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Being a Boy by Charles Dudley Warner

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One of the best things in the world to be is a boy; it requires no
experience, though it needs some practice to be a good one. The
disadvantage of the position is that it does not last long enough; it
is soon over; just as you get used to being a boy, you have to be
something else, with a good deal more work to do and not half so much
fun. And yet every boy is anxious to be a man, and is very uneasy
with the restrictions that are put upon him as a boy. Good fun as it
is to yoke up the calves and play work, there is not a boy on a farm
but would rather drive a yoke of oxen at real work. What a glorious
feeling it is, indeed, when a boy is for the first time given the
long whip and permitted to drive the oxen, walking by their side,
swinging the long lash, and shouting "Gee, Buck!" "Haw, Golden!"
"Whoa, Bright!" and all the rest of that remarkable language, until
he is red in the face, and all the neighbors for half a mile are
aware that something unusual is going on. If I were a boy, I am not
sure but I would rather drive the oxen than have a birthday.
The proudest day of my life was one day when I rode on the neap of
the cart, and drove the oxen, all alone, with a load of apples to the
cider-mill. I was so little that it was a wonder that I did n't fall
off, and get under the broad wheels. Nothing could make a boy, who
cared anything for his appearance, feel flatter than to be run over
by the broad tire of a cart-wheel. But I never heard of one who was,
and I don't believe one ever will be. As I said, it was a great day
for me, but I don't remember that the oxen cared much about it. They
sagged along in their great clumsy way, switching their tails in my
face occasionally, and now and then giving a lurch to this or that
side of the road, attracted by a choice tuft of grass. And then I
"came the Julius Caesar" over them, if you will allow me to use such
a slang expression, a liberty I never should permit you. I don't
know that Julius Caesar ever drove cattle, though he must often have
seen the peasants from the Campagna "haw" and "gee" them round the
Forum (of course in Latin, a language that those cattle understood as
well as ours do English); but what I mean is, that I stood up and
"hollered" with all my might, as everybody does with oxen, as if they
were born deaf, and whacked them with the long lash over the head,
just as the big folks did when they drove. I think now that it was a
cowardly thing to crack the patient old fellows over the face and
eyes, and make them wink in their meek manner. If I am ever a boy
again on a farm, I shall speak gently to the oxen, and not go
screaming round the farm like a crazy man; and I shall not hit them a
cruel cut with the lash every few minutes, because it looks big to do
so and I cannot think of anything else to do. I never liked lickings
myself, and I don't know why an ox should like them, especially as he
cannot reason about the moral improvement he is to get out of them.

Speaking of Latin reminds me that I once taught my cows Latin. I
don't mean that I taught them to read it, for it is very difficult to
teach a cow to read Latin or any of the dead languages,--a cow cares
more for her cud than she does for all the classics put together.
But if you begin early, you can teach a cow, or a calf (if you can
teach a calf anything, which I doubt), Latin as well as English.
There were ten cows, which I had to escort to and from pasture night
and morning. To these cows I gave the names of the Roman numerals,
beginning with Unus and Duo, and going up to Decem. Decem was, of
course, the biggest cow of the party, or at least she was the ruler
of the others, and had the place of honor in the stable and
everywhere else. I admire cows, and especially the exactness with
which they define their social position. In this case, Decem could
"lick" Novem, and Novem could "lick" Octo, and so on down to Unus,
who could n't lick anybody, except her own calf. I suppose I ought
to have called the weakest cow Una instead of Unus, considering her
sex; but I did n't care much to teach the cows the declensions of
adjectives, in which I was not very well up myself; and, besides, it
would be of little use to a cow. People who devote themselves too
severely to study of the classics are apt to become dried up; and you
should never do anything to dry up a cow. Well, these ten cows knew
their names after a while, at least they appeared to, and would take
their places as I called them. At least, if Octo attempted to get
before Novem in going through the bars (I have heard people speak of
a "pair of bars" when there were six or eight of them), or into the
stable, the matter of precedence was settled then and there, and,
once settled, there was no dispute about it afterwards. Novem either
put her horns into Octo's ribs, and Octo shambled to one side, or
else the two locked horns and tried the game of push and gore until
one gave up. Nothing is stricter than the etiquette of a party of
cows. There is nothing in royal courts equal to it; rank is exactly
settled, and the same individuals always have the precedence. You
know that at Windsor Castle, if the Royal Three-Ply Silver Stick
should happen to get in front of the Most Royal Double-and-Twisted
Golden Rod, when the court is going in to dinner, something so
dreadful would happen that we don't dare to think of it. It is
certain that the soup would get cold while the Golden Rod was
pitching the Silver Stick out of the Castle window into the moat, and
perhaps the island of Great Britain itself would split in two. But
the people are very careful that it never shall happen, so we shall
probably never know what the effect would be. Among cows, as I say,
the question is settled in short order, and in a different manner
from what it sometimes is in other society. It is said that in other
society there is sometimes a great scramble for the first place, for
the leadership, as it is called, and that women, and men too, fight
for what is called position; and in order to be first they will
injure their neighbors by telling stories about them and by
backbiting, which is the meanest kind of biting there is, not
excepting the bite of fleas. But in cow society there is nothing of
this detraction in order to get the first place at the crib, or the
farther stall in the stable. If the question arises, the cows turn
in, horns and all, and settle it with one square fight, and that ends
it. I have often admired this trait in COWS.

Besides Latin, I used to try to teach the cows a little poetry, and
it is a very good plan. It does not do the cows much good, but it is
very good exercise for a boy farmer. I used to commit to memory as
good short poems as I could find (the cows liked to listen to
"Thanatopsis" about as well as anything), and repeat them when I went
to the pasture, and as I drove the cows home through the sweet ferns
and down the rocky slopes. It improves a boy's elocution a great
deal more than driving oxen.

It is a fact, also, that if a boy repeats "Thanatopsis" while he is
milking, that operation acquires a certain dignity.



Boys in general would be very good farmers if the current notions
about farming were not so very different from those they entertain.
What passes for laziness is very often an unwillingness to farm in a
particular way. For instance, some morning in early summer John is
told to catch the sorrel mare, harness her into the spring wagon, and
put in the buffalo and the best whip, for father is obliged to drive
over to the "Corners, to see a man" about some cattle, to talk with
the road commissioner, to go to the store for the "women folks," and
to attend to other important business; and very likely he will not be
back till sundown. It must be very pressing business, for the old
gentleman drives off in this way somewhere almost every pleasant day,
and appears to have a great deal on his mind.

Meantime, he tells John that he can play ball after he has done up
the chores. As if the chores could ever be "done up" on a farm. He
is first to clean out the horse-stable; then to take a bill-hook and
cut down the thistles and weeds from the fence corners in the home
mowing-lot and along the road towards the village; to dig up the
docks round the garden patch; to weed out the beet-bed; to hoe the
early potatoes; to rake the sticks and leaves out of the front yard;
in short, there is work enough laid out for John to keep him busy, it
seems to him, till he comes of age; and at half an hour to sundown he
is to go for the cows "and mind he don't run 'em!"

"Yes, sir," says John," is that all?"

"Well, if you get through in good season, you might pick over those
potatoes in the cellar; they are sprouting; they ain't fit to eat."

John is obliged to his father, for if there is any sort of chore more
cheerful to a boy than another, on a pleasant day, it is rubbing the
sprouts off potatoes in a dark cellar. And the old gentleman mounts
his wagon and drives away down the enticing road, with the dog
bounding along beside the wagon, and refusing to come back at John's
call. John half wishes he were the dog. The dog knows the part of
farming that suits him. He likes to run along the road and see all
the dogs and other people, and he likes best of all to lie on the
store steps at the Corners--while his master's horse is dozing at the
post and his master is talking politics in the store--with the other
dogs of his acquaintance, snapping at mutually annoying flies, and
indulging in that delightful dog gossip which is expressed by a wag
of the tail and a sniff of the nose. Nobody knows how many dogs'
characters are destroyed in this gossip, or how a dog may be able to
insinuate suspicion by a wag of the tail as a man can by a shrug of
the shoulders, or sniff a slander as a man can suggest one by raising
his eyebrows.

John looks after the old gentleman driving off in state, with the
odorous buffalo-robe and the new whip, and he thinks that is the sort
of farming he would like to do. And he cries after his departing

"Say, father, can't I go over to the farther pasture and salt the
cattle?" John knows that he could spend half a day very pleasantly
in going over to that pasture, looking for bird's nests and shying at
red squirrels on the way, and who knows but he might "see" a sucker
in the meadow brook, and perhaps get a "jab" at him with a sharp
stick. He knows a hole where there is a whopper; and one of his
plans in life is to go some day and snare him, and bring him home in
triumph. It is therefore strongly impressed upon his mind that the
cattle want salting. But his father, without turning his head,

"No, they don't need salting any more 'n you do!" And the old
equipage goes rattling down the road, and John whistles his
disappointment. When I was a boy on a farm, and I suppose it is so
now, cattle were never salted half enough!

John goes to his chores, and gets through the stable as soon as he
can, for that must be done; but when it comes to the out-door work,
that rather drags. There are so many things to distract the
attention--a chipmunk in the fence, a bird on a near-tree, and a hen-
hawk circling high in the air over the barnyard. John loses a little
time in stoning the chipmunk, which rather likes the sport, and in
watching the bird, to find where its nest is; and he convinces
himself that he ought to watch the hawk, lest it pounce upon the
chickens, and therefore, with an easy conscience, he spends fifteen
minutes in hallooing to that distant bird, and follows it away out of
sight over the woods, and then wishes it would come back again. And
then a carriage with two horses, and a trunk on behind, goes along
the road; and there is a girl in the carriage who looks out at John,
who is suddenly aware that his trousers are patched on each knee and
in two places behind; and he wonders if she is rich, and whose name
is on the trunk, and how much the horses cost, and whether that nice-
looking man is the girl's father, and if that boy on the seat with
the driver is her brother, and if he has to do chores; and as the gay
sight disappears, John falls to thinking about the great world beyond
the farm, of cities, and people who are always dressed up, and a
great many other things of which he has a very dim notion. And then
a boy, whom John knows, rides by in a wagon with his father, and the
boy makes a face at John, and John returns the greeting with a twist
of his own visage and some symbolic gestures. All these things take
time. The work of cutting down the big weeds gets on slowly,
although it is not very disagreeable, or would not be if it were
play. John imagines that yonder big thistle is some whiskered
villain, of whom he has read in a fairy book, and he advances on him
with "Die, ruffian!" and slashes off his head with the bill-hook; or
he charges upon the rows of mullein-stalks as if they were rebels in
regimental ranks, and hews them down without mercy. What fun it
might be if there were only another boy there to help. But even war,
single handed, gets to be tiresome. It is dinner-time before John
finishes the weeds, and it is cow-time before John has made much
impression on the garden.

