-monkey on a stick. He is tall, and has
eyebrows like clothes-brushes, and he scowls fit to make you run
and hide under the bed. He is really a good-hearted fellow, though.
Pity he has the dyspepsia so bad. Oh, my, yes! Suffers everything
with it, poor man. He generally sings that song about "Drink-ing!
DRINK-ang! Drink-awng!" though he's strictly temperate himself.
When he takes that last low note, you hold on to your chair for fear
you'll fall in too.
But why bring in the male quartet?
Because "The Little Old Red School-house" is more than a mere
collocation of words, accurately descriptive. It is what Mat King
would call a "symblem," and as such requires the music's dying fall
to lull and enervate a too meticulous and stringent tendency to
recollect that it wasn't little, or old, or red, or on a hill. It
might have been big and new, and built of yellow brick, right next
to the Second Presbyterian, and hence close to the "branch," so that
the spring freshets flooded the playground, and the water lapped
the base of the big rock on which we played "King on the Castle," -
the big rock so pitifully dwindled of late years. No matter what
he facts are. Sing 'of "The Little Old Red Schoolhouse On the Hill"
and in everybody's heart a chord trembles in unison. As we hear its
witching strains, we are all lodge brethren, from Maine to California
and far across the Western Sea; we are all lodge brethren, and the
air is "Auld Lang Syne," and we are clasping hands across, knitted
together into one living solidarity; and this, if we but sensed it,
is the real Union, of which the federal compact is but the outward
seeming. It is a Union in which they have neither art nor part
whose parents sent them to private schools, so as not to have them
associate with "that class of people." It is the true democracy
which batters down the walls that separate us from each other -
the walls of caste distinction, and color prejudice, and national
hatred, and religious contempt, all the petty, anti-social meannesses
that quarrel with
"The Union of hearts, the Union of hands,
And the flag of our Union forever."
Old Glory has floated victoriously on many a gallant fight by sea
and land, but never do its silver stars glitter more bravely or its
blood-red stripes curve more proudly on the fawning breeze than when
it floats above the school-house, over the daily battle against
ignorance and prejudice (which is ignorance of our fellows), for
freedom and for equal rights. It is no mere pretty sentimentality
that puts the flag there, but the serious recognition of the bed-rock
principle of our Union: That we are all of one blood, one bounden
duty; that all these anti-social prejudices are just as shameful as
illiteracy, and that they must disappear as soon as ever we shall
come to know each other well. Knowledge is power. That is true.
And it is also true: A house divided against itself cannot stand.
"The Flag of our Union forever!" is our prayer, our heart's desire
for us and for our children after us. Heroes have died to give us
that, heroes that with glazing eyes beheld the tattered ensign and
spent their latest breath to cheer it as it passed on to triumph.
"We who are about to die salute thee!" The heart swells to think
of it. But it swells, too, to think that, day by day, thousands
upon thousands of little children stretch out their hands toward
that Flag and pledge allegiance to it. "We who are about to
LIVE salute thee!"
It is no mere chance affair that all our federal buildings should
be so ugly and so begrudged, and that our school-houses should be
so beautiful architecturally - the one nearest my house is built
from plans that took the first prize at the Paris Exposition, in
competition with the whole world - so well-appointed, and so far
from being grudged that the complaint is, that there are not enough
That So-and-so should be the President, and such-and-such a party
have control is but a game we play at, amateurs and professionals;
the serious business is, that in this country no child, how poor
soever it may be, shall have the slightest let or hindrance in the
equal chance with every other child to learn to read, and write,
and cipher, and do raffia-work.
It is a new thing with us to have splendid school-houses. After
all, the norm, as you might say, is still "The Old Red School-house."
You must recollect how hard the struggle is for the poor farmer,
with wheat only a dollar a bushel, and eggs only six for a quarter;
with every year or so taxes of three and sometimes four dollars
on an eighty-acre farm grinding him to earth. It were folly to
expect more in rural districts than a tight box, with benches and
a stove in it. Never-the-less, it is the thing signified more than
its outward seeming that catches and holds the eye upon the country
school-house as you drive past it. You count yourself fortunate if,
mingled with the creaking of the buggy-springs, you hear the hum of
recitation; yet more fortunate if it is recess time, and you can
see the children out at play, the little girls holding to one
another's dress-tails as they solemnly circle to the chant:
"H-yar way gow rand tha malbarry bosh,
Tha malbarry bosh, tha malbarry bosh,
H-yar way gow rand tha malbarry bosh
On a cay-um and frasty marneng."
The boys are at marbles, if it is muddy enough, or one-old-cat, or
pom-pom-peel-away, with the normal percentage of them in reboant
tears - that is to say, one in three.
But even this is not the moment of illumination, when it comes upon
you like a flood how glorious is the land we live in, upon what
sure and certain footing are its institutions, when we know by
spiritual insight that whatsoever be the trial that awaits us, the
people of these United States, we shall be able for it! Yes. We
shall be able for it.
If you would learn the secret of our nation's greatness, take your
stand some winter's morning just before nine o'clock, where you can
overlook a circle of some two or three miles' radius, the center
being the Old Red School-house. You will see little figures picking
their way along the miry roads, or ploughing through the deep drifts,
cutting across the fields, all drawing to the school-house, Bub in
his wammus and his cowhide boots, his cap with ear-laps, a knitted
comforter about his neck, and his hands glowing in scarlet mittens;
and little Sis, in a thick shawl, trudging along behind him, stepping
in his tracks. They chirrup, "Good-morning, sir!" As far as you
can see them you have to watch them, and something rises in your
throat. Lord love 'em! Lord love the children!
And then it comes to you, and it makes you catch your breath to
think of it, that every two or three miles all over this land,
wherever there are children at all, there is the Old Red
Schoolhouse. At this very hour a living tide, upbearing the hopes
and prayers of God alone knows how many loving hearts, the tide
on which all of our longed-for ships are to come in, is setting
to the school-house. Oh, what is martial glory, what is conquest
of an empire, what is state-craft alongside of this? Happy is
the people that is in such a case!
The city schools are now the pattern for the country schools: but
in my day, although a little they were pouring the new wine of
frothing educational reform into the old bottles, they had not
quite attained the full distention of this present. We still had
some kind of a good time, but nothing like the good times they
had out at the school near grandpap's, where I sometimes visited.
There you could whisper! Yes, sir, you could whisper. So long
as you didn't talk out loud, it was all right. And there was no
rising at the tap of the bell, forming in line and walking in
lock-step. Seemingly it never entered the school-board's heads
that anybody would ever be sent to state's prison. They left the
scholars unprepared for any such career. They have remedied all
that in city schools. Now, when a boy grows up and goes to Sing
Sing, he knows exactly what to do and how to behave. It all comes
back to him.
But what I call the finest part of going to school in the country
was, that you didn't go home to dinner. Grandma had a boy only a
few years older than I was, and when I went a-visiting, she fixed
us up a "piece." They call it "luncheon" now, I think - a foolish,
hybrid mongrel of a word, made up of "lump," a piece of bread, and
"noon," and "shenk," a pouring or drink. But the right name is
"piece." What made this particular "piece" taste so wonderfully
good was that it was in a round-bottomed basket woven of splints
dyed blue, and black and red, and all in such a funny pattern. It
was an Indian basket. My grandma's mother, when she was a little
girl, got that from the squaw of old Chief Wiping-Stick.
The "piece" had bread-and-butter (my grandma used to let me churn
for her sometimes, when I went out there), and some of the slices
had apple-butter on them. (One time she let me stir the cider,
when it was boiling down in the big kettle over the chunk-fire out
in the yard. The smoke got in my eyes.) Sometimes there was honey
from the hives over by the gooseberry bushes - the gooseberries
had stickers on them - and we had slices of cold, fried ham. (I
was out at grandpap's one time when they butchered. They had a
chunk-fire then, too, to heat the water to scald the hogs. And
say! Did your grandma ever roast pig's tails in the ashes for you?)
And there were crullers. No, I don't mean "doughnuts." I mean
crullers, all twisted up. They go good with cider. (Sometimes my
grandma cut out thin, pallid little men of cruller dough, and dropped
them into the hot lard for my Uncle Jimmy and me. And when she
fished them out, they were all swelled up and "pussy," and golden
And there was pie. Neither at the school nooning nor at the table
did one put a piece of pie upon a plate and haggle at it with a
fork. You took the piece of pie up in your hand and pointed the
sharp end toward you, and gently crowded it into your face. It
didn't require much pressure either.
And there were always apples, real apples. I think they must make
apples in factories nowadays. They taste like it. These were real
ones, picked off the trees. Out at grandpap's they had bellflowers,
and winesaps, and seek-no-furthers, and, I think, sheep-noses, and
one kind of apple that I can't find any more, though I have sought
it carefully. It was the finest apple I ever set a tooth in. It
was the juiciest and the spiciest apple. It had sort of a rollicking
flavor to it, if you know what I mean. It certainly was the ne plus
ultra of an apple. And the name of it was the rambo. Dear me, how
good it was! think I'd sooner have one right now than great riches.
And all these apples they kept in the apple-hole. You went out and
uncovered the earth and there they were, all in a big nest of straw;
and such a gush of perfume distilled from that pile of them that
just to recollect it makes my mouth all wet.
They had a big red apple in those days that I forget the name of.
Oh, it was a whopper! You'd nibble at it and nibble at it before
you could get a purchase on it. Then, after you got your teeth in,
you'd pull and pull, and all of a sudden the apple would go "tock!"
and your head would fly back from the recoil, and you had a bite
about the size of your hand. You "chomped" on it, with your cheek
all bulged out, and blame near drowned yourself with the juice of it.
