Part 3 out of 4
believe that any human boy ever collected fifty cents' worth. I
want you to understand that fifty cents is a whole lot of money,
particularly when it is laid out in scrap-iron. Only the tin-wagon
takes rags, and they pay in tinware, and that's no good to a boy
that wants to go to the circus. And as for bottles - well, sir,
you wash out a whole, whole lot of bottles, a whole big lot of 'em,
a wash-basket full, and tote 'em down to Mr. Case's drug- and
book-store, as much as ever you and your brother can wag, and see
what he gives you. It's simply scandalous. You have no idea of how
mean and stingy a man can be until you try to sell him old bottles.
And the cold-hearted way in which he will throw back ink-bottles
that you worked so hard to clean, and the ones that have reading
blown into the glass - Oh, it's enough to set you against business
transactions all your life long. There's something about bargain
and sale that's mean and censorious, finding this fault and finding
that fault, and paying just as little as ever they can. It gets on
one's nerves. It really does.
The boys that made the little white spots come on the corners of
their jaws as they lay there in the grass, scheming, scheming,
scheming, planned rags, and bottles, and scrap-iron, and more also.
Sometimes it was a plan so much bigger that if they had kept it to
themselves, like the darkey's cow, they would have "all swole up
"Sst! Come here once. Tell you sumpum. Now don't you go and blab
it out, now will you? Hope to die? Well . . . . Now, no kiddin'.
Cross your heart? Well . . . . Ah, you will, too. I know you.
You go and tattle everything you hear . . . . Well. . . . Cheese
it! Here comes somebody. Make out we're talkin' about sumpum else.
Ah, he did, did he? What for, I wonder? (Say sumpum, can't ye?)
Why 'nu' ye say sumpum when he was goin' by? Now he'll suspicion
sumpum 's up, and nose around till he . . . . Aw, they ain't no use
tellin' you anything . . . . Well. Put your head over so 's I can
whisper. Sure I am. . . . Well, I could learn, couldn't I? Now
don't you tell a living soul, will you? If anybody asts you, you
tell 'em you don't know anything at all about it. Say, why 'n't
you come along? I promised you the last time. That's jist your
mother callin' you. Let on you don't hear her. Aw, stay. Aw,
you don't either have to go. Say. Less you and me get up early,
and go see the circus come in town, will you? I will, if you will.
All right. Remember now. Don't you tell anybody what I told you.
If a fellow just only could run off with a circus! Wouldn't it be
great? No more splitting kindling and carrying in coal; no more:
"Hurry up, now, or you'll be late for school;" no more poking
along in a humdrum existence, never going any place or seeing
anything, but the glad, free, untrammeled life, the life of a
circus-boy, standing up on top of somebody's head (you could pretend
he was your daddy. Who'd ever know the difference?) and your leg
stuck up like five minutes to six, and him standing on top of a
horse - and the horse going around the ring, and the ring master
cracking his whip - aw, say! How about it?
Maybe the show-people would take you even if you didn't have two
joints to common folks' one, and hadn't had early advantages in the
way of plenty of snakes to try the grease out of. And then . . .
and then. . . . Travel all around, and be in a new town every day!
And see things! The water-works, and Main Street, and the Soldiers'
Monument, and the Second Presbyterian Church. All the sights there
are to see in strange places. And then when the show came back to
your own home-town next year, people would wonder whose was that
slim and gracile figure in the green silk tights and spangled
breech-clout that capered so nimbly on the bounding courser's back,
that switched the natty switch and shrilly called out: "Hep! Hep!"
They'd screw up their eyes to look hard, and they'd say: "Yes, sir.
It is. It's him. It's Willie Bigelow. Well, of all things!" And
they'd clap their hands, and be so proud of you. And they'd wonder
how it was that they could have been so blind to your many merits
when they had you with them. They'd feel sorry that they ever said
you were a "regular little imp," if ever there was one, and that
you had the Old Boy in you as big as a horse. They'd feel ashamed
of themselves, so they would. And they'd come and apologize to
you for the way they had acted, and you'd say: "Oh, that's all
right. Forgive and forget." And they'd miss you at home, too.
Your daddy would wish he hadn't whaled you the way he did, just for
nothing at all. And your mother, too, she'd be sorry for the way
she acted to you, tormenting the life and soul out of you, sending
you on errands just when you got a man in the king row, and making
you wash your feet in a bucket before you went to bed, instead of
being satisfied to let you pump on them, as any reasonable mother
would. She'll think about that when you're gone. It'll be lonesome
then, with nobody to bang the doors, and upset the cream-pitcher on
the clean table-cloth, and fall over backward in the rocking-chair
and break a rocker off. Your daddy will sigh and say:
"I wonder where Willie is to-night. Poor boy, I sometimes fear I
was too harsh with him." And your mother will try to keep back her
tears, but she can't, and first thing she knows she'll burst out
crying, and . . . and . . . and old Maje will go around the house
looking for you, and whining because he can't find his little
playmate . . . . It will seem as if you were dead - dead to them,
and . . . . Smf! Smf!
(Confound that orchestra leader anyhow! How many times have I got
to tell him that this is the music-cue for "Where is My Wandering
We were all going to get up early enough to see the show come in
at the depot. Very few of us did it. Somehow we couldn't seem to
wake up. Here and there a hardy spirit compasses the feat.
All the town is asleep when this boy slips out of his front-gate
and snicks the latch behind him softly. It is very still, so still
that though he is more than a mile away from the railroad he can
hear Johnny Mara, the night yardmaster, bawl out: "Run them three
empties over on Number Four track!" the short exhaust of the
obedient pony-engine, and the succeeding crash of the cars as they
bump against their fellows. It is very still, scarey still. The
gas-lamp flaring and flickering among the green maples at the
corner has a strange look to him. His footfalls on the sidewalk
sound so loud he takes the soft middle of the dusty road. He hears
some one pursuing him and his bosom contracts with fear, as he
stands to see who it is. Although he hardly knows the boy bound
on the same errand as his, he takes him to his heart, as a chosen
friend. They are kin.
On the freight-house platform they find other boys. Some of them
have waited up all night so as not to miss it. They are from across
the tracks. They have all the fun, those fellows do. They can
swear and chew tobacco, and play hookey from school and have a good
time. They get to go barefoot before anybody else, and nobody tells
them it will thin their blood to go in swimming so much. Yes, and
they can fight, too. They'd sooner fight than eat. Our boys,
conscious of inferiority, keep to themselves. The boys from across
the tracks show off all the bad words they can think of. One of
them has a mouth-harp which he plays upon, now and then opening his
hands hollowed around the instrument. Patsy Gubbins dances to the
music, which is a thing even more reckless and daredevil than
swearing. Patsy's going with a "troupe" some day. Or else, he's
going to get a job firing on an engine. He isn't right sure which
he wants to do the most.
Now and then a brakeman goes by swinging his lantern. The boys
would like to ask him what time it is, but for one thing they're
too bashful. Being a brakeman is almost as good as going with a
"troupe" or a circus. You get to go to places that way, too,
Marysville, and Mechanicsburg, and Harrod's - that is, if you're
on the local freight, and then you lay over in Cincinnati. Some
ways it's better than firing, and some ways it isn't so good. And
then there is another reason why they don't ask the brakeman what
time it is. He'd say it was "forty-five" or maybe "fifty-three,"
and never tell what hour.
"Say! Do you know it's cold? You wouldn't think it would be so
cold in the summer-time."
The maple-trees, from being formless blobs, insensibly begin to
look like lace-work. Presently the heavens and the earth are
bathed in liquid blue that casts a spell so potent on the soul of
him that sees it that he yearns for something he knows not what,
except that it is utterly beyond him, as far beyond him as what he
means to be will be from what he shall attain to. One dreams of
romance and renown, of all that should be and is not. And as he
dreams the birds awaken. In the East there comes a greenish
tinge. Far up the track, there is a sullen roar, and then the
hoarse diapason of an engine whistle. The roar strengthens and
strengthens. It is the circus train.
Under the witchcraft of the dreaming blue, each boy had a firm
and stubborn purpose. Over and over again he rehearsed how he
would go up to the man that runs the show, and say: "Please,
mister, can I go with you?" And the man would say, "Yes." (As
easy as that.) But the purpose wavered as he saw the roustabouts
come tumbling out, all frowsy and unwashed, rubbing the sleep out
of their eyes, cross and savage. And the man whose word they jump
to obey, he's kind of discouraging. it's all business with him.
The fellows may plead with their eyes; he never sees them. If he
does, he tells them where to get to out of that and how quick he
wants it done, in language that makes the boldest efforts of the
boys from across the tracks seem puny in comparison. The lads
divide into two parties. One follows the buggy of the boss canvasman
to Vandeman's lots where the stand is made. They will witness the
spectacle of the raising of the tents, but they will also be near the
man that runs the show, and if all goes well it may be he will like
your looks and saunter up to you and say: "Well, bub, and how would
you like to travel with us?" You don't know. Things not half so
strange as that have happened. And if you were right there at the
time . . . .
The other party lingers awhile looking up wistfully at the
unresponsive windows of the sleeping-cars, behind which are the
happy circus-actors. Perhaps the show-boy that stands up on top
of his daddy's head will look out. If he should raise the window
and smile at you, and get to talking with you maybe he would
introduce you to his pa, and tell him that you would like to go
with the show, and his pa would be a nice sort of a man, and he'd
say: "Why, yes. I guess we can fix that all right." And there
Or if it didn't come out like that, why, maybe the boy would be
another "Little Arthur, the Boy Circus-rider," like it told about
in he Ladies' Repository. It seems there was a man, and one day
he went by where there was a circus, and in a quiet secluded,
vine-clad nook only a few steps from the main tent, he heard
somebody sigh, oh, so sadly and so pitifully! Come to find out,
it was Little Arthur, the Boy Circus-rider. He had large
sensitive violet eyes, and a wealth of clustering ringlets, and he
was very, very unhappy. So the man took from his pocket a Bible
that he happened to have with him, and he read from it to Little
Arthur, which cheered him up right away, because up to that moment
he had only heard of the Bible. (Think of that!) And that night
at the show, what do you s'pose? Little Arthur fell off the horse
and hurt himself. And this man was at the show and he went back
in the dressing-room, and held Little Arthur's hand. And the clown
was crying, and the actors were crying, for they all loved Little
Arthur in their rude, untutored way. And Little Arthur opened his
large sensitive violet eyes, and saw the man, and said off the text
that the man taught him that afternoon.
And then he died. It was a sad story, but it made you wish it had
been you that happened to have a Bible in your pocket as you passed
the secluded, vine-clad nook only a few paces from the main tent,
and had heard Little Arthur sigh so pitifully. It was those
sensitive eyes we looked for in the sleeping-car windows, and all
in vain. I think I saw the wealth of clustering ringlets, or at
least the makings of it. I am almost positive I saw curl-papers
as the curtain was drawn aside a moment.
But whether a boy stands gazing at the sleepers, or runs over to
the lots, there is something pathetic about it, something almost
terrible. It is the death of an ideal. I can't conceive of a boy
coming down to the depot to see the circus train come in another
time. Hitherto, the show has been to him the ne plus ultra of
romance. It comes in the night from 'way off yonder; it goes in
the night to 'way off yonder. It is all splendor, all deeds of
high emprise. It stands to reason then, that the closer you get
to it, the closer you get to pure romance. And it isn't that way
What gravels a boy the most of all is to have to do the same old
thing over and over again, day after day, week in, week out. Once
he has seen the circus come in, he cannot blind himself to the fact
that everything is marked and numbered; that all is system, and that
everything is done today exactly as it was done yesterday, and as
it will be done tomorrow.
"What town is this?" he hears a man inquire of another.