This garden John has no fondness for. He would rather hoe corn all
day than work in it. Father seems to think that it is easy work that
John can do, because it is near the house! John's continual plan in
this life is to go fishing. When there comes a rainy day, he
attempts to carry it out. But ten chances to one his father has
different views. As it rains so that work cannot be done out-doors,
it is a good time to work in the garden. He can run into the house
between the heavy showers. John accordingly detests the garden; and
the only time he works briskly in it is when he has a stent set, to
do so much weeding before the Fourth of July. If he is spry, he can
make an extra holiday the Fourth and the day after. Two days of
gunpowder and ball-playing! When I was a boy, I supposed there was
some connection between such and such an amount of work done on the
farm and our national freedom. I doubted if there could be any
Fourth of July if my stent was not done. I, at least, worked for my



There are so many bright spots in the life of a farm-boy, that I
sometimes think I should like to live the life over again; I should
almost be willing to be a girl if it were not for the chores. There
is a great comfort to a boy in the amount of work he can get rid of
doing. It is sometimes astonishing how slow he can go on an errand,
--he who leads the school in a race. The world is new and
interesting to him, and there is so much to take his attention off,
when he is sent to do anything. Perhaps he himself couldn't explain
why, when he is sent to the neighbor's after yeast, he stops to stone
the frogs; he is not exactly cruel, but be wants to see if he can hit
'em. No other living thing can go so slow as a boy sent on an
errand. His legs seem to be lead, unless he happens to espy a
woodchuck in an adjoining lot, when he gives chase to it like a deer;
and it is a curious fact about boys, that two will be a great deal
slower in doing anything than one, and that the more you have to help
on a piece of work the less is accomplished. Boys have a great power
of helping each other to do nothing; and they are so innocent about
it, and unconscious. "I went as quick as ever I could," says the
boy: his father asks him why he did n't stay all night, when he has
been absent three hours on a ten-minute errand. The sarcasm has no
effect on the boy.

Going after the cows was a serious thing in my day. I had to climb a
hill, which was covered with wild strawberries in the season. Could
any boy pass by those ripe berries? And then in the fragrant hill
pasture there were beds of wintergreen with red berries, tufts of
columbine, roots of sassafras to be dug, and dozens of things good to
eat or to smell, that I could not resist. It sometimes even lay in
my way to climb a tree to look for a crow's nest, or to swing in the
top, and to try if I could see the steeple of the village church. It
became very important sometimes for me to see that steeple; and in
the midst of my investigations the tin horn would blow a great blast
from the farmhouse, which would send a cold chill down my back in the
hottest days. I knew what it meant. It had a frightfully impatient
quaver in it, not at all like the sweet note that called us to dinner
from the hay-field. It said, "Why on earth does n't that boy come
home? It is almost dark, and the cows ain't milked!" And that was
the time the cows had to start into a brisk pace and make up for lost
time. I wonder if any boy ever drove the cows home late, who did not
say that the cows were at the very farther end of the pasture, and
that "Old Brindle" was hidden in the woods, and he couldn't find her
for ever so long! The brindle cow is the boy's scapegoat, many a

No other boy knows how to appreciate a holiday as the farm-boy does;
and his best ones are of a peculiar kind. Going fishing is of course
one sort. The excitement of rigging up the tackle, digging the bait,
and the anticipation of great luck! These are pure pleasures,
enjoyed because they are rare. Boys who can go a-fishing any time
care but little for it. Tramping all day through bush and brier,
fighting flies and mosquitoes, and branches that tangle the line, and
snags that break the hook, and returning home late and hungry, with
wet feet and a string of speckled trout on a willow twig, and having
the family crowd out at the kitchen door to look at 'em, and say,
"Pretty well done for you, bub; did you catch that big one yourself?"
--this is also pure happiness, the like of which the boy will never
have again, not if he comes to be selectman and deacon and to "keep

But the holidays I recall with delight were the two days in spring
and fall, when we went to the distant pasture-land, in a neighboring
town, maybe, to drive thither the young cattle and colts, and to
bring them back again. It was a wild and rocky upland where our
great pasture was, many miles from home, the road to it running by a
brawling river, and up a dashing brook-side among great hills. What
a day's adventure it was! It was like a journey to Europe. The
night before, I could scarcely sleep for thinking of it! and there
was no trouble about getting me up at sunrise that morning. The
breakfast was eaten, the luncheon was packed in a large basket, with
bottles of root beer and a jug of switchel, which packing I
superintended with the greatest interest; and then the cattle were to
be collected for the march, and the horses hitched up. Did I shirk
any duty? Was I slow? I think not. I was willing to run my legs
off after the frisky steers, who seemed to have an idea they were
going on a lark, and frolicked about, dashing into all gates, and
through all bars except the right ones; and how cheerfully I did yell
at them.

It was a glorious chance to "holler," and I have never since heard
any public speaker on the stump or at camp-meeting who could make
more noise. I have often thought it fortunate that the amount of
noise in a boy does not increase in proportion to his size; if it
did, the world could not contain it.

The whole day was full of excitement and of freedom. We were away
from the farm, which to a boy is one of the best parts of farming; we
saw other farms and other people at work; I had the pleasure of
marching along, and swinging my whip, past boys whom I knew, who were
picking up stones. Every turn of the road, every bend and rapid of
the river, the great bowlders by the wayside, the watering-troughs,
the giant pine that had been struck by lightning, the mysterious
covered bridge over the river where it was, most swift and rocky and
foamy, the chance eagle in the blue sky, the sense of going
somewhere,--why, as I recall all these things I feel that even the
Prince Imperial, as he used to dash on horseback through the Bois de
Boulogne, with fifty mounted hussars clattering at his heels, and
crowds of people cheering, could not have been as happy as was I, a
boy in short jacket and shorter pantaloons, trudging in the dust that
day behind the steers and colts, cracking my black-stock whip.

I wish the journey would never end; but at last, by noon, we reach
the pastures and turn in the herd; and after making the tour of the
lots to make sure there are no breaks in the fences, we take our
luncheon from the wagon and eat it under the trees by the spring.
This is the supreme moment of the day. This is the way to live; this
is like the Swiss Family Robinson, and all the rest of my delightful
acquaintances in romance. Baked beans, rye-and-indian bread (moist,
remember), doughnuts and cheese, pie, and root beer. What richness!
You may live to dine at Delmonico's, or, if those Frenchmen do not
eat each other up, at Philippe's, in Rue Montorgueil in Paris, where
the dear old Thackeray used to eat as good a dinner as anybody; but
you will get there neither doughnuts, nor pie, nor root beer, nor
anything so good as that luncheon at noon in the old pasture, high
among the Massachusetts hills! Nor will you ever, if you live to be
the oldest boy in the world, have any holiday equal to the one I have
described. But I always regretted that I did not take along a
fishline, just to "throw in" the brook we passed. I know there were
trout there.



Say what you will about the general usefulness of boys, it is my
impression that a farm without a boy would very soon come to grief.
What the boy does is the life of the farm. He is the factotum,
always in demand, always expected to do the thousand indispensable
things that nobody else will do. Upon him fall all the odds and
ends, the most difficult things. After everybody else is through, he
has to finish up. His work is like a woman's,--perpetual waiting on
others. Everybody knows how much easier it is to eat a good dinner
than it is to wash the dishes afterwards. Consider what a boy on a
farm is required to do; things that must be done, or life would
actually stop.

It is understood, in the first place, that he is to do all the
errands, to go to the store, to the post office, and to carry all
sorts of messages. If he had as many legs as a centipede, they would
tire before night. His two short limbs seem to him entirely
inadequate to the task. He would like to have as many legs as a
wheel has spokes, and rotate about in the same way. This he
sometimes tries to do; and people who have seen him "turning cart-
wheels" along the side of the road have supposed that he was amusing
himself, and idling his time; he was only trying to invent a new mode
of locomotion, so that he could economize his legs and do his errands
with greater dispatch. He practices standing on his head, in order
to accustom himself to any position. Leapfrog is one of his methods
of getting over the ground quickly. He would willingly go an errand
any distance if he could leap-frog it with a few other boys. He has
a natural genius for combining pleasure with business. This is the
reason why, when he is sent to the spring for a pitcher of water, and
the family are waiting at the dinner-table, he is absent so long; for
he stops to poke the frog that sits on the stone, or, if there is a
penstock, to put his hand over the spout and squirt the water a
little while. He is the one who spreads the grass when the men have
cut it; he mows it away in the barn; he rides the horse to cultivate
the corn, up and down the hot, weary rows; he picks up the potatoes
when they are dug; he drives the cows night and morning; he brings
wood and water and splits kindling; he gets up the horse and puts out
the horse; whether he is in the house or out of it, there is always
something for him to do. Just before school in winter he shovels
paths; in summer he turns the grindstone. He knows where there are
lots of winter-greens and sweet flag-root, but instead of going for
them, he is to stay in-doors and pare apples and stone raisins and
pound something in a mortar. And yet, with his mind full of schemes
of what he would like to do, and his hands full of occupations, he is
an idle boy who has nothing to busy himself with but school and
chores! He would gladly do all the work if somebody else would do
the chores, he thinks, and yet I doubt if any boy ever amounted to
anything in the world, or was of much use as a man, who did not enjoy
the advantages of a liberal education in the way of chores.

A boy on a farm is nothing without his pets; at least a dog, and
probably rabbits, chickens, ducks, and guinea-hens. A guinea-hen
suits a boy. It is entirely useless, and makes a more disagreeable
noise than a Chinese gong. I once domesticated a young fox which a
neighbor had caught. It is a mistake to suppose the fox cannot be
tamed. Jacko was a very clever little animal, and behaved, in all
respects, with propriety. He kept Sunday as well as any day, and all
the ten commandments that he could understand. He was a very
graceful playfellow, and seemed to have an affection for me. He
lived in a wood-pile in the dooryard, and when I lay down at the
entrance to his house and called him, he would come out and sit on
his tail and lick my face just like a grown person. I taught him a
great many tricks and all the virtues. That year I had a large
number of hens, and Jacko went about among them with the most perfect
indifference, never looking on them to lust after them, as I could
see, and never touching an egg or a feather. So excellent was his
reputation that I would have trusted him in the hen-roost in the dark
without counting the hens. In short, he was domesticated, and I was
fond of him and very proud of him, exhibiting him to all our visitors
as an example of what affectionate treatment would do in subduing the
brute instincts. I preferred him to my dog, whom I had, with much
patience, taught to go up a long hill alone and surround the cows,
and drive them home from the remote pasture. He liked the fun of it
at first, but by and by he seemed to get the notion that it was a
"chore," and when I whistled for him to go for the cows, he would
turn tail and run the other way, and the more I whistled and threw
stones at him, the faster he would run. His name was Turk, and I
should have sold him if he had not been the kind of dog that nobody
will buy. I suppose he was not a cow-dog, but what they call a
sheep-dog. At least, when he got big enough, he used to get into the
pasture and chase the sheep to death. That was the way he got into
trouble, and lost his valuable life. A dog is of great use on a
farm, and that is the reason a boy likes him. He is good to bite
peddlers and small children, and run out and yelp at wagons that pass
by, and to howl all night when the moon shines. And yet, if I were a
boy again, the first thing I would have should be a dog; for dogs are
great companions, and as active and spry as a boy at doing nothing.
They are also good to bark at woodchuck-holes.

A good dog will bark at a woodchuck-hole long after the animal has
retired to a remote part of his residence, and escaped by another
hole. This deceives the woodchuck. Some of the most delightful
hours of my life have been spent in hiding and watching the hole
where the dog was not. What an exquisite thrill ran through my frame
when the timid nose appeared, was withdrawn, poked out again, and
finally followed by the entire animal, who looked cautiously about,
and then hopped away to feed on the clover. At that moment I rushed
in, occupied the "home base," yelled to Turk, and then danced with
delight at the combat between the spunky woodchuck and the dog. They
were about the same size, but science and civilization won the day.
I did not reflect then that it would have been more in the interest
of civilization if the woodchuck had killed the dog. I do not know
why it is that boys so like to hunt and kill animals; but the excuse
that I gave in this case for the murder was, that the woodchuck ate
the clover and trod it down, and, in fact, was a woodchuck. It was
not till long after that I learned with surprise that he is a rodent
mammal, of the species Arctomys monax, is called at the West a
ground-hog, and is eaten by people of color with great relish.