Noon-time the girls used to count the seeds:
"One I love, two I love, three my love I see;
Four I love with all my heart, and five I cast away.
Six he loves; seven she loves; eight . . . eight . . . "
I forget what eight is, and all that follows after. And then the
others would tease her with, "Aw, Jennie!" knowing who it was she
had named the apple for, Wes. Rinehart, or 'Lonzo Curl, or whoever.
And you'd be standing there by the stove, kind of grinning and not
thinking of anything in particular when somebody would hit you a
clout on your back that just about broke you in two, and would tell
you "to pass it on," and you'd pass it on, and the next thing was
you'd think the house was coming down. Such a chasing around and
over benches, and upsetting the water-bucket, and tearing up Jack
generally that teacher would say, "Boys! boys! If you can't play
quietly, you'll have to go out of doors!" Play quietly! Why, the
idea! What kind of play is it when you are right still?
Outdoors in the country, you can whoop and holler, and carry on,
and nobody complains to the board of health. And there are so many
things you can do. If there is just the least little fall of snow
you can make a big wheel, with spokes in it, by your tracking. I
remember that it was called "fox and geese," but that's all I can
remember about it. If there was a little more snow you tried to
wash the girls' faces in it, and sometimes got yours washed. If
there was a good deal of wet snow you had a snowball fight, which
is great fun, unless you get one right smack dab in your ear - oh,
but I can't begin to tell you all the fun there is at the noon hour
in the country school, that the town children don't know anything
about. And when it was time for school to "take up," there wasn't
any forming in line, with a monitor to run tell teacher who
snatched off Joseph Humphreys' cap and flung it far away, so he had
to get out of the line, and who did this, and who did that - no
penitentiary business at all. Teacher tapped on the window with a
ruler, and the boys and girls came in, red-faced and puffing,
careering through the aisles, knocking things off the desks with
many a burlesque, "oh, exCUSE me!" and falling into their seats,
bursting into sniggers, they didn't know what at. They had an hour
and a half nooning. Counting that it took five minutes to shovel
down even grandma's beautiful "piece," that left an hour and
twenty-five minutes for roaring, romping play. If you want to know,
I think that is fully as educational and a far better preparation
for life than sitting still with your nose stuck in a book.
In the city schools they don't think so. Even the stingy fifteen
minutes' recess, morning and afternoon, has been stolen from the
children. Instead is given the inspiriting physical culture, all
making silly motions together in a nice, warm room, full of
second-hand air. Is it any wonder that one in every three that
die between fifteen and twenty-five, dies of consumption?
You must have noticed that almost everybody that amounts to
anything spent his early life in the country. The city schools
have great educational advantages; they have all the up-to-date
methods, but the output of the Old Red Schoolhouse compares very
favorably with that of the city schools for all that. The
two-mile walk, morning and evening, had something to do with it,
not only because it and the long nooning were good exercise, but
because it impressed upon the mind that what cost so much effort
to get must surely be worth having. But I think I know another
If the city child goes through the arithmetic once, it is as much
as ever. In the Old Red School-house those who hadn't gone through
the arithmetic at least six times, were little thought of. In town,
the last subject in the book was "Permutation," to which you gave
the mere look its essentially frivolous nature deserved. It was:
"End of the line. All out!" But in the country a very important
department followed. It was called "Problems." They were twisters,
able to make "How old is Ann?" look like a last year's bird's nest.
They make a big fuss about the psychology of the child's mind
nowadays. Well, I tell you they couldn't teach the man that got up
that arithmetic a thing about the operation of the child's mind.
He knew what was what. He didn't put down the answers. He knew
that if he did, weak, erring human nature, tortured by suspense,
determined to have the agony over, would multiply by four and
divide by thirteen, and subtract 127 - didn't, either. I didn't
say "substract." I guess I know they'd get the answer somehow,
it didn't matter much how.
In the country they ciphered through this part, and handed in
their sums to Teacher, who said she'd take 'em home and look 'em
over; she didn't have time just then. As if that fooled anybody!
She had a key! And when you had done the very last one on the
very last page, and there wasn't anything more except the blank
pages, where you had written, "Joe Geiger loves Molly Meyers,
"and," If my name you wish to see, look on page 103," and all such
stuff, then you turned over to the beginning, where it says,
"Arithmetic is the science of numbers, and the art of computing by
them," and once more considered, "Ann had four apples and her
brother gave her two more. How many did she then have?" There
were the four apples in a row, and the two apples, and you that
had worried over meadows so long and so wide, and men mowing them
in so many days and a half, had to think how many apples Ann
really did have. Some of the fellows with forked hairs on their
chins and uncertain voices - the big fellows in the back seats,
where the apple-cores and the spit-balls come from knew every
example in the book by heart.
And there is yet another reason why the country school has brought
forth men of whom we do well to be proud. At the county-seat,
every so often, the school commissioners held an examination.
Thither resorted many, for the most part anxious to determine if
they really knew as much as they thought they did. If you took
that examination and got a "stiff kit" for eighteen months, you
had good cause to hold your head up and step as high as a blind
horse. A "stiff kit" for eighteen months is no small thing, let
me tell you. I don't know if there is anything corresponding
to a doctor's hood for such as win a certificate to teach school
for two years hand-running; but there ought to be. A fellow ought
not to be obliged to resort to such tactics as taking out a folded
paper and perusing it in the hope that some one will ask him:
"What you got there, Calvin?" so as to give you a chance to say,
carelessly, "Oh, jist a 'stiff-kit' for two years."
(When you get as far along as that, you simply have to take a term
in the junior Prep. Department at college, not because there is
anything left for you to learn, but for the sake of putting a gloss
on your education, finishing it off neatly.)
And then if you were going to read law with Mr. Parker, or study
medicine with old Doc. Harbaugh, and you kind of run out of clothes,
you took that certificate and hunted up a school and taught it.
Sometimes they paid you as high as $20 a month and board, lots of
board, real buckwheat cakes ("riz" buckwheat, not the prepared kind),
and real maple syrup, and real sausage, the kind that has sage in
it; the kind that you can't coax your butcher to sell you. The
pale, tasteless stuff he gives you for sausage I wouldn't throw out
to the chickens. Twenty dollars a month and board! That's $4 a
month more than a hired man gets.
But it wasn't alone the demonstration that, strange as it might
seem, it was possible for a man to get his living by his wits
(though that has done much to produce great men) as it was the
actual exercise of teaching. Remember the big boys on the back
seats, where the apple-cores and the spit-balls come from. The
school-director that hired you gave you a searching look-over and
said: "M-well-l-l, I'm afraid you haint hardly qualified for our
school - oh, that's all right, sir; that's all right. Your
'stiff-kit' is first-rate, and you got good recommends, good
recommends; but I was thinkin' - well, I tell you. Might's well
out with it first as last. I d' know's I ort to say so, but this
here district No. 34 is a poot' tol'able hard school to teach.
Ya-uss. A poot-ty tol'able hard school to teach. Now, that's jist
the plumb facts in the matter. We've had four try it this winter
a'ready. One of 'em stuck it out four weeks - I jimminy! he had
grit, that feller had. The balance of 'em didn't take so long to
make up their minds. Well, now, if you're a mind to try it - I was
goin' to say you didn't look to me like you had the heft.
Like to have you the worst way. Now, if you want to back out . . . .
Well, all right. Monday mornin', eh? Well, you got my sympathies."
I believe that some have tried to figure out that St. Martin of
Tours, ought to be the patron saint of the United States. One of
his feast-days falls on July 4, and his colors are red, white and
blue. But I rather prefer, myself, the Boanerges, the two sons of
Zebedee. When asked: "Are ye able to drink of this cup?" they
answered: "We are able." They didn't in the least know what it was;
but they knew they were able for anything that anybody else was,
and, perhaps, able for a little more. At any rate, they were
willing to chance it. That's the United States of America, clear
to the bone and back again to the skin.
You ask any really great man: "Have you ever taught a winter term
in a country school?" If he says he hasn't, then depend upon it he
isn't a really great man. People only think he is. The winter term
breeds Boanerges - sons of thunder. Yes, and of lightning, too.
Something struck the big boys in the back seats, as sure as you're a
foot high; and if it wasn't lightning, what was it? Brute strength
for brute strength, they were more than a match for Teacher. It was
up to him. It was either prove himself the superior power, or slink
off home and crawl under the porch.
The curriculum of the Old Red School-house, which was, until lately,
the universal curriculum, consisted in reading, writing, and
arithmetic or ciphering. I like the word "ciphering," because it
makes me think of slates - slates that were always falling on the
floor with a rousing clatter, so that almost always at least one
corner was cracked. Some mitigation of the noise was gained by
binding the frame with strips of red flannel, thus adding warmth
and brightness to the color scheme. Just as some fertile brain
conceived the notion of applying a knob of rubber to each corner,
slates went out, and I suppose only doctors buy them nowadays to
hang on the doors of their offices. Maybe the teacher's nerves were
too highly strung to endure the squeaking of gritty pencils, but I
think the real reason for their banishment is, that slates invited
too strongly the game of noughts and crosses, or tit-tat-toe, three
in a row, the champion of indoor sports, and one entirely inimical
to the study of the joggerfy lesson. But if slates favored
tit-tat-toe, they also favored ciphering, and nothing but good can
come from that. Paper is now so cheap that you need not rub out
mistakes, but paper and pencil can never surely ground one in "the
science of numbers and the art of computing by them." What is
written is written, and returns to plague the memory, but if you
made a mistake on the slate, you could spit on it and rub it out
with your sleeve and leave no trace of the error, either on the
writing surface or the tables of the memory. What does the hymn
"Forget the steps already trod,
And onward urge thy way."
