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The Complete Works of
James Whitcomb Riley
IN TEN VOLUMES
Including Poems and Prose Sketches, many of which have not heretofore been
published; an authentic Biography, an elaborate Index and numerous
Illustrations in color from Paintings by Howard Chandler Christy
and Ethyl Franklin Betts
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
1883, 1885, 1887, 1888, 1890, 1891, 189, 1893, 1894, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 190, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 191, 1913, BY JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
THE MEMORY OF
James Whitcomb Riley
IN PLEASANT RECOLLECTION OF MORE THAN THIRTY-FIVE YEARS OF BUSINESS AND PERSONAL ASSOCIATION
THESE FINAL VOLUMES
ARE AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
October 7, 1849, July 22, 1916 Greenfield, Ind. Indianapolis, Ind.
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY–A SKETCH
A BACKWARD LOOK
THE SAME OLD STORY
TO A BOY WHISTLING
AN OLD FRIEND
WHAT SMITH KNEW ABOUT FARMING
A POET’S WOOING
THE OLD TIMES WERE THE BEST
A SUMMER AFTERNOON
MY JOLLY FRIEND’S SECRET
THE SPEEDING OF THE KING’S SPITE
DOT LEEDLE BOY
I SMOKE MY PIPE
RED RIDING HOOD
IF I KNEW WHAT POETS KNOW
AN OLD SWEETHEART OF MINE
SQUIRE HAWKINS’S STORY
A COUNTRY PATHWAY
THE OLD GUITAR
HER BEAUTIFUL HANDS
THE SILENT VICTORS
DEAD IN SIGHT OF FAME
IN THE DARK
THE IRON HORSE
OVER THE EYES OF GLADNESS
ONLY A DREAM
OUR LlTTLE GIRL
THE FUNNY LITTLE FELLOW
SONG OF THE NEW YEAR
A LETTER TO A FRIEND
LINES FOR AN ALBUM
AN EMPTY NEST
MY FATHER’S HALLS
THE HARP OF THE MINSTREL
HONEY DRIPPING FROM THE COMB
THAT OTHER MAUDE MULLER
A MAN OF MANY PARTS
A DREAM OF LONG AGO
WASH LOWRY’S REMINISCENCE
THE ANCIENT PRINTERMAN
PRIOR TO MISS BELLE’S APPEARANCE
WHEN MOTHER COMBED MY HAIR
GEORGE MULLEN’S CONFESSION
SAY SOMETHING TO ME
A TEST OF LOVE
WHAT THE WIND SAID
AN AUTUMNAL EXTRAVAGANZA
THE RAINY MORNING
WE ARE NOT ALWAYS GLAD WHEN WE SMILE A SUMMER SUNRISE
DAS KRIST KINDEL
AN OLD YEAR’S ADDRESS
A NEW YEAR S PLAINT
WHEN EVENING SHADOWS FALL
TOM VAN ARDEN
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY–A SKETCH
On Sunday morning, October seventh, 1849, Reuben A. Riley and his wife, Elizabeth Marine Riley, rejoiced over the birth of their second son. They called him James Whitcomb. This was in a shady little street in the shady little town of Greenfield, which is in the county of Hancock and the state of Indiana. The young James found a brother and a sister waiting to greet him–John Andrew and Martha Celestia, and afterward came Elva May–Mrs. Henry Eitel– Alexander Humbolt and Mary Elizabeth, who, of all, alone lives to see this collection of her brother’s poems.
James Whitcomb was a slender lad, with corn-silk hair and wide blue eyes. He was shy and timid, not strong physically, dreading the cold of winter, and avoiding the rougher sports of his playmates. And yet he was full of the spirit of youth, a spirit that manifested itself in the performance of many ingenious pranks. His every-day life was that of the average boy in the average country town of that day, but his home influences were exceptional. His father, who became a captain of cavalry in the Civil War, was a lawyer of ability and an orator of more than local distinction. His mother was a woman of rare strength of character combined with deep sympathy and a clear understanding. Together, they made home a place to remember with thankful heart.
When James was twenty years old, the death of his mother made a profound impression on him, an impression that has influenced much of his verse and has remained with him always.
At an early age he was sent to school and, “then sent back again,” to use his own words. He was restive under what he called the “iron discipline.” A number of years ago, he spoke of these early educational beginnings in phrases so picturesque and so characteristic that they are quoted in full:
“My first teacher was a little old woman, rosy and roly-poly, who looked as though she might have just come tumbling out of a fairy story, so lovable was she and so jolly and so amiable. She kept school in her little Dame-Trot kind of dwelling of three rooms, with a porch in the rear, like a bracket on the wall, which was part of the play-ground of her ‘scholars,’–for in those days pupils were called ‘scholars’ by their affectionate teachers. Among the twelve or fifteen boys and girls who were there I remember particularly a little lame boy, who always got the first ride in the locust-tree swing during recess.
“This first teacher of mine was a mother to all her ‘scholars,’ and in every way looked after their comfort, especially when certain little ones grew drowsy. I was often, with others, carried to the sitting-room and left to slumber on a small made- down pallet on the floor. She would sometimes take three or four of us together; and I recall how a playmate and I, having been admonished into silence, grew deeply interested in watching a spare old man who sat at a window with its shade drawn down. After a while we became accustomed to this odd sight and would laugh, and talk in whispers and give imitations, as we sat in a low sewing-chair, of the little old pendulating blind man at the window. Well, the old man was the gentle teacher’s charge, and for this reason, possibly, her life had become an heroic one, caring for her helpless husband who, quietly content, waited always at the window for his sight to come back to him. And doubtless it is to-day, as he sits at another casement and sees not only his earthly friends, but all the friends of the Eternal Home, with the smiling, loyal, loving little woman forever at his side.
“She was the kindliest of souls even when constrained to punish us. After a whipping she invariably took me into the little kitchen and gave me two great white slabs of bread cemented together with layers of butter and jam. As she always whipped me with the same slender switch she used for a pointer, and cried over every lick, you will have an idea how much punishment I could stand. When I was old enough to be lifted by the ears out of my seat that office was performed by a pedagogue whom I promised to ‘whip sure, if he’d just wait till I got big enough.’ He is still waiting!
“There was but one book at school in which I found the slightest interest: McGuffey’s old leather-bound Sixth Reader. It was the tallest book known, and to the boys of my size it was a matter of eternal wonder how I could belong to ‘the big class in that reader.’ When we were to read the death of ‘Little Nell,’ I would run away, for I knew it would make me cry, that the other boys would laugh at me, and the whole thing would become ridiculous. I couldn’t bear that. A later teacher, Captain Lee O. Harris, came to understand me with thorough sympathy, took compassion on my weaknesses and encouraged me to read the best literature. He understood that he couldn’t get numbers into my head. You couldn’t tamp them in! History I also disliked as a dry thing without juice, and dates melted out of my memory as speedily as tin-foil on a red-hot stove. But I always was ready to declaim and took natively to anything dramatic or theatrical. Captain Harris encouraged me in recitation and reading and had ever the sweet spirit of a companion rather than the manner of an instructor.”
But if there was “only one book at school in which he found the slightest interest,” he had before that time displayed an affection for a book–simply as such and not for any printed word it might contain. And this, after all, is the true book-lover’s love. Speaking of this incident–and he liked to refer to it as his “first literary recollection,” he said: “Long before I was old enough to read I remember buying a book at an old auctioneer’s shop in Greenfield. I can not imagine what prophetic impulse took possession of me and made me forego the ginger cakes and the candy that usually took every cent of my youthful income. The slender little volume must have cost all of twenty-five cents! It was Francis Quarles’ Divine Emblems,–a neat little affair about the size of a pocket Testament. I carried it around with me all day long, delighted with the very feel of it.
” ‘What have you got there, Bub?’ some one would ask. ‘A book,’ I would reply. ‘What kind of a book?’ ‘Poetry-book.’ ‘Poetry!’ would be the amused exclamation. ‘Can you read poetry?’ and, embarrassed, I’d shake my head and make my escape, but I held on to the beloved little volume.”