But I have forgotten my beautiful fox. Jacko continued to deport
himself well until the young chickens came; he was actually cured of
the fox vice of chicken-stealing. He used to go with me about the
coops, pricking up his ears in an intelligent manner, and with a
demure eye and the most virtuous droop of the tail. Charming fox!
If he had held out a little while longer, I should have put him into
a Sunday-school book. But I began to miss chickens. They
disappeared mysteriously in the night. I would not suspect Jacko at
first, for he looked so honest, and in the daytime seemed to be as
much interested in the chickens as I was. But one morning, when I
went to call him, I found feathers at the entrance of his hole,--
chicken feathers. He couldn't deny it. He was a thief. His fox
nature had come out under severe temptation. And he died an
unnatural death. He had a thousand virtues and one crime. But that
crime struck at the foundation of society. He deceived and stole; he
was a liar and a thief, and no pretty ways could hide the fact. His
intelligent, bright face couldn't save him. If he had been honest,
he might have grown up to be a large, ornamental fox.



Sunday in the New England hill towns used to begin Saturday night at
sundown; and the sun is lost to sight behind the hills there before
it has set by the almanac. I remember that we used to go by the
almanac Saturday night and by the visible disappearance Sunday night.
On Saturday night we very slowly yielded to the influences of the
holy time, which were settling down upon us, and submitted to the
ablutions which were as inevitable as Sunday; but when the sun (and
it never moved so slow) slid behind the hills Sunday night, the
effect upon the watching boy was like a shock from a galvanic
battery; something flashed through all his limbs and set them in
motion, and no "play" ever seemed so sweet to him as that between
sundown and dark Sunday night. This, however, was on the supposition
that he had conscientiously kept Sunday, and had not gone in swimming
and got drowned. This keeping of Saturday night instead of Sunday
night we did not very well understand; but it seemed, on the whole, a
good thing that we should rest Saturday night when we were tired, and
play Sunday night when we were rested. I supposed, however, that it
was an arrangement made to suit the big boys who wanted to go
"courting" Sunday night. Certainly they were not to be blamed, for
Sunday was the day when pretty girls were most fascinating, and I
have never since seen any so lovely as those who used to sit in the
gallery and in the singers' seats in the bare old meeting-houses.

Sunday to the country farmer-boy was hardly the relief that it was to
the other members of the family; for the same chores must be done
that day as on others, and he could not divert his mind with
whistling, hand-springs, or sending the dog into the river after
sticks. He had to submit, in the first place, to the restraint of
shoes and stockings. He read in the Old Testament that when Moses
came to holy ground, he put off his shoes; but the boy was obliged to
put his on, upon the holy day, not only to go to meeting, but while
he sat at home. Only the emancipated country-boy, who is as agile on
his bare feet as a young kid, and rejoices in the pressure of the
warm soft earth, knows what a hardship it is to tie on stiff shoes.
The monks who put peas in their shoes as a penance do not suffer more
than the country-boy in his penitential Sunday shoes. I recall the
celerity with which he used to kick them off at sundown.

Sunday morning was not an idle one for the farmer-boy. He must rise
tolerably early, for the cows were to be milked and driven to
pasture; family prayers were a little longer than on other days;
there were the Sunday-school verses to be relearned, for they did not
stay in mind over night; perhaps the wagon was to be greased before
the neighbors began to drive by; and the horse was to be caught out
of the pasture, ridden home bareback, and harnessed.

This catching the horse, perhaps two of them, was very good fun
usually, and would have broken the Sunday if the horse had not been
wanted for taking the family to meeting. It was so peaceful and
still in the pasture on Sunday morning; but the horses were never so
playful, the colts never so frisky. Round and round the lot the boy
went calling, in an entreating Sunday voice, "Jock, jock, jock,
jock," and shaking his salt-dish, while the horses, with heads erect,
and shaking tails and flashing heels, dashed from corner to corner,
and gave the boy a pretty good race before he could coax the nose of
one of them into his dish. The boy got angry, and came very near
saying "dum it," but he rather enjoyed the fun, after all.

The boy remembers how his mother's anxiety was divided between the
set of his turn-over collar, the parting of his hair, and his memory
of the Sunday-school verses; and what a wild confusion there was
through the house in getting off for meeting, and how he was kept
running hither and thither, to get the hymn-book, or a palm-leaf fan,
or the best whip, or to pick from the Sunday part of the garden the
bunch of caraway-seed. Already the deacon's mare, with a wagon-load
of the deacon's folks, had gone shambling past, head and tail
drooping, clumsy hoofs kicking up clouds of dust, while the good
deacon sat jerking the reins, in an automatic way, and the
"womenfolks" patiently saw the dust settle upon their best summer
finery. Wagon after wagon went along the sandy road, and when our
boy's family started, they became part of a long procession, which
sent up a mile of dust and a pungent, if not pious smell of buffalo-
robes. There were fiery horses in the trail which had to be held in,
for it was neither etiquette nor decent to pass anybody on Sunday.
It was a great delight to the farmer-boy to see all this procession
of horses, and to exchange sly winks with the other boys, who leaned
over the wagon-seats for that purpose. Occasionally a boy rode
behind, with his back to the family, and his pantomime was always
some thing wonderful to see, and was considered very daring and

The meeting-house which our boy remembers was a high, square
building, without a steeple. Within it had a lofty pulpit, with
doors underneath and closets where sacred things were kept, and where
the tithing-men were supposed to imprison bad boys. The pews were
square, with seats facing each other, those on one side low for the
children, and all with hinges, so that they could be raised when the
congregation stood up for prayers and leaned over the backs of the
pews, as horses meet each other across a pasture fence. After
prayers these seats used to be slammed down with a long-continued
clatter, which seemed to the boys about the best part of the
exercises. The galleries were very high, and the singers' seats,
where the pretty girls sat, were the most conspicuous of all. To sit
in the gallery away from the family, was a privilege not often
granted to the boy. The tithing-man, who carried a long rod and kept
order in the house, and out-doors at noontime, sat in the gallery,
and visited any boy who whispered or found curious passages in the
Bible and showed them to another boy. It was an awful moment when
the bushy-headed tithing-man approached a boy in sermon-time. The
eyes of the whole congregation were on him, and he could feel the
guilt ooze out of his burning face.

At noon was Sunday-school, and after that, before the afternoon
service, in summer, the boys had a little time to eat their luncheon
together at the watering-trough, where some of the elders were likely
to be gathered, talking very solemnly about cattle; or they went over
to a neighboring barn to see the calves; or they slipped off down the
roadside to a place where they could dig sassafras or the root of the
sweet-flag, roots very fragrant in the mind of many a boy with
religious associations to this day. There was often an odor of
sassafras in the afternoon service. It used to stand in my mind as a
substitute for the Old Testament incense of the Jews. Something in
the same way the big bass-viol in the choir took the place of
"David's harp of solemn sound."

The going home from meeting was more cheerful and lively than the
coming to it. There was all the bustle of getting the horses out of
the sheds and bringing them round to the meeting-house steps. At
noon the boys sometimes sat in the wagons and swung the whips without
cracking them: now it was permitted to give them a little snap in
order to bring the horses up in good style; and the boy was rather
proud of the horse if it pranced a little while the timid "women-
folks" were trying to get in. The boy had an eye for whatever life
and stir there was in a New England Sunday. He liked to drive home
fast. The old house and the farm looked pleasant to him. There was
an extra dinner when they reached home, and a cheerful consciousness
of duty performed made it a pleasant dinner. Long before sundown the
Sunday-school book had been read, and the boy sat waiting in the
house with great impatience the signal that the "day of rest" was
over. A boy may not be very wicked, and yet not see the need of
"rest." Neither his idea of rest nor work is that of older farmers.



If there is one thing more than another that hardens the lot of the
farmer-boy, it is the grindstone. Turning grindstones to grind
scythes is one of those heroic but unobtrusive occupations for which
one gets no credit. It is a hopeless kind of task, and, however
faithfully the crank is turned, it is one that brings little
reputation. There is a great deal of poetry about haying--I mean for
those not engaged in it. One likes to hear the whetting of the
scythes on a fresh morning and the response of the noisy bobolink,
who always sits upon the fence and superintends the cutting of the
dew-laden grass. There is a sort of music in the "swish" and a
rhythm in the swing of the scythes in concert. The boy has not much
time to attend to it, for it is lively business "spreading" after
half a dozen men who have only to walk along and lay the grass low,
while the boy has the whole hay-field on his hands. He has little
time for the poetry of haying, as he struggles along, filling the air
with the wet mass which he shakes over his head, and picking his way
with short legs and bare feet amid the short and freshly cut stubble.

But if the scythes cut well and swing merrily, it is due to the boy
who turned the grindstone. Oh, it was nothing to do, just turn the
grindstone a few minutes for this and that one before breakfast; any
"hired man" was authorized to order the boy to turn the grindstone.
How they did bear on, those great strapping fellows! Turn, turn,
turn, what a weary go it was. For my part, I used to like a
grindstone that "wabbled" a good deal on its axis, for when I turned
it fast, it put the grinder on a lively lookout for cutting his
hands, and entirely satisfied his desire that I should "turn faster."
It was some sport to make the water fly and wet the grinder, suddenly
starting up quickly and surprising him when I was turning very
slowly. I used to wish sometimes that I could turn fast enough to
make the stone fly into a dozen pieces. Steady turning is what the
grinders like, and any boy who turns steadily, so as to give an even
motion to the stone, will be much praised, and will be in demand. I
advise any boy who desires to do this sort of work to turn steadily.
If he does it by jerks and in a fitful manner, the "hired men" will
be very apt to dispense with his services and turn the grindstone for
each other.

This is one of the most disagreeable tasks of the boy farmer, and,
hard as it is, I do, not know why it is supposed to belong especially
to childhood. But it is, and one of the certain marks that second
childhood has come to a man on a farm is, that he is asked to turn
the grindstone as if he were a boy again. When the old man is good
for nothing else, when he can neither mow nor pitch, and scarcely
"rake after," he can turn grindstone, and it is in this way that he
renews his youth. "Ain't you ashamed to have your granther turn the
grindstone?" asks the hired man of the boy. So the boy takes hold
and turns himself, till his little back aches. When he gets older,
he wishes he had replied, "Ain't you ashamed to make either an old
man or a little boy do such hard grinding work?"