The girls used to keep a little sponge and some water in a
discarded patchouli bottle with a glass stopper, to wash their
slates with; but it always seemed to me that the human and
whole-hearted way was otherwise.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic, - these three; and the greatest
of these three is arithmetic. Over against it stands grammar,
which may be said to be derived from reading and writing. Show me
a man that, as a boy at school, excelled in arithmetic and I will
show you a useful citizen, a boss in his own business, a leader of
men; show me the boy that preferred grammar, that read expressively,
that wrote a beautiful hand and curled his capital S's till their
tails looked like mainsprings, and I will show you a dreamer and a
sentimentalist - a man that works for other people. While I have
breath in me, I will maintain the supereminence of arithmetic.
There is no room for disputation in arithmetic, no exceptions to
the rule. Twice two is four, and that's all there is about it: but
whether there be pronunciations, they shall cease; whether there be
rules of grammar, they shall vanish away. Why, look here. It's a
rule of grammar, isn't it, that the subject of a sentence must be
put in the nominative case? Let it kick and bite, and hang on to
the desks all it wants to, in it goes and the door is slammed on it.
You think so? What is the word "you?" Second person, plural
number, objective case. Oh, no; the nominative form is "ye."
Don't you remember it says: "Woe unto you, ye lawyers"? Those who
fight against: "Him and me went down town," fight against the stars
in their courses, for the objective case in every language is bound
and determined to be The Whole Thing. Arithmetic alone is founded
on a rock. All else is fleeting, all else is futile, chaotic - a
waste of time. What is reading but a rival of morphine? There are
probably as many men in prison, sent there by Reading, as by Rum.
"Oh, not good Reading!" says the publisher.
"Not good Rum, either," says the publican.
Fight it out. It's an even thing between the two of you; Literature
and Liquor, Books and Booze, which can take a man's mind off his
business most effectually.
Still, merely as a matter of taste, I will defend the quality of
McGuffey's School Readers against all comers. I don't know who
McGuffey was; but certainly he formed the greatest intellects of
our age, present company not excepted. The true test of literature
is its eternal modernity. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. It
always seems of the age in which it is read. Now, almost the
earliest lection in McGuffey's First Reader goes directly to the
heart of one of the greatest of modern problems. It does not palter
or beat about the bush. It asks right out, plump and plain: "Ann,
how old are you?"
Year by year, until we reached the dizzy height of the Sixth Reader,
were presented to us samples of the best English ever written. If
you can find, up in the garret, a worn and frayed old Reader, take
it down and turn its pages over. See if anything in these
degenerate days compares in vital strength and beauty with the
story of the boy that climbed the Natural Bridge, carving his steps
in the soft limestone with his pocket knife. You cannot read it
without a thrill. The same inspired hand wrote "The Blind Preacher,"
and who that ever can read it can forget the climax reached in that
sublime line: "Socrates died like a philosopher, but Jesus Christ
like a god!"
Not long ago I walked among the graves in that spot opposite where
Wall Street slants away from Broadway, and my feet trod on ground
worth, in the market, more than the twenty-dollar gold pieces that
would cover it. My eye lighted upon a flaking brownstone slab,
that told me Captain Michael Cresap rested there. Captain Michael
Cresap! The intervening years all fled away before me, and once
again my boyish heart thrilled with that incomparable oration in
McGuffey's Reader, "Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one."
Captain Cresap was the man that led the massacre of Logan's family.
And there was more than good literature in those Readers. There
was one piece that told about a little boy alone upon a country
road at night. The black trees groaned and waved their skinny
arms at him. The wind-torn clouds fitfully let a pale and watery
moonlight stream a little through. It was very lonely. Over his
shoulder the boy saw indistinct shapes that followed after, and
hid themselves whenever he looked squarely at them. Then,
suddenly, he saw before him in the gloom, a gaunt white specter
waiting for him - waiting to get him, its arms spread wide out in
menace. He was of our breed, though, this boy. He did not turn
and run. With God knows what terror knocking at his ribs, he
trudged ahead to meet his fate, and lo! the grisly specter proved
to be a friendly guide-post to show the way that he should walk in.
Brother (for you are my kin that went with me to public school, in
the life that you have lived since you first read the story of
Harry and the Guide-post, has it been an idle tale, or have you,
too, found that what we dreaded most, what seemed to us so terrible
in the future has, after all, been a friendly guide-post, showing us
the way that we should walk in?
McGuffey had a Speller, too. It began with simple words in common
use, like a-b ab, and e-b eb, and i-b, ib, proceeding by gradual,
if not by easy stages to honorificatudinibility and
disproportionableness, with a department at the back devoted to
twisters like phthisic, and mullein-stalk, and diphtheria, and
gneiss. We used to have a fine old sport on Friday afternoons,
called "choose-up-and-spell-down." I don't know if you ever played
it. It was a survival, pure and simple, from the Old Red
School-house. There was where it really lived. There was where it
flourished as a gladiatorial spectacle. The crack spellers of
District Number 34 would challenge the crack spellers of the Sinking
Spring School. The whole countryside came to the school-house in
wagons at early candle-lighting time, and watched them fight it out.
The interest grew as the contest narrowed down, until at last there
were the two captains left - big John Rice for District Number 34,
and that wiry, nervous, black-haired girl of 'Lias Hoover's, Polly
Ann. She married a man by the name of Brubaker. I guess you didn't
know him. His folks moved here from Clarke County. Polly Ann's
eyes glittered like a snake's, and she kept putting her knuckles up
to the red spots in her cheeks that burned like fire. Old John,
he didn't seem to care a cent. And what do you think Polly Ann
missed on? "Feoffment." A simple little word like "feoffment!"
She hadn't got further than pheph -- " when she knew that she
was wrong, but Teacher had said "Next!" and big John took it and
spelled it right. She had a fit of nervous crying, and some were
for giving her the victory, after all, because she was a lady. But
big John said: "She missed, didn't she? Well. And I spelled it
right, didn't I? Well. She took her chances same as the rest of
us. 'Taint me you got to consider, it's District Number 34. And
furthermore. AND FURTHERMORE. Next time somebuddy asts her to
go home with him from singin'-school, mebby she won't snigger right
in his face, and say 'No! 's' loud 'at everybuddy kin hear it."
It's quite a thing to be a good speller, but there are people who
can spell any word that ever was, and yet if you should ask them
right quick how much is seven times eight, they'd hem and haw and
say: "Seven tums eight? Why - ah, lemme see now. Seven tums -
what was it you said? Oh, seven tums eight. Why - ah, seven
tums eight is sixty-three - fifty-six I mean." There's nothing
really to spelling. It's just an idiosyncrasy. If there was
really anything useful in it, you could do it by machinery -just
the same as you can add by machinery, or write with a typewriter,
or play the piano with one of these things with cut paper in it.
Spelling is an old-fashioned, hand-powered process, and as such
doomed to disappear with the march of improvement.
One Friday afternoon we chose up and spelled down, and the next
Friday afternoon we spoke pieces. Doubtless this accounts for our
being a nation of orators. I am far from implying or seeming to
imply that this is anything to brag of. Anybody that can be
influenced by a man with a big mouth, a loud voice, and a rush of
words to the face - well, I've got my opinion of all such.
Oratory and poetry - all foolishness, I say. Better far are
drawing-lessons, and raffia-work, and clay-modeling than: "I come
not here to talk," and "A soldier of the Legion lay dying at
Algiers," and "Old Ironsides at anchor lay." (I observe that these
lines are more or less familiar to you, and that you are eager to
add selections to the list, all of them known to me as well as you.)
That children, especially boys, loathe to speak a piece is a fact
profoundly significant. They know it is nothing in the world but
foolishness; and if there is one thing above another that a child
hates, it is to be made a fool in public. That's what makes them
work their fingers so, and gulp, and stammer, and tremble at the
knees. That is what sends them to their seats, after all is over,
mad as hornets. This is something that I know about. It happened
that, instead of getting funny pieces to recite as I wanted to,
discerning that one silly turn deserves another, my parents,
well-meaning in their way, taught me solemn things about: "O man
immortal, live for something!" and all such, and I had to humiliate
myself by disgorging them in public. The consequence was, that
not only on Friday afternoons but whenever anybody came to visit
the school, I was butchered to make a Roman holiday. Teacher was
so proud of me, and the visitors let on that they were tickled half
to death, but I knew better. I could see the other scholars look
at one another, as much as to say: "Well, if you'll tell me why!"
Even in my shame and anger I could see that. But there is one
happy memory of a Friday afternoon. Determined to show my friends
and fellow-citizens that I, too, was born in Arcadia, and was a
living, human boy, I announced to Teacher: "I got another piece."
"Oh, have you?" cried she, sure of an extra O-man-immortal
intellectual treat. "Let us hear it, by all means."
Whereupon I marched up to the platform and declaimed that deathless
"When I was a boy, I was a bold one.
My mammy made me a new shirt out o' dad's old one."
All of it? Certainly. Isn't that enough? That was the
only distinctly popular platform effort I ever made. I am proud
of it now. I was proud of it then. But the news of my triumph
was coldly received at home.
I don't know whether it has since gone out of date, but in my day
and time a very telling feature of school exhibitions was reading
in concert. The room was packed as full of everybody's ma as it
could be, and yet not mash the children out of shape, and a whole
lot of young ones would read a piece together. Fine? Finest
thing you ever heard. I remember one time teacher must have
calculated a leetle mite too close, or else one girl more was in
the class than she had reckoned on; but on the day, the two end
girls just managed to stand upon the platform and that was all.
