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Being a Boy by Charles Dudley Warner

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unobstructedly into the forest, for there are only naked branches to
bar it; the snow is soft and beginning to sink down, leaving the
young bushes spindling up everywhere; the snowbirds are twittering
about, and the noise of shouting and of the blows of the axe echoes
far and wide. This is spring, and the boy can scarcely contain his
delight that his out-door life is about to begin again.

In the first place, the men go about and tap the trees, drive in the
spouts, and hang the buckets under. The boy watches all these
operations with the greatest interest. He wishes that sometime, when
a hole is bored in a tree, the sap would spout out in a stream as it
does when a cider-barrel is tapped; but it never does, it only drops,
sometimes almost in a stream, but on the whole slowly, and the boy
learns that the sweet things of the world have to be patiently waited
for, and do not usually come otherwise than drop by drop.

Then the camp is to be cleared of snow. The shanty is re-covered
with boughs. In front of it two enormous logs are rolled nearly
together, and a fire is built between them. Forked sticks are set at
each end, and a long pole is laid on them, and on this are hung the
great caldron kettles. The huge hogsheads are turned right side up,
and cleaned out to receive the sap that is gathered. And now, if
there is a good "sap run," the establishment is under full headway.

The great fire that is kindled up is never let out, night or day, as
long as the season lasts. Somebody is always cutting wood to feed
it; somebody is busy most of the time gathering in the sap; somebody
is required to watch the kettles that they do not boil over, and to
fill them. It is not the boy, however; he is too busy with things in
general to be of any use in details. He has his own little sap-yoke
and small pails, with which he gathers the sweet liquid. He has a
little boiling-place of his own, with small logs and a tiny kettle.
In the great kettles the boiling goes on slowly, and the liquid, as
it thickens, is dipped from one to another, until in the end kettle
it is reduced to sirup, and is taken out to cool and settle, until
enough is made to "sugar off." To "sugar off" is to boil the sirup
until it is thick enough to crystallize into sugar. This is the
grand event, and is done only once in two or three days.

But the boy's desire is to "sugar off" perpetually. He boils his
kettle down as rapidly as possible; he is not particular about chips,
scum, or ashes; he is apt to burn his sugar; but if he can get enough
to make a little wax on the snow, or to scrape from the bottom of the
kettle with his wooden paddle, he is happy. A good deal is wasted on
his hands, and the outside of his face, and on his clothes, but he
does not care; he is not stingy.

To watch the operations of the big fire gives him constant pleasure.
Sometimes he is left to watch the boiling kettles, with a piece of
pork tied on the end of a stick, which he dips into the boiling mass
when it threatens to go over. He is constantly tasting of it,
however, to see if it is not almost sirup. He has a long round
stick, whittled smooth at one end, which he uses for this purpose, at
the constant risk of burning his tongue. The smoke blows in his
face; he is grimy with ashes; he is altogether such a mass of dirt,
stickiness, and sweetness, that his own mother would n't know him.

He likes to boil eggs in the hot sap with the hired man; he likes to
roast potatoes in the ashes, and he would live in the camp day and
night if he were permitted. Some of the hired men sleep in the bough
shanty and keep the fire blazing all night. To sleep there with
them, and awake in the night and hear the wind in the trees, and see
the sparks fly up to the sky, is a perfect realization of all the
stories of adventures he has ever read. He tells the other boys
afterwards that he heard something in the night that sounded very
much like a bear. The hired man says that he was very much scared by
the hooting of an owl.

The great occasions for the boy, though, are the times of "sugaring-
off." Sometimes this used to be done in the evening, and it was made
the excuse for a frolic in the camp. The neighbors were invited;
sometimes even the pretty girls from the village, who filled all the
woods with their sweet voices and merry laughter and little
affectations of fright. The white snow still lies on all the ground
except the warm spot about the camp. The tree branches all show
distinctly in the light of the fire, which sends its ruddy glare far
into the darkness, and lights up the bough shanty, the hogsheads, the
buckets on the trees, and the group about the boiling kettles, until
the scene is like something taken out of a fairy play. If Rembrandt
could have seen a sugar party in a New England wood, he would have
made out of its strong contrasts of light and shade one of the finest
pictures in the world. But Rembrandt was not born in Massachusetts;
people hardly ever do know where to be born until it is too late.
Being born in the right place is a thing that has been very much

At these sugar parties every one was expected to eat as much sugar as
possible; and those who are practiced in it can eat a great deal. It
is a peculiarity about eating warm maple sugar, that though you may
eat so much of it one day as to be sick and loathe the thought of it,
you will want it the next day more than ever. At the "sugaring-off"
they used to pour the hot sugar upon the snow, where it congealed,
without crystallizing, into a sort of wax, which I do suppose is the
most delicious substance that was ever invented. And it takes a
great while to eat it. If one should close his teeth firmly on a
ball of it, he would be unable to open his mouth until it dissolved.
The sensation while it is melting is very pleasant, but one cannot

The boy used to make a big lump of it and give it to the dog, who
seized it with great avidity, and closed his jaws on it, as dogs will
on anything. It was funny the next moment to see the expression of
perfect surprise on the dog's face when he found that he could not
open his jaws. He shook his head; he sat down in despair; he ran
round in a circle; he dashed into the woods and back again. He did
everything except climb a tree, and howl. It would have been such a
relief to him if he could have howled. But that was the one thing he
could not do.