"Blest if I know. What's the odds what town it is?"
Didn't know what town it was! Didn't care!
The keen morning air, or something, makes a fellow mighty
unromantic, too. Perhaps it was the thin blue wood-smoke from
the field-stoves, and the smell of the hot coffee and the victuals
the waiters are carrying about, some to the tent where the bare
tables are for the canvasmen, some to the table covered with a
red and white table-cloth as befits performers. These have no
rosy cheeks. Their lithe limbs are not richly decked with silken
tights. Insensibly the upper lip curls. They're not so much.
They're only folks. That's all, just folks.
But when ideals die, great truths are born. To such a boy at such
a moment there comes the firm conviction which increasing years can
only emphasize: Home is but a poor prosaic place, but Home - Ah,
my brother, think on this - Home is where Breakfast is.
"Hay! Wait for me, you fellows! Hay! Hold on a minute. Well,
ain't I a-comin' jis''s fast's ever I kin? What's your rush?"
It is the exceptional boy has this experience. The normal one
preserves the delicate bloom of romance, by never seeing the
show until it makes its Grand Triumphal Entree in a Pageant of
Unparalleled Magnificence far Surpassing the Pomp and
Splendor of Oriental Potentates.
The hitching-posts are full of whinnering country horses, and
people are in town you wouldn't think existed if you hadn't seen
their pictures in Puck and Yudge, people from over by Muchinippi,
and out Noodletoozy way, big, red-necked men with the long loping
step that comes from walking on the plowed ground. Following
them are lanky women with their front teeth gone, and their figures
bowed by drudgery, dragging wide-eyed children whose uncouth finery
betrays the "country jake," even if the freckles and the sun-bleached
hair could keep the secret. From the far-off fastnesses, where
there are still log-cabins chinked with mud, they have ventured to
see the show come into town, and when they have seen that, they will
retire again beyond our ken. How every sense is numbed and stunned
by the magnificence and splendor of the painted and gilded wagons as
they rumble past, the driver rolling and pitching in his seat, as he
handles the ribbons of eight horses all at once! The farmer's heart
is filled with admiration of his craft, as much as the children's
hearts are at the gaudy pictures.
The allegorical tableau-car solemnly waggles past, Europe, and Asia,
and Africa, and Australia brilliant in grease-paint and gorgeous
cheesecloth robes. And can you guess who the fat lady is up on the
very tip-top of all, on the tip-top where the wobble is the worst?
Our own Columbia! It must be fine to ride around that way all
dressed up in a flag. But a sourer lot of faces you never saw in
your life. No. I am wrong. For downright melancholy and
despondency you must wait till the funny old clown comes along in
his little bit of a buggy drawn by a little bit of a donkey.
"And, oh, looky! Here comes the elephants, just the same as in the
joggerfy books. And see the men walking beside them. They come
from the place the elephants do. See, they have on the clothes
they wear in that country. Don't they look proud? Who wouldn't be
proud to get to walk with an elephant? And if you ever do anything
to an elephant to make him mad, he'll always remember it, and some
day he'll get even with you. One time there was a man, and he gave
an elephant a chew of tobacco, and - O-o-ooh! See that man in the
cage with the lions! Don't it just make the cold chills run over
you? I wouldn't be there for a million dollars, would you, ma?
"What they laughing at down the street? Ma, make Lizzie get down;
she's right in my way. I don't want to see it pretty soon. I want
to see it naow! Oh, ain't it funny? See the old clowns playing on
horns! Ain't it too killing? Aw, look at them ponies. I woosht I
had one. Johnny Pym has got a goat he can hitch up. What was that,
pa? What was that went 'OoOOoohm!'"
"Whoa, Nell, whoa there! Steady, gal, steaday! Ho, there! Ho!
Whoa -whoa-hup! Whad dy y' about? Fool horse. Whoa . . . whoa so,
gal, soo-o. Lion, I guess, or a tagger, or sumpum or other."
And talk about music. You thought the band was grand. You just wait.
Don't you hear it down the street? It'll be along in a minute now.
There it is. That's the cally-ope. That's what the show bills call:
"The Steam Car of the Muses." . . . Mm-well, I don't know but
it is just a leetle off the pitch, especially towards the end of a
note, but you must remember that you can't haul a very big boiler on
a wagon, and the whistles let out an awful lot of steam. It's
pretty hard to keep the pressure even. But it's loud. That's the
main thing. And the man that plays on it - no, not that fellow in
the overalls with a wad of greasy waste in his hand. He 's only the
engineer. I mean the artist, the man that plays on the keys. Well,
he knows what the people want. He has his fingers on the public
pulse. Does he give them a Bach fugue, or Guillmant's "Grand Choeur?"
'Deed, he doesn't. He goes right to the heart, with "Patrick's Day
in the Morning," and "The Carnival of Venice," and "Home, Sweet Home,"
and "Oh, Where, Oh Where has my Little Dog Gone?" He knows his
business. A shade off the key, perhaps, but my! Ain't it grand? So
loud and nice!
"Well, that's all of it . . . . Why, child, I can't make it any
longer than it is.
What do you want me to drive round into the other street for? You've
seen all there is to see. Got all your trading done, mother? Well,
then I expect we'd better put for home. Now, Eddy, I told you 'No'
once, and that's the end of it. Hush up now! Look here, sir! Do
you want me to take and 'tend to you right before everybody? Well,
I will now, if I hear another whimper out o' ye. Ck-ck-ck! Git ep
Some day, when we get big, and have whole, whole lots of money we're
going to the circus every time it comes to town, to the real circus,
the one you have to pay to get into. For if merely the street
parade is so magnificent, what must the show itself be?
How people can sit at the table on circus day and stuff, and stuff
the way they do is more than I can understand. You'd think they
hadn't any more chances to eat than they had to go to the show.
And they can find more things to do before they get started! And
then, after the house is all locked up and everything, they've got
to go back after a handkerchief! What does anybody want with a
handkerchief at a circus?
It's exasperating enough to have to choose between going in the
afternoon and not going at all. Why, sure, it's finer at night.
Lots finer. You know that kind of a light the peanut-roaster man
has got down by the post-office. Burns that kind of stuff they use
to take out grease-spots. Ye-ah. Gasoline. Well, at the circus at
night, they don't have just one light like that, but bunches and
bunches of them on the tentpoles. No, silly! Of course not. Of
course they don't set the tent afire. But say! What if they did,
eh? The place would be all full of people, laughing at the country
jake that comes out to ride the trick-mule, and you'd happen to
look up and see where the canvas was ju-u-ust beginning to blaze,
and you'd jump up and holler: "Fire! Fire!" as loud as ever you
could because you saw it first, and you'd point to the place.
Excitement? Well, I guess yes. The people would all run every
which way, and fall all over themselves, and the women would squeal
- And do you know what I'd do? Wouldn't just let myself down
between the kind of bedslat benches, and drop to the ground, and
lift up the canvas and there I'd be all safe. And after I was all
safe, then I'd go back and rescue folks.
We-ell, I s'pose I'd have to rescue a girl. It seems they always
do that. But it would be nicer, I think, to rescue some real rich
man. He'd say: "My noble preserver! How can I sufficiently reward
you?" and take out his pocketbook. And wouldn't say: "Take back
your proffered gold," and make like I was pushing it away, "take
back your proffered gold. I but did my duty." And then wouldn't
forget all about it. And one day, after I'd forgotten all about,
it, the man would die, and will me a million dollars, or a thousand,
I don't know. Enough to make me rich.
And say! Wouldn't the animals get excited when they saw the show
was afire? They'd just roar and roar, and upset the cages, and
maybe they'd get loose. O-o-o-Oh! How about that? If there was
a lion come at me I'd climb a tree. What would you do? Ah, your
pa's shot-gun nothing! Why, you crazy, that would only infuriate
him the more. What you want to do is to take an express rifle,
like Doo Challoo did, and aim right for his heart. An express
rifle is what you send off and get, and they ship it to you by
So you see what a fellow misses by having to go to the show in the
afternoon, like the girls and the a-b-abs. The boys from across
the tracks get to go at night. They have all the fun. When they
go they don't have to poke along, and poke along, and keep hold of
hands so as not to get lost. . . . Aw, hurry up, can't you? Don't
you hear the band playing? It'll be all over before we get there.
But finally the lots are reached, and there are the tents, with all
kinds of flags snapping from the centerpoles and the guy-ropes.
And there are the sideshows. Alas! You never thought of the
sideshows when you asked if you could go. And now it's too late.
It must be fine in the side-shows. I never got to go to one. I
didn't have the money. But if the big, painted banners, bulging in
and out, as the wind plays with them, are anything to go by, it must
be something grand to see the Fat Lady, and the Circassian Beauty,
whose frizzled head will just about fit a bushel basket, and the
Armless Wonder. They say he can take a pair of scissors with his
toes and cut your picture out of paper just elegant.
Oh, and something else you miss by going in the afternoon. At night
you can sneak around at the back, and when nobody is looking you
can just lift up the canvas and go right in for nothing . . . . Why,
what's wrong about that? Ah, you're too particular . . . . And if
the canvasman catches you, you can commence to cry and say you had
only forty cents, and wanted to see the circus so bad, and he'll take
it and let you in, and you can have ten cents, don't you see, to
spend for lemonade, red lemonade, you understand; and peanuts, the
littlest bags, and the "on-riest" peanuts that ever were.
As far as I can see, the animal part of the show is just the same
as it always was. The people that take you to the show always
pretend to be interested in them, but it's my belief they stop and
look only to tease you. Away, 'way back in ancient times, there
used to be a man that took the folks around and told them what was
in each cage, and where it came from, and how much it cost, and
what useful purpose it served in the wise economy of nature, and
all about it. That was before my time. But I can recollect
something they had that they don't have any more. I can remember
when Mr. Barnum first brought his show to our town. It didn't take
much teasing to get to go to that, because in those days Mr. Barnum
was a "biger man than old Grant." "The Life of P. T. Barnum,
Written by Himself" was on everybody's marble-topped centertable,
just the same as "The History of the Great Rebellion." You show
some elderly person from out of town the church across the street
from the Astor House, and say: "That's St. Paul's Chapel. General
Montgomery's monument is in the chancel window. George Washington
went to meeting there the day he was inaugurated president," and
your friend will say: "M-hm." But you tell him that right across
Broadway is where Barnum's Museum used to be, and he'll brighten
right up and remember all about how Barnum strung a flag across to
St. Paul's steeple and what a fuss the vestry of Trinity Parish made.
That's something he knows about. that's part of the history of our
Well, when Mr. Barnum first came to our town, all around one tent
were vans full of the very identical Moral Waxworks that we had
read about, and had given up all hopes of ever seeing because New
York was so far away. There was the Dying Zouave. Oh, that was a
beauty! The Advance Courier said that "the crimson torrent of his
heart's blood spouted in rhythmic jets as the tide of life ebbed
silently away;" but I guess by the time they got to our town they
must have run all out of pokeberry juice, for the "crimson torrent"
didn't spout at all. But his bosom heaved every so often, and he
rolled up his eyes something grand! I liked it, but my mother said
it was horrid. That's the way with women. They don't like anything
that anybody else does. There's no pleasing 'em. And she thought
the Drunkard's Family was "kind o' low." It wasn't either. It was
fine, and taught a great moral lesson. I told her so, but she said
it was low, just the same. She thought the Temperance Family was
nice, but it wasn't anywhere near as good as the Drunkard's Family.
Why, let me tell you. The Drunkard's Wife was in a ragged calico
dress, and her eye was all black and blue, where he had hit her the
week before. And the Drunkard had hold of a black quart bottle,
and his nose was all red, and he wore a plug hat that was even
rustier and more caved in than Elder Drown's, if such a thing were
possible. And there was - But I can't begin to tell you of all
the fine things Mr. Barnum had that year, but never had again.