Every boy has an early determination–a first one–to follow some ennobling profession, once he has come to man’s estate, such as being a policeman, or a performer on the high trapeze. The poet would not have been the “Peoples’ Laureate,” had his fairy god- mother granted his boy-wish, but the Greenfield baker. For to his childish mind it “seemed the acme of delight,” using again his own happy expression, “to manufacture those snowy loaves of bread, those delicious tarts, those toothsome bon-bons. And then to own them all, to keep them in store, to watch over and guardedly exhibit. The thought of getting money for them was to me a sacrilege. Sell them? No indeed. Eat ’em–eat ’em, by tray loads and dray loads! It was a great wonder to me why the pale-faced baker in our town did not eat all his good things. This I determined to do when I became owner of such a grand establishment. Yes, sir. I would have a glorious feast. Maybe I’d have Tom and Harry and perhaps little Kate and Florry in to help us once in a while. The thought of these play-mates as ‘grown-up folks’ didn’t appeal to me. I was but a child, with wide-open eyes, a healthy appetite and a wondering mind. That was all. But I have the same sweet tooth to-day, and every time I pass a confectioner’s shop, I think of the big baker of our town, and Tom and Harry and the youngsters all.”
As a child, he often went with his father to the court-house where the lawyers and clerks playfully called him “judge Wick.” Here as a privileged character he met and mingled with the country folk who came to sue and be sued, and thus early the dialect, the native speech, the quaint expressions of his “own people” were made familiar to him, and took firm root in the fresh soil of his young memory. At about this time, he made his first poetic attempt in a valentine which he gave to his mother. Not only did he write the verse, but he drew a sketch to accompany it, greatly to his mother’s delight, who, according to the best authority, gave the young poet “three big cookies and didn’t spank me for two weeks. This was my earliest literary encouragement.”
Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, young Riley turned his back on the little schoolhouse and for a time wandered through the different fields of art, indulging a slender talent for painting until he thought he was destined for the brush and palette, and then making merry with various musical instruments, the banjo, the guitar, the violin, until finally he appeared as bass drummer in a brass band. “In a few weeks,” he said, “I had beat myself into the more enviable position of snare drummer. Then I wanted to travel with a circus, and dangle my legs before admiring thousands over the back seat of a Golden Chariot. In a dearth of comic songs for the banjo and guitar, I had written two or three myself, and the idea took possession of me that I might be a clown, introduced as a character-song-man and the composer of my own ballads.
“My father was thinking of something else, however, and one day I found myself with a ‘five-ought’ paint brush under the eaves of an old frame house that drank paint by the bucketful, learning to be a painter. Finally, I graduated as a house, sign and ornamental painter, and for two summers traveled about with a small company of young fellows calling ourselves ‘The Graphics,’ who covered all the barns and fences in the state with advertisements.”
At another time his, young man’s fancy saw attractive possibilities in the village print-shop, and later his ambition was diverted to acting, encouraged by the good times he had in the theatricals of the Adelphian Society of Greenfield. “In my dreamy way,” he afterward said, “I did a little of a number of things fairly well–sang, played the guitar and violin, acted, painted signs and wrote poetry. My father did not encourage my verse-making for he thought it too visionary, and being a visionary himself, he believed he understood the dangers of following the promptings of the poetic temperament. I doubted if anything would come of the verse-writing myself. At this time it is easy to picture my father, a lawyer of ability, regarding me, nonplused, as the worst case he had ever had. He wanted me to do something practical, besides being ambitious for me to follow in his footsteps, and at last persuaded me to settle down and read law in his office. This I really tried to do conscientiously, but finding that political economy and Blackstone did not rhyme and that the study of law was unbearable, I slipped out of the office one summer afternoon, when all out-doors called imperiously, shook the last dusty premise from my head and was away.
“The immediate instigator of my flight was a traveling medicine man who appealed to me for this reason: My health was bad, very bad,–as bad as I was. Our doctor had advised me to travel, but how could I travel without money? The medicine man needed an assistant and I plucked up courage to ask if I could join the party and paint advertisements for him.
“I rode out of town with that glittering cavalcade without saying good-by to any one, and though my patron was not a diplomaed doctor, as I found out, he was a man of excellent habits, and the whole company was made up of good straight boys, jolly chirping vagabonds like myself. It was delightful to bowl over the country in that way. I laughed all the time. Miles and miles of somber landscape were made bright with merry song, and when the sun shone and all the golden summer lay spread out before us, it was glorious just to drift on through it like a wisp, of thistle-down, careless of how, or when, or where the wind should anchor us. ‘There’s a tang of gipsy blood in my veins that pants for the sun and the air.’
“My duty proper was the manipulation of two blackboards, swung at the sides of the wagon during our street lecture and concert. These boards were alternately embellished with colored drawings illustrative of the manifold virtues of the nostrum vended. Sometimes I assisted the musical olio with dialect recitations and character sketches from the back step of the wagon. These selections in the main originated from incidents and experiences along the route, and were composed on dull Sundays in lonesome little towns where even the church bells seemed to bark at us.”
On his return to Greenfield after this delightful but profitless tour he became the local editor of his home paper and in a few months “strangled the little thing into a change of ownership.” The new proprietor transferred him to the literary department and the latter, not knowing what else to put in the space allotted him, filled it with verse. But there was not room in his department for all he produced, so he began, timidly, to offer his poetic wares in foreign markets. The editor of The Indianapolis Mirror accepted two or three shorter verses but in doing so suggested that in the future he try prose. Being but an humble beginner, Riley harkened to the advice, whereupon the editor made a further suggestion; this time that he try poetry again. The Danbury (Connecticut) News, then at the height of its humorous reputation, accepted a contribution shortly after The Mirror episode and Mr. McGeechy, its managing editor, wrote the young poet a graceful note of congratulation. Commenting on these parlous times, Riley afterward wrote, “It is strange how little a thing sometimes makes or unmakes a fellow. In these dark days I should have been content with the twinkle of the tiniest star, but even this light was withheld from me. Just then came the letter from McGeechy; and about the same time, arrived my first check, a payment from Hearth and Home for a contribution called A Destiny (now A Dreamer in A Child World). The letter was signed, ‘Editor’ and unless sent by an assistant it must have come from Ik Marvel himself, God bless him! I thought my fortune made. Almost immediately I sent off another contribution, whereupon to my dismay came this reply: ‘The management has decided to discontinue the publication and hopes that you will find a market for your worthy work elsewhere.’ Then followed dark days indeed, until finally, inspired by my old teacher and comrade, Captain Lee O. Harris, I sent some of my poems to Longfellow, who replied in his kind and gentle manner with the substantial encouragement for which I had long thirsted.”
In the year following, Riley formed a connection with The Anderson (Indiana) Democrat and contributed verse and locals in more than generous quantities. He was happy in this work and had begun to feel that at last he was making progress when evil fortune knocked at his door and, conspiring with circumstances and a friend or two, induced the young poet to devise what afterward seemed to him the gravest of mistakes,–the Poe-poem hoax. He was then writing for an audience of county papers and never dreamed that this whimsical bit of fooling would be carried beyond such boundaries. It was suggested by these circumstances.
He was inwardly distressed by the belief that his failure to get the magazines to accept his verse was due to his obscurity, while outwardly he was harassed to desperation by the junior editor of the rival paper who jeered daily at his poetical pretensions. So, to prove that editors would praise from a known source what they did not hesitate to condemn from one unknown, and to silence his nagging contemporary, he wrote Leonainie in the style of Poe, concocting a story, to accompany the poem, setting forth how Poe came to write it and how all these years it had been lost to view. In a few words Mr. Riley related the incident and then dismissed it. “I studied Poe’s methods. He seemed to have a theory, rather misty to be sure, about the use of ‘m’s’ and ‘n’s’ and mellifluous vowels and sonorous words. I remember that I was a long time in evolving the name Leonainie, but at length the verses were finished and ready for trial.
“A friend, the editor of The Kokomo Dispatch, undertook the launching of the hoax in his paper; he did this with great editorial gusto while, at the same time, I attacked the authenticity of the poem in The Democrat. That diverted all possible suspicion from me. The hoax succeeded far too well, for what had started as a boyish prank became a literary discussion nation-wide, and the necessary expose had to be made. I was appalled at the result. The press assailed me furiously, and even my own paper dismissed me because I had given the ‘discovery’ to a rival.”