It is a wonder that every New England boy does not turn out a poet,
or a missionary, or a peddler. Most of them used to. There is
everything in the heart of the New England hills to feed the
imagination of the boy, and excite his longing for strange countries.
I scarcely know what the subtle influence is that forms him and
attracts him in the most fascinating and aromatic of all lands, and
yet urges him away from all the sweet delights of his home to become
a roamer in literature and in the world, a poet and a wanderer.
There is something in the soil and the pure air, I suspect, that
promises more romance than is forthcoming, that excites the
imagination without satisfying it, and begets the desire of
adventure. And the prosaic life of the sweet home does not at all
correspond to the boy's dreams of the world. In the good old days, I
am told, the boys on the coast ran away and became sailors; the
countryboys waited till they grew big enough to be missionaries, and
then they sailed away, and met the coast boys in foreign ports.
John used to spend hours in the top of a slender hickory-tree that a
little detached itself from the forest which crowned the brow of the
steep and lofty pasture behind his house. He was sent to make war on
the bushes that constantly encroached upon the pastureland; but John
had no hostility to any growing thing, and a very little bushwhacking
satisfied him. When he had grubbed up a few laurels and young tree-
sprouts, he was wont to retire into his favorite post of observation
and meditation. Perhaps he fancied that the wide-swaying stem to
which he clung was the mast of a ship; that the tossing forest behind
him was the heaving waves of the sea; and that the wind which moaned
over the woods and murmured in the leaves, and now and then sent him
a wide circuit in the air, as if he had been a blackbird on the tip-
top of a spruce, was an ocean gale. What life, and action, and
heroism there was to him in the multitudinous roar of the forest, and
what an eternity of existence in the monologue of the river, which
brawled far, far below him over its wide stony bed! How the river
sparkled and danced and went on, now in a smooth amber current, now
fretted by the pebbles, but always with that continuous busy song!
John never knew that noise to cease, and he doubted not, if he stayed
here a thousand years, that same loud murmur would fill the air.

On it went, under the wide spans of the old wooden, covered bridge,
swirling around the great rocks on which the piers stood, spreading
away below in shallows, and taking the shadows of a row of maples
that lined the green shore. Save this roar, no sound reached him,
except now and then the rumble of a wagon on the bridge, or the
muffled far-off voices of some chance passers on the road. Seen from
this high perch, the familiar village, sending its brown roofs and
white spires up through the green foliage, had a strange aspect, and
was like some town in a book, say a village nestled in the Swiss
mountains, or something in Bohemia. And there, beyond the purple
hills of Bozrah, and not so far as the stony pastures of Zoah,
whither John had helped drive the colts and young stock in the
spring, might be, perhaps, Jerusalem itself. John had himself once
been to the land of Canaan with his grandfather, when he was a very
small boy; and he had once seen an actual, no-mistake Jew, a
mysterious person, with uncut beard and long hair, who sold scythe-
snaths in that region, and about whom there was a rumor that he was
once caught and shaved by the indignant farmers, who apprehended in
his long locks a contempt of the Christian religion. Oh, the world
had vast possibilities for John. Away to the south, up a vast basin
of forest, there was a notch in the horizon and an opening in the
line of woods, where the road ran. Through this opening John
imagined an army might appear, perhaps British, perhaps Turks, and
banners of red and of yellow advance, and a cannon wheel about and
point its long nose, and open on the valley. He fancied the army,
after this salute, winding down the mountain road, deploying in the
meadows, and giving the valley to pillage and to flame. In which
event his position would be an excellent one for observation and for
safety. While he was in the height of this engagement, perhaps the
horn would be blown from the back porch, reminding him that it was
time to quit cutting brush and go for the cows. As if there were no
better use for a warrior and a poet in New England than to send him
for the cows!

John knew a boy--a bad enough boy I daresay--who afterwards became a
general in the war, and went to Congress, and got to be a real
governor, who also used to be sent to cut brush in the back pastures,
and hated it in his very soul; and by his wrong conduct forecast what
kind of a man he would be. This boy, as soon as he had cut about one
brush, would seek for one of several holes in the ground (and he was
familiar with several), in which lived a white-and-black animal that
must always be nameless in a book, but an animal quite capable of the
most pungent defense of himself. This young aspirant to Congress
would cut a long stick, with a little crotch in the end of it, and
run it into the hole; and when the crotch was punched into the fur
and skin of the animal, he would twist the stick round till it got a
good grip on the skin, and then he would pull the beast out; and
when he got the white-and-black just out of the hole so that his dog
could seize him, the boy would take to his heels, and leave the two
to fight it out, content to scent the battle afar off. And this boy,
who was in training for public life, would do this sort of thing all
the afternoon, and when the sun told him that he had spent long
enough time cutting brush, he would industriously go home as innocent
as anybody. There are few such boys as this nowadays; and that is
the reason why the New England pastures are so much overgrown with