They recited together:
"There was a sound of revelry by night
And Belgium's capital . . . . "
I forget the rest of it. Well, anyhow, they were supposed to make
gestures all together. Teacher had rehearsed the gestures, and they
all did it simultaneously, just as if they had been wound up with a
spring. But, as I said, the two end girls had all they could do to
keep on the platform, and it takes elbow room for: "'T is but the car
rattling over the stony street," and one girl - well, she said she
stepped off on purpose, but I didn't believe her then and I don't
now. We had our laugh about it, whichever way it was.
We had our laugh . . . . Ah, life was all laughter then. That was
before care came to be the shadow at our heel. That was before
black Sorrow met us in the way, and would not let us pass unless
we gave to her our dearest treasure. That was before we learned
that what we covet most is, when we get it, but a poor thing after
all, that whatsoever chalice Fortune presses to our lips, a tear is
in the bottom of the cup. In those happy days gone by if the rain
fell, 't was only for a little while, and presently the sky was
bright again, and the birds whistled merrily among the wet and
shining leaves. Now "the clouds return after the rain."
It can never be with us again as once it was. For us the bell upon
the Old Red School-house calls in vain. We heed it not, we that
hearkened for it years ago. The living tide of youth flows toward
the school-house, and we are not of it. Never again shall we sit
at those old desks, whittled and carved with rude initials, and snap
our fingers, eager to tell the answer. Never again shall we
experience the thrill of pride when teacher praised us openly.
Never again shall we sit trembling while the principal, reads the
note, and then scowls at us fiercely with: "Take off your coat,
sir!" Ah, me! Never again, never again.
Well, who wants it to be that way again? We're men and women now.
We've duties and responsibilities. Who wants to be a child again?
Not I. Let me stick just at my present age for about a hundred
years, and I'll never utter a word of complaint.
"We-a love the Sunday-school.
We-a love the Sunday-school.
(Girls) - So do I.
(Boys)-So do I.
(School) - We all love the Sunday-school."
Some people believe that when General Conference assigned them to
the Committee on Hymn-Book Revision, power and authority were given
unto them to put a half-sole and a new heel on any and all poetry
that might look to them to be a little run over on one side. If
they felt as I do about the lines that head this article they would
have "Sunday" scratched out and "Sabbath" written in before you
could bat an eye. The mere substitution of one word for another
may seem a light matter to a man that has never composed anything
more literary than an obituary for the Western Advocate of Sister
Jane Malinda Sprague, who was born in Westmoreland County,
Pennsylvania, in 1816, removed with her parents at a tender age to
New Sardis, Washington County, Ohio, where, etc., etc. If he
wanted to extract a word he would do it, and never even offer to
give the author gas. But I know just how it hurts. I know or can
imagine how the gifted poet that penned the deathless lines I have
quoted must have walked the floor in an agony until every word and
syllable was just to suit him, and so, though I feel sure he meant
to write "Sabbath-school," I don't dare change it.
To most persons one word seems about as good as another, Sunday or
Sabbath, but when there are young people about the house you learn
to be careful how you talk before them. Now, I would not go so far
as to say that "Sunday" is what you might call exactly rowdy, but
er . . . but . . . er . . . Let me illustrate. If a man says, "It's
a beautiful Sunday morning," like enough he has on red-and-green
stockings, baggy knickerbockers, a violet-and-purple sweater, a cap
shaped like a milk-roll, and is smoking a pipe. He very likely
carries a bagful of golf-sticks, or is pumping up his bicycle.
But if a man says, "This beautiful Sabbath morn," you know for a
certainty that he wears a long-tailed black coat, a boiled shirt,
and a white tie. He is bald from his forehead upward, his upper
lip is shaven, and his views and those of the late Robert Reed on
the disgusting habit of using tobacco are absolutely at one.
Not alone a regard for respectability, but the hankering to be
historically accurate, urges me to make the change I speak of.
Originally the institution was a Sunday-school, and not very
respectable either. I should hate to think any of my dear young
friends were in the habit of attending such a low-class affair as
Robert Raikes conducted. Sunday-schools were for "little
ragamuffins," as he called them, who worked such long hours on
week-days (from five in the morning until nine at night) that if
they were to learn the common branches at all it had to be on a
Sunday. A ragged school was bad enough in itself, putting foolish
notions into the heads of gutter-brats and making them discontented
and unhappy in their lot; but to teach a ragged school on Sunday
was a little too much. So Robert Raikes encountered the most violent
opposition, although from that beginning dates popular education in
To be able to read is no Longer a sign that Pa can afford to do
without the young ones' wages on a Saturday night, and can even pay
for their schooling. It is no longer a mark of wealth or even of
hard-won privilege, but the common fate of all; to know the three
R's, and Sunday is not now set apart for secular instruction. So
good and wholesome an institution as the Sunday-school was not
permitted to perish, but was changed to suit the environment. It
is now become the Sabbath-school for the study of the Bible, a
Christian recrudescence of the synagogue. For some eighteen
centuries it was supposed that a regularly ordained minister should
have exclusive charge of this work. At rare intervals nowadays a
clergyman may be found to maintain that because a man has been to
college and to the theological seminary, and has made the study of
the Scriptures his life-work (moved to that decision after careful
self-examination) that therefore he is better fitted to that ministry
than Miss Susie Goldrick, who teaches a class in Sabbath-school
very acceptably. Miss Goldrick is in the second year in the High
School, and last Friday afternoon read a composition on English
Literatoor, in which she spoke in terms of high praise of John
Bunion, the well-known author of " Progress and Poverty." Miss
Goldrick is very conscientious, and always keeps her thumbnail
against the questions printed on the lesson-leaf, so as not to
ask twice, "What did the disciples then do?"
It were a grave error to suppose that no secular learning is
acquired in the modern Sabbath-school. I remember once, when quite
young, speaking to my teacher, in the interval between the regular
class work and the closing exercises, about peacocks. I had read
of them, but had never seen one. What did they look like? She
said a peacock was something like a butterfly. I have always
remembered that, and when I did finally see a peacock, I was
interested to note the essential accuracy of the description.
Also, one day a new lady taught our class, Miss Evans having gone
up to Marion to spend a Sunday with her brother, who kept a stove
store there, and this new lady borrowed two flower vases from off
the pulpit and a piece of string from Turkey-egg McLaughlin to
explain to us boys how the earth went around the sun. We had too
much manners to tell her that we knew that years and years ago when
we were in Miss Humphreys's room. I don't remember what the earth
going around the sun had to do with the lesson for the day, which
was about Samuel anointing David's head with oil - did I ever tell
you how I anointed my own head with coal oil? - but I do remember
that she broke both the vases and cut her finger, and had to keep
sucking it the rest of the time, because she didn't want to get
her handkerchief all bloodied up. It was a kind of fancy
handkerchief, made of thin stuff trimmed with lace - no good.
The Sabbath-school may be said to be divided into three courses,
namely, the preparatory or infant-class, the collegiate or
Sabbath-school proper, and the post-graduate or Mr. Parker's
What can a mere babe of three or four years learn in Sabbath-school?
sneers the critic. Not much, I grant you, of justification by
Faith, or Effectual Calling; but certain elementary precepts can
be impressed upon the mind while it is still in a plastic condition
that never can be wholly obliterated, come what may in after life.
Prime among these elementary precepts is this: "Always bring a penny."
Some one has said, "Give me the first seven years of a child's life
and I care not who has the remainder." I cannot endorse this without
reserve; but I maintain as a demonstrated fact: "Bring up a child
to contribute a copper cent, and when he is old he will not depart
from it." It was recently my high privilege to attend a summer
gathering of representative religious people in the largest
auditorium in this country. Sometimes under that far-spreading roof
ten thousand souls were assembled and met together. This fact could
be guessed at with tolerable accuracy from the known seating
capacity, but the interesting thing was that it could be predicated
with mathematical certainty that exactly ten thousand people were
present, because the offertory footed up exactly one hundred dollars.
What an encouragement to these faithful infant-class teachers that
have labored unremittingly, instant in season and out of season,
saying over and over again with infinite patience, "Always bring a
penny," to know that their labor has not been in vain, and that as
a people we have made it the rule of our lives always to bring a
penny - and no more.
I have often tried to think what a Sabbath-school must be like in
California, where they have no pennies. It seems hardly possible
that the institution can exist under such a patent disability, and
yet it does. Do they work it on the same principle as the
post-office in that far-off land where you 'cannot buy one postal
card because the postmaster cannot make change, but must buy five
postal cards or two two-cent stamps and a postal? In other words,
does a nickel, the smallest extant coin, serve for five persons
for one Sunday or one person for five Sundays? I have often
wondered about this.
Subsidiary instruction in the preparatory course consists of sitting
right still and being nice, keeping your fingers out of Johnny Pym's
eye, because it hurts him and makes him cry, not grabbing in the
basket when it goes by, even though it does have pennies in it,
coaching in a repertory of songs like: "Beautiful, Beautiful Little
Hands," "You in Your Little Corner and I in Mine," " The Consecrated
Cross-Eyed Bear," "Pass Around the Wash-Rag" - the grown folks call
that "Pass Along the Watchword" and stories about David and Goliath,
Samson and the three hundred foxes with fire tied to their tails,
Moses in the bulrushes, the infant Samuel, Hagar in the wilderness,
and so forth. The clergy have often objected that these stories,
being told at the same period of life with those about Santa Claus,
"One time there was a little boy and he had a dog named Rover," the
little girl that had hair as black as ebony, skin as white as snow,
and cheeks as red as blood, because her Ma, who was a queen by
occupation, happened to cut her finger with a black-handled knife
along about New Year's - the clergy, I say, have often objected that
all these matters, being brought to a child's attention at the same
period in its life, are likely to be regarded in after years as of
equal evidential value. I am not much of a hand to argue, myself,
but I should like to have one of these carping critics meet my
friend, Mrs. Sarah M. Boggs, who has taught the infant-class since
1867, having missed only two Sundays in that time, once, in 1879,
when it stormed so that nobody in town was out, and once, last
winter a year ago, when she slipped off the back porch and hurt her
knee. I can just see Sister Boggs laying down the law to anybody
that finds fault with the infant-class, let him be preacher or who.