Two dreary and disheartening years followed this tragic event, years in which the young poet found no present help, nor future hope. But over in Indianapolis, twenty miles away, happier circumstances were shaping themselves. Judge E. B. Martindale, editor and proprietor of The Indianapolis Journal, had been attracted by certain poems in various papers over the state and at the very time that the poet was ready to confess himself beaten, the judge wrote: “Come over to Indianapolis and we’ll give you, a place on The Journal.” Mr. Riley went. That was the turning point, and though the skies were not always clear, nor the way easy, still from that time it was ever an ascending journey. As soon as he was comfortably settled in his new position, the first of the Benj. F. Johnson poems made its appearance. These dialect verses were introduced with editorial comment as coming from an old Boone county farmer, and their reception was so cordial, so enthusiastic, indeed, that the business manager of The Journal, Mr. George C. Hitt, privately published them in pamphlet form and sold the first edition of one thousand copies in local bookstores and over The Journal office counter. This marked an epoch in the young poet’s progress and was the beginning of a friendship between him and Mr. Hitt that has never known interruption. This first edition of The Old Swimmin’ Hole and ‘Leven More Poems has since become extremely rare and now commands a high premium. A second edition was promptly issued by a local book dealer, whose successors, The Bowen-Merrill Company–now The Bobbs-Merrill Company–have continued, practically without interruption, to publish Riley’s work.
The call to read from the public platform had by this time become so insistent that Riley could no longer resist it, although modesty and shyness fought the battle for privacy. He told briefly and in his own inimitable fashion of these trying experiences. “In boyhood I had been vividly impressed with Dickens’ success in reading from his own works and dreamed that some day I might follow his example. At first I read at Sunday- school entertainments and later, on special occasions such as Memorial Days and Fourth of Julys. At last I mustered up sufficient courage to read in a city theater, where, despite the conspiracy of a rainy night and a circus, I got encouragement enough to lead me to extend my efforts. And so, my native state and then the country at large were called upon to bear with me and I think I visited every sequestered spot north or south particularly distinguished for poor railroad connections. At different times, I shared the program with Mark Twain, Robert J. Burdette and George Cable, and for a while my gentlest and cheeriest of friends, Bill Nye, joined with me and made the dusty detested travel almost a delight. We were constantly playing practical jokes on each other or indulging in some mischievous banter before the audience. On one occasion, Mr. Nye, coming before the foot-lights for a word of general introduction, said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the entertainment to-night is of a dual nature. Mr. Riley and I will speak alternately. First I come out and talk until I get tired, then Mr. Riley comes out and talks until YOU get tired!’ And thus the trips went merrily enough at times and besides I learned to know in Bill Nye a man blessed with as noble and heroic a heart as ever beat. But the making of trains, which were all in conspiracy to outwit me, schedule or no schedule, and the rush and tyrannical pressure of inviolable engagements, some hundred to a season and from Boston to San Francisco, were a distress to my soul. I am glad that’s over with. Imagine yourself on a crowded day-long excursion; imagine that you had to ride all the way on the platform of the car; then imagine that you had to ride all the way back on the same platform; and lastly, try to imagine how you would feel if you did that every day of your life, and you will then get a glimmer–a faint glimmer–of how one feels after traveling about on a reading or lecturing tour.
“All this time I had been writing whenever there was any strength left in me. I could not resist the inclination to write. It was what I most enjoyed doing. And so I wrote, laboriously ever, more often using the rubber end of the pencil than the point.
“In my readings I had an opportunity to study and find out for myself what the public wants, and afterward I would endeavor to use the knowledge gained in my writing. The public desires nothing but what is absolutely natural, and so perfectly natural as to be fairly artless. It can not tolerate affectation, and it takes little interest in the classical production. It demands simple sentiments that come direct from the heart. While on the lecture platform I watched the effect that my readings had on the audience very closely and whenever anybody left the hall I knew that my recitation was at fault and tried to find out why. Once a man and his wife made an exit while I was giving The Happy Little Cripple–a recitation I had prepared with particular enthusiasm and satisfaction. It fulfilled, as few poems do, all the requirements of length, climax and those many necessary features for a recitation. The subject was a theme of real pathos, beautified by the cheer and optimism of the little sufferer. Consequently when this couple left the hall I was very anxious to know the reason and asked a friend to find out. He learned that they had a little hunch-back child of their own. After this experience I never used that recitation again. On the other hand, it often required a long time for me to realize that the public would enjoy a poem which, because of some blind impulse, I thought unsuitable. Once a man said to me, ‘Why don’t you recite When the Frost Is on the Punkin?’ The use of it had never occurred to me for I thought it ‘wouldn’t go.’ He persuaded me to try it and it became one of my most favored recitations. Thus, I learned to judge and value my verses by their effect upon the public. Occasionally, at first, I had presumed to write ‘over the heads’ of the audience, consoling myself for the cool reception by thinking my auditors were not of sufficient intellectual height to appreciate my efforts. But after a time it came home to me that I myself was at fault in these failures, and then I disliked anything that did not appeal to the public and learned to discriminate between that which did not ring true to my hearers and that which won them by virtue of its truthfulness and was simply heart high.”
As a reader of his own poems, as a teller of humorous stories, as a mimic, indeed as a finished actor, Riley’s genius was rare and beyond question. In a lecture on the Humorous Story, Mark Twain, referring to the story of the One Legged Soldier and the different ways of telling it, once said:
“It takes only a minute and a half to tell it in its comic form; and it isn’t worth telling after all. Put into the humorous-story form, it takes ten minutes, and is about the funniest thing I have ever listened to–as James Whitcomb Riley tells it.
“The simplicity and innocence and sincerity and unconsciousness of Riley’s old farmer are perfectly simulated, and the result is a performance which is thoroughly charming and delicious. This is art–and fine and beautiful, and only a master can compass it.”
It was in that The Old Swimmin’ Hole and ‘Leven More Poems first appeared in volume form. Four years afterward, Riley made his initial appearance before a New York City audience. The entertainment was given in aid of an international copyright law, and the country’s most distinguished men of letters took part in the program. It is probably true that no one appearing at that time was less known to the vast audience in Chickering Hall than James Whitcomb Riley, but so great and so spontaneous was the enthusiasm when he left the stage after his contribution to the first day’s program, that the management immediately announced a place would be made for Mr. Riley on the second and last day’s program. It was then that James Russell Lowell introduced him in the following words:
“Ladies and gentlemen: I have very great pleasure in presenting to you the next reader of this afternoon, Mr. James Whitcomb Riley, of Indiana. I confess, with no little chagrin and sense of my own loss, that when yesterday afternoon, from this platform, I presented him to a similar assemblage, I was almost completely a stranger to his poems. But since that time I have been looking into the volumes that have come from his pen, and in them I have discovered so much of high worth and tender quality that I deeply regret I had not long before made acquaintance with his work. To-day, in presenting Mr. Riley to you, I can say to you of my own knowledge, that you are to have the pleasure of listening to the voice of a true poet.”
Two years later a selection from his poems was published in England under the title Old Fashioned Roses and his international reputation was established. In his own country the people had already conferred their highest degrees on him and now the colleges and universities–seats of conservatism–gave him scholastic recognition. Yale made him an Honorary Master of Arts in 1902; in 1903, Wabash and, a year later, the University of Pennsylvania conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Letters, and in 1907 Indiana University gave him his LL. D. Still more recently the Academy of Arts and Letters elected him to membership, and in 1912 awarded him the gold medal for poetry. About this time a yet dearer, more touching tribute came to him from school children. On October 7, 1911, the schools of Indiana and New York City celebrated his birthday by special exercises, and one year later, the school children of practically every section of the country had programs in his honor.
As these distinguished honors came they found him each time surprised anew and, though proud that they who dwell in the high places of learning should come in cap and gown to welcome him, yet gently and sincerely protesting his own unworthiness. And as they found him when they came so they left him.
Mr. Riley made his home in Indianapolis from the time judge Martindale invited him to join The Journal’s forces, and no one of her citizens was more devoted, nor was any so universally loved and honored. Everywhere he went the tribute of quick recognition and cheery greeting was paid him, and his home was the shrine of every visiting Hoosier. High on a sward of velvet grass stands a dignified middle-aged brick house. A dwarfed stone wall, broken by an iron gate, guards the front lawn, while in the rear an old-fashioned garden revels in hollyhocks and wild roses. Here among his books and his souvenirs the poet spent his happy andncontented days. To reach this restful spot, the pilgrim must journey to Lockerbie Street, a miniature thoroughfare half hidden between two more commanding avenues. It is little more than a lane, shaded, unpaved and from end to end no longer than a five minutes’ walk, but its fame is for all time.