John himself preferred to hunt the pugnacious woodchuck. He bore a
special grudge against this clover-eater, beyond the usual hostility
that boys feel for any wild animal. One day on his way to school a
woodchuck crossed the road before him, and John gave chase. The
woodchuck scrambled into an orchard and climbed a small apple-tree.
John thought this a most cowardly and unfair retreat, and stood under
the tree and taunted the animal and stoned it. Thereupon the
woodchuck dropped down on John and seized him by the leg of his
trousers. John was both enraged and scared by this dastardly attack;
the teeth of the enemy went through the cloth and met; and there he
hung. John then made a pivot of one leg and whirled himself around,
swinging the woodchuck in the air, until he shook him off; but in his
departure the woodchuck carried away a large piece of John's summer
trousers-leg. The boy never forgot it. And whenever he had a
holiday, he used to expend an amount of labor and ingenuity in the
pursuit of woodchucks that would have made his for tune in any useful
pursuit. There was a hill pasture, down on one side of which ran a
small brook, and this pasture was full of woodchuck-holes. It
required the assistance of several boys to capture a woodchuck. It
was first necessary by patient watching to ascertain that the
woodchuck was at home. When one was seen to enter his burrow, then
all the entries to it except one--there are usually three--were
plugged up with stones. A boy and a dog were then left to watch the
open hole, while John and his comrades went to the brook and began to
dig a canal, to turn the water into the residence of the woodchuck.
This was often a difficult feat of engineering, and a long job.
Often it took more than half a day of hard labor with shovel and hoe
to dig the canal. But when the canal was finished and the water
began to pour into the hole, the excitement began. How long would it
take to fill the hole and drown out the woodchuck? Sometimes it
seemed as if the hole was a bottomless pit. But sooner or later the
water would rise in it, and then there was sure to be seen the nose
of the woodchuck, keeping itself on a level with the rising flood.
It was piteous to see the anxious look of the hunted, half-drowned
creature as--it came to the surface and caught sight of the dog.
There the dog stood, at the mouth of the hole, quivering with
excitement from his nose to the tip of his tail, and behind him were
the cruel boys dancing with joy and setting the dog on. The poor
creature would disappear in the water in terror; but he must breathe,
and out would come his nose again, nearer the dog each time. At last
the water ran out of the hole as well as in, and the soaked beast
came with it, and made a desperate rush. But in a trice the dog had
him, and the boys stood off in a circle, with stones in their hands,
to see what they called "fair play." They maintained perfect
"neutrality" so long as the dog was getting the best of the
woodchuck; but if the latter was likely to escape, they "interfered"
in the interest of peace and the "balance of power," and killed the
woodchuck. This is a boy's notion of justice; of course, he'd no
business to be a woodchuck,--an--unspeakable woodchuck.

I used the word "aromatic" in relation to the New England soil.
John knew very well all its sweet, aromatic, pungent, and medicinal
products, and liked to search for the scented herbs and the wild
fruits and exquisite flowers; but he did not then know, and few do
know, that there is no part of the globe where the subtle chemistry
of the earth produces more that is agreeable to the senses than a New
England hill-pasture and the green meadow at its foot. The poets
have succeeded in turning our attention from it to the comparatively
barren Orient as the land of sweet-smelling spices and odorous gums.
And it is indeed a constant surprise that this poor and stony soil
elaborates and grows so many delicate and aromatic products.

John, it is true, did not care much for anything that did not appeal
to his taste and smell and delight in brilliant color; and he trod
down the exquisite ferns and the wonderful mosses--without
compunction. But he gathered from the crevices of the rocks the
columbine and the eglantine and the blue harebell; he picked the
high-flavored alpine strawberry, the blueberry, the boxberry, wild
currants and gooseberries, and fox-grapes; he brought home armfuls of
the pink-and-white laurel and the wild honeysuckle; he dug the roots
of the fragrant sassafras and of the sweet-flag; he ate the tender
leaves of the wintergreen and its red berries; he gathered the
peppermint and the spearmint; he gnawed the twigs of the black birch;
there was a stout fern which he called "brake," which he pulled up,
and found that the soft end "tasted good;" he dug the amber gum from
the spruce-tree, and liked to smell, though he could not chew, the
gum of the wild cherry; it was his melancholy duty to bring home such
medicinal herbs for the garret as the gold-thread, the tansy, and the
loathsome "boneset;" and he laid in for the winter, like a squirrel,
stores of beechnuts, hazel-nuts, hickory-nuts, chestnuts, and
butternuts. But that which lives most vividly in his memory and most
strongly draws him back to the New England hills is the aromatic
sweet-fern; he likes to eat its spicy seeds, and to crush in his
hands its fragrant leaves; their odor is the unique essence of New



The New England country-boy of the last generation never heard of
Christmas. There was no such day in his calendar. If John ever came
across it in his reading, he attached no meaning to the word.

If his curiosity had been aroused, and he had asked his elders about
it, he might have got the dim impression that it was a kind of Popish
holiday, the celebration of which was about as wicked as "card-
playing," or being a "Democrat." John knew a couple of desperately
bad boys who were reported to play "seven-up" in a barn, on the
haymow, and the enormity of this practice made him shudder. He had.
once seen a pack of greasy "playing-cards," and it seemed to him to
contain the quintessence of sin. If he had desired to defy all
Divine law and outrage all human society, he felt that he could do it
by shuffling them. And he was quite right. The two bad boys enjoyed
in stealth their scandalous pastime, because they knew it was the
most wicked thing they could do. If it had been as sinless as
playing marbles, they would n't have cared for it. John sometimes
drove past a brown, tumble-down farmhouse, whose shiftless
inhabitants, it was said, were card-playing people; and it is
impossible to describe how wicked that house appeared to John. He
almost expected to see its shingles stand on end. In the old New
England one could not in any other way so express his contempt of all
holy and orderly life as by playing cards for amusement.