Why the very idea! Do you mean to say, sir - I guess Sister Boggs
can straighten him out all right.
No less faithful is Mr. Parker, the leading lawyer of the town, who
conducts the Bible-class. I believe one morning he didn't get there
until after the last bell was done ringing, but otherwise his record
of attendance compares favorably with Sister Boggs's. Both teachers
agree to ignore the stated lesson for the day, but whereas Sister
Boggs leads her flock through the flowery meads of narration, Mr.
Parker and his class have camped out by preference for the last forty
years in the arid wilderness of Romans and Hebrews and Corinthians
First and Second, flinging the plentiful dornicks of "Paul says this"
and "Paul says that" at each other's heads in friendly strife. Mr.
Parker's class is also very assiduous in its attendance upon the
Young People's meetings, seemingly holding the dogma, "Once a young
person always a young person." The prevailing style of hairdressing
among the members is to grow the locks long on the left side of the
head, and to bring the thin layer across to the right, pasted down
very carefully with a sort of peeled onion effect.
There is a whole lot of them, and they jower away at each other all
through the time between the opening and the closing exercises,
having the liveliest kind of a time getting over about two verses
of the Bible and the whole ground of speculative theology.
Immeasurably more impermanent in method and personnel is the regular
collegiate department, the Sabbath-school proper. In the early days,
away back when sugar was sixteen cents a pound, the thing to do was
to learn Scripture verses by heart. If you were a rude, rough boy
who didn't exactly love the Sunday-school as much as the hymn made
you say you did, but still one who had rather sing it than stir up a
muss, you hunted for the shortest verses you could find and said them
off. From four to eight was considered a full day's work. But if
you were a boy who put on an apron and helped your Ma with the
dishes, a boy who always wiped your feet before you came in, a boy
that never got kept in at school, a boy that cried pretty easy, a
nice, pale boy, with bulging blue eyes, you came to Sabbath-school
and disgorged verses like buck-shot out of a bag. The
four-to-eight-verse boys sat and listened, and improved their minds.
There was generally one other boy like you in the class, and it
was nip-and-tuck between you which should get the prize, until
finally you came one Sunday, all bloated up with 238 verses in your
craw, and he quit discouraged. The prize was yours. It was a
beautiful little Bible with a brass clasp; it had two tiny silk
strings of an old-gold color for bookmarks, and gilt edges all
around that made the leaves stick together at first. It was
printed in diamond type, so small it made your ears ring when you
tried to read it.
Other faculties than that of memory were called into action in those
days by problems like these: "Who was the meekest man? Who was the
strongest man? Who was the father of Zebedee's children? Who had
the iron bedstead, and whose thumbs and great-toes were cut off?"
To set a child to find these things in the Bible without a
concordance seems to us as futile as setting him to hunt a needle
in a haystack. But our fathers were not so foolish as we like to
think them; they didn't care two pins if we never discovered who had
the iron bedstead, but they knew that, leafing over the book, we
should light upon treasure where we sought it not, kernels of the
sweetest meat in the hardest shells, stories of enthralling interest
where we least expected them, but, most of all, and best of all,
texts that long afterward in time of trouble should come to us, as
it were the voice of one that also had eaten the bread of affliction,
calling to us across the chasm of the centuries and saying: "O,
tarry thou the Lord's leisure: be strong and He shall comfort thine
In the higher classes, that still were not high enough to rank with
Mr. Parker's, the exegetical powers were stimulated in this wise:
"'And they sung a hymn and went out.' Now what do you understand
by that?" We told what we "understood," and what we "held," and
what we "believed," and laid traps for the teacher and tried to
corner him with irrelevant texts wrenched from their context. He
had to be an able man and a nimble-witted man. Mere piety might
shine in the prayer-meeting, in the class-room, at the quarterly
love-feast, but not in the Sabbath-school. I remember once when
Brother Butler was away they set John Snyder to teach us. John
didn't know any more than the law allowed, and we made him feel it,
until finally, badgered beyond endurance, he blurted out that all
he knew was that he was a sinner saved by grace. Maybe he couldn't
just tell where to find this, that, and t' other thing in the
Bible, but he could turn right to the place where it said that
though a body's sins were as scarlet, yet they should be white as
snow. It was regarded as a very poor sort of an excuse then, but
thinking it over here lately, it has seemed to me that maybe John
had the root of the matter in him after all.
The comparative scarcity of polemical athletes and the relative
plenty of the Miss Susie Goldrick kind of teachers, apparently
called into being the Berean Lesson Leaf system, with its Bible cut
up into lady-bites of ten or twelve verses, its Golden Topics,
Golden Texts, its apt alliterations, like:
and its questions prepared in tabloid form, suitable for the most
enfeebled digestions, see directions printed on inside wrapper.
Among the many evidences of the degeneracy of the age is the
scandalous ignorance of our young people regarding the sacred
Scriptures, which at the very lowest estimate are incontestably the
finest English ever written. Those whose childhood antedates the
lesson leaf are not so unfamiliar with that wondrous treasure-house
of thought. It is not for me to say what has wrought the change.
I can only point out that lesson leaves, being about the right size
for shaving papers, barely last from Sunday to Sunday, while that
very identical Bible with the blinding type that I won years and
years ago, by learning verses, is with me still. Yes, and as I
often wonder to discover, some of those very verses that I gobbled
down as heedlessly as any ostrich are with me still.
Remain to be considered the opening and closing exercises,
principally devoted, I remember, to learning new tunes and singing
old ones out of books with pretty titles, like "Golden Censer,"
"Silver Spray," "Pearl and Gold," "Sparkling Dewdrops," and
"Sabbath Chimes." I wasn't going to tell it, but I might as well,
I suppose. I can remember as far back as "Musical Leaves." There
must be quite a lot of people scattered about the country who sung
out of that when they were little. I wish a few of us old codgers
might get together some time and with many a hummed and prefatory,
"Do, mi, Sol, do; Sol, mi . . . mi-i-i-i," finally manage to quaver
out the sweet old tunes we learned when we were little tads, each
with a penny in his fat, warm hand: "Shall we Gather at the River?"
and "Work, for the Night is Coming"; and what was the name of that
"The waves shall come and the rolling thunder shock
Shall beat upon the house that is founded on a rock,
And it never shall fall, never, never, never."
What the proper English tune is to "I think when I read that sweet
story of old" I cannot tell, but I am sure it can never melt my
heart as that one in the old "Musical Leaves." with its twistful
repetitions of the last line:
"I should like to have been with Him then,
I should like to have been with Him then,
When He took little children like lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with Him then."
I fear we could not sing that without breaking down. As we recall
it, we draw an inward fluttering breath, something grips our
throats and makes them ache, our eyes blur, and a tear slips down
upon the cheek, not of sorrow - God knows not all of sorrow - but
if we had it all to live over again, how differently we - oh, well,
it's too late now, but still.
Leafing over my little girl's "Arabian Nights" the other day, when
I came to the story of "The Enchanted Horse," I found myself humming,
"Land ahead! Its fruits are waving." My father used to lead the
singing in Sabbath-school, and when he was sol-fa-ing that tune to
learn it, I was devouring that story, and was just about at the
picture where Prince What's-his-name rises up into the air on the
Enchanted Horse, with his true love hanging on behind, and all the
multitude below holding their turbans on as they look up and exclaim:
"Well, if that don't beat the Dutch!"
And another tune still excites in me the sullen resentment that it
did when I first heard it. In those days, just as a fellow got to
the exciting part in "Frank at Don Carlos's Ranch," or whatever the
book was, there was kindling to be split, or an armful of wood to
be brought in, or a pitcher of water from the well, or "run over to
Mrs. Boggs's and ask her if she won't please lend me her
fluting-iron," or "run down to Galbraith's and get me a spool of
white thread, Number 60, and hurry right back, because then I want
you to go over to Serepta Downey's and take her that polonaise
pattern she asked me to cut out for her," or - there was always
something on hand. So what should one of these composers do - I
don't know what ever possessed the man - but go write a
Sabbath-school song with this chorus:
"There'll be something to do,
There'll be something to do,
There'll be something for children to do:
On that bright shining shore,
Where there's joy evermore,
There'll be something for children to do."
I suppose he thought that would be an inducement!
One of these days America is going to be the musical center of the
world. When that day is fully come, and men sit down to write about
it, I hope they won't forget to give due credit to the reed organ,
Stephen Foster, and the Sabbath-school. The reed organ had a lot
to do with musical culture. It is much decried now by people that
prefer a piano that hasn't been tuned for four years; but the reed
organ will come into its own some day, don't forget. Without it
the Sabbath-school could not have been. Anybody that would have a
piano in a Sabbath-school ought to be prosecuted.