Doing the regular work of this world is not much, the boy thinks, but
the wearisome part is the waiting on the people who do the work. And
the boy is not far wrong. This is what women and boys have to do on
a farm, wait upon everybody who--works. The trouble with the boy's
life is, that he has no time that he can call his own. He is, like a
barrel of beer, always on draft. The men-folks, having worked in the
regular hours, lie down and rest, stretch themselves idly in the
shade at noon, or lounge about after supper. Then the boy, who has
done nothing all day but turn grindstone, and spread hay, and rake
after, and run his little legs off at everybody's beck and call, is
sent on some errand or some household chore, in order that time shall
not hang heavy on his hands. The boy comes nearer to perpetual
motion than anything else in nature, only it is not altogether a
voluntary motion. The time that the farm-boy gets for his own is
usually at the end of a stent. We used to be given a certain piece
of corn to hoe, or a certain quantity of corn to husk in so many
days. If we finished the task before the time set, we had the
remainder to ourselves. In my day it used to take very sharp work to
gain anything, but we were always anxious to take the chance. I
think we enjoyed the holiday in anticipation quite as much as we did
when we had won it. Unless it was training-day, or Fourth of July,
or the circus was coming, it was a little difficult to find anything
big enough to fill our anticipations of the fun we would have in the
day or the two or three days we had earned. We did not want to waste
the time on any common thing. Even going fishing in one of the wild
mountain brooks was hardly up to the mark, for we could sometimes do
that on a rainy day. Going down to the village store was not very
exciting, and was, on the whole, a waste of our precious time.
Unless we could get out our military company, life was apt to be a
little blank, even on the holidays for which we had worked so hard.
If you went to see another boy, he was probably at work in the hay-
field or the potato-patch, and his father looked at you askance. You
sometimes took hold and helped him, so that he could go and play with
you; but it was usually time to go for the cows before the task was
done. The fact is, or used to be, that the amusements of a boy in
the country are not many. Snaring "suckers" out of the deep meadow
brook used to be about as good as any that I had. The North American
sucker is not an engaging animal in all respects; his body is comely
enough, but his mouth is puckered up like that of a purse. The mouth
is not formed for the gentle angle-worm nor the delusive fly of the
fishermen. It is necessary, therefore, to snare the fish if you want
him. In the sunny days he lies in the deep pools, by some big stone
or near the bank, poising himself quite still, or only stirring his
fins a little now and then, as an elephant moves his ears. He will
lie so for hours, or rather float, in perfect idleness and apparent
bliss. The boy who also has a holiday, but cannot keep still, comes
along and peeps over the bank. "Golly, ain't he a big one!" Perhaps
he is eighteen inches long, and weighs two or three pounds. He lies
there among his friends, little fish and big ones, quite a school of
them, perhaps a district school, that only keeps in warm days in the
summer. The pupils seem to have little to learn, except to balance
themselves and to turn gracefully with a flirt of the tail. Not much
is taught but "deportment," and some of the old suckers are perfect
Turveydrops in that. The boy is armed with a pole and a stout line,
and on the end of it a brass wire bent into a hoop, which is a
slipnoose, and slides together when anything is caught in it. The
boy approaches the bank and looks over. There he lies, calm as a
whale. The boy devours him with his eyes. He is almost too much
excited to drop the snare into the water without making a noise. A
puff of wind comes and ruffles the surface, so that he cannot see the
fish. It is calm again, and there he still is, moving his fins in
peaceful security. The boy lowers his snare behind the fish and
slips it along. He intends to get it around him just back of the
gills and then elevate him with a sudden jerk. It is a delicate
operation, for the snare will turn a little, and if it hits the fish,
he is off. However, it goes well; the wire is almost in place, when
suddenly the fish, as if he had a warning in a dream, for he appears
to see nothing, moves his tail just a little, glides out of the loop,
and with no seeming appearance of frustrating any one's plans,
lounges over to the other side of the pool; and there he reposes just
as if he was not spoiling the boy's holiday. This slight change of
base on the part of the fish requires the boy to reorganize his whole
campaign, get a new position on the bank, a new line of approach, and
patiently wait for the wind and sun before he can lower his line.
This time, cunning and patience are rewarded. The hoop encircles the
unsuspecting fish. The boy's eyes almost start from his head as he
gives a tremendous jerk, and feels by the dead-weight that he has got
him fast. Out he comes, up he goes in the air, and the boy runs to
look at him. In this transaction, however, no one can be more
surprised than the sucker.



The boy farmer does not appreciate school vacations as highly as his
city cousin. When school keeps, he has only to "do chores and go to
school," but between terms there are a thousand things on the farm
that have been left for the boy to do. Picking up stones in the
pastures and piling them in heaps used to be one of them. Some lots
appeared to grow stones, or else the sun every year drew them to the
surface, as it coaxes the round cantelopes out of the soft garden
soil; it is certain that there were fields that always gave the boys
this sort of fall work. And very lively work it was on frosty
mornings for the barefooted boys, who were continually turning up the
larger stones in order to stand for a moment in the warm place that
had been covered from the frost. A boy can stand on one leg as well
as a Holland stork; and the boy who found a warm spot for the sole of
his foot was likely to stand in it until the words, "Come, stir your
stumps," broke in discordantly upon his meditations. For the boy is
very much given to meditations. If he had his way, he would do
nothing in a hurry; he likes to stop and think about things, and
enjoy his work as he goes along. He picks up potatoes as if each one
were a lump of gold just turned out of the dirt, and requiring
careful examination.

Although the country-boy feels a little joy when school breaks up (as
he does when anything breaks up, or any change takes place), since he
is released from the discipline and restraint of it, yet the school
is his opening into the world,--his romance. Its opportunities for
enjoyment are numberless. He does not exactly know what he is set at
books for; he takes spelling rather as an exercise for his lungs,
standing up and shouting out the words with entire recklessness of
consequences; he grapples doggedly with arithmetic and geography as
something that must be cleared out of his way before recess, but not
at all with the zest he would dig a woodchuck out of his hole. But
recess! Was ever any enjoyment so keen as that with which a boy
rushes out of the schoolhouse door for the ten minutes of recess? He
is like to burst with animal spirits; he runs like a deer; he can
nearly fly; and he throws himself into play with entire self-
forgetfulness, and an energy that would overturn the world if his
strength were proportioned to it. For ten minutes the world is
absolutely his; the weights are taken off, restraints are loosed, and
he is his own master for that brief time,--as he never again will be
if he lives to be as old as the king of Thule,--and nobody knows how
old he was. And there is the nooning, a solid hour, in which vast
projects can be carried out which have been slyly matured during the
school-hours: expeditions are undertaken; wars are begun between the
Indians on one side and the settlers on the other; the military
company is drilled (without uniforms or arms), or games are carried
on which involve miles of running, and an expenditure of wind
sufficient to spell the spelling-book through at the highest pitch.

Friendships are formed, too, which are fervent, if not enduring, and
enmities contracted which are frequently "taken out" on the spot,
after a rough fashion boys have of settling as they go along; cases
of long credit, either in words or trade, are not frequent with boys;
boot on jack-knives must be paid on the nail; and it is considered
much more honorable to out with a personal grievance at once, even if
the explanation is made with the fists, than to pretend fair, and
then take a sneaking revenge on some concealed opportunity. The
country-boy at the district school is introduced into a wider world
than he knew at home, in many ways. Some big boy brings to school a
copy of the Arabian Nights, a dog-eared copy, with cover, title-page,
and the last leaves missing, which is passed around, and slyly read
under the desk, and perhaps comes to the little boy whose parents
disapprove of novel-reading, and have no work of fiction in the house
except a pious fraud called "Six Months in a Convent," and the latest
comic almanac. The boy's eyes dilate as he steals some of the
treasures out of the wondrous pages, and he longs to lose himself in
the land of enchantment open before him. He tells at home that he
has seen the most wonderful book that ever was, and a big boy has
promised to lend it to him. "Is it a true book, John?" asks the
grandmother; "because, if it is n't true, it is the worst thing that a
boy can read." (This happened years ago.) John cannot answer as to
the truth of the book, and so does not bring it home; but he borrows
it, nevertheless, and conceals it in the barn and, lying in the hay-
mow, is lost in its enchantments many an odd hour when he is supposed
to be doing chores. There were no chores in the Arabian Nights; the
boy there had but to rub the ring and summon a genius, who would feed
the calves and pick up chips and bring in wood in a minute. It was
through this emblazoned portal that the boy walked into the world of
books, which he soon found was larger than his own, and filled with
people he longed to know.

And the farmer-boy is not without his sentiment and his secrets,
though he has never been at a children's party in his life, and, in
fact, never has heard that children go into society when they are
seven, and give regular wine-parties when they reach the ripe age of
nine. But one of his regrets at having the summer school close is
dimly connected with a little girl, whom he does not care much for,
would a great deal rather play with a boy than with her at recess,--
but whom he will not see again for some time,--a sweet little thing,
who is very friendly with John, and with whom he has been known to
exchange bits of candy wrapped up in paper, and for whom he cut in
two his lead-pencil, and gave her half. At the last day of school
she goes part way with John, and then he turns and goes a longer
distance towards her home, so that it is late when he reaches his
own. Is he late? He did n't know he was late; he came straight home
when school was dismissed, only going a little way home with Alice
Linton to help her carry her books. In a box in his chamber, which
he has lately put a padlock on, among fishhooks and lines and
baitboxes, odd pieces of brass, twine, early sweet apples, pop-corn,
beechnuts, and other articles of value, are some little billets-doux,
fancifully folded, three-cornered or otherwise, and written, I will
warrant, in red or beautifully blue ink. These little notes are
parting gifts at the close of school, and John, no doubt, gave his
own in exchange for them, though the writing was an immense labor,
and the folding was a secret bought of another boy for a big piece of
sweet flag-root baked in sugar, a delicacy which John used to carry
in his pantaloons-pocket until his pocket was in such a state that
putting his fingers into it was about as good as dipping them into
the sugar-bowl at home. Each precious note contained a lock or curl
of girl's hair,--a rare collection of all colors, after John had been
in school many terms, and had passed through a great many parting
scenes,--black, brown, red, tow-color, and some that looked like spun
gold and felt like silk. The sentiment contained in the notes was
that which was common in the school, and expressed a melancholy
foreboding of early death, and a touching desire to leave hair enough
this side the grave to constitute a sort of strand of remembrance.
With little variation, the poetry that made the hair precious was in
the words, and, as a Cockney would say, set to the hair, following:

"This lock of hair,
Which I did wear,
Was taken from my head;
When this you see,
Remember me,
Long after I am dead."

John liked to read these verses, which always made a new and fresh
impression with each lock of hair, and he was not critical; they were
for him vehicles of true sentiment, and indeed they were what he used
when he inclosed a clip of his own sandy hair to a friend. And it
did not occur to him until he was a great deal older and less
innocent, to smile at them. John felt that he would sacredly keep
every lock of hair intrusted to him, though death should come on the
wings of cholera and take away every one of these sad, red-ink
correspondents. When John's big brother one day caught sight of
these treasures, and brutally told him that he "had hair enough to
stuff a horse-collar," John was so outraged and shocked, as he should
have been, at this rude invasion of his heart, this coarse
suggestion, this profanation of his most delicate feeling, that he
was kept from crying only by the resolution to "lick" his brother as
soon as ever he got big enough.



One of the best things in farming is gathering the chestnuts,
hickory-nuts, butternuts, and even beechnuts, in the late fall, after
the frosts have cracked the husks and the high winds have shaken
them, and the colored leaves have strewn the ground. On a bright
October day, when the air is full of golden sunshine, there is
nothing quite so exhilarating as going nutting. Nor is the pleasure
of it altogether destroyed for the boy by the consideration that he
is making himself useful in obtaining supplies for the winter
household. The getting-in of potatoes and corn is a different thing;
that is the prose, but nutting is the poetry, of farm life. I am not
sure but the boy would find it very irksome, though, if he were
obliged to work at nut-gathering in order to procure food for the
family. He is willing to make himself useful in his own way. The
Italian boy, who works day after day at a huge pile of pine-cones,
pounding and cracking them and taking out the long seeds, which are
sold and eaten as we eat nuts (and which are almost as good as
pumpkin-seeds, another favorite with the Italians), probably does not
see the fun of nutting. Indeed, if the farmer-boy here were set at
pounding off the walnut-shucks and opening the prickly chestnut-burs
as a task, he would think himself an ill-used boy. What a hardship
the prickles in his fingers would be! But now he digs them out with
his jack-knife, and enjoys the process, on the whole. The boy is
willing to do any amount of work if it is called play.