There was no element of Christmas in John's life, any more than there
was of Easter; and probably nobody about him could have explained
Easter; and he escaped all the demoralization attending Christmas
gifts. Indeed, he never had any presents of any kind, either on his
birthday or any other day. He expected nothing that he did not earn,
or make in the way of "trade" with another boy. He was taught to
work for what he received. He even earned, as I said, the extra
holidays of the day after the Fourth and the day after Thanksgiving.
Of the free grace and gifts of Christmas he had no conception. The
single and melancholy association he had with it was the quaking hymn
which his grandfather used to sing in a cracked and quavering voice:

"While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground."

The "glory" that "shone around" at the end of it--the doleful voice
always repeating, "and glory shone around "--made John as miserable
as "Hark! from the tombs." It was all one dreary expectation of
something uncomfortable. It was, in short, "religion." You'd got to
have it some time; that John believed. But it lay in his unthinking
mind to put off the "Hark! from the tombs" enjoyment as long as
possible. He experienced a kind of delightful wickedness in
indulging his dislike of hymns and of Sunday.

John was not a model boy, but I cannot exactly define in what his
wickedness consisted. He had no inclination to steal, nor much to
lie; and he despised "meanness" and stinginess, and had a chivalrous
feeling toward little girls. Probably it never occurred to him that
there was any virtue in not stealing and lying, for honesty and
veracity were in the atmosphere about him. He hated work, and he
"got mad" easily; but he did work, and he was always ashamed when he
was over his fit of passion. In short, you couldn't find a much
better wicked boy than John.

When the "revival" came, therefore, one summer, John was in a
quandary. Sunday meeting and Sunday-school he did n't mind; they
were a part of regular life, and only temporarily interrupted a boy's
pleasures. But when there began to be evening meetings at the
different houses, a new element came into affairs. There was a kind
of solemnity over the community, and a seriousness in all faces. At
first these twilight assemblies offered a little relief to the
monotony of farm life; and John liked to meet the boys and girls, and
to watch the older people coming in, dressed in their second best. I
think John's imagination was worked upon by the sweet and mournful
hymns that were discordantly sung in the stiff old parlors. There
was a suggestion of Sunday, and sanctity too, in the odor of caraway-
seed that pervaded the room. The windows were wide open also, and
the scent of June roses came in, with all the languishing sounds of a
summer night. All the little boys had a scared look, but the little
girls were never so pretty and demure as in this their susceptible
seriousness. If John saw a boy who did not come to the evening
meeting, but was wandering off with his sling down the meadow,
looking for frogs, maybe, that boy seemed to him a monster of

After a time, as the meetings continued, John fell also under the
general impression of fright and seriousness. All the talk was of
"getting religion," and he heard over and over again that the
probability was if he did not get it now, he never would. The chance
did not come often, and if this offer was not improved, John would be
given over to hardness of heart. His obstinacy would show that he
was not one of the elect. John fancied that he could feel his heart
hardening, and he began to look with a wistful anxiety into the faces
of the Christians to see what were the visible signs of being one of
the elect. John put on a good deal of a manner that he "did n't
care," and he never admitted his disquiet by asking any questions or
standing up in meeting to be prayed for. But he did care. He heard
all the time that all he had to do was to repent and believe. But
there was nothing that he doubted, and he was perfectly willing to
repent if he could think of anything to repent of.

It was essential he learned, that he should have a "conviction of
sin." This he earnestly tried to have. Other people, no better than
he, had it, and he wondered why he could n't have it. Boys and girls
whom he knew were "under conviction," and John began to feel not only
panicky, but lonesome. Cynthia Rudd had been anxious for days and
days, and not able to sleep at night, but now she had given herself
up and found peace. There was a kind of radiance in her face that
struck John with awe, and he felt that now there was a great gulf
between him and Cynthia. Everybody was going away from him, and his
heart was getting harder than ever. He could n't feel wicked, all he
could do. And there was Ed Bates his intimate friend, though older
than he, a "whaling," noisy kind of boy, who was under conviction and
sure he was going to be lost. How John envied him! And pretty soon
Ed "experienced religion." John anxiously watched the change in Ed's
face when he became one of the elect. And a change there was. And
John wondered about another thing. Ed Bates used to go trout-
fishing, with a tremendously long pole, in a meadow brook near the
river; and when the trout didn't bite right off, Ed would--get mad,
and as soon as one took hold he would give an awful jerk, sending the
fish more than three hundred feet into the air and landing it in the
bushes the other side of the meadow, crying out, "Gul darn ye, I'll
learn ye." And John wondered if Ed would take the little trout out
any more gently now.

John felt more and more lonesome as one after another of his
playmates came out and made a profession. Cynthia (she too was older
than John) sat on Sunday in the singers' seat; her voice, which was
going to be a contralto, had a wonderful pathos in it for him, and he
heard it with a heartache. "There she is," thought John, "singing
away like an angel in heaven, and I am left out." During all his
after life a contralto voice was to John one of his most bitter and
heart-wringing pleasures. It suggested the immaculate scornful, the
melancholy unattainable.