Another thing Mr. Barnum had that year that never appeared again.
It may be that after that time the Funny Old Clown did crack a
joke, but I never heard him. The one that Mr. Barnum had got off
the most comical thing you ever heard. I'll never forget it the
longest day I live. Laugh? Why, I nearly took a conniption over
it. It seems the clown got to crying about something . . . . Now
what was it made him cry? Let me see now . . . . Ain't it queer I
can't remember that? Fudge! Well, never mind now. It will come
to me in a minute.
I feel kind of sorry for the poor little young ones that grow up
and never know what a clown is like. Oh, yes, they have them
to-day, after a fashion. They stub their toes and fall down the
same as ever, but there is a whole mob of them and you can't take
the interest in them that you could in "the one, the only, the
inimitable" clown there used to be, a character of such
importance that he got his name on the bills. He was a mighty
man in those days. The ring-master was a kind of stuck-up fellow,
very important in his own estimation, but he didn't have a spark
of humor. Not a spark. And he'd be swelling around there, all so
grand, and the clown, just to take him down a peg or two, would
ask him a conundrum. And do you think he could ever guess one?
Never. Not a one. And when the clown would tell him what the
answer was, he'd be so vexed at himself that he'd try to take it
out on the poor clown, and cut at him with his long whip. But Mr.
Clown was just as spry in his shoes as he was under the hat, and
he'd hop up on the ring-side out of the way, and squall out:
"A-a-aah! Never touched me!" We had that for a byword. Oh,
you'd die laughing at the comical remarks he'd make. And he'd be
so quick about it. The ring-master would say something, and before
you'd think, the clown would make a joke out of it . . . . I wish
I could remember what it was he said that was so funny, the time
he started crying. Seems to me it was something about his little
brother . . . . Well, no matter.
Yes, sir, there are heads of families to-day, I'll bet you, that
have grown up without ever having heard a clown sing a comic song,
and ask the audience to join in the chorus. And if you say to
such people: "Here we are again, Mr. Merryman," or "Bring on another
horse," or "What will the little lady have now? the banners, my
lord?" they look at you so funny. They don't know what you mean,
and they don't know whether to get huffy or not. Well, I suppose
it had to be that the Funny Old Clown with all his songs, and quips,
and conundrums, and comical remarks should disappear. Perhaps he
I can't see that the rest of the show has changed so very much.
Perhaps the trapeze performances are more marvelous and
breath-suspending than they used to be. But they were far and
far beyond what we could dream of then, and to go still farther as
little impresses us as to be told that people live still even
westerly of Idaho. The trapeze performers are up-to-date in one
respect. The fellow that comes down with his arms folded, one leg
stuck out and the other twined around the big rope, revolving
slowly, slowly - well, the band plays the Intermezzo from "Cavalleria
Rusticana" nowadays when he does that. It used to play: "O Thou,
Sweet Spirit, Hear my Prayer!" But the lady in the riding-habit
still smiles as if it hurt her when her horse walks on its hind legs;
the bareback rider does the very same fancy steps as the horse goes
round the ring in a rocking-chair lope; the attendants still slant
the hurdles almost flat for the horse to jump; they still snake the
banners under the rider's feet as he gives a little hop up, and
they still bang him on the head with the paper-covered hoop to
. . . . Hold on a minute. Now.
Now . . . That story the clown told that was so funny, that had
something to do with those hoops. I wish I could think of it. It
would make you laugh, I know.
People try to lay the blame of the modern circus's failure to
interest them on the three rings. They say so many things to watch
at once keeps them from being watching properly any one act. They
can't give it the attention it deserves. But I'll tell you what's
wrong: There isn't any Funny Old Clown, a particular one, to give
it human interest. It is all too splendid, too magnificent, too
far beyond us. We want to hear somebody talk once in awhile.
They pretended that the tent was too big for the clown to be heard,
but I take notice it wasn't too big for the fellow to get up and
declaim "The puffawmance ees not yait hawf ovah. The jaintlemanly
agents will now pawss around the ring with tickets faw the concert."
I used to hate that man. When he said the performance was not yet
half over, he lied like a dog, consarn his picture! There were
only a few more acts to come. He knew it and we knew it. We wanted
the show to go on and on, and always to be just as exciting as at
the very first, and it wouldn't! We had got to the point where we
couldn't be interested in anything any more. We were as little
ones unable to prop their eyelids open and yet quarreling with bed.
We were surfeited, but not satisfied. We sat there and pouted
because there wasn't any more, and yet we couldn't but yawn at the
act before us. We were mad at ourselves, and mad at everybody else.
We clambered down the rattling bedslats seats, sour and sullen. We
didn't want to look at the animals; we didn't want to do this, and
we didn't want to do that. We whined and snarled, and wriggled and
shook ourselves with temper, and we got a good hard slap, side of
the head, right before everybody, and then we yelled as if we were
being killed alive.
"Now, mister, if I ever take you any place again, you'll know it.
I'd be ashamed of myself if I was you. Hush up! Hush up, I tell
you. Now you mark. You're never going to the show again. Do
you hear me? Never! I mean it. You're never going again."
But at eventide there was light. After supper, after a little rest
and a good deal of food, while chopping the kindling for morning
(it's wonderful how useful employ tends to induce a cheerful view
of life) out of her dazzling treasure-heap of jewels, Memory took
up, one after another, a glowing recollection and viewed it with
delight. The evening performance, the one all lighted up with
bunches and bunches of lights, was a-preparing, and in the gentle
breeze the far-off music waved as it had been a flag. A harsh
and rumbling noise as of heavy timbers falling tore through the
tissue of sweet sounds. The horses in the barn next door screamed
in their stalls to hear it. Ages and ages ago, on distant
wind-swept plains their ancestors had hearkened to that hunting-cry,
and summoned up their valor and their speed. It still thrilled in
the blood of these patient slaves of man, though countless
generations of them had never even so much as seen a lion.
"And is that all the difference, pa, that the lion roars at night
and the ostrich in the daytime?"
Out on the back porch in the deepening dusk we sat, with eyes
relaxed and dreaming, and watched the stars that powdered the
dark sky. Before our inward vision passed in review the day of
splendor and renown. We sighed, at last, but it was the happy
sigh of him who has full dined. Ambition was digesting. In our
turn, when we grew up, we, too, were to do the deeds of high
emprise. We were to be somebody.
(I never heard of anybody sitting up to see the show depart. And
yet it seems to me that would be the best time to run off with it.)
The next day we visited the lots. It was no dream. See the litter
that mussed up the place.
We were all there. None had heard the man that runs the show say
genially: "Yes, I think we can arrange to take you with us." Here
was the ring; here the tent-pole holes, and here a scrap of paper
torn from a hoop the bareback rider leaped through . . . . Oh, now
I know what I was going to tell you that the clown said. The
He picked up one of these hoops and began to sniffle.
So the ring-master asked him what he was crying about.
"I - I -was thinking of my mother. Smf! My good old mother!"
So the ring-master asked him what made him think of his mother.
"This." And he held up the paper-covered hoop.
The ring-master couldn't see how that put the clown in mind of his
mother. He was awful dumb, that man.
"It looks just like the pancakes she used to make for us."
Well, sir, we just hollered and laughed at that. And after we had
quieted down a little, the ringmaster says: "As big as that?"
"Bigger," says the clown. "Why, she used to make 'em so big we
used 'em for bedclothes."
"Indeed" (Just like that. He took it all in, just as if it was so.)
"Oh, my, yes! I mind one time I was sleeping with my little
brother, and I waked up just as cold - Brr! But I was cold!"
"But how could that be, sir? You just now said you had pancakes
"Yes, but my little brother got hungry in the night, and et up all
Laugh? Why, they screamed. Me? I thought I'd just about go up.
But the ring master never cracked a smile. He didn't see the joke
Good-by, old clown, friend of our childhood, goodby, good-by
forever! And you, our other friend, the street parade, must you
go, too? And you, the gorgeous show-bills, must you tread the
path toward the sundown? Good-by! Good-by! In that dreary land
where you are going, the Kingdom of the Ausgespielt, it may comfort
you to recollect the young hearts you have made happy in the days
that were, but never more can be again.
THE COUNTY FAIR
Whether or not the name had an influence on the weather, I don't
know. Perhaps it did rain some years, but, as I remember, County
Fair time seems to have had a sky perfectly cloudless, with its
blue only a little dulled around the edges where it came close to
the ground and the dust settled on it. Things far off were sort of
hazy, but that might have been the result of the bonfires of leaves
we had been having evenings after supper. In Fair weather, when the
sun had been up long enough to get a really good start, it was right
warm, but in the shade it was cool, and nights and mornings there
was a chill in the air that threatened worse things to come.
The harvest is past, the summer is ended. Down cellar the
swing-shelf is cram-jam full of jellyglasses, and jars of fruit.
Out on the hen-house roof are drying what, when the soap-box wagon
was first built, promised barrels and barrels of nuts to be brought
up with the pitcher of cider for our comforting in the long winter
evenings, but what turns out, when the shucks are off, to be a
poor, pitiful half-peck, daily depleted by the urgent necessity of
finding out if they are dry enough yet. Folks are picking apples,
and Koontz's cider-mill is in full operation. (Do you know any
place where a fellow can get some nice long straws?) Out in the
fields are champagne-colored pyramids, each with a pale-gold heap
of corn beside it, and the good black earth is dotted with orange
blobs that promise pumpkin-pies for Thanksgiving Day. No. Let me
look again. Those aren't pie-pumpkins; those are cow-pumpkins, and
if you want to see something kind of pitiful, I'll show you Abe
Bethard chopping up one of those yellow globes -with what, do you
suppose? With the cavalry saber his daddy used at Gettysburg.
The harvest is past, the summer is ended. As a result of all the
good feeding and the outdoor air we have had for three or four
months past, the strawberry shortcakes, and cherry-pies, and
green peas, and new potatoes, and string beans, and roasting-ears,
and all such garden-stuff, and the fresh eggs, broken into the
skillet before Speckle gets done cackling, and the cockerels we
pick off the roost Saturday evenings (you see, we're thinning 'em
out; no sense in keeping all of 'em over winter) - as a result, I
say, of all this good eating, and the outdoor life, and the
necessity of stirring around a little lively these days we feel
pretty good. And yet we get kind of low in our minds, too. The
harvest is past, the summer is ended. It's gone, the good playtime
when we didn't have to go to school, when the only foot-covering we
wore was a rag around one big toe or the other; the days when we
could stay in swimming all day long except mealtimes; the days of
Sabbath-school picnics and excursions to the Soldiers' Home - it's
gone. The harvest is past, the summer is ended. The green and
leafy things have heard the word, and most of them are taking it
pretty seriously, judging by their looks. But the maples and some
more of them, particularly the maples, with daredevil recklessness,
have resolved, as it were, to die with their boots on, and flame
out in such violent and unbelievable colors that we feel obliged
to take testimony in certain outrageous cases, and file away the
exhibits in the Family Bible where nobody will bother them. The
harvest is past, the summer is ended. Rainy days you can see how
played-out and forlorn the whole world looks. But at Fair time,
when the sun shines bright, it appears right cheerful.
It seems to me the Fair lasted three days. One of them was a
holiday from school, I know, and unless I'm wrong, it wasn't on
the first day, because then they were getting the things in, and
it wasn't on the last day, because then they were taking the things
out, so it must have been on the middle day, when everybody went.