“Such a dear little street it is, nestled away From the noise of the city and heat of the day, In cool shady coverts of whispering trees, With their leaves lifted up to shake hands with the breeze Which in all its wide wanderings never may meet With a resting-place fairer than Lockerbie Street!”
Riley never married. He lived with devoted, loyal and understanding friends, a part of whose life he became many years ago. Kindly consideration, gentle affection, peace and order,– all that go to make home home, were found here blooming with the hollyhocks and the wild roses. Every day some visitor knocked for admittance and was not denied; every day saw the poet calling for some companionable friend and driving with him through the city’s shaded streets or far out into the country.
And so his life drew on to its last and most beautiful year. Since his serious illness in 1910, the public had shown its love for him more and more frequently. On the occasion of his birthday in 1912, Greenfield had welcomed him home through a host of children scattering flowers. Anderson, where he was living when he first gained public recognition, had a Riley Day in 1913.
The Indiana State University entertained him the same year, as did also the city of Cincinnati. In 1915 there was a Riley Day at Columbus, Indiana, and during all this time each birthday and Christmas was marked by “poetry-showers,” and by thousands of letters of affectionate congratulation and by many tributes in the newspapers and magazines.
His last birthday, October 7, 1915, was the most notable of all. Honorable Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, suggested to the various school superintendents that one of Riley’s poems be read in each schoolhouse, with the result that Riley celebrations were general among the children of the entire country. In a proclamation by Governor Ralston the State of Indiana designated the anniversary as Riley Day in honor of its “most beloved citizen.” Thousands of letters and gifts from the poet’s friends poured in–letters from schools and organizations and Riley Clubs as well as from individuals–while flowers came from every section of the country. Among them all, perhaps the poet was most pleased with a bunch of violets picked from the banks of the Brandywine by the children of a Riley school.
It was on this last birthday that an afternoon festival of Riley poems set to music and danced in pantomime took place at Indianapolis. This was followed at night by a dinner in his honor at which Charles Warren Fairbanks presided, and the speakers were Governor Ralston, Doctor John Finley, Colonel George Harvey, Young E. Allison, William Allen White, George Ade, Ex-Senator Beveridge and Senator Kern. That night Riley smiled his most wonderful smile, his dimpled boyish smile, and when he rose to speak it was with a perceptible quaver in his voice that he said: “Everywhere the faces of friends, a beautiful throng of friends!”
The winter and spring following, Riley spent quietly at Miami, Florida, where he had gone the two previous seasons to escape the cold and the rain. There was a Riley Day at Miami in February. In April, he returned home, feeling at his best, and, as if by premonition, sought out many of his friends, new and old, and took them for last rides in his automobile. A few days before the end, he visited Greenfield to attend the funeral of a dear boyhood chum, Almon Keefer, of whom he wrote in A Child-World. All Riley’s old friends who were still left in Greenfield were gathered there and to them he spoke words of faith and good cheer. Almon Keefer had “just slipped out” quietly and peacefully, he said, and “it was beautiful.”
And as quietly and peacefully his own end came–as he had desired it, with no dimming of the faculties even to the very close, nor suffering, nor confronting death. This was Saturday night, July 22, 1916. On Monday afternoon and evening his body lay in state under the dome of Indiana’s capitol, while the people filed by, thousands upon thousands. Business men were there, and schoolgirls, matrons carrying market baskets, mothers with little children, here and there a swarthy foreigner, old folks, too, and well-dressed youths, here a farmer and his wife, and there a workman in a blue jumper with his hat in his band, silent, inarticulate, yet bidding his good-by, too. On the following day, with only his nearest and dearest about him, all that was mortal of the people’s poet was quietly and simply laid to rest.
The Complete Works
of James Whitcomb Riley
A BACKWARD LOOK
As I sat smoking, alone, yesterday,
And lazily leaning back in my chair, Enjoying myself in a general way–
Allowing my thoughts a holiday
From weariness, toil and care,–
My fancies–doubtless, for ventilation– Left ajar the gates of my mind,–
And Memory, seeing the situation,
Slipped out in the street of “Auld Lang Syne.”–
Wandering ever with tireless feet
Through scenes of silence, and jubilee Of long-hushed voices; and faces sweet
Were thronging the shadowy side of the street As far as the eye could see;
Dreaming again, in anticipation,
The same old dreams of our boyhood’s days That never come true, from the vague sensation Of walking asleep in the world’s strange ways.
Away to the house where I was born!
And there was the selfsame clock that ticked From the close of dusk to the burst of morn, When life-warm hands plucked the golden corn And helped when the apples were picked. And the “chany dog” on the mantel-shelf, With the gilded collar and yellow eyes, Looked just as at first, when I hugged myself Sound asleep with the dear surprise.
And down to the swing in the locust-tree, Where the grass was worn from the trampled ground, And where “Eck” Skinner, “Old” Carr, and three Or four such other boys used to be
“Doin’ sky-scrapers,” or “whirlin’ round”: And again Bob climbed for the bluebird’s nest, And again “had shows” in the buggy-shed Of Guymon’s barn, where still, unguessed, The old ghosts romp through the best days dead!
And again I gazed from the old schoolroom With a wistful look, of a long June day, When on my cheek was the hectic bloom
Caught of Mischief, as I presume–
He had such a “partial” way,
It seemed, toward me.–And again I thought Of a probable likelihood to be
Kept in after school–for a girl was caught Catching a note from me.
And down through the woods to the swimming-hole– Where the big, white, hollow old sycamore grows,– And we never cared when the water was cold, And always “ducked” the boy that told
On the fellow that tied the clothes.– When life went so like a dreamy rhyme,
That it seems to me now that then The world was having a jollier time
Than it ever will have again.
Young Philiper Flash was a promising lad, His intentions were good–but oh, how sad For a person to think
How the veriest pink
And bloom of perfection may turn out bad. Old Flash himself was a moral man,
And prided himself on a moral plan, Of a maxim as old
As the calf of gold,
Of making that boy do what he was told.
And such a good mother had Philiper Flash; Her voice was as soft as the creamy plash Of the milky wave
With its musical lave
That gushed through the holes of her patent churn-dash;– And the excellent woman loved Philiper so, She could cry sometimes when he stumped his toe,– And she stroked his hair
With such motherly care
When the dear little angel learned to swear.
Old Flash himself would sometimes say That his wife had “such a ridiculous way,– She’d, humor that child
Till he’d soon be sp’iled,
And then there’d be the devil to pay!” And the excellent wife, with a martyr’s look, Would tell old Flash himself “he took
No notice at all
Of the bright-eyed doll
Unless when he spanked him for getting a fall!”
Young Philiper Flash, as time passed by, Grew into “a boy with a roguish eye”:
He could smoke a cigar,
And seemed by far
The most promising youth.–“He’s powerful sly, Old Flash himself once told a friend,
“Every copper he gets he’s sure to spend– And,” said he, “don’t you know
If he keeps on so
What a crop of wild oats the boy will grow!”
But his dear good mother knew Philiper’s ways So–well, she managed the money to raise; And old Flash himself
Was “laid on the shelf,”
(In the manner of speaking we have nowadays). For “gracious knows, her darling child,
If he went without money he’d soon grow wild.” So Philiper Flash
With a regular dash
“Swung on to the reins,” and went “slingin’ the cash.”
As old Flash himself, in his office one day, Was shaving notes in a barberous way,
At the hour of four
Death entered the door
And shaved the note on his life, they say. And he had for his grave a magnificent tomb, Though the venturous finger that pointed “Gone Home,” Looked white and cold
From being so bold,
As it feared that a popular lie was told.
Young Philiper Flash was a man of style When he first began unpacking the pile
Of the dollars and dimes
Whose jingling chimes
Had clinked to the tune of his father’s smile; And he strewed his wealth with such lavish hand, His rakish ways were the talk of the land, And gossipers wise
Sat winking their eyes
(A certain foreboding of fresh surprise).