If ever a boy honestly tried to work himself into a conviction of
sin, John tried. And what made him miserable was, that he couldn't
feel miserable when everybody else was miserable. He even began to
pretend to be so. He put on a serious and anxious look like the
others. He pretended he did n't care for play; he refrained from
chasing chipmunks and snaring suckers; the songs of birds and the
bright vivacity of the summer--time that used to make him turn hand-
springs smote him as a discordant levity. He was not a hypocrite at
all, and he was getting to be alarmed that he was not alarmed at
himself. Every day and night he heard that the spirit of the Lord
would probably soon quit striving with him, and leave him out. The
phrase was that he would "grieve away the Holy Spirit." John wondered
if he was not doing it. He did everything to put himself in the way
of conviction, was constant at the evening meetings, wore a grave
face, refrained from play, and tried to feel anxious. At length he
concluded that he must do something.

One night as he walked home from a solemn meeting, at which several
of his little playmates had "come forward," he felt that he could
force the crisis. He was alone on the sandy road; it was an
enchanting summer night; the stars danced overhead, and by his side
the broad and shallow river ran over its stony bed with a loud but
soothing murmur that filled all the air with entreaty. John did not
then know that it sang, "But I go on forever," yet there was in it
for him something of the solemn flow of the eternal world. When he
came in sight of the house, he knelt down in the dust by a pile of
rails and prayed. He prayed that he might feel bad, and be
distressed about himself. As he prayed he heard distinctly, and yet
not as a disturbance, the multitudinous croaking of the frogs by the
meadow spring. It was not discordant with his thoughts; it had in it
a melancholy pathos, as if it were a kind of call to the unconverted.
What is there in this sound that suggests the tenderness of spring,
the despair of a summer night, the desolateness of young love? Years
after it happened to John to be at twilight at a railway station on
the edge of the Ravenna marshes. A little way over the purple plain
he saw the darkening towers and heard "the sweet bells of Imola."
The Holy Pontiff Pius IX. was born at Imola, and passed his boyhood
in that serene and moist region. As the train waited, John heard
from miles of marshes round about the evening song of millions of
frogs, louder and more melancholy and entreating than the vesper call
of the bells. And instantly his mind went back for the association
of sound is as subtle as that of odor--to the prayer, years ago, by
the roadside and the plaintive appeal of the unheeded frogs, and he
wondered if the little Pope had not heard the like importunity, and
perhaps, when he thought of himself as a little Pope, associated his
conversion with this plaintive sound.

John prayed, but without feeling any worse, and then went desperately
into the house, and told the family that he was in an anxious state
of mind. This was joyful news to the sweet and pious household, and
the little boy was urged to feel that he was a sinner, to repent, and
to become that night a Christian; he was prayed over, and told to
read the Bible, and put to bed with the injunction to repeat all the
texts of Scripture and hymns he could think of. John did this, and
said over and over the few texts he was master of, and tossed about
in a real discontent now, for he had a dim notion that he was playing
the hypocrite a little. But he was sincere enough in wanting to
feel, as the other boys and girls felt, that he was a wicked sinner.
He tried to think of his evil deeds; and one occurred to him; indeed,
it often came to his mind. It was a lie; a deliberate, awful lie,
that never injured anybody but himself John knew he was not wicked
enough to tell a lie to injure anybody else.

This was the lie. One afternoon at school, just before John's class
was to recite in geography, his pretty cousin, a young lady he held
in great love and respect, came in to visit the school. John was a
favorite with her, and she had come to hear him recite. As it
happened, John felt shaky in the geographical lesson of that day, and
he feared to be humiliated in the presence of his cousin; he felt
embarrassed to that degree that he could n't have "bounded"
Massachusetts. So he stood up and raised his hand, and said to the
schoolma'am, "Please, ma'am, I 've got the stomach-ache; may I go
home?" And John's character for truthfulness was so high (and even
this was ever a reproach to him), that his word was instantly
believed, and he was dismissed without any medical examination. For
a moment John was delighted to get out of school so early; but soon
his guilt took all the light out of the summer sky and the
pleasantness out of nature. He had to walk slowly, without a single
hop or jump, as became a diseased boy. The sight of a woodchuck at a
distance from his well-known hole tempted John, but he restrained
himself, lest somebody should see him, and know that chasing a
woodchuck was inconsistent with the stomach-ache. He was acting a
miserable part, but it had to be gone through with. He went home and
told his mother the reason he had left school, but he added that he
felt "some" better now. The "some" did n't save him. Genuine
sympathy was lavished on him. He had to swallow a stiff dose of
nasty "picra,"--the horror of all childhood, and he was put in bed
immediately. The world never looked so pleasant to John, but to bed
he was forced to go. He was excused from all chores; he was not even
to go after the cows. John said he thought he ought to go after the
cows,--much as he hated the business usually, he would now willingly
have wandered over the world after cows,--and for this heroic offer,
in the condition he was, he got credit for a desire to do his duty;
and this unjust confidence in him added to his torture. And he had
intended to set his hooks that night for eels. His cousin came home,
and sat by his bedside and condoled with him; his schoolma'am had
sent word how sorry she was for him, John was Such a good boy. All
this was dreadful.

He groaned in agony. Besides, he was not to have any supper; it
would be very dangerous to eat a morsel. The prospect was appalling.
Never was there such a long twilight; never before did he hear so
many sounds outdoors that he wanted to investigate. Being ill
without any illness was a horrible condition. And he began to have
real stomach-ache now; and it ached because it was empty. John was
hungry enough to have eaten the New England Primer. But by and by
sleep came, and John forgot his woes in dreaming that he knew where
Madagascar was just as easy as anything.