Charley Wells had both the depot 'buses out with "County FAIR"
painted on muslin hung on the sides. The Cornet Band rode all round
town in one, and so on over to the "scene of the festivities" as
the Weekly Examiner very aptly put it, and then both 'buses stood
out in front of the American House, waiting for passengers, with
Dinny Enright calling out: "This sway t' the Fair Groun's! Going
RIGHT over!" Only he always waited till he got a good load before
he turned a wheel. (Dinny's foreman at the chair factory now. Did
you know that? Doing fine. Gets $15 a week, and hasn't drunk a
drop for nearly two years.)
Everybody goes the middle day of the Fair, everybody that you
ever did know or hear tell of. You'll be going along, kind of
half-listening to the man selling Temperance Bitters, and denouncing
the other bitters because they have "al-cue-hawl" in them, and
"al-cue-hawl will make you drunk," (which is perfectly true), and
kind of half-listening to the man with the electric machine,
declaring: "Ground is the first conductor; water is the second
conductor," and you'll be thinking how slippery the grass is to
walk on, when a face in the crowd will, as it were, sting your
memory. "I ought to know that man," says you to yourself. "Now,
who the mischief is he? Barker? No, 't isn't Barker, Barkdull?
No. Funny I can't think of his name. Begins with B I'm pretty
certain." And you trail along after him, as if you were a detective,
sort of keeping out of his sight, and yet every once in a while
getting a good look at him. "Mmmmmm!" says you. "What is that
fellow's name? Why, sure. McConica." And you walk up to him and
stick out your hand while he's gassing with somebody, and there's
that smile on your face that says: "I know you but you don't know
me," and he takes it in a limp sort of fashion, and starts to say:
"You have the advantage of - " when, all of a sudden, he grabs your
hand as if he were going to jerk your arm out of its socket and beat
you over the head with the bloody end, and shouts out: "Why, HELLO,
Billy! Well, suffering Cyrus and all hands round! Hold still a
second and let me look at you. Gosh darn your hide, where you been
for so long? I though you'd clean evaporated off the face the earth.
Why, how AIR you? How's everything? That's good. Let me make you
acquainted with my wife. Molly, this is Mr. - " But she says: "Now
don't you tell me what his name is. Let me think. Why, Willie
Smith! Well, of all things! Why, how you've changed! Honest, I
wouldn't have knowed you. Do you mind the time we went sleigh-ridin'
the whole posse of us, and got upset down there by Hanks's place?"
And then you start in on "D' you mind?" and "Don't you recollect?"
and you talk about the old school-days, and who's married, and who's
moved out to Kansas, and who's got the Elias Hoover place now, and
how Ella Trimble - You know Ella Diefenbaugh, old Jake Diefenbaugh's
daughter, the one that lisped. Course you do. Well, she married Ed
Trimble, and he died along in the early part of the summer. Typhoid.
Was getting well but he took a relapse, and went off like that! And
now she's left with three little ones, and they guess poor Ella has
a pretty hard time making out. And this old schoolmate that you
start to tell a funny story about is dead, and the freckle-faced boy
with the buck teeth that put the rabbit in the teacher's desk, he's
dead, too, and the boy that used to cry in school when they read:
"Give me three grains of corn, mother,
Only three grains o f corn;
To save what little life I have, mother,
Till the coming o f the morn."
well, he studied law with old judge Rodehaver, and got to be
Prosecuting Attorney, but he took to drinking - politics, you know
- and now he's just gone to the dogs. Smart as a steel-trap, and
bright as a dollar. Oh, a terrible pity! A terrible pity. And as
you hear the fate of one after another of the happy companions
of your childhood, and the sadness of life comes over you, they
start to tell something that makes you laugh again. I tell you.
Did you ever see one of these concave glasses, such as the artists
use when they want to get an idea of how a picture looks all
together as a whole, and not as an assemblage of parts? Well,
what the concave glass is to a picture, so such talk is to life.
It sort of draws it all together, and you see it as a whole, its
sunshine and its shadow, its laughter and its tears, its work and
its play, its past and its present. But not its future. The Good
Man has mercifully hidden that from us.
It does a body good to get such a talk once in a while.
And there are the young fellows and the girls. This young gentleman
in the rimless eye-glasses, who is now beginning to "go out among
'em" the last time you saw him was in meeting when Elder Drown was
preaching, and my gentleman stood up in the seat and shouted shrilly:
"'T ain't at all, man. 'T ain't at all!" And this sweet
girl-graduate - the last time you saw her was just after Becky Daly,
in the vain effort to "peacify" the squalling young one, had given
her a fresh egg to play with. I kind o' like the looks of the younger
generation of girls. But I don't know about the young fellows. They
look to me like a trifling lot. Nothing like what they were in our
young days. I don't see but what us old codgers had better hold on
a while longer to the County Clerk's office, and the Sheriff's
office, and the Probate judgeship, and the presidency of the National
Bank. It wouldn't be safe to trust the destinies of the country in
the hands of such heedless young whiffets. Engaged to be married!
Oh, get out! What? Those babies?
I kept awake most of the time the man was lecturing on: "The
Republic: Will it Endure?" but I don't remember that he said
anything in it about the crops. (We can't go 'round meeting the
folks all day. We really must give a glance at the exhibition.)
And I am one of those who hold to the belief that while the farmers
can raise ears of corn as long as from your elbow to your fingertips,
as big 'round as a rollingpin, and set with grains as regular and
even as an eight-dollar set of artificial teeth; as long as they
grow potatoes the size of your foot, and such pretty oats and wheat,
and turnips, and squashes, and onions, and apples and all kinds of
truck, and raise them not only in increasing size but increasing
quantities to the acre I feel as if the Republic would last the
year out anyway. Not that I have any notion that mere material
prosperity will make and keep us a free people, but it goes to show
that the farmers are not plodding along, doing as their fathers did
before them, but that they are reading and studying, and taking
advantage of modern methods. There are two ways of increasing your
income. One is by enlarging your output, and the other is by
enlarging your share of the proceeds from the sale of that output.
The Grand Dukes will not always run this country. The farmers
saved the Union once by dying for it; they will save it again by
living for it.
The scientific fellows tell us that we have not nearly reached the
maximum of yield to the acre of crops that are harvested once a
year, but in regard to the crops that are harvested twice a day it
looks to me as if we were doing fairly well. Nowadays we hardly
know what is meant by the expression, "Spring poor." It is a
sinister phrase, and tells a story of the old, cruel days when
farmers begrudged their cattle the little bite they ate in
wintertime, so that when the grass came again the poor creatures
would fall over trying to crop it. They were so starved and weak
that, as the saying went, they had to lean up against the fence to
breathe. They don't do that way now, as one look at the fine,
sleek cows will show you. A cow these days is a different sort of
a being, her coat like satin, and her udder generous, compared with
the wild-eyed things with burrs in their tails, and their flanks
crusted with filth, their udders the size of a kid glove, and
yielding such a little dab of milk and for such a short period.
Hear the dairymen boast now of the miraculous yearly yield in pounds
of butter and milk, and when they say: "You've got to treat a cow
as if she were a lady," it sounds like good sense.
Pigs are naturally so untidy about their persons, and have such
shocking table-manners that it seems difficult to treat a sow like
a lady, but that one in the pen yonder, with her litter of sucking
pigs, seems very interesting. Come, let's have a look. Aren't the
little pigs dear things? I'd like to climb in and take one of them
up to pet it; do you s'pose she'd mind it if I did? I can see
decided improvement in the modern hogs over old Mose Batcheller's.
If you remember, his were what were known as "razorbacks." They
could go like the wind, and the fence was not made that could stop
them. If they couldn't root under it, they could turn themselves
sidewise and slide through between the rails. It was told me that,
failing all else, they could give their tails a swing - you remember
the big balls of mud they used to have on their tails' ends - they
could swing their tails after the manner of an athlete throwing the
hammer, and fly over the top of the tallest stake-and-rider fence
ever put up. I don't know whether this is the strict truth or not,
but it is what was told me as a little boy, and I don't think
people would wilfully deceive an innocent child.
The pigs nowaday aren't as smart as that, but they cut up better
at hog-killing time. They aren't quite so trim; indeed, they are
nothing but cylinders of meat, whittled to a point at the front end,
and set on four pegs, but as you lean on the top-rail of the pens
out at the County Fair and look down upon them, you can picture in
your mind, without much effort, ham, and sidemeat, and bacon, and
spare-ribs, and smoked shoulder, and head-cheese, and liver-wurst,
and sausages, and glistening white lard for crullers and pie-crust -
Yes, I think pigs are right interesting. I know they've got
Scripture for it, the folks that think it is wrong to eat pork, but
somehow I feel sorry for them; they miss such a lot, not only in
the eating line, but other ways. They are always being persecuted,
and harassed, and picked at. Whereas the pork-fed man, it seems to
me, sort of hankers to be picked at. It gives him a good chance
to slap somebody slonchways. He feels better after he has seen
his persecutors go away with a cut lip, and fingering of their
teeth to see if they're all there.
You'll just have to take me gently but firmly by the sleeve and
lead me past the next exhibit, the noisy one, where there's so
much cackling and crowing. I give you fair warning that if you
get me started talking about chickens, the County Fair will have
to wait till some other time. I don't know much about ducks, and
geese, and guinea-hens, and pea-fowl, and turkeys, but chickens -
Why, say. We had a hen once (Plymouth Rock she was; we called her
Henrietta), and honestly, that hen knew more than some folks. One
time she - all right. I'll hush. Let's go in here.
I don't remember whether the pies, and cakes, and canned fruit,
and such are in Pomona Hall or the Fine Arts Hall. Fine Arts Hall
I think. They ought to be. I speak to be one of the judges that
give out the premiums in this department. I'd be generous and let
somebody else do the judging of the cakes, because I don't care
much for cake. Oh, I can manage to choke it down, but I haven't
the expert knowledge, practical and scientific, that I have in the
matter of pie. I'd bear my share of the work when it came to the
other things, jellies and preserves, and pies, but not cake.
Wouldn't know just exactly how to go at it in the matter of jellies.
I'd take a glass of currant, and hold it up to the light to note
its crimson glory. And I'd lift off the waxed paper top and peer
in, and maybe give the jelly a shake. And then I'd take a spoon
and taste, closing my eyes so as to appear to deliberate - they'd
roll up in an ecstacy anyhow - and I'd smack my lips, and say:
"Mmmmm!" very thoughtfully, and set the glass back, and write down
in my book my judgment, which would invariably be: "First Prize."
Because if there is anything on top of this green earth that I think
is just about right, it is currant jelly. Grape jelly is nice, and
crab-apple jelly has its good points, and quince jelly is very
delicate, but there is something about currant jelly that seems to
touch the spot. Quince preserves are good if there is enough apple
with the quince, and watermelon preserves are a great favorite, not
because they are so much better tasting, but because the lucent
golden cubes in the spicy syrup appeal so to the eye. But if you
want to know what I think is really good eating in the preserve
line, you just watch my motions when I come to the tomato preserves,
these little fig-tomatoes, and see how quick the red card is put on
them. Yes, indeed. It's been a long time, hasn't it? since you
had any tomato-preserves, you that haven't been "Back Home" lately.
It's no great trick to put up other fruit so that it will keep, but
I'd look the canned tomatoes over pretty carefully, and if I saw
that one lady had not only put them up so that they hadn't turned
foamy, but had also succeeded with green corn, and that other
poser, string beans, I'd give her first premium, because I'd know
she was a first-rate housekeeper, and a careful woman, and one
that deserved encouragement.
But I'd save myself for the pies. I can tell a rich, short, flaky
crust, and I can tell the kind that is as brown as a dried apple,
and tough as the same on the top, and sad and livery on the bottom.