A “fast young man” was Philiper Flash, And wore “loud clothes” and a weak mustache, And “done the Park,”
For an “afternoon lark,”
With a very fast horse of “remarkable dash.” And Philiper handled a billiard-cue
About as well as the best he knew,
And used to say
“He could make it pay
By playing two or three games a day.”
And Philiper Flash was his mother’s joy, He seemed to her the magic alloy
That made her glad,
When her heart was sad,
With the thought that “she lived for her darling boy.” His dear good mother wasn’t aware
How her darling boy relished a “tare.”– She said “one night
He gave her a fright
By coming home late and ACTING tight.”
Young Philiper Flash, on a winterish day, Was published a bankrupt, so they say–
And as far as I know
I suppose it was so,
For matters went on in a singular way; His excellent mother, I think I was told, Died from exposure and want and cold;
And Philiper Flash,
With a horrible slash,
Whacked his jugular open and went to smash.
THE SAME OLD STORY
The same old story told again–
The maiden droops her head,
The ripening glow of her crimson cheek Is answering in her stead.
The pleading tone of a trembling voice Is telling her the way
He loved her when his heart was young In Youth’s sunshiny day:
The trembling tongue, the longing tone, Imploringly ask why
They can not be as happy now
As in the days gone by.
And two more hearts, tumultuous
With overflowing joy,
Are dancing to the music
Which that dear, provoking boy
Is twanging on his bowstring,
As, fluttering his wings,
He sends his love-charged arrows
While merrily be sings:
“Ho! ho! my dainty maiden,
It surely can not be
You are thinking you are master
Of your heart, when it is me.”
And another gleaming arrow
Does the little god’s behest,
And the dainty little maiden
Falls upon her lover’s breast.
“The same old story told again,”
And listened o’er and o’er,
Will still be new, and pleasing, too, Till “Time shall be no more.”
TO A BOY WHISTLING
The smiling face of a happy boy
With its enchanted key
Is now unlocking in memory
My store of heartiest joy.
And my lost life again to-day,
In pleasant colors all aglow,
From rainbow tints, to pure white snow, Is a panorama sliding away.
The whistled air of a simple tune
Eddies and whirls my thoughts around, As fairy balloons of thistle-down
Sail through the air of June.
O happy boy with untaught grace!
What is there in the world to give That can buy one hour of the life you live Or the trivial cause of your smiling face!
AN OLD FRIEND
Hey, Old Midsummer! are you here again, With all your harvest-store of olden joys,– Vast overhanging meadow-lands of rain,
And drowsy dawns, and noons when golden grain Nods in the sun, and lazy truant boys
Drift ever listlessly adown the day, Too full of joy to rest, and dreams to play.
The same old Summer, with the same old smile Beaming upon us in the same old way
We knew in childhood! Though a weary while Since that far time, yet memories reconcile The heart with odorous breaths of clover hay; And again I hear the doves, and the sun streams through The old barn door just as it used to do.
And so it seems like welcoming a friend– An old, OLD friend, upon his coming home From some far country–coming home to spend Long, loitering days with me: And I extend My hand in rapturous glee:–And so you’ve come!– Ho, I’m so glad! Come in and take a chair: Well, this is just like OLD times, I declare!
WHAT SMITH KNEW ABOUT FARMING
There wasn’t two purtier farms in the state Than the couple of which I’m about to relate;– Jinin’ each other–belongin’ to Brown,
And jest at the edge of a flourishin’ town. Brown was a man, as I understand,
That allus had handled a good ‘eal o’ land, And was sharp as a tack in drivin’ a trade– For that’s the way most of his money was made. And all the grounds and the orchards about His two pet farms was all tricked out
With poppies and posies
And sweet-smellin’ rosies;
And hundreds o’ kinds
Of all sorts o’ vines,
To tickle the most horticultural minds And little dwarf trees not as thick as your wrist With ripe apples on ’em as big as your fist: And peaches,–Siberian crabs and pears,
And quinces–Well! ANY fruit ANY tree bears; And th purtiest stream–jest a-swimmin’ with fish, And–JEST O’MOST EVERYTHING HEART COULD WISH! The purtiest orch’rds–I wish you could see How purty they was, fer I know it ‘ud be A regular treat!–but I’ll go ahead with My story! A man by the name o’ Smith–
(A bad name to rhyme,
But I reckon that I’m
Not goin’ back on a Smith! nary time!) ‘At hadn’t a soul of kin nor kith,
And more money than he knowed what to do with,– So he comes a-ridin’ along one day,
And HE says to Brown, in his offhand way– Who was trainin’ some newfangled vines round a bay- Winder–“Howdy-do–look-a-here–say:
What’ll you take fer this property here?– I’m talkin’ o’ leavin’ the city this year, And I want to be
Where the air is free,
And I’ll BUY this place, if it ain’t too dear!”– Well–they grumbled and jawed aroun’–
“I don’t like to part with the place,” says Brown; “Well,” says Smith, a-jerkin’ his head,
“That house yonder–bricks painted red– Jest like this’n–a PURTIER VIEW–
Who is it owns it?” “That’s mine too,” Says Brown, as he winked at a hole in his shoe, “But I’ll tell you right here jest what I KIN do:– If you’ll pay the figgers I’ll sell IT to you.,” Smith went over and looked at the place– Badgered with Brown, and argied the case– Thought that Brown’s figgers was rather too tall, But, findin’ that Brown wasn’t goin’ to fall, In final agreed,
So they drawed up the deed
Fer the farm and the fixtures–the live stock an’ all. And so Smith moved from the city as soon As he possibly could–But “the man in the moon” Knowed more’n Smith o’ farmin’ pursuits, And jest to convince you, and have no disputes, How little he knowed,
I’ll tell you his “mode,”
As he called it, o’ raisin’ “the best that growed,” In the way o’ potatoes–
And squashes as lengthy as young alligators. ‘Twas allus a curious thing to me
How big a fool a feller kin be
When he gits on a farm after leavin’ a town!– Expectin’ to raise himself up to renown, And reap fer himself agricultural fame,
By growin’ of squashes–WITHOUT ANY SHAME– As useless and long as a technical name. To make the soil pure,
And certainly sure,
He plastered the ground with patent manure. He had cultivators, and double-hoss plows, And patent machines fer milkin’ his cows; And patent hay-forks–patent measures and weights, And new patent back-action hinges fer gates, And barn locks and latches, and such little dribs, And patents to keep the rats out o’ the cribs– Reapers and mowers,
And patent grain sowers;
And cucumber hillers,
And horries;–and had patent rollers and scrapers, And took about ten agricultural papers.
So you can imagine how matters turned out: But BROWN didn’t have not a shadder o’ doubt That Smith didn’t know what he was about When he said that “the OLD way to farm was played out.” But Smith worked ahead,
And when any one said
That the OLD way o’ workin’ was better instead O’ his “modern idees,” he allus turned red, And wanted to know
What made people so
INFERNALLY anxious to hear theirselves crow? And guessed that he’d manage to hoe his own row. Brown he come onc’t and leant over the fence, And told Smith that he couldn’t see any sense In goin’ to such a tremendous expense
Fer the sake o’ such no-account experiments “That’ll never make corn!
As shore’s you’re born
It’ll come out the leetlest end of the horn!” Says Brown, as he pulled off a big roastin’-ear From a stalk of his own
That had tribble outgrown
Smith’s poor yaller shoots, and says he, “Looky here! THIS corn was raised in the old-fashioned way, And I rather imagine that THIS corn’ll pay Expenses fer RAISIN’ it!–What do you say?” Brown got him then to look over his crop.– HIS luck that season had been tip-top!
And you may surmise
Smith opened his eyes
And let out a look o’ the wildest surprise When Brown showed him punkins as big as the lies He was stuffin’ him with–about offers he’s had Fer his farm: “I don’t want to sell very bad,” He says, but says he,
“Mr. Smith, you kin see
Fer yourself how matters is standin’ with me, I UNDERSTAND FARMIN’ and I’d better stay, You know, on my farm;–I’m a-makin’ it pay– I oughtn’t to grumble!–I reckon I’ll clear Away over four thousand dollars this year.” And that was the reason, he made it appear, Why he didn’t care about sellin’ his farm, And hinted at his havin’ done himself harm In sellin’ the other, and wanted to know If Smith wouldn’t sell back ag’in to him.–So Smith took the bait, and says he, “Mr. Brown, I wouldn’t SELL out but we might swap aroun’– How’ll you trade your place fer mine?”