It was this lie that came back to John the night he was trying to be
affected by the revival. And he was very much ashamed of it, and
believed he would never tell another. But then he fell thinking
whether, with the "picra," and the going to bed in the afternoon, and
the loss of his supper, he had not been sufficiently paid for it.
And in this unhopeful frame of mind he dropped off in sleep.

And the truth must be told, that in the morning John was no nearer to
realizing the terrors he desired to feel. But he was a conscientious
boy, and would do nothing to interfere with the influences of the
season. He not only put himself away from them all, but he refrained
from doing almost everything that he wanted to do. There came at
that time a newspaper, a secular newspaper, which had in it a long
account of the Long Island races, in which the famous horse
"Lexington" was a runner. John was fond of horses, he knew about
Lexington, and he had looked forward to the result of this race with
keen interest. But to read the account of it how he felt might
destroy his seriousness of mind, and in all reverence and simplicity
he felt it--be a means of "grieving away the Holy Spirit." He
therefore hid away the paper in a table-drawer, intending to read it
when the revival should be over. Weeks after, when he looked for the
newspaper, it was not to be found, and John never knew what "time"
Lexington made nor anything about the race. This was to him a
serious loss, but by no means so deep as another feeling that
remained with him; for when his little world returned to its ordinary
course, and long after, John had an uneasy apprehension of his own
separateness from other people, in his insensibility to the revival.
Perhaps the experience was a damage to him; and it is a pity that
there was no one to explain that religion for a little fellow like
him is not a "scheme."



Every boy who is good for anything is a natural savage. The
scientists who want to study the primitive man, and have so much
difficulty in finding one anywhere in this sophisticated age,
couldn't do better than to devote their attention to the common
country-boy. He has the primal, vigorous instincts and impulses of
the African savage, without any of the vices inherited from a
civilization long ago decayed or developed in an unrestrained
barbaric society. You want to catch your boy young, and study him
before he has either virtues or vices, in order to understand the
primitive man.

Every New England boy desires (or did desire a generation ago, before
children were born sophisticated, with a large library, and with the
word "culture" written on their brows) to live by hunting, fishing,
and war. The military instinct, which is the special mark of
barbarism, is strong in him. It arises not alone from his love of
fighting, for the boy is naturally as cowardly as the savage, but
from his fondness for display,--the same that a corporal or a general
feels in decking himself in tinsel and tawdry colors and strutting
about in view of the female sex. Half the pleasure in going out to
murder another man with a gun would be wanting if one did not wear
feathers and gold-lace and stripes on his pantaloons. The law also
takes this view of it, and will not permit men to shoot each other in
plain clothes. And the world also makes some curious distinctions in
the art of killing. To kill people with arrows is barbarous; to kill
them with smooth-bores and flintlock muskets is semi-civilized; to
kill them with breech-loading rifles is civilized. That nation is
the most civilized which has the appliances to kill the most of
another nation in the shortest time. This is the result of six
thousand years of constant civilization. By and by, when the nations
cease to be boys, perhaps they will not want to kill each other at
all. Some people think the world is very old; but here is an
evidence that it is very young, and, in fact, has scarcely yet begun
to be a world. When the volcanoes have done spouting, and the
earthquakes are quaked out, and you can tell what land is going to be
solid and keep its level twenty-four hours, and the swamps are filled
up, and the deltas of the great rivers, like the Mississippi and the
Nile, become terra firma, and men stop killing their fellows in order
to get their land and other property, then perhaps there will be a
world that an angel would n't weep over. Now one half the world are
employed in getting ready to kill the other half, some of them by
marching about in uniform, and the others by hard work to earn money
to pay taxes to buy uniforms and guns.

John was not naturally very cruel, and it was probably the love of
display quite as much as of fighting that led him into a military
life; for he, in common with all his comrades, had other traits of
the savage. One of them was the same passion for ornament that
induces the African to wear anklets and bracelets of hide and of
metal, and to decorate himself with tufts of hair, and to tattoo his
body. In John's day there was a rage at school among the boys for
wearing bracelets woven of the hair of the little girls. Some of
them were wonderful specimens of braiding and twist. These were not
captured in war, but were sentimental tokens of friendship given by
the young maidens themselves. John's own hair was kept so short (as
became a warrior) that you couldn't have made a bracelet out of it,
or anything except a paintbrush; but the little girls were not under
military law, and they willingly sacrificed their tresses to decorate
the soldiers they esteemed. As the Indian is honored in proportion
to the scalps he can display, at John's school the boy was held in
highest respect who could show the most hair trophies on his wrist.
John himself had a variety that would have pleased a Mohawk, fine and
coarse and of all colors. There were the flaxen, the faded straw,
the glossy black, the lustrous brown, the dirty yellow, the undecided
auburn, and the fiery red. Perhaps his pulse beat more quickly under
the red hair of Cynthia Rudd than on account of all the other
wristlets put together; it was a sort of gold-tried-in-the-fire-color
to John, and burned there with a steady flame. Now that Cynthia had
become a Christian, this band of hair seemed a more sacred if less
glowing possession (for all detached hair will fade in time), and if
he had known anything about saints, he would have imagined that it
was a part of the aureole that always goes with a saint. But I am
bound to say that while John had a tender feeling for this red
string, his sentiment was not that of the man who becomes entangled
in the meshes of a woman's hair; and he valued rather the number than
the quality of these elastic wristlets.