When music, heavenly maid, was just coming to after that awful lick
the Puritans hit her, the first sign of returning life was that
people began to tire of the ten or a dozen tunes to which our
great-grandfathers droned and snuffled all their hymns. In those
days there was raised up a man named Stephen Foster, who "heard in
his soul the music of wonderful melodies," and we have been singing
them ever since - "'Way Down upon the Swanee Ribber," and "Old
Kentucky Home," and "Nellie Gray," and the rest. Then Bradbury and
Philip Phillips and many more of them began to write exactly the
same kind of tunes for sacred words. They were just the thing for
the Sabbath-school, but they were more, much more.
You know that when a fellow gets so he can shave himself without
cutting half his lip off, when it takes him half an hour to get the
part in his hair to suit him, when he gets in the way of shining
his shoes and has a pretty taste in neckties, he doesn't want to bawl
the air of a piece like the old stick-in-the-muds up in the Amen
corner or in Mr. Parker's class. He wants to sing bass. Air is
too high for him anyhow unless he sings it with a hog noise. Oh,
you get out! You do, too, know what a "hog noise" is. You want to
let on you've always lived in town. Likely story if you never heard
anybody in the hog-pasture with a basket of nubbins calling, "Peeg!
Peeg! Boo-eel Booee!" A man's voice breaks into falsetto on the
"Boo-ee!" Well, anyhow, such a young man as I am telling you of
would be ashamed to sing with a hog noise. He wants to sing bass.
Now the regular hymn-tunes change the bass as often as they change
the soprano, and if you go fumbling about for the note, by the time
you get it right it is wrong, because the tune has gone on and left
you. The Sabbath-school songs had the young man Absalom distinctly
in view. They made the bass the same all through the measure, and
all the changes were strictly on the do, sol and fa basis. As far
as the other notes in the scale were concerned, the young man
Absalom need not bother his head with them. With do, sol and fa he
could sing through the whole book from cover to cover as good as
When people find out what fun it is to sing by note, it is only a
step to the "Messiah," two blocks up and turn to the right, as you
might say. After that, it is only going ahead till you get to
"Vogner." Yes, and many's the day you called the hogs. Don't tell
Once a month on Sunday evenings there were Sabbath-school concerts.
The young ones sat in the front seats, ten or twelve in a pew.
"Now, children," said the superintendent, "I want you all to sing
loud and show the folks how nice you can sing. Page 65. Sixty-fi'th
page, 'Scatter Seeds of Kindness.' Now, all sing out now." We
licked our thumbs and scuffled through the book till we found the
place. We scowled at it, and stuck out our mouths at it, and
shrieked at it, and bawled at it, and did the very best we knew to
give an imitation of two hundred little pigs all grabbed by the hind
leg at once. That was what made folks call it a concert.
There were addresses to the dear children by persons that teetered
on their toes and dimpled their cheeks in dried-apple smiles as us.
Some complain that they do not know how to talk to children and
keep them interested. Oh, pshaw! Simple as A B C. Once you learn
the trick you can talk to the little folks for an hour and a half
on "Banking as Related to National Finance," and keep them on the
quiver of excitement. Ask questions. And to be sure that they give
the right answers (a very important thing) remember this: When you
wish them to say "Yes, sir," end your question with "Don't they?" or
"isn't it?" When you wish them to say "No, sir," end your question
with "Do they?" or "Is it?" When you wish them to choose between
two answers, mention first the one they mustn't take, then pause,
look archly at them, and mention the one they must take. Thus:
Q. - Now, dear children, I wonder if you can tell me where the sun
rises. In the north, doesn't it ?
A. - Yes, sir.
Q. - Yes, you are right. In the north. And because it rises in
the north every afternoon at three, how do we walk about? On our
feet, do we?
A. - No, sir.
Q. - No. Of course not. Then how is it we do walk about? On
our ears or - (now the look) on our noses?
A. - On our noses.
This method, if carefully and systematically employed, was never
known to fail. It is called the Socratic method.
The most interesting feature of the monthly Sabbath-school concert
is universally conceded to be the treasurer's report. So much on
hand at the last meeting, so much contributed by each class during
the month last past, so much expended, so much left on hand at
present. We used to sit and listen to it with slack jaws and
staring eyes. Money, money, oceans of money! Thirty-eight cents
and seventy-six cents and a dollar four cents! My!
The librarian's report was nowhere. It was a bully library, too,
and contained the "Through by Daylight" Series, and the "Ragged
Dick" Series, and the "Tattered Tom" Series, and the "Frank on the
Gunboat" Series, and the "Frank the Young Naturalist" Series, and
the "Elm Island" Series - Did you ever read "The Ark of Elm Island",
and "Giant Ben of Elm Island"? You didn't? Ah, you missed it
- and the "B. O. W. C." Series - and say! there was a book in that
library - oo-oo! "Cast up by the Sea," all about wreckers, and
false lights on the shore, and adventures in Central Africa, and
there's a nigger queen that wants to marry him, and he don't want
to because he loves a girl in England - I think that's kind of soft
- and he kills about a million of them trying to get away. You
want to get that book. Don't let them give you "Patient Henry" or
"Charlie Watson, the Drunkard's Little Son." They're about boys
that take sick and die - no good.
It was a bully library, but the report wasn't interesting. Major
Humphreys's always was. He was the treasurer because he worked in
the bank. He came from the Western Reserve, and said "cut" when he
meant coat, and "hahnt" when he meant heart. I can shut my eyes
and hear him read his report now: "Infant-class, Mrs. Sarah M. Boggs,
one dolla thutty-eight cents; Miss Dan'ells's class, fawty-six cents;
Miss Goldrick's class, twenty-faw cents; Mr. Pahnker's class,
ninety-three cents; Miss Rut's class, naw repawt."
Poor old Miss Root! There was hardly ever any report from her class.
Often she hadn't a penny to give, and perhaps the other old ladies,
who found the keenest possible delight in doing what they called
"running up the references," had no more, for they were relics of
an age when women weren't supposed to have money to fling right and
left in the foolish way that women will if they're not looked after
- shoes for the baby, and a new calico dress every two or three
years or so.
Yes, it is rather interesting for a change now and then to hear
these folks go on about what a terrible thing the Sabbath-school is,
and how it does more harm than good. They get really excited about
it, and storm around as if they expected folks to take them seriously.
They know, just as well as we do, that this wouldn't be any kind of
a country at all if we couldn't look back and remember the
Sabbath-school, or if we couldn't fix up the children Sunday
afternoons, and find their lesson leaves for them, and hunt up a
penny to give to the poor heathen, and hear them say the Golden Text
before they go, and tell them to be nice. Papa and mamma watch
them from the window till they turn the corner, and then go back to
the Sunday paper with a secure sort of feeling. They won't learn
anything they oughtn't to at the Sabbath-school.
THE REVOLVING YEAR
"'It snows!' cries the schoolboy, 'Hurrah!'
And his shout is heard through parlor and hall."
MCGUFFEY's THIRD READER.
(Well, maybe it was the Second Reader. And if it was the Fourth,
what difference does it make? And, furthermore, who 's doing this
thing, you or me?)
Had it not been that never in my life have I ever heard anybody say
either "It snows!" or "Hurrah!" it is improbable that I should have
remembered the first line of a poem describing the effect produced
upon different kinds of people by the sight of the first snowstorm
of winter. Had it not been for the plucky (not to say heroic)
effort to rhyme "hall" with "hurrah" I should not have remembered
the second, and still another line of it, depicting the emotions
of a poor widow with a large family and a small woodpile, is burned
into my memory only by reason of the shocking language it contains,
the more shocking in that it was deliberately put forth to be read
by innocent-minded children. Poor Carrie Rinehart! When she stood
up to read that, she got as red as a beet, and I believed her when
she told me afterward that she thought she would sink right through
that floor. Of course, some had to snicker, but the most of us, I
am thankful to say, were a credit to our bringing up, and never let
on we heard it. All the same it was a terrible thing to have to
speak right out loud before everybody. If any of the boys (let
alone the girls), had said that because he felt like saying it, he
would have been sent in to the principal, and that night his daddy
would have given him another licking.
Even now I cannot bring myself to write the line without toning it
"'It snows!' cries the widow. 'Oh G - d!'"
At the beginning of winter, I will not deny, that the schoolboy might
have shouted: "It's snowin'! Hooee!" when he saw the first snow
flakes sifting down, and realized that the Old Woman was picking her
geese. A change is always exciting, and winter brings many joyous
sports and pastimes, skating, and snowballing, and sliding down hill,
and - er - er - I said skating didn't I? and - er - Oh, yes,
sleigh-riding, and - er - Well, I guess that's about all.