In nutting, the squirrel is not more nimble and industrious than the
boy. I like to see a crowd of boys swarm over a chestnut-grove; they
leave a desert behind them like the seventeen-year locusts. To climb
a tree and shake it, to club it, to strip it of its fruit, and pass
to the next, is the sport of a brief time. I have seen a legion of
boys scamper over our grass-plot under the chestnut-trees, each one
as active as if he were a new patent picking-machine, sweeping the
ground clean of nuts, and disappear over the hill before I could go
to the door and speak to them about it. Indeed, I have noticed that
boys don't care much for conversation with the owners of fruit-trees.
They could speedily make their fortunes if they would work as rapidly
in cotton-fields. I have never seen anything like it, except a flock
of turkeys removing the grasshoppers from a piece of pasture.

Perhaps it is not generally known that we get the idea of some of our
best military maneuvers from the turkey. The deploying of the
skirmish-line in advance of an army is one of them. The drum-major
of our holiday militia companies is copied exactly from the turkey
gobbler; he has the same splendid appearance, the same proud step,
and the same martial aspect. The gobbler does not lead his forces in
the field, but goes behind them, like the colonel of a regiment, so
that he can see every part of the line and direct its movements.
This resemblance is one of the most singular things in natural
history. I like to watch the gobbler maneuvering his forces in a
grasshopper-field. He throws out his company of two dozen turkeys in
a crescent-shaped skirmish-line, the number disposed at equal
distances, while he walks majestically in the rear. They advance
rapidly, picking right and left, with military precision, killing the
foe and disposing of the dead bodies with the same peck. Nobody has
yet discovered how many grasshoppers a turkey will hold; but he is
very much like a boy at a Thanksgiving dinner,--he keeps on eating as
long as the supplies last. The gobbler, in one of these raids, does
not condescend to grab a single grasshopper,--at least, not while
anybody is watching him. But I suppose he makes up for it when his
dignity cannot be injured by having spectators of his voracity;
perhaps he falls upon the grasshoppers when they are driven into a
corner of the field. But he is only fattening himself for
destruction; like all greedy persons, he comes to a bad end. And if
the turkeys had any Sunday-school, they would be taught this.

The New England boy used to look forward to Thanksgiving as the great
event of the year. He was apt to get stents set him,--so much corn
to husk, for instance, before that day, so that he could have an
extra play-spell; and in order to gain a day or two, he would work at
his task with the rapidity of half a dozen boys. He always had the
day after Thanksgiving as a holiday, and this was the day he counted
on. Thanksgiving itself was rather an awful festival,--very much
like Sunday, except for the enormous dinner, which filled his
imagination for months before as completely as it did his stomach for
that day and a week after. There was an impression in the house that
that dinner was the most important event since the landing from the
Mayflower. Heliogabalus, who did not resemble a Pilgrim Father at
all, but who had prepared for himself in his day some very sumptuous
banquets in Rome, and ate a great deal of the best he could get (and
liked peacocks stuffed with asafetida, for one thing), never had
anything like a Thanksgiving dinner; for do you suppose that he, or
Sardanapalus either, ever had twenty-four different kinds of pie at
one dinner? Therein many a New England boy is greater than the Roman
emperor or the Assyrian king, and these were among the most luxurious
eaters of their day and generation. But something more is necessary
to make good men than plenty to eat, as Heliogabalus no doubt found
when his head was cut off. Cutting off the head was a mode the
people had of expressing disapproval of their conspicuous men.
Nowadays they elect them to a higher office, or give them a mission
to some foreign country, if they do not do well where they are.

For days and days before Thanksgiving the boy was kept at work
evenings, pounding and paring and cutting up and mixing (not being
allowed to taste much), until the world seemed to him to be made of
fragrant spices, green fruit, raisins, and pastry,--a world that he
was only yet allowed to enjoy through his nose. How filled the house
was with the most delicious smells! The mince-pies that were made!
If John had been shut in solid walls with them piled about him, he
could n't have eaten his way out in four weeks. There were dainties
enough cooked in those two weeks to have made the entire year
luscious with good living, if they had been scattered along in it.
But people were probably all the better for scrimping themselves a
little in order to make this a great feast. And it was not by any
means over in a day. There were weeks deep of chicken-pie and other
pastry. The cold buttery was a cave of Aladdin, and it took a long
time to excavate all its riches.

Thanksgiving Day itself was a heavy dav, the hilarity of it being so
subdued by going to meeting, and the universal wearing of the Sunday
clothes, that the boy could n't see it. But if he felt little
exhilaration, he ate a great deal. The next day was the real
holiday. Then were the merry-making parties, and perhaps the
skatings and sleigh-rides, for the freezing weather came before the
governor's proclamation in many parts of New England. The night
after Thanksgiving occurred, perhaps, the first real party that the
boy had ever attended, with live girls in it, dressed so
bewitchingly. And there he heard those philandering songs, and
played those sweet games of forfeits, which put him quite beside
himself, and kept him awake that night till the rooster crowed at the
end of his first chicken-nap. What a new world did that party open
to him! I think it likely that he saw there, and probably did not
dare say ten words to, some tall, graceful girl, much older than
himself, who seemed to him like a new order of being. He could see
her face just as plainly in the darkness of his chamber. He wondered
if she noticed how awkward he was, and how short his trousers-legs
were. He blushed as he thought of his rather ill-fitting shoes; and
determined, then and there, that he wouldn't be put off with a ribbon
any longer, but would have a young man's necktie. It was somewhat
painful, thinking the party over, but it was delicious, too. He did
not think, probably, that he would die for that tall, handsome girl;
he did not put it exactly in that way. But he rather resolved to
live for her, which might in the end amount to the same thing. At
least, he thought that nobody would live to speak twice
disrespectfully of her in his presence.



What John said was, that he did n't care much for pumpkin-pie; but
that was after he had eaten a whole one. It seemed to him then that
mince would be better.

The feeling of a boy towards pumpkin-pie has never been properly
considered. There is an air of festivity about its approach in the
fall. The boy is willing to help pare and cut up the pumpkin, and he
watches with the greatest interest the stirring-up process and the
pouring into the scalloped crust. When the sweet savor of the baking
reaches his nostrils, he is filled with the most delightful
anticipations. Why should he not be? He knows that for months to
come the buttery will contain golden treasures, and that it will
require only a slight ingenuity to get at them.

The fact is, that the boy is as good in the buttery as in any part of
farming. His elders say that the boy is always hungry; but that is a
very coarse way to put it. He has only recently come into a world
that is full of good things to eat, and there is, on the whole, a
very short time in which to eat them; at least, he is told, among the
first information he receives, that life is short. Life being brief,
and pie and the like fleeting, he very soon decides upon an active
campaign. It may be an old story to people who have been eating for
forty or fifty years, but it is different with a beginner. He takes
the thick and thin as it comes, as to pie, for instance. Some people
do make them very thin. I knew a place where they were not thicker
than the poor man's plaster; they were spread so thin upon the crust
that they were better fitted to draw out hunger than to satisfy it.
They used to be made up by the great oven-full and kept in the dry
cellar, where they hardened and dried to a toughness you would hardly
believe. This was a long time ago, and they make the pumpkin-pie in
the country better now, or the race of boys would have been so
discouraged that I think they would have stopped coming into the

The truth is, that boys have always been so plenty that they are not
half appreciated. We have shown that a farm could not get along
without them, and yet their rights are seldom recognized. One of the
most amusing things is their effort to acquire personal property.
The boy has the care of the calves; they always need feeding, or
shutting up, or letting out; when the boy wants to play, there are
those calves to be looked after,--until he gets to hate the name of
calf. But in consideration of his faithfulness, two of them are
given to him. There is no doubt that they are his: he has the entire
charge of them. When they get to be steers he spends all his
holidays in breaking them in to a yoke. He gets them so broken in
that they will run like a pair of deer all over the farm, turning the
yoke, and kicking their heels, while he follows in full chase,
shouting the ox language till he is red in the face. When the steers
grow up to be cattle, a drover one day comes along and takes them
away, and the boy is told that he can have another pair of calves;
and so, with undiminished faith, he goes back and begins over again
to make his fortune. He owns lambs and young colts in the same way,
and makes just as much out of them.

There are ways in which the farmer-boy can earn money, as by
gathering the early chestnuts and taking them to the corner store, or
by finding turkeys' eggs and selling them to his mother; and another
way is to go without butter at the table--but the money thus made is
for the heathen. John read in Dr. Livingstone that some of the
tribes in Central Africa (which is represented by a blank spot in the
atlas) use the butter to grease their hair, putting on pounds of it
at a time; and he said he had rather eat his butter than have it put
to that use, especially as it melted away so fast in that hot

Of course it was explained to John that the missionaries do not
actually carry butter to Africa, and that they must usually go
without it themselves there, it being almost impossible to make it
good from the milk in the cocoanuts. And it was further explained to
him that even if the heathen never received his butter or the money
for it, it was an excellent thing for a boy to cultivate the habit of
self-denial and of benevolence, and if the heathen never heard of
him, he would be blessed for his generosity. This was all true.

But John said that he was tired of supporting the heathen out of his
butter, and he wished the rest of the family would also stop eating
butter and save the money for missions; and he wanted to know where
the other members of the family got their money to send to the
heathen; and his mother said that he was about half right, and that
self-denial was just as good for grown people as it was for little
boys and girls.

The boy is not always slow to take what he considers his rights.
Speaking of those thin pumpkin-pies kept in the cellar cupboard. I
used to know a boy, who afterwards grew to be a selectman, and
brushed his hair straight up like General Jackson, and went to the
legislature, where he always voted against every measure that was
proposed, in the most honest manner, and got the reputation of being
the "watch-dog of the treasury." Rats in the cellar were nothing to
be compared to this boy for destructiveness in pies. He used to go
down whenever he could make an excuse, to get apples for the family,
or draw a mug of cider for his dear old grandfather (who was a famous
story-teller about the Revolutionary War, and would no doubt have
been wounded in battle if he had not been as prudent as he was
patriotic), and come upstairs with a tallow candle in one hand and
the apples or cider in the other, looking as innocent and as
unconscious as if he had never done anything in his life except deny
himself butter for the sake of the heathen. And yet this boy would
have buttoned under his jacket an entire round pumpkin-pie. And the
pie was so well made and so dry that it was not injured in the least,
and it never hurt the boy's clothes a bit more than if it had been
inside of him instead of outside; and this boy would retire to a
secluded place and eat it with another boy, being never suspected
because he was not in the cellar long enough to eat a pie, and he
never appeared to have one about him. But he did something worse
than this. When his mother saw that pie after pie departed, she told
the family that she suspected the hired man; and the boy never said a
word, which was the meanest kind of lying. That hired man was
probably regarded with suspicion by the family to the end of his
days, and if he had been accused of robbing, they would have believed
him guilty.

I shouldn't wonder if that selectman occasionally has remorse now
about that pie; dreams, perhaps, that it is buttoned up under his
jacket and sticking to him like a breastplate; that it lies upon his
stomach like a round and red-hot nightmare, eating into his vitals.
Perhaps not. It is difficult to say exactly what was the sin of
stealing that kind of pie, especially if the one who stole it ate it.
It could have been used for the game of pitching quoits, and a pair
of them would have made very fair wheels for the dog-cart. And yet
it is probably as wrong to steal a thin pie as a thick one; and it
made no difference because it was easy to steal this sort. Easy
stealing is no better than easy lying, where detection of the lie is
difficult. The boy who steals his mother's pies has no right to be
surprised when some other boy steals his watermelons. Stealing is
like charity in one respect,--it is apt to begin at home.