John burned with as real a military ardor as ever inflamed the breast
of any slaughterer of his fellows. He liked to read of war, of
encounters with the Indians, of any kind of wholesale killing in
glittering uniform, to the noise of the terribly exciting fife and
drum, which maddened the combatants and drowned the cries of the
wounded. In his future he saw himself a soldier with plume and sword
and snug-fitting, decorated clothes,--very different from his
somewhat roomy trousers and country-cut roundabout, made by Aunt
Ellis, the village tailoress, who cut out clothes, not according to
the shape of the boy, but to what he was expected to grow to,--going
where glory awaited him. In his observation of pictures, it was the
common soldier who was always falling and dying, while the officer
stood unharmed in the storm of bullets and waved his sword in a
heroic attitude. John determined to be an officer.

It is needless to say that he was an ardent member of the military
company of his village. He had risen from the grade of corporal to
that of first lieutenant; the captain was a boy whose father was
captain of the grown militia company, and consequently had inherited
military aptness and knowledge. The old captain was a flaming son of
Mars, whose nose militia, war, general training, and New England rum
had painted with the color of glory and disaster. He was one of the
gallant old soldiers of the peaceful days of our country, splendid in
uniform, a martinet in drill, terrible in oaths, a glorious object
when he marched at the head of his company of flintlock muskets, with
the American banner full high advanced, and the clamorous drum
defying the world. In this he fulfilled his duties of citizen,
faithfully teaching his uniformed companions how to march by the left
leg, and to get reeling drunk by sundown; otherwise he did n't amount
to much in the community; his house was unpainted, his fences were
tumbled down, his farm was a waste, his wife wore an old gown to
meeting, to which the captain never went; but he was a good trout-
fisher, and there was no man in town who spent more time at the
country store and made more shrewd observations upon the affairs of
his neighbors. Although he had never been in an asylum any more than
he had been in war, he was almost as perfect a drunkard as he was
soldier. He hated the British, whom he had never seen, as much as he
loved rum, from which he was never separated.

The company which his son commanded, wearing his father's belt and
sword, was about as effective as the old company, and more orderly.
It contained from thirty to fifty boys, according to the pressure of
"chores" at home, and it had its great days of parade and its autumn
maneuvers, like the general training. It was an artillery company,
which gave every boy a chance to wear a sword, and it possessed a
small mounted cannon, which was dragged about and limbered and
unlimbered and fired, to the imminent danger of everybody, especially
of the company. In point of marching, with all the legs going
together, and twisting itself up and untwisting breaking into single-
file (for Indian fighting), and forming platoons, turning a sharp
corner, and getting out of the way of a wagon, circling the town
pump, frightening horses, stopping short in front of the tavern, with
ranks dressed and eyes right and left, it was the equal of any
military organization I ever saw. It could train better than the big
company, and I think it did more good in keeping alive the spirit of
patriotism and desire to fight. Its discipline was strict. If a boy
left the ranks to jab a spectator, or make faces at a window, or "go
for" a striped snake, he was "hollered" at no end.

It was altogether a very serious business; there was no levity about
the hot and hard marching, and as boys have no humor, nothing
ludicrous occurred. John was very proud of his office, and of his
ability to keep the rear ranks closed up and ready to execute any
maneuver when the captain "hollered," which he did continually. He
carried a real sword, which his grandfather had worn in many a
militia campaign on the village green, the rust upon which John
fancied was Indian blood; he had various red and yellow insignia of
military rank sewed upon different parts of his clothes, and though
his cocked hat was of pasteboard, it was decorated with gilding and
bright rosettes, and floated a red feather that made his heart beat
with martial fury whenever he looked at it. The effect of this
uniform upon the girls was not a matter of conjecture. I think they
really cared nothing about it, but they pretended to think it fine,
and they fed the poor boy's vanity, the weakness by which women
govern the world.

The exalted happiness of John in this military service I daresay was
never equaled in any subsequent occupation. The display of the
company in the village filled him with the loftiest heroism. There
was nothing wanting but an enemy to fight, but this could only be had
by half the company staining themselves with elderberry juice and
going into the woods as Indians, to fight the artillery from behind
trees with bows and arrows, or to ambush it and tomahawk the gunners.
This, however, was made to seem very like real war. Traditions of
Indian cruelty were still fresh in western Massachusetts. Behind
John's house in the orchard were some old slate tombstones, sunken
and leaning, which recorded the names of Captain Moses Rice and
Phineas Arms, who had been killed by Indians in the last century
while at work in the meadow by the river, and who slept there in the
hope of the glorious resurrection. Phineas Arms martial name--was
long since dust, and even the mortal part of the great Captain Moses
Rice had been absorbed in the soil and passed perhaps with the sap up
into the old but still blooming apple-trees. It was a quiet place
where they lay, but they might have heard--if hear they could--the
loud, continuous roar of the Deerfield, and the stirring of the long
grass on that sunny slope. There was a tradition that years ago an
Indian, probably the last of his race, had been seen moving along the
crest of the mountain, and gazing down into the lovely valley which
had been the favorite home of his tribe, upon the fields where he
grew his corn, and the sparkling stream whence he drew his fish.
John used to fancy at times, as he sat there, that he could see that
red specter gliding among the trees on the hill; and if the tombstone
suggested to him the trump of judgment, he could not separate it from
the war-whoop that had been the last sound in the ear of Phineas
Arms. The Indian always preceded murder by the war-whoop; and this
was an advantage that the artillery had in the fight with the
elderberry Indians. It was warned in time. If there was no war-
whoop, the killing did n't count; the artillery man got up and killed
the Indian. The Indian usually had the worst of it; he not only got
killed by the regulars, but he got whipped by the home guard at night
for staining himself and his clothes with the elderberry.