Skating, now, that's fine. I know a boy who, when the red ball goes
up in the street-cars, sneaks under his coat a pair of wooden-soled
skates, with runners that curl up over the toes like the stems of
capital letters in the Spencerian copy-book. He is ashamed of the
old-fashioned things, which went out of date long and long before my
day, but he says that they are better than the hockeys. Well, you
take a pair of such skates and strap them on tightly until you can't
tell by the feel which is feet and which is wooden soles, and you
glide out upon the ice above the dam for, say about four hours, with
the wind from the northwest and the temperature about nine below, and
I tell you it is something grand. And if you run over a stick that
is frozen in the ice, or somebody bumps into you, or your feet slide
out from under you, and you strike on your ear and part of your face
on the ice, and go about ten feet ah, it's great! Simply great. And
it's nice too, to skate into an air-hole into water about up to your
neck, and have the whole mob around you whooping and "hollering" and
slapping their legs with glee, because they know it isn't deep
enough to drown you, and you look so comical trying to claw out. And
when you do get out, it takes such along time to get your skates of,
and you feel so kind of chilly like, and when you get home your
clothes are frozen stiff on you - Oh, who would willingly miss such
And sleigh-riding! Me for sleigh-riding! You take a nice, sharp
day in winter, when the sky is as blue as can be because all the
moisture is frozen out of the air, a day when the snow under the
sleigh runners whines and creaks, as if thousands of tiny wineglasses
were being crushed by them, and the bells go jing-jing, jing-jing
on the frosty air which just about takes the hide off your face;
when you hold your mittens up to your ears and then have to take
them down to slap yourself across the chest to get the blood agoing
in your fingers; when you kick your feet together and dumbly wonder
why it is your toes don't click like marbles; when the cold creeps
up under your knitted pulse-warmers, and in at every possible little
leak until it has soaked into your very bones; when you snuggle down
under the lap-robe where it is warm as toast (day before yesterday's
toast) and try to pull your shoulders up over your head; when a
little drop hangs on the end of your nose, which has ceased to feel
like a living, human nose, and now resembles something whittled to a
point; when you hold your breath as long as you can, and your jaw
waggles as if you were playing chin-chopper with it - Ah, that's the
sport of kings! And after you have got as cold as you possibly can
get, and simply cannot stand it a minute longer, you ride and ride
and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride. Once
in a while you turn out for another sleigh, and nearly upset in the
process, and you can see that in all points its occupants are exactly
as you are, just as happy and contented. There aren't any dogs to
run out and bark at you. Old Maje and Tige, and even little Bounce
and Guess are snoozing behind the kitchen stove. All there is is
just jing-jing, jing-jing, jing-jing, not a bird-cry or a sound of
living creature. jing-jing, jing-jing. . . . . Well, yes, kind o'
monotonous, but still . . . . You pass a house, and a woman comes
out to scrape off a plate to the chickens standing on one foot in a
corner where the sun can get at them, and the wind cannot. She
scrapes slowly, and looks at you as much as to say: "I wonder who's
sick. Must be somebody going for the doctor, day like this." And
then she shudders: "B-b-b-oo-oo-oo!" and runs back into the house
and slams the door hard. You snuffle and look at the chimney that
has thick white smoke coming out of it, and consider that very
likely a nice, warm fire is making all that smoke, and you snuffle
again, and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and ride and
ride and 'ride. And about an hour and a half after you have given
up all hopes, and are getting resigned to your fate, you turn off
the big road and up the lane to the house where you are going on
your pleasure-trip, and you hop out as nimble as a sack of potatoes,
and hobble into the house, and don't say how-de-do or anything, but
just make right for the stove. The people all squall out: "Why,
ain't you 'most froze?" and if you answer, "Yes sum," it's as much
as ever. Generally you can't do anything but just stand and snuffle
and look as if you hadn't a friend on earth. And about the time you
get so that some spots are pretty warm, and other spots aren't as
cold as they were, why then you wrap up, and go home again with the
same experience, only more so. Fine! fine!
It's nice, too, when there's a whole crowd out together in a
wagon-bed with straw in it. There's something so cozy in straw!
And the tin horns you blow in each other's ear, and the songs you
sing: "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way," and
"Waw-unneeta! Waw-unneeta, ay-usk thy sowl if we shud part," and
"Nearer, my God, to Thee," and "Johnny Shmoker," and that variation
of "John Brown's Body," where every time you sing over the verse
you leave off one more word, and somebody always forgets, and you
laugh fit to kill yourself, and just have a grand time. And maybe
you take a whole lot of canned cove oysters with you, and when you
get out to Makemson's, or wherever it is you're going, Mrs.
Makemson puts the kettle on and makes a stew, cooking the oysters
till they are thoroughly done. And she makes coffee, the kind you
can't tell from tea by the looks, and have to try twice before you
can tell by the taste. Ah! winter brings many joyous sports and
pastimes. And you get back home along about half-past two, and the
fire's out, and the folks are in bed, and you have to be at the
store to open up at seven - Laws! I wish it was so I could go
sleigh-riding once more in the long winter evenings, when the pitcher
in the spare bedroom bursts, and makes a noise like a cannon.
And sliding down hill, I like that.
What? Coasting? Never heard of it. If it's anything like sliding
down hill, it's all right. For a joke you can take a barrel-stave
and hold on to that and slide down. It goes like a scared rabbit,
but that isn't so much the point as that it slews around and spills
you into a drift. Sleds are lower and narrower than they used to be,
and they also lack the artistic adornment of a pink, or a blue, or a
black horse, painted with the same stencil but in different colors,
and named "Dexter," or "Rarus,'' or"Goldsmith Maid." These are good
names, but nobody ever called his sled by a name. Boggs's hill,
back of the lady's house that taught the infant-class in
Sunday-school, was a good hill. It had a creek at the bottom, and a
fine, long ride, eight or ten feet, on the ice. But Dangler's hill
was the boss. It was the one we all made up our minds we would ride
down some day when the snow was just right. We'd go over there' and
look up to the brow of the hill and say: "Gee! But wouldn't a fellow
come down like sixty, though?"
We'd look up again, and somebody would say: "Aw, come on. Less go
over to Boggs's hill."
"Thought you was goin' down Dangler's."
"Yes, I know, but all the other fellows is over to Boggs's."
"A-ah, ye're afraid."
"Y' are teether."
"I dare you."
"Oh, well now -- "
"I double dare you."
"All right. I will if you will. You go first."
"Nah, you go first. The fellow that's dared has got to go first.
Ain't that so, Chuck? Ain't that so, Monkey?"
"I'll go down if you will, on'y you gotta go first."
"Er - er - Who all 's over at Boggs's hill?"
"Oh, the whole crowd of 'em, Turkey-egg McLaughlin, and Ducky
Harshberger, and - Oh, I don' know who all."
"Tell you what less do. Less wait till it gets all covered with
ice, and all slick and smooth. Then less come over and go down."
"Say, won't she go like sixty then! Jeemses Rivers! Come on, I'll
beat you to the corner."
That was the closest we ever came to going down Dangler's hill.
Railroad hill wasn't so bad, over there by the soap-factory, because
they didn't run trains all the time, and you stood a good chance of
missing being run over by the engine, but Dangler's Well, now, I
want to tell you Dangler's was an awful steep hill, and a long one,
and when you think that it was so steep nobody ever pretended to
drive up it even in the summer-time, and you slide down the hill and
think that, once you got to going.
Fun's fun, I know, but nobody wants to go home with half his scalp
hanging over one eye, and dripping all over the back porch. Because,
you know, a fellow's mother gets crosser about blood on wood-work
than anything else. Scrubbing doesn't do the least bit of good; it
has to be planed off, or else painted.
Let me see, now. Have I missed anything? I'll count 'em off on my
fingers. There's skating, and sleigh-riding, and sliding down hill,
and Oh, yes. Snowballing and making snow-men. Nobody makes a
snow-man but once, and nobody makes a snow-house after it has caved
in on him once and like to killed him. And as for snowballing - Look
here. Do you know what's the nicest thing about winter? Get your
feet on a hot stove, and have the lamp over your left shoulder, and
a pan of apples, and something exciting to read, like "Frank Among
the Indians." Eh, how about it? In other words, the best thing
about winter is when you can forget that it is winter.
The excitement that prompts "It snows!" and "Hurrah!" mighty soon
peters out, and along about the latter part of February, when you go
to the window and see that it is snowing again - again? Consarn the
luck! - you and the poor widow with the large family and the small
woodpile are absolutely at one.
You do get so sick and tired of winter. School lets out at four
o'clock, and it's almost dark then. There's no time for play, for
there's all that wood and kindling to get in, and Pap's awful cranky
when he hops out of bed these frosty mornings to light the fire, and
finds you've been skimpy with the kindling. And the pump freezes up,
and you've got to shovel snow off the walks and out in the back-yard
so Tilly can hang up the clothes when she comes to do the washing.
And your mother is just as particular about your neck being clean as
she is in summer when the water doesn't make you feel so shivery.
And there's the bottle of goose-grease always handy, and the red
flannel to pin around your throat, and your feet in the bucket of hot
water before you go to bed - Aw, put 'em right in. Yes, I know it's
hot. That's what going to make you well. In with 'em. Aw, child,
it isn't going to scald you. Go on now. The water'll be stone-cold
in a minute." Oh, I don't like winter for a cent. Kitchoo! There,
I've gone and caught fresh cold.
I wish it would hurry up and come spring.
"When the days begin to lengthen,
The cold begins to strengthen."
Now, you know that doesn't stand to reason. Every day the sun
inches a little higher in the heavens. His rays strike us more
directly and for a longer time each day. But it's the cantankerous
fact, and it simply has to stand to reason. That's the answer, and
the sum has to be figured out somehow in accordance with it. Like
one time, when I was about sixteen years old, and in the possession
of positive and definite information about the way the earth went
around the sun and all, I was arguing with one of these old codgers
that think they know it all, one of these men that think it is so
smart to tell you: "Sonny, when you get older, you'll know more 'n
you do now - I hope. "Well, he was trying to tell me that the day
lengthened at one end before it did at the other. I did my best to
dispel the foolish notion from his mind, and explained to him how
it simply could not be, but no, sir! he stood me down. Finally,
since pure reasoning was wasted on him, I took the almanac off the
nail it hung by, and - I bedog my riggin's if the old skidama
link wasn't right after all. Sundown keeps coming a minute later
every day, while, for quite a while there, sun-up sticks at the same
old time, 7:3o A.M. Did you ever hear of anything so foolish?