(Purty sharp way o’ comin’ the shine Over Smith! Wasn’t it?) Well, sir, this Brown Played out his hand and brought Smithy down– Traded with him an’, workin’ it cute,
Raked in two thousand dollars to boot As slick as a whistle, an’ that wasn’t all,– He managed to trade back ag’in the next fall,– And the next–and the next–as long as Smith stayed He reaped with his harvests an annual trade.– Why, I reckon that Brown must ‘a’ easily made– On an AVERAGE–nearly two thousand a year– Together he made over seven thousand–clear.– Till Mr. Smith found he was losin’ his health In as big a proportion, almost, as his wealth; So at last he concluded to move back to town, And sold back his farm to this same Mr. Brown At very low figgers, by gittin’ it down. Further’n this I have nothin’ to say
Than merely advisin’ the Smiths fer to stay In their grocery stores in flourishin’ towns And leave agriculture alone–and the Browns.
A POET’S WOOING
I woo’d a woman once,
But she was sharper than an eastern wind. –TENNYSON.
“What may I do to make you glad,
To make you glad and free,
Till your light smiles glance
And your bright eyes dance
Like sunbeams on the sea?
Read some rhyme that is blithe and gay Of a bright May morn and a marriage day?” And she sighed in a listless way she had,– “Do not read–it will make me sad!”
“What shall I do to make you glad–
To make you glad and gay,
Till your eyes gleam bright
As the stars at night
When as light as the light of day
Sing some song as I twang the strings Of my sweet guitar through its wanderings?” And she sighed in the weary way she had,– “Do not sing–it will make me sad!”
“What can I do to make you glad–
As glad as glad can be,
Till your clear eyes seem
Like the rays that gleam
And glint through a dew-decked tree?– Will it please you, dear, that I now begin A grand old air on my violin?”
And she spoke again in the following way,– “Yes, oh yes, it would please me, sir; I would be so glad you’d play
Some grand old march–in character,– And then as you march away
I will no longer thus be sad,
But oh, so glad–so glad–so glad!”
A lover said, “O Maiden, love me well, For I must go away:
And should ANOTHER ever come to tell Of love–What WILL you say?”
And she let fall a royal robe of hair That folded on his arm
And made a golden pillow for her there; Her face–as bright a charm
As ever setting held in kingly crown– Made answer with a look,
And reading it, the lover bended down, And, trusting, “kissed the book.”
He took a fond farewell and went away. And slow the time went by–
So weary–dreary was it, day by day To love, and wait, and sigh.
She kissed his pictured face sometimes, and said: “O Lips, so cold and dumb,
I would that you would tell me, if not dead, Why, why do you not come?”
The picture, smiling, stared her in the face Unmoved–e’en with the touch
Of tear-drops–HERS–bejeweling the case– ‘Twas plain–she loved him much.
And, thus she grew to think of him as gay And joyous all the while,
And SHE was sorrowing–“Ah, welladay!” But pictures ALWAYS smile!
And years–dull years–in dull monotony As ever went and came,
Still weaving changes on unceasingly, And changing, changed her name.
Was she untrue?–She oftentimes was glad And happy as a wife;
But ONE remembrance oftentimes made sad Her matrimonial life.–
Though its few years were hardly noted, when Again her path was strown
With thorns–the roses swept away again, And she again alone!
And then–alas! ah THEN!–her lover came: “I come to claim you now–
My Darling, for I know you are the same, And I have kept my vow
Through these long, long, long years, and now no more Shall we asundered be!”
She staggered back and, sinking to the floor, Cried in her agony:
“I have been false!” she moaned, “_I_ am not true– I am not worthy now,
Nor ever can I be a wife to YOU–
For I have broke my vow!”
And as she kneeled there, sobbing at his feet, He calmly spoke–no sign
Betrayed his inward agony–“I count you meet To be a wife of mine!”
And raised her up forgiven, though untrue; As fond he gazed on her,
She sighed,–“SO HAPPY!” And she never knew HE was a WIDOWER.
WITH A SERIOUS CONCLUSION
Crowd about me, little children–
Come and cluster ’round my knee
While I tell a little story
That happened once with me.
My father he had gone away
A-sailing on the foam,
Leaving me–the merest infant–
And my mother dear at home;
For my father was a sailor,
And he sailed the ocean o’er
For full five years ere yet again
He reached his native shore.
And I had grown up rugged
And healthy day by day,
Though I was but a puny babe
When father went away.
Poor mother she would kiss me
And look at me and sigh
So strangely, oft I wondered
And would ask the reason why.
And she would answer sadly,
Between her sobs and tears,–
“You look so like your father,
Far away so many years!”
And then she would caress me
And brush my hair away,
And tell me not to question,
But to run about my play.
Thus I went playing thoughtfully–
For that my mother said,–
“YOU LOOK SO LIKE YOUR FATHER!”
Kept ringing in my head.
So, ranging once the golden sands
That looked out on the sea,
I called aloud, “My father dear,
Come back to ma and me!”
Then I saw a glancing shadow
On the sand, and heard the shriek Of a sea-gull flying seaward,
And I heard a gruff voice speak:–
“Ay, ay, my little shipmate,
I thought I heard you hail;
Were you trumpeting that sea-gull,
Or do you see a sail?”
And as rough and gruff a sailor
As ever sailed the sea
Was standing near grotesquely
And leering dreadfully.
I replied, though I was frightened,
“It was my father dear
I was calling for across the sea–
I think he didn’t hear.”
And then the sailor leered again
In such a frightful way,
And made so many faces
I was little loath to stay:
But he started fiercely toward me–
Then made a sudden halt
And roared, “_I_ think he heard you!” And turned a somersault.
Then a wild fear overcame me,
And I flew off like the wind,
Shrieking “MOTHER!”–and the sailor Just a little way behind!
And then my mother heard me,
And I saw her shade her eyes,
Looking toward me from the doorway, Transfixed with pale surprise
For a moment–then her features
Glowed with all their wonted charms As the sailor overtook me,
And I fainted in her arms.
When I awoke to reason
I shuddered with affright
Till I felt my mother’s presence
With a thrill of wild delight–
Till, amid a shower of kisses
Falling glad as summer rain,
A muffled thunder rumbled,–
“Is he coming ’round again?”
Then I shrieked and clung unto her,
While her features flushed and burned As she told me it was father
From a foreign land returned.
. . . . . . .
I said–when I was calm again,
And thoughtfully once more
Had dwelt upon my mother’s words
Of just the day before,–
“I DON’T look like my father,
As you told me yesterday–
I know I don’t–or father
Would have run the other way.”
THE OLD TIMES WERE THE BEST
Friends, my heart is half aweary
Of its happiness to-night:
Though your songs are gay and cheery, And your spirits feather-light,
There’s a ghostly music haunting
Still the heart of every guest
And a voiceless chorus chanting
That the Old Times were the best.
All about is bright and pleasant
With the sound of song and jest,
Yet a feeling’s ever present
That the Old Times were the best.
A SUMMER AFTERNOON
A languid atmosphere, a lazy breeze,
With labored respiration, moves the wheat From distant reaches, till the golden seas Break in crisp whispers at my feet.
My book, neglected of an idle mind,
Hides for a moment from the eyes of men; Or lightly opened by a critic wind,
Affrightedly reviews itself again.
Off through the haze that dances in the shine The warm sun showers in the open glade, The forest lies, a silhouette design
Dimmed through and through with shade.
A dreamy day; and tranquilly I lie
At anchor from all storms of mental strain; With absent vision, gazing at the sky,
“Like one that hears it rain.”
The Katydid, so boisterous last night, Clinging, inverted, in uneasy poise,
Beneath a wheat-blade, has forgotten quite If “Katy DID or DIDN’T” make a noise.
The twitter, sometimes, of a wayward bird That checks the song abruptly at the sound, And mildly, chiding echoes that have stirred, Sink into silence, all the more profound.
And drowsily I hear the plaintive strain Of some poor dove . . . Why, I can scarcely keep My heavy eyelids–there it is again–
“Coo-coo!”–I mustn’t–“Coo-coo!”–fall asleep!