And I know about fillings, how thick they ought to be, and how they
ought to be seasoned, and all. Particularly pumpkin-pies, because
I had early advantages that way that very few other boys had. I
was allowed to scrape the crock that had held the pumpkin for the
pies. So that's how I know as much as I do.
I suppose, however, when all is said and done, that there is no
pie that can quite come up to an apple-pie. You take nice, short
crust that's been worked up with ice-water, and line the tin with
it, and fill it heaping with sliced, tart apples -not sauce. Mercy,
no! - and sweeten them just right, and put on a lump of butter, and
some allspice, and perhaps a clove, and a little lemon peel, and
then put on the cover, and trim off the edge, and pinch it up in
scallops, and draw a couple of leaves in the top with a sharp knife,
and have the oven just right, and set it in there, and I tell you
that when ma opens the oven-door to see how the pie is coming on,
there distils through the house such a perfume that you cry out in
a choking voice: "Say! Ain't dinner 'most ready?"
But I fully recognize the fact that very often our judgment is
warped by feeling, and I am inclined to believe that even the
undoubted merit of the apple-pie would not prevail against a
vinegar-pie, if such should be presented to me for my decision.
A vinegar-pie? Well, it has a top and bottom crust, the same as
any other pie, but its filling is made of vinegar, diluted with
water to the proper degree of sub-acidity, sweetened with molasses,
thickened with flour, and all baked as any other pie. You smile at
its crude simplicity, and wonder why I should favor it. To you it
doesn't tell the story that it does to me. It doesn't take you
back in imagination to "the airly days," when folks came over the
mountains in covered wagons, and settled in the Western Reserve,
leaving behind them all the civilization of their day, and its
comforts, parting from relatives and friends, knowing full well that
in this life they never more should look upon their faces - leaving
everything behind to make a new home in the western wilds.
Is was a land of promise that they came to. The virgin soil bore
riotously. There were fruit-trees in the forest that Johnny
Appleseed had planted on his journeyings. The young husband
could stand in his dooryard and kill wild turkeys with his rifle.
They fed to loathing on venison, and squirrels, and all manner of
game, and once in a great while they had the luxury of salt pork.
They were well-nourished, but sometimes they pined for that which
was more than mere food. They hungered for that which should be
to the meals' victuals what the flower is to the plant.
"I whoosh't - I woosh't was so we could hev pie," sighed one such.
(Let us call him Uriah Kinney. I think that sounds as if it were
"Land's sakes!" snapped his wife, exasperated that he should be
thinking of the same thing that she was. "Land's sakes! Haow d'
ye s'pose I kin make a pie when I hain't got e'er a thing to make it
aout o'? You gimme suthirnn to make it aout o', an' you see haow
quick - "
"I ain't a-faultinn ye, Mary Ann," interposed Uriah gently. "I
know haow 't is. I was on'y tellin' ye. I git I git a kind o'
hum'sick sometimes. 'Pears like as if I sh'd feel more resigned
like . . . . Don't ye cry, Mary Ann. I know, I know. You feel
julluk I do 'baout back home, an' all luk that."
O woman! When the heft of thy intellect is thrown against a
problem, something has got to give. Not long after, Uriah sits
down to dinner, and can hardly ask a blessing, he has to swallow
so. A pie is on the table!
"Gosh, Mary Ann, but this is good!" says he, holding out his hand
for the third piece. "This is lickinn good!" And he celebrates her
achievement far and wide.
"My Mary Ann med me a pie t' other day, was the all-firedest best
pie I ever et."
"Med you what?"
"Med me a pie."
"Pie? Whutch talkinn' baout? Can't git nummore pies naow. Frot 's
all gin aout."
"I golly, she med it just the same. Smartest woman y' ever see."
The man dribbled at the mouth.
"What sh' make it aout o'?"
"Vinegar an' worter, I think she said. I d' know 's I ever et
anythinn I relished julluk that. My Mary Ann, tell yew! She's
'baout's smart 's they make 'em."
I wish I knew who she really was whom I have called Mary Ann Kinney,
she that made the first vinegar-pie. I wish I knew where her grave
is that I might lay upon it a bunch of flowers, such as she knew
and liked - sweet-william, and phlox, and larkspur, and wild
columbine. It couldn't make it up to her for all the hardships she
underwent when she was bringing up a family in that wild, western
country, and especially that fall when they all had the "fever 'n'
ager" so bad, Uriah and the twins chilling one day, and Hiram and
Sophronia Jane the next, and she just as miserable as any of them,
but keeping up somehow, God only knows how. It couldn't make it up
to her, but as I laid the pretty posies against the leaning
headstone on which is written:
"A Loving Wife , a Mother Dear,
Faithful Friend Lies Buried Here."
I believe she 'd get word of it somehow, and understand what I was
trying to say by it.
I'll ask to be let off the committee that judges the rest of the
exhibits in the Fine Arts Hall, the quilts and the Battenberg, and
the crocheting, and such. I know the Log Cabin pattern, and the
Mexican Feather pattern, and I think I could make out to tell the
Hen-and-Chickens pattern of quilts, but that's as much as ever.
And as to the real, hand-painted views of fruit-cake, and grapes
and apples on a red table-cloth, I am one of those that can't make
allowances for the fact that she only took two terms. I call to
mind one picture that Miss Alvalou Ashbaker made of her pap, old
"Coonrod" Ashbaker. The Lord knows he was a "humbly critter," but
he wasn't as "humbly" as she made him out to be, with his eyes
bulging out of his head as if he was choking on a fishbone. And,
instead of her dressing him up in his Sunday clothes, I wish I may
never see the back of my neck if that girl didn't paint him in a
red-and-black barred flannel shirt, with porcelain buttons on it!
And his hair looked as if the calf had been at it. Wouldn't you
think somebody would have told her? And that isn't all. She got
Neither am I prepared to pass judgment on the fancy penmanship
displayed by Professor Swope, framed elegantly in black walnut, and
gilt, depicting a bounding deer, all made out of hair-line, shaded
spirals, done with his facile pen. (No wonder a deer can jump so,
with all those springs inside him.) Professor Swope writes visiting
cards for you, wonderful birds done in flourishes and holding
ribbons in their bills. He puts your name on the ribbon place.
Neatest and tastiest thing you can imagine. I like to watch him do
it, but it makes me feel unhappy, somehow. I never was much of a
scribe, and it's too late for me to learn now.
I don't feel so downcast when I examine the specimens of writing
done by the children of District No. 34. I can just see the young
ones working at home on these things, with their tongues stuck out
of one corner of their mouths.
"Rome was not built in a day
Rome was not built in a day
Rome was not built in a day"
and so on, bearing down hard on the downstroke of the curve in the
capital "R," and clubbing the end of the little "t." And in the
higher grades, they toil over "An Original Social Letter,"
describing to an imaginary correspondent a visit to Crystal Lake,
or the Magnetic Springs. I can hear them mourn: "What shall I say
next?" and "Ma, make Effie play some place else, won't you? She
jist joggles the table like everything. Now, see what you done!
Now I got to write it all over again. No, I cain't 'scratch it out.
How'd it look to the County Fair all scratched out? Plague take
The same hands have done maps of North and South America, and
red-and-blue ink pictures of the circulation of the blood. It
does beat all how smart the young ones are nowadays. I could no
more draw off a picture of the circulation of the blood - get it
right, I mean - why, I wouldn't attempt it.
I am kind of mixed up in my recollection of the hall right next to
the Fine Arts. You know it had two doors in each end. Sometimes
I can see the central space between the doors, roped off and devoted
to sewing-machines with persons demonstrating that they ran as light
as a feather, and how it was no trouble at all to tuck and gather,
and fell; to organs, which struck me with amaze, because by some
witchcraft (octave coupler, I think they called it) the man could
play on keys that he didn't touch, and pianos, whereon young ladies
were prevailed to perform "Silvery Waves" - that's a lovely piece,
I think, don't you? - and
"Listen to the mocking-bird, TEE-die-eedle-DONG
Lisen to the mocking-bird, teedle-eedle-EE-dle DONG
The mocking-bird still singing oer her grave,
And then again I can see that central, roped-off space given over
to reckless deviltry, sheer impudent, brazen-faced, bold,
discipline-defying er - er - wickedness. I had heard that people
did things like that, but this was the first time I had ever caught
a glimpse of such carryings-on in the broad open daylight, right
before everybody. I stood there and watched them for hours,
expecting every minute to see fire fall from heaven on them and
burn up every son and daughter of Belial. But it didn't.
I seem to recollect that it was a hot day, and that, tucked away
where not a breath of air could get to them, were three fellows in
their shirtsleeves, one playing on an organ, one on a yellow
clarinet, and one on a fiddle. Every chance he could get, the
fiddler would say to the organist: "Gimme A, please," and saw away
trying to get into some sort of tune, but the catgut was never
twisted that would hold to pitch with the perspiration dribbling
down his fingers in little rills. The clarinet man looked as if
he wanted to cry, and he had to twitter his eyelids all the time to
keep the sweat from blinding him, and every once in a while, his
soggy reed would let go of a squawk that sounded like a scared
chicken. But the organ groaned on unrelentingly, and the tune
didn't matter so much as the rhythm which was kept up as regular
as a clock, whack! whack! whack! whack! And there were two or
three other fellows with badges on that went around shouting:
"Select your podners for the next quadrille! One more couple
wanted right over here!"
The fiddler "called off" and chanted to the tune, with his mouth
on one side: "Sullootch podners! First couple forward and back.
Side couples the same. Doe see do-o-o-o. Al-lee-man LEFT!
Ballunce ALL! Sa-weeny the corners!" I don't know whether I get
the proper order of these commands or not, or whether my memory
serves me as to their effect, but it seems to me that at "Bal-lunce
ALL!" the ladies demurely teetered, first on one foot and then on
the other, like a frozen-toed rooster, while the gents fairly tore
themselves apart with grape-vine twists and fancy steps, and slapped
the dust out of the cracks in the floor. When it came to "SaWEENG
your podners!" the room billowed with flying skirts, and the ladies
squealed like anything. It made you a little dizzy to watch them
do "Graaan' right and left," and you could understand how those
folks felt - there were always one or two in each set - who had to
be hauled this way and that, not sure whether they were having a
good time or not, but hoping they were, their faces set in a sickly
grin, while their foreheads wrinkled into a puzzled: "How's that?
I didn't quite catch that last remark" expression. I don't know
if it affected you in the same way that it did me, but after I had
stood there for a time and watched those young men and women thus
wasting the precious moments that dropped like priceless pearls
into the ocean of Eternity, and were lost irrevocably, young, men
and women giving themselves up to present enjoyment without one
serious thought in their minds as to who was going to wash the
supper dishes, or what would happen if the house took fire while
they were away I say I do not know how the sight of such reckless
frivolity affected you, but I know that after so long a time my
face would get all cramped up from wearing a grin, and I'd have to
go out and look at the reapers and binders to rest myself so I
could come back and look some. There are two things that you
simply have to do at the County Fair, or you aren't right sure
you've been. One is to drink a glass of sweet cider just from
the press, (which, I may say in passing, is an over-rated luxury.
Cider has to be just the least bit "frisky" to be good. I don't
mean hard, but" frisky." You know). And the other is to buy a
whip, if it is only the, little toy, fifteen-cent kind. On the
next soap-box to the old fellow that comes every year to sell
pictorial Bibles and red, plush-covered albums, the old fellow in
the green slippers that talks as if he were just ready to drop off
to sleep - on the next soap-box to him is the man that sells the
whips. You can buy one for a dollar, two for a dollar, or four for
a dollar, but not one for fifty cents, or one for a quarter. Don't
ask me why, for I don't know. I am just stating the facts. It
can't be done, for I've seen it tried, and if you keep up the
attempt too long, the whip-man will lose all patience with your
unreasonableness, and tell you to go 'long about your business if
you've got any, and not bother the life and soul out of him,
because he won't sell anything but a dollar's worth of whips, and
that's all there is about it.