"Very early, while it is yet dark," the alarm clock of old Dame
Nature begins to buzz. It may snow and blow, and winter may seem
to have settled in in earnest, but deep down in the earth, the
root-tips, where lie the brains of vegetables, are gaping and
stretching, and ho-humming, and wishing they could snooze a little
longer. When it thaws in the afternoon and freezes up at sunset as
tight as bricks, they tell me that out in the sugar-camp there are
great doings. I don't know about it myself, but I have heard tell
of boring a hole in the maple-tree, and sticking in a spout, and
setting a bucket to catch the, drip, and collecting the sap, and
boiling down, and sugaring off. I have heard tell of taffy-pullings,
and how Joe Hendricks stuck a whole gob of maple-wax in Sally
Miller's hair, and how she got even with him by rubbing his face
with soot. It is only hearsay with me, but I'll tell you what I
have done: I have eaten real maple sugar, and nearly pulled out
every tooth I had in my head with maple-wax, and I have even gone
so far as to have maple syrup on pancakes. It's good, too. The
maple syrup came on the table in a sort of a glass flagon with a
metal lid to it, and it was considered the height of bad manners to
lick off the last drop of syrup that hung on the nose of the flagon.
And yet it must not be allowed to drip on the table-cloth. It is a
pity we can't get any more maple syrup nowadays, but I don't feel
so bad about the loss of it, as I do to think what awful liars
people can be, declaring on the label that 'deed and double, 'pon
their word and honor, it is pure, genuine, unadulterated maple syrup,
when they know just as well as they know anything that it is only
store-sugar boiled up with maple chips.
Along about the same time, the boys come home with a ring of mud
around their mouths, and exhaling spicy breaths like those which
blow o'er Ceylon's isle in the hymn-book. They bear a bundle of
roots, whose thick, pink hide mother whittles off with the
butcher-knife and sets to steep. Put away the store tea and coffee.
To-night as we drink the reddish aromatic brew we return, not only
to our own young days, but to the young days of the nation when our
folks moved to the West in a covered wagon; when grandpap, only a
little boy then, about as big as Charley there, got down the rifle
and killed the bear that had climbed into the hog-pen; when they
found old Cherry out in the timber with her calf between her legs,
and two wolves lying where she had horned them to death - we return
to-night to the high, heroic days of old, when our forefathers
conquered the wilderness and our foremothers reared the families
that peopled it. This cup of sassafras to-night in their loving
memory! Earth, rest easy on their moldering bones!
Some there be that still take stock in the groundhog. I don't
believe he knows anything about it. And I believe that any animal
that had the sense that he is reputed to have would not have
remained a mere ground-hog all these years. At least not in this
country. Anyhow, it's a long ways ahead, six weeks is, especially
at the time when you do wish so fervently that it would come spring.
We keep on shoveling coal in the furnace, and carrying out ashes,
and longing and crying: "Oh, for pity's sakes! When is this going
to stop?" And then, one morning, we awaken with a start Wha - what?
Sh! Keep still, can't you? There is a more canorous and horn-like
quality to the crowing of Gildersleeve's rooster, and his hens chant
cheerily as they kick the litter about. But it wasn't these cheerful
sounds that wakened us with a start. There! Hear that? Hear it?
Two or three long-drawn, reedy notes, and an awkward boggle at a
trill, but oh, how sweet! How sweet! It is the song-sparrow,
blessed bird! It won't be long now; it won't be long.
The snow fort in the back-yard still sulks there black and dirty.
"I'll go when I get good and ready, and not before," it seems to
say. Other places the thinner snow has departed and left behind it
mud that seizes upon your overshoe with an "Oh, what's your rush?"
In the middle of the road it lies as smooth as pancake-batter. A
load of building stone stalls, and people gather on the sidewalk to
tell the teamster quietly and unostentatiously that he ought to have
had more sense than to pile it on like that with the roads the way
they are. Every time the cruel whip comes down and the horses dance
under it, the women peering out of the front windows wince, and
cluck "Tchk! Ain't it terrible? He ought to be arrested." This way
and that the team turns and tugs, but all in vain. Somebody puts
on his rubber boots and wades out to help, fearing not the muddy
spokes. Yo hee! Yo hee! No use. He talks it over with the
teamster. You can hear him say: "Well, suit yourself. If you want
to stay here all night."
And then the women exult: "Goody! Goody! Serves him right. Now
he has to take off some of the stone. Lazy man's load!"
The mother of children flies to the back-door when school lets out.
"Don't you come in here with all that mud!" she squalls excitedly.
"Look at you! A peck o' dirt on each foot. Right in my nice clean
kitchen that I just scrubbed. Go 'long now and clean your shoes.
Go 'long, I tell you. Slave and slave for you and that's all the
thanks I get. You'd keep the place looking like a hogpen, if I
wasn't at you all the time. I never saw such young ones since the
day I was made. Never. Whoopin' and hollerin' and trackin' in and
out. It's enough to drive a body crazy."
(Don't you care. It's just her talk. If it isn't one thing it's
another, cleaning your shoes, or combing your hair, or brushing your
clothes, or using your handkerchief, or shutting the door softly,
or holding your spoon with your fingers and not in your fist, or
keeping your finger out of your glass when you drink - something the
whole blessed time. Forever and eternally picking at a fellow about
something. And saying the same thing over and over so many times.
That's the worst of it!)
Pap and mother read over the seed catalogues, all about "warm, light
soils," and "hardy annuals," and "sow in drills four inches apart."
It kind of hurries things along when you do that. In the south
window of the kitchen is a box full of black dirt in which will you
look out what you're doing? Little more and you'd have upset it.
There are tomato seeds in that, I'll have you know. Oh, yes,
government seeds. Somebody sends 'em, I don't know who. Congressman,
I guess, whoever he is. I don't pretend to keep track of 'em. And
say. When was this watered last? There it is. Unless I stand
over you every minute - My land! If there's anything done about
this house I've got to do it.
Between the days when it can't make up its mind whether to snow or
to rain, and tries to do both at once, comes a day when it is warm
enough (almost) to go without an overcoat. The Sunday following
you can hardly hear what the preacher has to say for the whooping
and barking. The choir members have cough drops in their cheeks
when they stand up to sing, and everybody stops in at the drug store
with: "Say, Doc, what's good for a cold?"
Eggs have come down. Yesterday they were nine for a quarter; to-day
they're ten. Gildersleeve wants a dollar for a setting of eggs, but
he'll let you have the same number of eggs for thirty cents if you'll
wait till he can run a needle into each one. So afraid you'll raise
chickens of your own.
Excited groups gather about rude circles scratched in the mud, and
there is talk of "pureys," and "reals," and "aggies," and "commies,"
and "fen dubs!" There is a rich click about the bulging pockets of
the boys, and every so often in school time something drops on the
floor and rolls noisily across the room. When Miss Daniels asks:
"Who did that?" the boys all look so astonished. Who did what, pray
tell? And when she picks up a marble and inquires: "Whose is this?"
nobody can possibly imagine whose it might be, least of all the boy
whose most highly-prized shooter it is. At this season of the year,
too, there is much serious talk as to the exceeding sinfulness of
"playing for keeps." The little boys, in whose thumbs lingers the
weakness of the arboreal ape, their ancestor, and who "poke" their
marbles, drink in eagerly the doctrine that when you win a marble
you ought to give it back, but the hard-eyed fellows, who can plunk
it every time, sit there and let it go in one ear and out the other,
there being a hole drilled through expressly for the purpose. What?
Give up the rewards of skill? Ah, g'wan!
The girls, even to those who have begun to turn their hair up under,
are turning the rope and dismally chanting: "All in together, pigs
in the meadow, nineteen twenty, leave the rope empty," or whatever
the rune is.
It won't be long now. It won't be long.
"For lo; the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the
flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds
is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the
fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines, with the
tender grape give a good smell. Arise my love, my fair one
and come away."
THE SONG OF SOLOMON.
Out in the woods the leaves that rustled so bravely when we shuffled
our feet through them last fall are sodden and matted. It is warm
in the woods, for the sun strikes down through the bare branches,
and the cold wind is fended off. The fleshy lances of the spring
beauty have stabbed upward through the mulch, and a tiny cup,
delicately veined with pink, hangs its head bashfully. Anemones on
brown wire stems aspire without a leaf, and in moist patches are May
pinks, the trailing arbutus of the grown-ups. As we carry home a
bunch, the heads all lopping every way like the heads of strangled
babies, we can almost hear behind us in the echoing forests a long,
heart-broken moan, as of Rachel mourning for her children, and will
not be comforted because they are not. The wild flowers don't look
so pretty in the tin cups of water as they did back in the woods.
There is something cheap and common about them. Throw 'em out. The
poor plants that planned through all the ages how to attract the
first smart insects of the season, and trick them into setting the
seeds for next years' flowers did not reckon that these very means
whereby they hoped to rear a family would prove their undoing at the
hands of those who plume themselves a little on their refinement,
they "are so fond of flowers."
Old Winter hates to give up that he is beaten. It's a funny thing,
but when you hear a person sing, "Good-a-by, Summer, good-a-by,
good-a-by," you always feel kind of sad and sorry. It's going, the
time of year when you can stay out of doors most of the time, when
you can go in swimming, and the Sunday-school picnic, and the circus,
and play base-ball and camp out, and there's no school, and
everything nice, and watermelons, and all like that. Good-by,
good-by, and you begin to sniff a little. The departure of summer
is dignified and even splendid, but the earth looks so sordid and
draggle-trailed when winter goes, that onions could not bring a tear.
Old winter likes to tease. Aha! You thought I was gone, did you?
Not yet, my child, not yet!" And he sends us huckleberry-colored
clouds from the northwest, from which snow-flakes big as copper
cents solemnly waggle down, as if they really expected the schoolboy
to shout: "It snows! Hurrah!" and makes his shout heard through
parlor and hall. But they only leave a few dark freckles on the