If I were forced to be a boy, and a boy in the country,--the best
kind of boy to be in the summer,--I would be about ten years of age.
As soon as I got any older, I would quit it. The trouble with a boy
is, that just as he begins to enjoy himself he is too old, and has to
be set to doing something else. If a country boy were wise, he would
stay at just that age when he could enjoy himself most, and have the
least expected of him in the way of work.

Of course the perfectly good boy will always prefer to work and to do
"chores" for his father and errands for his mother and sisters,
rather than enjoy himself in his own way. I never saw but one such
boy. He lived in the town of Goshen,--not the place where the butter
is made, but a much better Goshen than that. And I never saw him,
but I heard of him; and being about the same age, as I supposed, I
was taken once from Zoah, where I lived, to Goshen to see him. But
he was dead. He had been dead almost a year, so that it was
impossible to see him. He died of the most singular disease: it was
from not eating green apples in the season of them. This boy, whose
name was Solomon, before he died, would rather split up kindling-wood
for his mother than go a-fishing,--the consequence was, that he was
kept at splitting kindling-wood and such work most of the time, and
grew a better and more useful boy day by day. Solomon would not
disobey his parents and eat green apples,--not even when they were
ripe enough to knock off with a stick, but he had such a longing for
them, that he pined, and passed away. If he had eaten the green
apples, he would have died of them, probably; so that his example is
a difficult one to follow. In fact, a boy is a hard subject to get a
moral from. All his little playmates who ate green apples came to
Solomon's funeral, and were very sorry for what they had done.

John was a very different boy from Solomon, not half so good, nor
half so dead. He was a farmer's boy, as Solomon was, but he did not
take so much interest in the farm. If John could have had his way,
he would have discovered a cave full of diamonds, and lots of nail-
kegs full of gold-pieces and Spanish dollars, with a pretty little
girl living in the cave, and two beautifully caparisoned horses, upon
which, taking the jewels and money, they would have ridden off
together, he did not know where. John had got thus far in his
studies, which were apparently arithmetic and geography, but were in
reality the Arabian Nights, and other books of high and mighty
adventure. He was a simple country-boy, and did not know much about
the world as it is, but he had one of his own imagination, in which
he lived a good deal. I daresay he found out soon enough what the
world is, and he had a lesson or two when he was quite young, in two
incidents, which I may as well relate.

If you had seen John at this time, you might have thought he was only
a shabbily dressed country lad, and you never would have guessed what
beautiful thoughts he sometimes had as he went stubbing his toes
along the dusty road, nor what a chivalrous little fellow he was.
You would have seen a short boy, barefooted, with trousers at once
too big and too short, held up perhaps by one suspender only, a
checked cotton shirt, and a hat of braided palm-leaf, frayed at the
edges and bulged up in the crown. It is impossible to keep a hat
neat if you use it to catch bumblebees and whisk 'em; to bail the
water from a leaky boat; to catch minnows in; to put over honey-bees'
nests, and to transport pebbles, strawberries, and hens' eggs. John
usually carried a sling in his hand, or a bow, or a limber stick,
sharp at one end, from which he could sling apples a great distance.
If he walked in the road, he walked in the middle of it, shuffling up
the dust; or if he went elsewhere, he was likely to be running on the
top of the fence or the stone wall, and chasing chipmunks.

John knew the best place to dig sweet-flag in all the farm; it was in
a meadow by the river, where the bobolinks sang so gayly. He never
liked to hear the bobolink sing, however, for he said it always
reminded him of the whetting of a scythe, and that reminded him of
spreading hay; and if there was anything he hated, it was spreading
hay after the mowers. "I guess you would n't like it yourself," said
John, "with the stubbs getting into your feet, and the hot sun, and
the men getting ahead of you, all you could do."

Towards evening, once, John was coming along the road home with some
stalks of the sweet-flag in his hand; there is a succulent pith in
the end of the stalk which is very good to eat,--tender, and not so
strong as the root; and John liked to pull it, and carry home what he
did not eat on the way. As he was walking along he met a carriage,
which stopped opposite to him; he also stopped and bowed, as country
boys used to bow in John's day. A lady leaned from the carriage, and

"What have you got, little boy?"

She seemed to be the most beautiful woman John had ever seen; with
light hair, dark, tender eyes, and the sweetest smile. There was
that in her gracious mien and in her dress which reminded John of the
beautiful castle ladies, with whom he was well acquainted in books.
He felt that he knew her at once, and he also seemed to be a sort of
young prince himself. I fancy he did n't look much like one. But of
his own appearance he thought not at all, as he replied to the lady's
question, without the least embarrassment:

"It's sweet-flag stalk; would you like some?"

"Indeed, I should like to taste it," said the lady, with a most
winning smile. "I used to be very fond of it when I was a little

John was delighted that the lady should like sweet-flag, and that she
was pleased to accept it from him. He thought himself that it was
about the best thing to eat he knew. He handed up a large bunch of
it. The lady took two or three stalks, and was about to return the
rest, when John said:

"Please keep it all, ma'am. I can get lots more."

"I know where it's ever so thick."

"Thank you, thank you," said the lady; and as the carriage started,
she reached out her hand to John. He did not understand the motion,
until he saw a cent drop in the road at his feet. Instantly all his
illusion and his pleasure vanished. Something like tears were in his
eyes as he shouted:

"I don't want your cent. I don't sell flag!"

John was intensely mortified. "I suppose," he said, "she thought I
was a sort of beggar-boy. To think of selling flag!"

At any rate, he walked away and left the cent in the road, a
humiliated boy. The next day he told Jim Gates about it. Jim said
he was green not to take the money; he'd go and look for it now, if
he would tell him about where it dropped. And Jim did spend an hour
poking about in the dirt, but he did not find the cent. Jim,
however, had an idea; he said he was going to dig sweet-flag, and see
if another carriage wouldn't come along.

John's next rebuff and knowledge of the world was of another sort.
He was again walking the road at twilight, when he was overtaken by a
wagon with one seat, upon which were two pretty girls, and a young
gentleman sat between them, driving. It was a merry party, and John
could hear them laughing and singing as they approached him. The
wagon stopped when it overtook him, and one of the sweet-faced girls
leaned from the seat and said, quite seriously and pleasantly:

"Little boy, how's your mar?"

John was surprised and puzzled for a moment. He had never seen the
young lady, but he thought that she perhaps knew his mother; at any
rate, his instinct of politeness made him say:

"She's pretty well, I thank you."

"Does she know you are out?"

And thereupon all three in the wagon burst into a roar of laughter,
and dashed on.

It flashed upon John in a moment that he had been imposed on, and it
hurt him dreadfully. His self-respect was injured somehow, and he
felt as if his lovely, gentle mother had been insulted. He would
like to have thrown a stone at the wagon, and in a rage he cried:

"You're a nice...." but he could n't think of any hard, bitter words
quick enough.

Probably the young lady, who might have been almost any young lady,
never knew what a cruel thing she had done.



The winter season is not all sliding downhill for the farmer-boy, by
any means; yet he contrives to get as much fun out of it as from any
part of the year. There is a difference in boys: some are always
jolly, and some go scowling always through life as if they had a
stone-bruise on each heel. I like a jolly boy.

I used to know one who came round every morning to sell molasses
candy, offering two sticks for a cent apiece; it was worth fifty
cents a day to see his cheery face. That boy rose in the world. He
is now the owner of a large town at the West. To be sure, there are
no houses in it except his own; but there is a map of it, and roads
and streets are laid out on it, with dwellings and churches and
academies and a college and an opera-house, and you could scarcely
tell it from Springfield or Hartford,--on paper. He and all his
family have the fever and ague, and shake worse than the people at
Lebanon; but they do not mind it; it makes them lively, in fact. Ed
May is just as jolly as he used to be. He calls his town Mayopolis,
and expects to be mayor of it; his wife, however, calls the town

The farmer-boy likes to have winter come for one thing, because it
freezes up the ground so that he can't dig in it; and it is covered
with snow so that there is no picking up stones, nor driving the cows
to pasture. He would have a very easy time if it were not for the
getting up before daylight to build the fires and do the "chores."
Nature intended the long winter nights for the farmer-boy to sleep;
but in my day he was expected to open his sleepy eyes when the cock
crew, get out of the warm bed and light a candle, struggle into his
cold pantaloons, and pull on boots in which the thermometer would
have gone down to zero, rake open the coals on the hearth and start
the morning fire, and then go to the barn to "fodder." The frost was
thick on the kitchen windows, the snow was drifted against the door,
and the journey to the barn, in the pale light of dawn, over the
creaking snow, was like an exile's trip to Siberia. The boy was not
half awake when he stumbled into the cold barn, and was greeted by
the lowing and bleating and neighing of cattle waiting for their
breakfast. How their breath steamed up from the mangers, and hung in
frosty spears from their noses. Through the great lofts above the
hay, where the swallows nested, the winter wind whistled, and the
snow sifted. Those old barns were well ventilated.

I used to spend much valuable time in planning a barn that should be
tight and warm, with a fire in it, if necessary, in order to keep the
temperature somewhere near the freezing-point. I could n't see how
the cattle could live in a place where a lively boy, full of young
blood, would freeze to death in a short time if he did not swing his
arms and slap his hands, and jump about like a goat. I thought I
would have a sort of perpetual manger that should shake down the hay
when it was wanted, and a self-acting machine that should cut up the
turnips and pass them into the mangers, and water always flowing for
the cattle and horses to drink. With these simple arrangements I
could lie in bed, and know that the "chores" were doing themselves.
It would also be necessary, in order that I should not be disturbed,
that the crow should be taken out of the roosters, but I could think
of no process to do it. It seems to me that the hen-breeders, if
they know as much as they say they do, might raise a breed of
crowless roosters for the benefit of boys, quiet neighborhoods, and
sleepy families.

There was another notion that I had about kindling the kitchen fire,
that I never carried out. It was to have a spring at the head of my
bed, connecting with a wire, which should run to a torpedo which I
would plant over night in the ashes of the fireplace. By touching
the spring I could explode the torpedo, which would scatter the ashes
and cover the live coals, and at the same time shake down the sticks
of wood which were standing by the side of the ashes in the chimney,
and the fire would kindle itself. This ingenious plan was frowned on
by the whole family, who said they did not want to be waked up every
morning by an explosion. And yet they expected me to wake up without
an explosion! A boy's plans for making life agreeable are hardly
ever heeded.

I never knew a boy farmer who was not eager to go to the district
school in the winter. There is such a chance for learning, that he
must be a dull boy who does not come out in the spring a fair skater,
an accurate snow-baller, and an accomplished slider-down-hill, with
or without a board, on his seat, on his stomach, or on his feet.
Take a moderate hill, with a foot-slide down it worn to icy
smoothness, and a "go-round" of boys on it, and there is nothing like
it for whittling away boot-leather. The boy is the shoemaker's
friend. An active lad can wear down a pair of cowhide soles in a
week so that the ice will scrape his toes. Sledding or coasting is
also slow fun compared to the "bareback" sliding down a steep hill
over a hard, glistening crust. It is not only dangerous, but it is
destructive to jacket and pantaloons to a degree to make a tailor
laugh. If any other animal wore out his skin as fast as a schoolboy
wears out his clothes in winter, it would need a new one once a
month. In a country district-school patches were not by any means a
sign of poverty, but of the boy's courage and adventurous
disposition. Our elders used to threaten to dress us in leather and
put sheet-iron seats in our trousers. The boy said that he wore out
his trousers on the hard seats in the schoolhouse ciphering hard
sums. For that extraordinary statement he received two
castigations,--one at home, that was mild, and one from the
schoolmaster, who was careful to lay the rod upon the boy's sliding-
place, punishing him, as he jocosely called it, on a sliding scale,
according to the thinness of his pantaloons.