He sells other things, handsaws, and pencils, and mouth-harps,
and two knives for a quarter, of such pure steel that he whittles
shavings off a wire nail with 'em, and is particular to hand you
the very identical knife he did it with. He has jewelry, though I
don't suppose you could cut a wire nail with it. You might, at
To him approaches a boy.
"Got 'ny collar-buttons?"
"Well, now, I'll just look and see. Here's a beautiful rolled-plate
gold watch-chain, with an elegant jewel charm. Lovely blue jewel."
He dangles the chain and its rich glass pendant, and it certainly
does look fine. "That'd cost you $2.50 at the store. How'd that
strike you ?"
"Hpm. I want a collar-button."
"Well, now, you hold on a minute. Lemme look again. Ah, here's a
package 'at orta have some in it. Yes, sir, here's four of 'em,
enough to last you a lifetime; front, back, and both sleeves,
the kind that flips and don't tear the buttonholes. Well, by
ginger! Now, how'd that git in here, I want to know? That gold
ring? Well, I don't care. It'll have to go with the collar-buttons.
Tell you what I'll do with you: I'll let you have this elegant solid
gold rolled-plate watch-chain and jewel, this elegant, solid gold
ring to git married with - Hay? How about it? - and these four
collar-buttons for - for - twenty-five cents, or a quarter of a
That boy never took that quarter out of his breeches pocket. It
just jumped out of itself. But I see that you are getting the
fidgets. You're hoping that I'll come to the horse-racing pretty
soon. You want to have it all brought back to you, the big, big
race-track which, as you remember it now, must have been about the
next size smaller than the earth's orbit around the sun. You want
me to tell about the old farmer with the bunch of timothy whiskers
under his chin that gets his old jingling wagon on the track just
before a heat is to be trotted, and all the people yell at him:
"Take him out!" You want me to tell how the trotters looked walking
around in their dusters, with the eye-holes bound with red braid,
and how the drivers of the sulkies sat with the tails of their
horses tucked under one leg. Well, I'm not going to do anything of
the kind, and if you don't like it, you can go to the box-office
and demand your money back. I hope you'll get it. First place,
I don't know anything about racing, and consequently I don't believe
it's a good thing for the country. All I know is, that some horses
can go faster than others, but which are the fastest ones I can't
tell by the looks, though I have tried several times . . . . I did
not walk back. I bought a round-trip ticket. They will tell you
that these events at the County Fair tend to improve the breed of
horses. So they do - of fast horses. But the fast horses are no
good. They can't any of them go as fast as a nickel trolley-car
when it gets out where there aren't any houses. And they not only
are no good; they're a positive harm. You know and I know that just
as soon as a man gets cracked after fast horses, it's good-by John
In the next place, I wouldn't mind it if it was only interesting to
me. But it isn't. It bores me to death. You sit there and sit
there trying to keep awake while the drivers jockey and jockey,
scheming to get the advantage of the other fellow, and the bell
rings so many times for them to come back after you think: "They're
off this time, sure," that you get sick of hearing it. And when
they do get away, why, who can tell which horse is in the lead? On
the far side of the track they don't appear to do anything but poke
along, and once in a while some fool horse will "break" and that's
annoying. And then when they come into the stretch, the other folks
that see you with the field-glasses, keep nudging you and asking:
"Who 's ahead, mister? Hay? Who's ahead?" And it's ruinous to
the voice to yell: "Go it! Go it! Go IT, ye devil, you!" with
your throat all clenched that way and your face as red as a
turkey-gobbler's. And that second when they are going under the
wire, and the horse you rather like is about a nose behind the other
one that you despise - Oh, tedious, very tedious. Ho hum, Harry!
If I wasn't engaged, I wouldn't marry. Did you think to put a
saucer of milk out for the kitty before you locked up the house?
No. Horse-racing bores me to death, and as I am one of the charter
members of the Anti-Other-Folks-Enjoyment Society, organized to
stop people from amusing themselves in ways that we don't care for,
you can readily see that it is a matter of principle with me to
ignore horseracing, and not to give it so much encouragement as
would come from mentioning it.
If you're so interested in improving the breed of horses by
competitive contests, what 's the matter with that one where the
prize is $5 for the team that can haul the heaviest load on a
stoneboat, straight pulling? Pile on enough stones to build a
house, pretty near, and the owner of the team, a young fellow with
a face like Keats, goes "Ck! Ck! Ck! Geet . . . ep . . . thah
BILL! Geet ep, Doll-ay!" and cracks his whip, and kisses with his
mouth, and the horses dance and tug, and jump around and strain
till the stone-boat slides on the grass, and then men climb on
until the load gets so heavy that the team can't budge it. Then
another team tries, and so on, the competitors jawing and jowering
at each other with: "Ah, that ain't fair! That ain't fair! They
started it sideways."
"That don't make no difference."
"Yes, it does, too, make a difference. Straight ahead four inches.
that's the rule."
"Well, didn't they go straight ahead four inches? What's a matter
"I'll darn soon show ye what's the matter with me, you come any o'
your shenanigan around here."
" Mighty ready to accuse other folks o' shenannigan, ain't ye? For
half a cent I'd paste you in the moot."
"Now, boys! Now boys! None o' that."
Lots more excitement than a horse-race. Lots more improving to
the mind, and beneficial to the country.
And if you hanker after the human element of skill, what's the
matter with the contest where the women see who can hitch up a
horse the quickest? Didn't you have your favorite picked out from
the start? I did. She was about thirteen years old, dressed in
an organdie, and I think she had light blue ribbons flying from
her hat, light blue or pink, I forget which. Her pa helped her
unharness, and you could tell by the way he look-at her that he
thought she was about the smartest young one for her age in her
neighborhood. (You ought to hear her play "General Grant's
Grand March" on the organ he bought for her, a fine organ with
twenty-four stops and two full sets of reeds, and a mirror in the
top, and places to set bouquets and all.) There was a woman in
the contest that seemed, by her actions, to think that the others
were just wasting their time competing with her, but when they got
the word "Go!" (Old Nate Wells was the judge; he sold out the
livery-stable business to Charley, you recollect) her horse backed
in wrong, and she got the harness all twisty-ways, and everything
went bewitched. And wasn't she provoked, though? Served her right,
I say. A little woman beside her was the first to jump into her
buggy, and drive off with a strong inhalation of breath, and that
nipping together of the lips that says: "A-a-ah! I tell ye!" The
little girl that we picked out was hopping around like a scared
cockroach, and her pa seemed to be saying: "Now, keep cool!
Keep cool! Don't get flustered," but when another woman drove
off, I know she almost cried, she felt so bad. But she was third,
and when she and her pa drove around the ring, the people clapped
her lots more than the other two. I guess they must have picked
her for a favorite the same as you and I did. Bless her heart!
I hope she got a good man when she grew up.
Around back of the Old Settlers' Cabin, where they have the relics,
the spinning-wheel, the flax-hackle, and the bunch of dusty tow
that nobody knows how to spin in these degenerate days; the old
flint-lock rifle, and the powder-horn; the tinder-box, and the blue
plate, "more'n a hundred years old;" the dog-irons, tongs, poker,
and turkey-wing of an ancient fireplace - around back of the Old
Settlers' Cabin all the early part of the day a bunch of dirty
canvas has been dangling from a rope stretched between two trees.
It was fenced off from the curious, but after dinner a stranger in
fringy trousers and a black singlet went around picking out big,
strong, adventurous young fellows to stand about the wooden ring
fastened to the bottom of the bunch of canvas, which went over the
smoke-pipe of a sort of underground furnace in which a roaring fire
had been built. As the hot air filled the great bag, it was the
task of these helpers to shake out the wrinkles and to hold it down.
Older and wiser ones forbade their young ones to go near it.
Supposing it should explode; what then? But we have always wanted
to fly away up into the air, and what did we come to the Fair for,
if not for excitement? The balloon swells out amazingly fast, and
when the guy-ropes are loosened and drop to the ground, the
elephantine bag clumsily lunges this way and that, causing shrill
squeals from those who fear to be whelmed in it. The man in the
singlet tosses kerosene into the furnace from a tin cup, and you
can see the tall flames leap upward from the flue into the balloon.
It grows tight as a drum.
"Watch your horses!" he calls out. There is a pause . . . . "Let
go all!" The mighty shape shoots up twenty feet or so, and the man
in the singlet darts to the corner to cut a lone detaining rope. As
he runs he sheds his fringy trousers.
"Good-by, everybody!" he cries out, and the sinister possibilities
in that phrase are overlooked in the wonder at seeing him lurch
upward through the air, all glorious in black tights and yellow
breech-clout. Up and up he soars above the tree-tops, and the
wind gently wafts him along, a pendant to a dusky globe hanging
in the sky. He is just a speck now swaying to and fro. The globe
plunges upward; the pendant drops like a shot. There is a rustling
sound. It is the intake of the breath of horror from ten thousand
pairs of lungs. Look! Look! The edges of the parachute ruffle,
and then it blossoms out like an opening flower. It bounces on the
air a little, and rocking gently sinks like thistle-down behind the
It is all over. The Fair is over. Let's go home. Isn't it wonderful
though, what men can do? You'll see; they'll be flying like birds,
one of these days. That's what we little boys think, but we
overhear old Nate Wells say to Tom Slaymaker, as we pass them: "Well,
I d' know. I d' know 's these here b'loon ascensions is worth the
money they cost the 'Sociation. I seen so many of 'em, they don't
interest me nummore. 'Less, o' course, sumpun should happen to the
CHRISTMAS BACK HOME
It was the time of year when the store windows are mighty
interesting. Plotner's bakery, that away, 'way back in the
summer-time, was an ice-cream saloon, showed a plaster man in
the window, with long, white whiskers, in top boots and a brown
coat and peaked hat, all trimmed with fur, and carrying a little
pinetree with arsenical foliage. Over his head dangled a thicket
of canes hanging by their crooks from a twine string stretched
across. They were made of candy striped spirally in red and white.
There were candy men and women in the window, and chocolate mice
with red eyes, and a big cake, all over frosting, with a candy
preacher on it marrying a candy man and lady. The little children
stood outside, with their joggerfies, and arithmetics, and
spellers, and slates bound in red flannel under their arms, and
swallowed hard as they looked. Whenever anybody went in for a
penny's worth of yeast and opened the door, that had a bell
fastened to it so that Mrs. Plotner could hear in the back room,
and come to wait on the customer, the smell of wintergreen and
peppermint and lemonsticks and hot taffy gushed out so strong that
they couldn't swallow fast enough, but stood there choking and
dribbling at the mouth.
Brown's shoe store exhibited green velvet slippers with deers'
heads on them, and Galbraith's windows were hung with fancy
dressgoods, and handkerchiefs with dogs' heads in the corners;
but, next to Plotner's, Case's drug-and-book store was the nicest.