A dark, tempestuous night; the stars shut in With shrouds of fog; an inky, jet-black blot The firmament; and where the moon has been An hour agone seems like the darkest spot. The weird wind–furious at its demon game– Rattles one’s fancy like a window-frame.
A care-worn face peers out into the dark, And childish faces–frightened at the gloom– Grow awed and vacant as they turn to mark The father’s as he passes through the room: The gate latch clatters, and wee baby Bess Whispers, “The doctor’s tummin’ now, I dess!”
The father turns; a sharp, swift flash of pain Flits o’er his face: “Amanda, child! I said A moment since–I see I must AGAIN–
Go take your little sisters off to bed! There, Effie, Rose, and CLARA MUSTN’T CRY!” “I tan’t he’p it–I’m fyaid ‘at mama’ll die!”
What are his feelings, when this man alone Sits in the silence, glaring in the grate That sobs and sighs on in an undertone
As stoical–immovable as Fate,
While muffled voices from the sick one’s room Come in like heralds of a dreaded doom?
The door-latch jingles: in the doorway stands The doctor, while the draft puffs in a breath– The dead coals leap to life, and clap their hands, The flames flash up. A face as pale as death Turns slowly–teeth tight clenched, and with a look The doctor, through his specs, reads like a book.
“Come, brace up, Major!”–“Let me know the worst!” “W’y you’re the biggest fool I ever saw– Here, Major–take a little brandy first– There! She’s a BOY–I mean HE is–hurrah!” “Wake up the other girls–and shout for joy– Eureka is his name–I’ve found A BOY!”
It’s a mystery to see me–a man o’ fifty-four, Who’s lived a cross old bachelor fer thirty year’ and more– A-lookin’ glad and smilin’! And they’s none o’ you can say That you can guess the reason why I feel so good to-day!
I must tell you all about it! But I’ll have to deviate A little in beginnin’, so’s to set the matter straight As to how it comes to happen that I never took a wife– Kindo’ “crawfish” from the Present to the Springtime of my life!
I was brought up in the country: Of a family of five– Three brothers and a sister–I’m the only one alive,– Fer they all died little babies; and ’twas one o’ Mother’s ways, You know, to want a daughter; so she took a girl to raise.
The sweetest little thing she was, with rosy cheeks, and fat– We was little chunks o’ shavers then about as high as that! But someway we sort a’ SUITED-like! and Mother she’d declare She never laid her eyes on a more lovin’ pair
Than WE was! So we growed up side by side fer thirteen year’, And every hour of it she growed to me more dear!– W’y, even Father’s dyin’, as he did, I do believe Warn’t more affectin’ to me than it was to see her grieve!
I was then a lad o’ twenty; and I felt a flash o’ pride In thinkin’ all depended on ME now to pervide Fer Mother and fer Mary; and I went about the place With sleeves rolled up–and workin’, with a mighty smilin’ face.–
Fer SOMEPIN’ ELSE was workin’! but not a word I said Of a certain sort o’ notion that was runnin’ through my head,– “Some day I’d maybe marry, and a BROTHER’S love was one Thing–a LOVER’S was another!” was the way the notion run!
I remember onc’t in harvest, when the “cradle-in’ ” was done, (When the harvest of my summers mounted up to twenty-one), I was ridin’ home with Mary at the closin’ o’ the day– A-chawin’ straws and thinkin’, in a lover’s lazy way!
And Mary’s cheeks was burnin’ like the sunset down the lane: I noticed she was thinkin’, too, and ast her to explain. Well–when she turned and KISSED ME, WITH HER ARMS AROUND ME–LAW!
I’d a bigger load o’ Heaven than I had a load o’ straw!
I don’t p’tend to learnin’, but I’ll tell you what’s a fac’, They’s a mighty truthful sayin’ somers in a’ almanac– Er SOMERS–’bout “puore happiness”–perhaps some folks’ll laugh At the idy–“only lastin’ jest two seconds and a half.”–
But it’s jest as true as preachin’!–fer that was a SISTER’S kiss,
And a sister’s lovin’ confidence a-tellin’ to me this:– “SHE was happy, BEIN’ PROMISED TO THE SON O’ FARMER BROWN.”– And my feelin’s struck a pardnership with sunset and went down!
I don’t know HOW I acted, and I don’t know WHAT I said,– Fer my heart seemed jest a-turnin’ to an ice-cold lump o’ lead; And the hosses kind o’glimmered before me in the road, And the lines fell from my fingers–And that was all I knowed–
Fer–well, I don’t know HOW long–They’s a dim rememberence Of a sound o’ snortin’ horses, and a stake-and-ridered fence A-whizzin’ past, and wheat-sheaves a-dancin’ in the air, And Mary screamin’ “Murder!” and a-runnin’ up to where
_I_ was layin’ by the roadside, and the wagon upside down A-leanin’ on the gate-post, with the wheels a-whirlin’ roun’! And I tried to raise and meet her, but I couldn’t, with a vague Sort o’ notion comin’ to me that I had a broken leg.
Well, the women nussed me through it; but many a time I’d sigh As I’d keep a-gittin’ better instid o’ goin’ to die, And wonder what was left ME worth livin’ fer below, When the girl I loved was married to another, don’t you know!
And my thoughts was as rebellious as the folks was good and kind When Brown and Mary married–Railly must ‘a’ been my MIND Was kind o’ out o’ kilter!–fer I hated Brown, you see, Worse’n PIZEN–and the feller whittled crutches out fer ME–
And done a thousand little ac’s o’ kindness and respec’– And me a-wishin’ all the time that I could break his neck! My relief was like a mourner’s when the funeral is done When they moved to Illinois in the Fall o’ Forty-one.
Then I went to work in airnest–I had nothin’ much in view But to drownd out rickollections–and it kep’ me busy, too! But I slowly thrived and prospered, tel Mother used to say She expected yit to see me a wealthy man some day.
Then I’d think how little MONEY was, compared to happiness– And who’d be left to use it when I died I couldn’t guess! But I’ve still kep’ speculatin’ and a-gainin’ year by year, Tel I’m payin’ half the taxes in the county, mighty near!
Well!–A year ago er better, a letter comes to hand Astin’ how I’d like to dicker fer some Illinois land– “The feller that had owned it,” it went ahead to state, “Had jest deceased, insolvent, leavin’ chance to speculate,”–
And then it closed by sayin’ that I’d “better come and see.”– I’d never been West, anyhow–a’most too wild fer ME, I’d allus had a notion; but a lawyer here in town Said I’d find myself mistakend when I come to look around.
So I bids good-by to Mother, and I jumps aboard the train, A-thinkin’ what I’d bring her when I come back home again– And ef she’d had an idy what the present was to be, I think it’s more’n likely she’d ‘a’ went along with me!
Cars is awful tejus ridin’, fer all they go so fast! But finally they called out my stoppin’-place at last: And that night, at the tavern, I dreamp’ I was a train O’ cars, and SKEERED at somepin’, runnin’ down a country lane!
Well, in the morning airly–after huntin’ up the man– The lawyer who was wantin’ to swap the piece o’ land– We started fer the country; and I ast the history Of the farm–its former owner–and so forth, etcetery!
And–well–it was interESTin’–I su’prised him, I suppose, By the loud and frequent manner in which I blowed my nose!– But his su’prise was greater, and it made him wonder more, When I kissed and hugged the widder when she met us at the door!–
IT WAS MARY: . . . They’s a feelin’ a-hidin’ down in here– Of course I can’t explain it, ner ever make it clear.– It was with us in that meetin’, I don’t want you to fergit! And it makes me kind o’nervous when I think about it yit!
I BOUGHT that farm, and DEEDED it, afore I left the town With “title clear to mansions in the skies,” to Mary Brown! And fu’thermore, I took her and the CHILDERN–fer you see, They’d never seed their Grandma–and I fetched ’em home with me.
So NOW you’ve got an idy why a man o’ fifty-four, Who’s lived a cross old bachelor fer thirty year’ and more Is a-lookin’ glad and smilin’!–And I’ve jest come into town To git a pair o’ license fer to MARRY Mary Brown.
MY JOLLY FRIEND’S SECRET
Ah, friend of mine, how goes it,
Since you’ve taken you a mate?–
Your smile, though, plainly shows it Is a very happy state!
Dan Cupid’s necromancy!
You must sit you down and dine,
And lubricate your fancy
With a glass or two of wine.