What I liked best at school, however, was the study of history,--
early history,--the Indian wars. We studied it mostly at noontime,
and we had it illustrated as the children nowadays have "object-
lessons," though our object was not so much to have lessons as it was
to revive real history.

Back of the schoolhouse rose a round hill, upon which, tradition
said, had stood in colonial times a block-house, built by the
settlers for defense against the Indians. For the Indians had the
idea that the whites were not settled enough, and used to come nights
to settle--them with a tomahawk. It was called Fort Hill. It was
very steep on each side, and the river ran close by. It was a
charming place in summer, where one could find laurel, and
checkerberries, and sassafras roots, and sit in the cool breeze,
looking at the mountains across the river, and listening to the
murmur of the Deerfield. The Methodists built a meeting-house there
afterwards, but the hill was so slippery in winter that the aged
could not climb it and the wind raged so fiercely that it blew nearly
all the young Methodists away (many of whom were afterwards heard of
in the West), and finally the meeting-house itself came down into the
valley, and grew a steeple, and enjoyed itself ever afterwards. It
used to be a notion in New England that a meeting-house ought to
stand as near heaven as possible.

The boys at our school divided themselves into two parties: one was
the Early Settlers and the other the Pequots, the latter the most
numerous. The Early Settlers built a snow fort on the hill, and a
strong fortress it was, constructed of snowballs, rolled up to a vast
size (larger than the cyclopean blocks of stone which form the
ancient Etruscan walls in Italy), piled one upon another, and the
whole cemented by pouring on water which froze and made the walls
solid. The Pequots helped the whites build it. It had a covered way
under the snow, through which only could it be entered, and it had
bastions and towers and openings to fire from, and a great many other
things for which there are no names in military books. And it had a
glacis and a ditch outside.

When it was completed, the Early Settlers, leaving the women in the
schoolhouse, a prey to the Indians, used to retire into it, and await
the attack of the Pequots. There was only a handful of the garrison,
while the Indians were many, and also barbarous. It was agreed that
they should be barbarous. And it was in this light that the great
question was settled whether a boy might snowball with balls that he
had soaked over night in water and let freeze. They were as hard as
cobble-stones, and if a boy should be hit in the head by one of them,
he could not tell whether he was a Pequot or an Early Settler. It
was considered as unfair to use these ice-balls in open fight, as it
is to use poisoned ammunition in real war. But as the whites were
protected by the fort, and the Indians were treacherous by nature, it
was decided that the latter might use the hard missiles.

The Pequots used to come swarming up the hill, with hideous war-
whoops, attacking the fort on all sides with great noise and a shower
of balls. The garrison replied with yells of defiance and well-
directed shots, hurling back the invaders when they attempted to
scale the walls. The Settlers had the advantage of position, but
they were sometimes overpowered by numbers, and would often have had
to surrender but for the ringing of the school-bell. The Pequots
were in great fear of the school-bell.

I do not remember that the whites ever hauled down their flag and
surrendered voluntarily; but once or twice the fort was carried by
storm and the garrison were massacred to a boy, and thrown out of the
fortress, having been first scalped. To take a boy's cap was to
scalp him, and after that he was dead, if he played fair. There were
a great many hard hits given and taken, but always cheerfully, for it
was in the cause of our early history. The history of Greece and
Rome was stuff compared to this. And we had many boys in our school
who could imitate the Indian war whoop enough better than they could
scan arma, virumque cano.



The winter evenings of the farmer-boy in New England used not to be
so gay as to tire him of the pleasures of life before he became of
age. A remote farmhouse, standing a little off the road, banked up
with sawdust and earth to keep the frost out of the cellar, blockaded
with snow, and flying a blue flag of smoke from its chimney, looks
like a besieged fort. On cold and stormy winter nights, to the
traveler wearily dragging along in his creaking sleigh, the light
from its windows suggests a house of refuge and the cheer of a
blazing fire. But it is no less a fort, into which the family retire
when the New England winter on the hills really sets in.

The boy is an important part of the garrison. He is not only one of
the best means of communicating with the outer world, but he
furnishes half the entertainment and takes two thirds of the scolding
of the family circle. A farm would come to grief without a boy-on
it, but it is impossible to think of a farmhouse without a boy in it.

"That boy" brings life into the house; his tracks are to be seen
everywhere; he leaves all the doors open; he has n't half filled the
wood-box; he makes noise enough to wake the dead; or he is in a
brown-study by the fire and cannot be stirred, or he has fastened a
grip into some Crusoe book which cannot easily be shaken off. I
suppose that the farmer-boy's evenings are not now what they used to
be; that he has more books, and less to do, and is not half so good a
boy as formerly, when he used to think the almanac was pretty lively
reading, and the comic almanac, if he could get hold of that, was a
supreme delight.

Of course he had the evenings to himself, after he had done the
"chores" at the barn, brought in the wood and piled it high in the
box, ready to be heaped upon the great open fire. It was nearly dark
when he came from school (with its continuation of snowballing and
sliding), and he always had an agreeable time stumbling and fumbling
around in barn and wood-house, in the waning light.

John used to say that he supposed nobody would do his "chores" if he
did not get home till midnight; and he was never contradicted.
Whatever happened to him, and whatever length of days or sort of
weather was produced by the almanac, the cardinal rule was that he
should be at home before dark.

John used to imagine what people did in the dark ages, and wonder
sometimes whether he was n't still in them.

Of course, John had nothing to do all the evening, after his
"chores,"--except little things. While he drew his chair up to the
table in order to get the full radiance of the tallow candle on his
slate or his book, the women of the house also sat by the table
knitting and sewing. The head of the house sat in his chair, tipped
back against the chimney; the hired man was in danger of burning his
boots in the fire. John might be deep in the excitement of a bear
story, or be hard at writing a "composition" on his greasy slate; but
whatever he was doing, he was the only one who could always be
interrupted. It was he who must snuff the candles, and put on a
stick of wood, and toast the cheese, and turn the apples, and crack
the nuts. He knew where the fox-and-geese board was, and he could
find the twelve-men-Morris. Considering that he was expected to go
to bed at eight o'clock, one would say that the opportunity for study
was not great, and that his reading was rather interrupted. There
seemed to be always something for him to do, even when all the rest
of the family came as near being idle as is ever possible in a New
England household.

No wonder that John was not sleepy at eight o'clock; he had been
flying about while the others had been yawning before the fire. He
would like to sit up just to see how much more solemn and stupid it
would become as the night went on; he wanted to tinker his skates, to
mend his sled, to finish that chapter. Why should he go away from
that bright blaze, and the company that sat in its radiance, to the
cold and solitude of his chamber? Why did n't the people who were
sleepy go to bed?

How lonesome the old house was; how cold it was, away from that great
central fire in the heart of it; how its timbers creaked as if in the
contracting pinch of the frost; what a rattling there was of windows,
what a concerted attack upon the clapboards; how the floors squeaked,
and what gusts from round corners came to snatch the feeble flame of
the candle from the boy's hand. How he shivered, as he paused at the
staircase window to look out upon the great fields of snow, upon the
stripped forest, through which he could hear the wind raving in a
kind of fury, and up at the black flying clouds, amid which the young
moon was dashing and driven on like a frail shallop at sea. And his
teeth chattered more than ever when he got into the icy sheets, and
drew himself up into a ball in his flannel nightgown, like a fox in
his hole.

For a little time he could hear the noises downstairs, and an
occasional laugh; he could guess that now they were having cider, and
now apples were going round; and he could feel the wind tugging at
the house, even sometimes shaking the bed. But this did not last
long. He soon went away into a country he always delighted to be in:
a calm place where the wind never blew, and no one dictated the time
of going to bed to any one else. I like to think of him sleeping
there, in such rude surroundings, ingenious, innocent, mischievous,
with no thought of the buffeting he is to get from a world that has a
good many worse places for a boy than the hearth of an old farmhouse,
and the sweet, though undemonstrative, affection of its family life.

But there were other evenings in the boy's life, that were different
from these at home, and one of them he will never forget. It opened
a new world to John, and set him into a great flutter. It produced a
revolution in his mind in regard to neckties; it made him wonder if
greased boots were quite the thing compared with blacked boots; and
he wished he had a long looking-glass, so that he could see, as he
walked away from it, what was the effect of round patches on the
portion of his trousers he could not see, except in a mirror; and if
patches were quite stylish, even on everyday trousers. And he began
to be very much troubled about the parting of his hair, and how to
find out on which side was the natural part.

The evening to which I refer was that of John's first party. He knew
the girls at school, and he was interested in some of them with a
different interest from that he took in the boys. He never wanted to
"take it out" with one of them, for an insult, in a stand-up fight,
and he instinctively softened a boy's natural rudeness when he was
with them. He would help a timid little girl to stand erect and
slide; he would draw her on his sled, till his hands were stiff with
cold, without a murmur; he would generously give her red apples into
which he longed to set his own sharp teeth; and he would cut in two
his lead-pencil for a girl, when he would not for a boy. Had he not
some of the beautiful auburn tresses of Cynthia Rudd in his skate,
spruce-gum, and wintergreen box at home? And yet the grand sentiment
of life was little awakened in John. He liked best to be with boys,
and their rough play suited him better than the amusements of the
shrinking, fluttering, timid, and sensitive little girls. John had
not learned then that a spider-web is stronger than a cable; or that
a pretty little girl could turn him round her finger a great deal
easier than a big bully of a boy could make him cry "enough."

John had indeed been at spelling-schools, and had accomplished the
feat of "going home with a girl" afterwards; and he had been growing
into the habit of looking around in meeting on Sunday, and noticing
how Cynthia was dressed, and not enjoying the service quite as much
if Cynthia was absent as when she was present. But there was very
little sentiment in all this, and nothing whatever to make John blush
at hearing her name.

But now John was invited to a regular party. There was the
invitation, in a three-cornered billet, sealed with a transparent
wafer: "Miss C. Rudd requests the pleasure of the company of," etc.,
all in blue ink, and the finest kind of pin-scratching writing. What
a precious document it was to John! It even exhaled a faint sort of
perfume, whether of lavender or caraway-seed he could not tell. He
read it over a hundred times, and showed it confidentially to his
favorite cousin, who had beaux of her own and had even "sat up" with
them in the parlor. And from this sympathetic cousin John got advice
as to what he should wear and how he should conduct himself at the



It turned out that John did not go after all to Cynthia Rudd's party,
having broken through the ice on the river when he was skating that
day, and, as the boy who pulled him out said, "come within an inch of
his life." But he took care not to tumble into anything that should
keep him from the next party, which was given with due formality by
Melinda Mayhew.

John had been many a time to the house of Deacon Mayhew, and never
with any hesitation, even if he knew that both the deacon's
daughters--Melinda and Sophronia were at home. The only fear he had
felt was of the deacon's big dog, who always surlily watched him as
he came up the tan-bark walk, and made a rush at him if he showed the
least sign of wavering. But upon the night of the party his courage
vanished, and he thought he would rather face all the dogs in town
than knock at the front door.