When you first went in, it smelled of cough candy and orris root,
but pretty soon you could notice the smell of drums and new sleds,
and about the last smell, (sort of down at the bottom of things)
was the smell of new books, the fish-glue on the binding, and the
muslin covers, and the printer's ink, and that is a smell that if
it ever gets a good hold of you, never lets go. There were the
"Rollo" books, and the "Little Prudy" books, and "Minnie and Her
Pets," and the "Elm Island" series, and the "Arabian Nights," with
colored pictures, and There were skates all curled up at the toes,
and balls of red and black leather in alternate quarters, and China
mugs, with "Love the Giver," and "For a Good Boy" in gilt letters
on them. Kind of Dutch letters they were. And there were dolls
with black, shiny hair, and red cheeks, and blue eyes, with
perfectly arched eyebrows. They had on black shoes and white
stockings, with pink garters, and they almost always toed in a
little. They looked so cold in the window with nothing but a
"shimmy" on,, and fairly ached to be dressed, and nursed, and sung
to. The little girls outside the window felt an emptiness in the
hollow of their left arms as they gazed. There was one big doll in
the middle all dressed up. It had real hair that you could comb,
and it was wax. Pure wax! Yes, sir. And it could open and shut
its eyes, and if you squeezed its stomach it would cry, of course,
not like a real baby, but more like one of those ducks that stand
on a sort of bellows thing. Though they all "chose" that doll and
hoped for miracles, none of them really expected to find it in her
stocking sixteen days later. (They kept count of the days.) Maybe
Bell Brown might get it; her pa bought her lots of things. She had
parlor skates and a parrot, only her ma wouldn't let her skate in
the parlor, it tore up the carpet so, and the parrot bit her finger
The little boys kicked their copper-toed boots to keep warm and
quarreled about which one chose the train of cars first, and then
began to quarrel over an army of soldiers.
"I choose them!"
"A-aw! You choosed the ingine and the cars."
"Dung care. I choose everything in this whole window."
"A-aw! That ain't fair!"
In the midst of the wrangle somebody finds out that Johnny Pym has
a piece of red glass, and then they begin fighting for turns looking
through it at the snow and the court-house. But not for long. They
fall to bragging about what they are going to get for Christmas.
Eddie Cameron was pretty sure he 'd get a spy-glass. He asked his
pa, and his pa said "Mebby. He'd see about it." Then, just in time,
they looked up and saw old man Nicholson coming along with his shawl
pinned around him. They ran to the other side of the street because
he stops little boys, and pats them on the head, and asks them if
they have found the Savior. It makes some boys cry when he asks them
The Rowan twins - Alfaretta and Luanna May - are working a pair of
slippers for their pa, one apiece, because it is such slow work.
Along about suppertime they make Elmer Lonnie stay outside and watch
for his coming, and he has to say : "Hello, pa!" very loud, and romp
with him outside the gate so as to give the twins time to gather up
the colored zephyrs and things, and hide them in the lower bureau
drawer in the spare bedroom. At such a time their mother finds an
errand that takes her into the parlor so that she can see that they
do not, by any chance, look into the middle drawer in the farther
left-hand corner, under the pillow-slips.
One night, just at supper-time, Elmer Lonnie said: "Hello, pa!"
and then they heard pa whispering and Elmer Lonnie came in looking
very solemn - or trying to - and said: "Ma, Miss Waldo wants to know
if you won't please step over there a minute."
"Did she say what for? Because I'm right in the midst of getting
supper. I look for your pa any minute now, and I don't want to
keep him waiting."
"No 'm, she didn't say what for. She jist said: 'Ast yer ma won't
she please an' step over here a minute.' I wouldn't put anythin' on.
'T ain't cold. You needn't stay long, only till . . . I guess she's
in some of a hurry."
"Well, if Harriet Waldo thinks 'at I haven't anythin' better to do 'n
trot around after her at her beck an' . . . . All right, I'll come."
The twins got their slippers hid, and Mrs. Rowan threw her shawl over
her head, and went next door to take Mrs. Waldo completely by
surprise. The good woman immediately invented an intricate problem
in crochet work demanding instant solution. Mr. Rowan had brought
home a crayon enlargement of a daguerreotype of Ma, taken before she
was married, when they wore their hair combed down over their ears,
and wide lace collars fastened with a big cameo pin, and puffed
sleeves with the armholes nearly at the elbows. They wore lace mitts
then, too. The twins thought it looked so funny, but Pa said: "It was
all the style in them days. Laws! I mind the first time I took her
home from singin' school. . . . Tell you where less hide it. In
between the straw tick, and the feather tick." And Luanna May said:
"What if company should come?" Elmer Lonnie ran over to Mrs. Waldo's
to tell Ma that Pa had come home, and wanted his supper right quick,
because he had to get back to the store, there was so much trade in
the evenings now.
"I declare, Emmeline Rowan, you're gettin' to be a reg'lar gadabout,"
said Mr. Rowan, very savagely. "Gad, gad, gad, from mornin' till
night. Ain't they time in daylight fer you an' Hat Waldo to talk
about your neighbors 'at you can't stay home long enough to git me
He winked at the twins so funny that Alfaretta, who always was
kind of flighty, made a little noise with her soft palate and tried
to pass it off for a cough. Luanna May poked her in the ribs with
her elbow, and Mrs. Rowan spoke up quite loud: "Why, Pa, how you go
on! I wasn't but a minute, an' you hardly ever come before halfpast.
And furthermore, mister, I want to know how I'm to keep this house
a-lookin' like anything an' you a-trackin' in snow like that. Just
look at you. I sh'd think you'd know enough to stomp your feet
before you come in. Luanna May, you come grind the coffee. Alfie,
run git your Pa his old slippers." That set both of them to
giggling, and Mrs. Rowan went out into the kitchen and began to
pound the beefsteak.
"D' you think she sispicioned anythin'?" asked Mr. Rowan out of one
side of his mouth, and Elmer Lonnie said, "No, sir," and wondered
if his Pa "sispicioned anythin"' when Ma said, "Run git the old
Mr. Waldo always walked up with Mr. Rowan, and just about that time
his little Mary Ellen was climbing up into his lap and saying: "I
bet you can't guess what I'm a-goin' to buy you for a Christmas gift
with my pennies what I got saved up."
"I'll just bet I can."
"No, you can't. It's awful pretty - I mean, they're awful pretty.
Somepin you want, too." How could he guess with her fingering his
tarnished cuff buttons and looking down at them every minute or two?
"Well, now, let me see. Is it a gold watch?"
"Aw, now! I jist set my heart on a gold watch and chain."
"Well, but it'd cost more money 'n I got. Three or fifteen dollars,
"Well, let me see. Is it a shotgun?"
"No, sir. Oh, you just can't guess it."
"Is it a - a - Is it a horse and buggy?"
"Aw, now, you're foolin'. No, it ain't a horse and buggy."
"I know what it is. It's a dolly with real hair that you can comb,
and all dressed up in a blue dress. One that can shut its eyes
when it goes bye-bye."
Little Mary Ellen looks at him very seriously a minute, and sighs,
and says: "No, it ain't that. But if it was, wouldn't you let me
play with it when you was to the store?" And he catches her up
in his arms and says: "You betchy! Now, I ain't goin' to guess any
more! I want to be surprised. You jump down an' run an' ask Ma
if supper ain't most ready. Tell her I'm as hungry as a hound pup."
He hears her deliver the message, and also the word her mother sends
back: "Tell him to hold his horses. It 'll be ready in a minute."
"It will, eh? Well, I can't wait a minute, an' I'm goin' to take a
hog-bite right out of YOU!" and he snarls and bites her right in
the middle of her stomach, and if there is anything more
ticklesome than that, it hasn't been heard of yet.
After supper, little Eddie Allgire teases his brother D. to tell him
about Santa Claus. D. is cracking walnuts on a flat-iron held
between his knees.
"Is they any Santy Claus, D.?"
"W'y, cert, they is. Who says not?"
"Bunty Rogers says they ain't no sech a person."
"You tell Bunt Rogers that he's a-gittin' too big fer his britches,
an' first thing he knows, he'll whirl round an' see his naked nose.
Tell him I said so."
"Well, is they any Santy Claus?"
"W'y cert. Ain't I a-tellin' you? Laws! ain't you never seen him
"I seen that kind of a idol they got down in Plotner's winder."
"Well, he looks jist like that, on'y he's alive."
"Did you ever see him, D.?"
"O-oh, well! Think I'm goin' to tell everything I know? Well, I
"Well, but did you now?"
"M-well, that 'd be tellin'."
"Aw, now, D., tell me."
"Look out what you're doin'. Now see that. You pretty near made
me mash my thumb."
"Aw, now, D., tell me. I think you might. I don't believe you
"Oh, you don't, hey? Well, if you had 'a saw what I saw. M-m!
Little round eyes an' red nose an' white whiskers, an' heard the
sleigh bells, an' oh, my! them reindeers! Cutest little things!
Stompin' their little feet" Here he stopped, and went on cracking
"Tell some more. Woncha, please? Ma, make D. tell me the rest
Huck-uh! Dassant. 'T wouldn't be right. Like's not he won't put
anythin' in my stockin' now fer what I did tell."
"How'll he know?"
"How'll he know? Easy enough. He goes around all the houses
evenings now to see how the young ones act, an' if he finds they're
sassy, an' don't mind their Ma when she tells them to leave the
cat alone, an' if they whine: 'I don' want to go out an' cut the
kindlin'. Why cain't D. do it ?' then he puts potatoes an' lumps o'
coal in their stockin's. Oh, he'll be here, course o' the evenin'."
"D' you s'pose he's round here now?" Eddie got a little closer to
"I wouldn't wonder. Yes, sir. There he goes now. Sure's you're
"Right over yan. Aw, you don't look. See? There he is. Aw!
you're too slow. Didn't you see him? Now the next time I tell you
- Look, look! There! He run right acrost the floor an' into the
closet. Plain 's day. didn't you see him? You saw him, mother?"
Mrs. Allgire nodded her head. She was busy counting the stitches
in a nubia she was knitting for old Aunt Pashy, Roebuck.
"W'y, you couldn't help but see him. didn't you take notice to his
white whiskers ?"
"Ye-es," said the child, slowly, with the wide-open stare of
"Didn't you see the evergreen tree he carried?"
"M-hm," said Eddie, the image taking shape in his mind's eye.
"And his brown coat all trimmed with fur, an' his funny peaked hat?
An' his red nose? W'y, course you did." The boy nodded his head.
He was sure now. Yes. Faith was lost in sight. He believed.
"I expect he's in the closet now. Go look."
"No. You." He clung to D.
"I can't. I got this flat-iron in my lap, an' wouldn't spill the
nut-shells all over the floor. You don't want me to, do you, Ma?"
Mrs. Allgire shook her head.
"Well, now," said D. "Anybody tell you they ain't sich a person
as Santy Claus, you kin jist stand 'em down 'at you know better,
'cause you seen him, didn't you?"
Eddie nodded his head. Anyhow, what D. told him was "the Lord
said unto Moses," and now that he had the evidence of his own eyes
- Well, the next day he defied Bunt Rogers and all his works. To
tell the plain truth, Bunt wasn't too well grounded in his newly
In the public schools the children were no longer singing:
"None knew thee but to love thee, thou dear one of my heart;
Oh, thy mem'ry is ever fresh and green.
The sweet buds may wither and fond hearts be broken,
Still I love thee, my darling, Daisy Deane."
They turned over now to page 53, and there was a picture of Santa
Claus just as in Plotner's window, except that he had a pack on
his back and one leg in the chimney. This is what they sang:
"Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn't go?
Ho, ho, ho! Who wouldn't go ?
Up on the house-top, click, click, click
Down through the chimney with good St. Nick."
Miss Munsell, who taught the D primary, traded rooms with Miss
Crutcher, who taught the "a-b Abs." Miss Munsell was a big fat
lady, and she smiled so that the dimples came in both cheeks and
her double Chin was doubter than ever, when she told the children
what a dear, nice teacher Miss Crutcher was, and how fond she was
of them, and wouldn't they like to make a Christmas present to
their dear, kind teacher? They all said "Yes, mam." Well, now,
the way to do would be for each child to bring money (if Miss
Munsell had smiled at a bird in the tree as she did then, it would
have had to come right down and perch in her hand), just as much
money as ever they could, and all must bring something, because it
would make Miss Crutcher feel so bad to think that there was one
little boy or one little girl that didn't love her enough to give her
a Christmas present. And if everybody brought a dime or maybe a
quarter, they could get her such a nice present. If their papas
wouldn't let them have that much money, why surely they would
let them have a penny, wouldn't they, children? And the children
said: "Yes, mam."