And as you have “deserted,”
As my other chums have done,
While I laugh alone diverted,
As you drop off one by one–
And I’ve remained unwedded,
Till–you see–look here–that I’m, In a manner, “snatched bald-headed”
By the sportive hand of Time!
I’m an “old ‘un!” yes, but wrinkles
Are not so plenty, quite,
As to cover up the twinkles
Of the BOY–ain’t I right?
Yet, there are ghosts of kisses
Under this mustache of mine
My mem’ry only misses
When I drown ’em out with wine.
From acknowledgment so ample,
You would hardly take me for
What I am–a perfect sample
Of a “jolly bachelor”;
Not a bachelor has being
When he laughs at married life
But his heart and soul’s agreeing
That he ought to have a wife!
Ah, ha I old chum, this claret,
Like Fatima, holds the key
Of the old Blue-Beardish garret
Of my hidden mystery!
Did you say you’d like to listen?
Ah, my boy! the “SAD NO MORE!”
And the tear-drops that will glisten– TURN THE CATCH UPON THE DOOR,
And sit you down beside me,
And put yourself at ease–
I’ll trouble you to slide me
That wine decanter, please;
The path is kind o’ mazy
Where my fancies have to go,
And my heart gets sort o’ lazy
On the journey–don’t you know?
Let me see–when I was twenty–
It’s a lordly age, my boy,
When a fellow’s money’s plenty,
And the leisure to enjoy–
And a girl–with hair as golden
As–THAT; and lips–well–quite
As red as THIS I’m holdin’
Between you and the light.
And eyes and a complexion–
Well,–just in this connection,–
DID YOU LOCK THAT DOOR FOR ME?
Did I start in recitation
My past life to recall?
Well, THAT’S an indication
I am purty tight–that’s all!
THE SPEEDING OF THE KING’S SPITE
A king–estranged from his loving Queen By a foolish royal whim–
Tired and sick of the dull routine
Of matters surrounding him–
Issued a mandate in this wise.–
“THE DOWER OF MY DAUGHTER’S HAND
I WILL GIVE TO HIM WHO HOLDS THIS PRIZE, THE STRANGEST THING IN THE LAND.”
But the King, sad sooth! in this grim decree Had a motive low and mean;–
‘Twas a royal piece of chicanery
To harry and spite the Queen;
For King though he was, and beyond compare, He had ruled all things save one–
Then blamed the Queen that his only heir Was a daughter–not a son.
The girl had grown, in the mother’s care, Like a bud in the shine and shower
That drinks of the wine of the balmy air Till it blooms into matchless flower;
Her waist was the rose’s stem that bore The flower–and the flower’s perfume– That ripens on till it bulges o’er
With its wealth of bud and bloom.
And she had a lover–lowly sprung,–
But a purer, nobler heart
Never spake in a courtlier tongue
Or wooed with a dearer art:
And the fair pair paled at the King’s decree; But the smiling Fates contrived
To have them wed, in a secrecy
That the Queen HERSELF connived–
While the grim King’s heralds scoured the land And the countries roundabout,
Shouting aloud, at the King’s command, A challenge to knave or lout,
Prince or peasant,–“The mighty King Would have ye understand
That he who shows him the strangest thing Shall have his daughter’s hand!”
And thousands flocked to the royal throne, Bringing a thousand things
Strange and curious;–One, a bone– The hinge of a fairy’s wings;
And one, the glass of a mermaid queen, Gemmed with a diamond dew,
Where, down in its reflex, dimly seen, Her face smiled out at you.
One brought a cluster of some strange date, With a subtle and searching tang
That seemed, as you tasted, to penetrate The heart like a serpent’s fang;
And back you fell for a spell entranced, As cold as a corpse of stone,
And heard your brains, as they laughed and danced And talked in an undertone.
One brought a bird that could whistle a tune So piercingly pure and sweet,
That tears would fall from the eyes of the moon In dewdrops at its feet;
And the winds would sigh at the sweet refrain, Till they swooned in an ecstacy,
To waken again in a hurricane
Of riot and jubilee.
One brought a lute that was wrought of a shell Luminous as the shine
Of a new-born star in a dewy dell,– And its strings were strands of wine
That sprayed at the Fancy’s touch and fused, As your listening spirit leant
Drunken through with the airs that oozed From the o’ersweet instrument.
One brought a tablet of ivory
Whereon no thing was writ,–
But, at night–and the dazzled eyes would see Flickering lines o’er it,–
And each, as you read from the magic tome, Lightened and died in flame,
And the memory held but a golden poem Too beautiful to name.
Till it seemed all marvels that ever were known Or dreamed of under the sun
Were brought and displayed at the royal throne, And put by, one by one
Till a graybeard monster came to the King– Haggard and wrinkled and old–
And spread to his gaze this wondrous thing,– A gossamer veil of gold.–
Strangely marvelous–mocking the gaze Like a tangle of bright sunshine,
Dipping a million glittering rays
In a baptism divine:
And a maiden, sheened in this gauze attire– Sifting a glance of her eye–
Dazzled men’s souls with a fierce desire To kiss and caress her and–die.
And the grim King swore by his royal beard That the veil had won the prize,
While the gray old monster blinked and leered With his lashless, red-rimmed eyes,
As the fainting form of the princess fell, And the mother’s heart went wild,
Throbbing and swelling a muffled knell For the dead hopes of her child.
But her clouded face with a faint smile shone, As suddenly, through the throng,
Pushing his way to the royal throne, A fair youth strode along,
While a strange smile hovered about his eyes, As he said to the grim old King:–
“The veil of gold must lose the prize; For _I_ have a stranger thing.”
He bent and whispered a sentence brief; But the monarch shook his head,
With a look expressive of unbelief– “It can’t be so,” he said;
“Or give me proof; and I, the King, Give you my daughter’s hand,–
For certes THAT IS a stranger thing– THE STRANGEST THING IN THE LAND!”
Then the fair youth, turning, caught the Queen In a rapturous caress,
While his lithe form towered in lordly mien, As he said in a brief address:–
“My fair bride’s mother is this; and, lo, As you stare in your royal awe,
By this pure kiss do I proudly show A LOVE FOR A MOTHER-IN-LAW!”
Then a thaw set in the old King’s mood, And a sweet Spring freshet came
Into his eyes, and his heart renewed Its love for the favored dame:
But often he has been heard to declare That “he never could clearly see
How, in the deuce, such a strange affair Could have ended so happily!”
“Write me a rhyme of the present time”. And the poet took his pen
And wrote such lines as the miser minds Hide in the hearts of men.
He grew enthused, as the poets used
When their fingers kissed the strings Of some sweet lyre, and caught the fire
True inspiration brings,
And sang the song of a nation’s wrong– Of the patriot’s galling chain,
And the glad release that the angel, Peace, Has given him again.
He sang the lay of religion’s sway,
Where a hundred creeds clasp hands And shout in glee such a symphony
That the whole world understands.
He struck the key of monopoly,
And sang of her swift decay,
And traveled the track of the railway back With a blithesome roundelay–
Of the tranquil bliss of a true love kiss; And painted the picture, too,
Of the wedded life, and the patient wife, And the husband fond and true;
And sang the joy that a noble boy
Brings to a father’s soul,
Who lets the wine as a mocker shine Stagnated in the bowl.
And he stabbed his pen in the ink again, And wrote with a writhing frown,
“This is the end.” “And now, my friend, You may print it–upside down!”
A quite convincing axiom
Is, “Life is like a play”;
For, turning back its pages some
Few dog-eared years away,
I find where I
Love-tale–with brackets where to sigh.
I feel an idle interest
To read again the page;
I enter, as a lover dressed,
At twenty years of age,
And play the part
With throbbing heart,
And all an actor’s glowing art.
And she who plays my Lady-love
Excels!–Her loving glance
Has power her audience to move–
I am her audience.–
Her acting tact,
To tell the fact,
“Brings down the house” in every act.
And often we defy the curse
Of storms and thunder-showers,
To meet together and rehearse
This little play of ours–
I think, when she
“Makes love” to me,
She kisses very naturally!
. . . . . .
Yes; it’s convincing–rather–
That “Life is like a play”:
I am playing “Heavy Father”
In a “Screaming Farce” to-day,
That so “brings down
The house,” I frown,
And fain would “ring the curtain down.”