The parlor was lighted up, and as John stood on the broad flagging
before the front door, by the lilac-bush, he could hear the sound of
voices--girls' voices--which set his heart in a flutter. He could
face the whole district school of girls without flinching,--he didn't
mind 'em in the meeting-house in their Sunday best; but he began to
be conscious that now he was passing to a new sphere, where the girls
are supreme and superior, and he began to feel for the first time
that he was an awkward boy. The girl takes to society as naturally
as a duckling does to the placid pond, but with a semblance of shy
timidity; the boy plunges in with a great splash, and hides his shy
awkwardness in noise and commotion.

When John entered, the company had nearly all come. He knew them
every one, and yet there was something about them strange and
unfamiliar. They were all a little afraid of each other, as people
are apt to be when they are well dressed and met together for social
purposes in the country. To be at a real party was a novel thing for
most of them, and put a constraint upon them which they could not at
once overcome. Perhaps it was because they were in the awful
parlor,--that carpeted room of haircloth furniture, which was so
seldom opened. Upon the wall hung two certificates framed in black,-
-one certifying that, by the payment of fifty dollars, Deacon Mayhew
was a life member of the American Tract Society, and the other that,
by a like outlay of bread cast upon the waters, his wife was a life
member of the A. B. C. F. M., a portion of the alphabet which has an
awful significance to all New England childhood. These certificates
are a sort of receipt in full for charity, and are a constant and
consoling reminder to the farmer that he has discharged his religious

There was a fire on the broad hearth, and that, with the tallow
candles on the mantelpiece, made quite an illumination in the room,
and enabled the boys, who were mostly on one side of the room, to see
the girls, who were on the other, quite plainly. How sweet and
demure the girls looked, to be sure! Every boy was thinking if his
hair was slick, and feeling the full embarrassment of his entrance
into fashionable life. It was queer that these children, who were so
free everywhere else, should be so constrained now, and not know what
to do with themselves. The shooting of a spark out upon the carpet
was a great relief, and was accompanied by a deal of scrambling to
throw it back into the fire, and caused much giggling. It was only
gradually that the formality was at all broken, and the young people
got together and found their tongues.

John at length found himself with Cynthia Rudd, to his great delight
and considerable embarrassment, for Cynthia, who was older than John,
never looked so pretty. To his surprise he had nothing to say to
her. They had always found plenty to talk about before--but now
nothing that he could think of seemed worth saying at a party.

"It is a pleasant evening," said John.

"It is quite so," replied Cynthia.

"Did you come in a cutter?" asked John anxiously.

"No; I walked on the crust, and it was perfectly lovely walking,"
said Cynthia, in a burst of confidence.

"Was it slippery?" continued John.

"Not very."

John hoped it would be slippery--very--when he walked home with
Cynthia, as he determined to do, but he did not dare to say so, and
the conversation ran aground again. John thought about his dog and
his sled and his yoke of steers, but he didn't see any way to bring
them into conversation. Had she read the "Swiss Family Robinson"?
Only a little ways. John said it was splendid, and he would lend it
to her, for which she thanked him, and said, with such a sweet
expression, she should be so glad to have it from him. That was

And then John asked Cynthia if she had seen Sally Hawkes since the
husking at their house, when Sally found so many red ears; and didn't
she think she was a real pretty girl.

"Yes, she was right pretty;" and Cynthia guessed that Sally knew it
pretty well. But did John like the color of her eyes?

No; John didn't like the color of her eyes exactly.

"Her mouth would be well enough if she did n't laugh so much and show
her teeth."

John said her mouth was her worst feature.

"Oh, no," said Cynthia warmly; "her mouth is better than her nose."

John did n't know but it was better than her nose, and he should like
her looks better if her hair was n't so dreadful black.

But Cynthia, who could afford to be generous now, said she liked
black hair, and she wished hers was dark. Whereupon John protested
that he liked light hair--auburn hair--of all things.

And Cynthia said that Sally was a dear, good girl, and she did n't
believe one word of the story that she only really found one red ear
at the husking that night, and hid that and kept pulling it out as if
it were a new one.

And so the conversation, once started, went on as briskly as possible
about the paring-bee, and the spelling-school, and the new singing-
master who was coming, and how Jack Thompson had gone to Northampton
to be a clerk in a store, and how Elvira Reddington, in the geography
class at school, was asked what was the capital of Massachusetts, and
had answered "Northampton," and all the school laughed. John enjoyed
the conversation amazingly, and he half wished that he and Cynthia
were the whole of the party.

But the party had meantime got into operation, and the formality was
broken up when the boys and girls had ventured out of the parlor into
the more comfortable living-room, with its easy-chairs and everyday
things, and even gone so far as to penetrate the kitchen in their
frolic. As soon as they forgot they were a party, they began to
enjoy themselves.

But the real pleasure only began with the games. The party was
nothing without the games, and, indeed, it was made for the games.
Very likely it was one of the timid girls who proposed to play
something, and when the ice was once broken, the whole company went
into the business enthusiastically. There was no dancing. We should
hope not. Not in the deacon's house; not with the deacon's
daughters, nor anywhere in this good Puritanic society. Dancing was
a sin in itself, and no one could tell what it would lead to. But
there was no reason why the boys and girls shouldn't come together
and kiss each other during a whole evening occasionally. Kissing was
a sign of peace, and was not at all like taking hold of hands and
skipping about to the scraping of a wicked fiddle.

In the games there was a great deal of clasping hands, of going round
in a circle, of passing under each other's elevated arms, of singing
about my true love, and the end was kisses distributed with more or
less partiality, according to the rules of the play; but, thank
Heaven, there was no fiddler. John liked it all, and was quite brave
about paying all the forfeits imposed on him, even to the kissing all
the girls in the room; but he thought he could have amended that by
kissing a few of them a good many times instead of kissing them all

But John was destined to have a damper put upon his enjoyment. They
were playing a most fascinating game, in which they all stand in a
circle and sing a philandering song, except one who is in the center
of the ring, and holds a cushion. At a certain word in the song, the
one in the center throws the cushion at the feet of some one in the
ring, indicating thereby the choice of a "mate" and then the two
sweetly kneel upon the cushion, like two meek angels, and--and so
forth. Then the chosen one takes the cushion and the delightful play
goes on. It is very easy, as it will be seen, to learn how to play
it. Cynthia was holding the cushion, and at the fatal word she threw
it down, not before John, but in front of Ephraim Leggett. And they
two kneeled, and so forth. John was astounded. He had never
conceived of such perfidy in the female heart. He felt like wiping
Ephraim off the face of the earth, only Ephraim was older and bigger
than he. When it came his turn at length,--thanks to a plain little
girl for whose admiration he did n't care a straw,--he threw the
cushion down before Melinda Mayhew with all the devotion he could
muster, and a dagger look at Cynthia. And Cynthia's perfidious smile
only enraged him the more. John felt wronged, and worked himself up
to pass a wretched evening.

When supper came, he never went near Cynthia, and busied himself in
carrying different kinds of pie and cake, and red apples and cider,
to the girls he liked the least. He shunned Cynthia, and when he was
accidentally near her, and she asked him if he would get her a glass
of cider, he rudely told her--like a goose as he was--that she had
better ask Ephraim. That seemed to him very smart; but he got more
and more miserable, and began to feel that he was making himself

Girls have a great deal more good sense in such matters than boys.
Cynthia went to John, at length, and asked him simply what the matter
was. John blushed, and said that nothing was the matter. Cynthia
said that it wouldn't do for two people always to be together at a
party; and so they made up, and John obtained permission to "see"
Cynthia home.

It was after half-past nine when the great festivities at the
Deacon's broke up, and John walked home with Cynthia over the shining
crust and under the stars. It was mostly a silent walk, for this was
also an occasion when it is difficult to find anything fit to say.
And John was thinking all the way how he should bid Cynthia good-
night; whether it would do and whether it wouldn't do, this not being
a game, and no forfeits attaching to it. When they reached the gate,
there was an awkward little pause. John said the stars were
uncommonly bright. Cynthia did not deny it, but waited a minute and
then turned abruptly away, with "Good-night, John!"

"Good-night, Cynthia!"

And the party was over, and Cynthia was gone, and John went home in a
kind of dissatisfaction with himself.

It was long before he could go to sleep for thinking of the new world
opened to him, and imagining how he would act under a hundred
different circumstances, and what he would say, and what Cynthia
would say; but a dream at length came, and led him away to a great
city and a brilliant house; and while he was there, he heard a loud
rapping on the under floor, and saw that it was daylight.



I think there is no part of farming the boy enjoys more than the
making of maple sugar; it is better than "blackberrying," and nearly
as good as fishing. And one reason he likes this work is, that
somebody else does the most of it. It is a sort of work in which he
can appear to be very active, and yet not do much.

And it exactly suits the temperament of a real boy to be very busy
about nothing. If the power, for instance, that is expended in play
by a boy between the ages of eight and fourteen could be applied to
some industry, we should see wonderful results. But a boy is like a
galvanic battery that is not in connection with anything; he
generates electricity and plays it off into the air with the most
reckless prodigality. And I, for one, would n't have it otherwise.
It is as much a boy's business to play off his energies into space as
it is for a flower to blow, or a catbird to sing snatches of the
tunes of all the other birds.

In my day maple-sugar-making used to be something between picnicking
and being shipwrecked on a fertile island, where one should save from
the wreck tubs and augers, and great kettles and pork, and hen's eggs
and rye-and-indian bread, and begin at once to lead the sweetest life
in the world. I am told that it is something different nowadays, and
that there is more desire to save the sap, and make good, pure sugar,
and sell it for a large price, than there used to be, and that the
old fun and picturesqueness of the business are pretty much gone. I
am told that it is the custom to carefully collect the sap and bring
it to the house, where there are built brick arches, over which it is
evaporated in shallow pans, and that pains is taken to keep the
leaves, sticks, and ashes and coals out of it, and that the sugar is
clarified; and that, in short, it is a money-making business, in
which there is very little fun, and that the boy is not allowed to
dip his paddle into the kettle of boiling sugar and lick off the
delicious sirup. The prohibition may improve the sugar, but it is
cruel to the boy.

As I remember the New England boy (and I am very intimate with one),
he used to be on the qui vive in the spring for the sap to begin
running. I think he discovered it as soon as anybody. Perhaps he
knew it by a feeling of something starting in his own veins,--a sort
of spring stir in his legs and arms, which tempted him to stand on
his head, or throw a handspring, if he could find a spot of ground
from which the snow had melted. The sap stirs early in the legs of a
country-boy, and shows itself in uneasiness in the toes, which get
tired of boots, and want to come out and touch the soil just as soon
as the sun has warmed it a little. The country-boy goes barefoot
just as naturally as the trees burst their buds, which were packed
and varnished over in the fall to keep the water and the frost out.
Perhaps the boy has been out digging into the maple-trees with his
jack-knife; at any rate, he is pretty sure to announce the discovery
as he comes running into the house in a great state of excitement--as
if he had heard a hen cackle in the barn--with "Sap's runnin'!"

And then, indeed, the stir and excitement begin. The sap-buckets,
which have been stored in the garret over the wood-house, and which
the boy has occasionally climbed up to look at with another boy, for
they are full of sweet suggestions of the annual spring frolic,--the
sap-buckets are brought down and set out on the south side of the
house and scalded. The snow is still a foot or two deep in the
woods, and the ox-sled is got out to make a road to the sugar camp,
and the campaign begins. The boy is everywhere present,
superintending everything, asking questions, and filled with a desire
to help the excitement.

It is a great day when the cart is loaded with the buckets and the
procession starts into the woods. The sun shines almost

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