"And now all that love their dear, kind teacher, raise their hands.
Why, there's a little girl over that hasn't her hand up! That's
right, dear, put it up, bless your little heart! Now, we mustn't
say a word to Miss Crutcher, must we? No. And that will be our
secret, won't it? And all be sure to have your money ready by
to-morrow. Now, I wonder if you can be just as still as little
mice. I'm going to give this little girl a pin to drop and see if
I can hear it out in the hall."
Then she tiptoed down the hall clear to her own room and Mary Ellen
Waldo let the pin drop, and Miss Mussell didn't come back to say
whether she heard the pin drop or not. The children sat in
breathless silence. Selma Morgenroth knocked her slate off and
bit her lip with mortification while the others looked at her as
much as to say: "Oh, my! ain't you 'shamed ?" Then Miss Crutchet
came back and smiled at the children, and they smiled back at her
because they knew something she didn't know and couldn't guess at
all. It was a secret.
The next morning Miss Crutchet traded rooms again, and the little
children gave Miss Mussell their money, and she counted it, and it
came to $2.84. The next day she came again because there were three
that hadn't their money, so there was $2.88 at last. Miss Mussell
had three little girls go with her after school to pick out the
present. They chose a silver-plated pickle caster, which is exactly
what girls of seven will choose, and, do you know, it came exactly
Then, on the last day of school, Miss Mussell came in, and, with
the three little girls standing on the platform and following every
move with their eyes as a dog watches his master, she gave the
caster to Miss Crutchet and Miss Crutchet cried, she was so
surprised. They were tears of joy, she said. After that, she went
into Miss Munsell's room, and three little girls in there gave Miss
Mussell a copy of Tennyson's poems that cost exactly $2.53, which
was what Miss Crutchet had collected, and Miss Mussell cried because
she was so surprised. How they could guess that she wanted a copy
of Tennyson's poems, she couldn't think, but she would always keep
the book and prize it because her dear pupils had given it to her.
And just as Selma Morgenroth called out to the monitor, Charley
Freer, who sat in Miss Crutchers chair, while she was absent:
"Teacher! Make Miky Ryan he should ka-vit a-pullin' at my hair yet!"
and the school was laughing because she called Charley Freer
"teacher," in came Miss Crutchet as cross as anything, and boxed
Miky Ryan's ears and shook Selma Morgenroth for making so much noise.
They didn't give anything, though they promised they would.
It was not alone in the day schools that there were extra
preparations. The Sunday-schools were getting ready, too, and
when Janey Pettit came home and told her Pa how big her class was,
he started to say something, but her Ma shook her head at him and
he looked very serious and seemed to be trying hard not to smile.
He was very much interested, though, when she told him that Iky
Morgenroth, whose father kept the One-Price Clothing House down on
Main Street, had joined, and how he didn't know enough to take his
hat off when he came into church. Patsy Gubbins and Miky Ryan and
six boys from the Baptist Sunday-School had joined, too, and they
all went into Miss Sarepta Downey's class, so that she had two whole
pews full to teach, and they acted just awful. The infant class
was crowded, and there was one little boy that grabbed for the
collection when it was passed in front of him, and got a whole
handful and wouldn't give it up, and they had to twist the money
out of his fist, and he screamed and "hollered" like he was being
killed. And coming home, Sophy Perkins, who goes to the Baptist
Church, told her that there wasn't going to be any Christmas tree
at their Sabbath-school. She said that there wasn't hardly anybody
out. The teachers just sat round and finally went into the pastor's
Bible class. Mr. Pettit said he was surprised to hear it. It
couldn't have been the weather that kept them away, could it?
Janey said she didn't know. Then he asked her what they were going
to sing for Christmas, and she began on "We three kings of Orient
are," and broke off to ask him what "Orient" meant, and he told her
that Orient was out on the Sunbury pike, about three miles this side
of Olive Green, and her Ma said: "Lester Pettit, I wish't you'd
ever grow up and learn how to behave yourself. Why, honey, it means
the East. The three wise men came from the East, don't you mind?"
At the Centre Street M. E. Church, where Janey Pettit went to
Sunday-school, there were big doings. Little Lycurgus Emerson,
whose mother sent him down to Littell's in a hurry for two pounds
of brown sugar, and who had already been an hour and a half getting
past Plotner's and Case's, heard Brother Littell and Abel Horn
talking over what they had decided at the "fishery meetin'." (By
the time Curg got so that he shaved, he knew that "officiary" was
the right way to say it, just as "certificate" is the right way to
say "stiffcut.") There was going to be a Christmas tree clear up
to the ceiling, all stuck full of candles and strung with pop-corn,
and a chimney for Santa Claus to climb down and give out the
presents and call out the names on them. Every child in the
Sunday-school was to get a bag of candy and an orange, and there
were going to be "exercises." Curg thought it would be kind of
funny to go through gymnastics, but, just then, he saw Uncle Billy
Nicholson come in, and he hid. He didn't want to be patted on the
head and - asked things.
Uncle Billy had his mouth all puckered up, and his eyebrows looked
more like tooth-brushes than ever. He put down the list of groceries
that Aunt Libby had written out for him, because he couldn't remember
things very well, and commenced to lay down the law.
"Such carryin's on in the house o' God!" he snorted. "Why the very
idy! Talk about them Pharisees an' Sadducees a-makin' the temple a
den o' thieves! W'y, you're a-turnin' it into a theayter with your
play-actin' tomfoolery! They'll be no blessin' on it, now you mark."
"Aunt Libby say whether she wanted stoned raisins?" asked Brother
Littell, who was copying off the list on the order book.
"I disremember, but you better send up the reg'lar raisins. Gittin'
too many newfangled contraptions these days. They're a-callin' it
a theayter right now, the Babtists is. What you astin' fer your
eatin' apples? Whew! My souls alive! I don't wonder you grocery
storekeepers git rich in a hurry. No, I guess you needn't send 'ny
up. Taste too strong o' money. Don't have no good apples now
no more anyways. All so dried up and pethy. An' what is it but a
theayter, I'd like to know? Weth your lectures about the Ar'tic
regions an' your mum-socials, an' all like that, chargin' money fer
to git in the meetin' house. I tell you what it is, Brother Littell,
the women folks 'd take the money they fritter away on ribbons and
artificial flowers an' gold an'costly apparel, which I have saw
them turned away from the love-feast fer wearin', an' 'ud give it
in fer quarterage an' he'p support the preachin' of the Word, they
wouldn't need to be no shows in the meetin' house an' they 'd be
more expeerimental religion."
Abel Horn (Abel led the singing in meeting, and had a loud bass
voice; he always began before everybody and ended after everybody)
was standing behind Uncle Billy, and Lycurgus could see him with
his head juked forward and his eyebrows up and his mouth wide open
in silent laughter, very disconcerting to Brother Littell, who
didn't want to anger Uncle Billy, and maybe lose his trade by
grinning in his face.
"An' now you got to go an' put up a Christmas tree right in the
altar," stormed Uncle Billy, "an' dike it all out with pop-corn an'
candles. You're gittin' as bad 's the Catholics, every bit. Worse,
I say, becuz they never had the Gospel light, an' is jist led round
by the priest an' have to pay to git their sins forgive. But you,
you're a-walkin' right smack dab into it, weth your eyes open,
teachin' fer Gospel the inventions o' men."
"W'y what, Uncle Billy?"
"W'y, this here Santy Claus a-climbin' down a chimley an' a-cuttin'
up didoes fer to make them little ones think they is a reel Santy
Claus 'cuz they seen him to the meetin' house. Poot soon when they
git a little older 'n' they find out how you been afoolin' 'em about
Santy Claus, they'll wonder if what you been a-tellin' 'em about the
Good Man ain't off o' the same bolt o' goods, an' another one o'
them cunningly devised fables. Think they'll come any blessin' on
tellin' a lie? An' a-actin' it out? No, sir. No, sir. Ain't ary
good thing to a lie, no way you kin fix it. How kin they be? Who's
the father of lies? W'y the Old Scratch! That's who. An' here you
go a - "
The old man was so wroth that he couldn't finish and turned and
stamped out, slamming the door after him.
Brother Littell winked and waited till Mr. Nicholson got out before
he mildly observed "Kind o' hot in under the collar, 'pears like."
"Righteous mad, I s'pose," said Abel Horn.
"You waited on yit, bub?" asked Brother Littell. "I betchy he's
a-thinkin' right now he'll take his letter out o' Centre Street an'
go to the Barefoot Church. He would, too, if 't wasn't clean plumb
at the fur end o' town an' a reg'lar mud-hole to git there."
"Pity him an' a few more of 'em up in the Amen corner wouldn't
go," said Abel Horn. "Mind the time we sung, 'There is a Stream?'
You know they's a solo in it fer the soprano. Well, 't is kind o'
operatic an' skallyhootin' up an' down the scale. I give the solo
to Tilly Wilkerson an' if that old skeezicks didn't beller right
out in the middle of it: 'It's a disgrace tud Divine service!' He
did. You could 'a' heard him clear to the court-house. My! I
thought I'd go up. Tilly, she was kind o' scared an' trimbly, but
she stuck to it like a major. Said afterwards she'd 'a' finished
that solo if it was the last act she ever done."
"Who's a-goin' to be Santy Claus?" asked Brother Littell, with
"The committee thought that had better be kept a secret," replied
Abel, with as much dignity as his four feet nine would admit of.
"Ort to be somebody kind o' heavy-set, ort n't it?" hinted the
grocer, giving a recognizable description of himself.
"Well, I don' know 'bout that," contested Abel. "Git somebody
kind o' spry an' he could pad out weth a pilfer. A pussy man 'd
find it rather onhandy comin' down that chimbly an' hoppin' hether
an' yan takin' things off o' the tree. Need somebody with a good
strong voice, too, to call off the names . . . . Woosh's you'd git
them things up to the house soon 's you kin, Otho. Ma's in a hurry
"Betchy two cents," said Brother Littell to his clerk, Clarence
Bowersox, "'at Abel Horn 'll be Santy Claus."
"Git out!" doubted Clarence.
"'Ll, you see now. He's the daggonedest feller to crowd himself
in an' be the head leader o' everything. W'y, he ain't no more call
to be Santy Claus 'n that hitchin' post out yan. Little, dried-up
runt, bald 's a apple. Told me one time: 'I never grow'd a' inch
tell I was sixteen 'n' then I shot up like a weed.' . . . Bub, you
tell yer Ma if she wants a turkey fer Christmas she better be
gittin' her order in right quick."
Only six more days till Christmas now - only five - only four -
only three - only two - Christmas Eve. One day more of holding
in such swelling secrets, and some of the young folks would have
popped right wide open. Families gather about the Franklin stove,
Pa and Ma gaping and rubbing their eyes - saying, "Oh, hum!" and
making out that they are just plumb perishing for the lack of sleep.
But the children cannot take the hint. They don't want to go to
bed. The imminence of a great event nerves them in their hopeless
fight against the hosts of Nod. They sit and stare with bulging
eyes at the red coals and dancing flames, spurting out here and
there like tiny sabers.
The mystic hour draws near. Sometime in the night will come the
jingle of silver bells, and the patter of tiny hoofs. Old Santa
will halloo: "Whoa!" and come sliding down the chimney. The
drowsing heads, fuddled with weariness, wrestle clumsily with
the problem, "How is he to get through the stove without burning
himself?" Reason falters and Faith triumphs. It would be done