But once a year the company had a superlative parade. This was when
the military company from the north part of the town joined the
villagers in a general muster. This was an infantry company, and not
to be compared with that of the village in point of evolutions.
There was a great and natural hatred between the north town boys and
the center. I don't know why, but no contiguous African tribes could
be more hostile. It was all right for one of either section to
"lick" the other if he could, or for half a dozen to "lick" one of
the enemy if they caught him alone. The notion of honor, as of
mercy, comes into the boy only when he is pretty well grown; to some
neither ever comes. And yet there was an artificial military
courtesy (something like that existing in the feudal age, no doubt)
which put the meeting of these two rival and mutually detested
companies on a high plane of behavior. It was beautiful to see the
seriousness of this lofty and studied condescension on both sides.
For the time everything was under martial law. The village company
being the senior, its captain commanded the united battalion in the
march, and this put John temporarily into the position of captain,
with the right to march at the head and "holler;" a responsibility
which realized all his hopes of glory. I suppose there has yet been
discovered by man no gratification like that of marching at the head
of a column in uniform on parade, unless, perhaps, it is marching at
their head when they are leaving a field of battle. John experienced
all the thrill of this conspicuous authority, and I daresay that
nothing in his later life has so exalted him in his own esteem;
certainly nothing has since happened that was so important as the
events of that parade day seemed. He satiated himself with all the
delights of war.



It is impossible to say at what age a New England country-boy becomes
conscious that his trousers-legs are too short, and is anxious about
the part of his hair and the fit of his woman-made roundabout. These
harrowing thoughts come to him later than to the city lad. At least,
a generation ago he served a long apprenticeship with nature only for
a master, absolutely unconscious of the artificialities of life.

But I do not think his early education was neglected. And yet it is
easy to underestimate the influences that, unconsciously to him, were
expanding his mind and nursing in him heroic purposes. There was the
lovely but narrow valley, with its rapid mountain stream; there were
the great hills which he climbed, only to see other hills stretching
away to a broken and tempting horizon; there were the rocky pastures,
and the wide sweeps of forest through which the winter tempests
howled, upon which hung the haze of summer heat, over which the great
shadows of summer clouds traveled; there were the clouds themselves,
shouldering up above the peaks, hurrying across the narrow sky,--the
clouds out of which the wind came, and the lightning and the sudden
dashes of rain; and there were days when the sky was ineffably blue
and distant, a fathomless vault of heaven where the hen-hawk and the
eagle poised on outstretched wings and watched for their prey. Can
you say how these things fed the imagination of the boy, who had few
books and no contact with the great world? Do you think any city lad
could have written "Thanatopsis" at eighteen?

If you had seen John, in his short and roomy trousers and ill-used
straw hat, picking his barefooted way over the rocks along the river-
bank of a cool morning to see if an eel had "got on," you would not
have fancied that he lived in an ideal world. Nor did he
consciously. So far as he knew, he had no more sentiment than a
jack-knife. Although he loved Cynthia Rudd devotedly, and blushed
scarlet one day when his cousin found a lock of Cynthia's flaming
hair in the box where John kept his fishhooks, spruce gum, flag-root,
tickets of standing at the head, gimlet, billets-doux in blue ink, a
vile liquid in a bottle to make fish bite, and other precious
possessions, yet Cynthia's society had no attractions for him
comparable to a day's trout-fishing. She was, after all, only a
single and a very undefined item in his general ideal world, and
there was no harm in letting his imagination play about her illumined
head. Since Cynthia had "got religion" and John had got nothing, his
love was tempered with a little awe and a feeling of distance. He
was not fickle, and yet I cannot say that he was not ready to
construct a new romance, in which Cynthia should be eliminated.
Nothing was easier. Perhaps it was a luxurious traveling carriage,
drawn by two splendid horses in plated harness, driven along the
sandy road. There were a gentleman and a young lad on the front
seat, and on the back seat a handsome pale lady with a little girl
beside her. Behind, on the rack with the trunk, was a colored boy,
an imp out of a story-book. John was told that the black boy was a
slave, and that the carriage was from Baltimore. Here was a chance
for a romance. Slavery, beauty, wealth, haughtiness, especially on
the part of the slender boy on the front seat,--here was an opening
into a vast realm. The high-stepping horses and the shining harness
were enough to excite John's admiration, but these were nothing to
the little girl. His eyes had never before fallen upon that kind of
girl; he had hardly imagined that such a lovely creature could exist.
Was it the soft and dainty toilet, was it the brown curls, or the
large laughing eyes, or the delicate, finely cut features, or the
charming little figure of this fairy-like person? Was this
expression on her mobile face merely that of amusement at seeing a
country-boy? Then John hated her. On the contrary, did she see in
him what John felt himself to be? Then he would go the world over to
serve her. In a moment he was self-conscious. His trousers seemed
to creep higher up his legs, and he could feel his very ankles blush.
He hoped that she had not seen the other side of him, for, in fact,
the patches were not of the exact shade of the rest of the cloth.
The vision flashed by him in a moment, but it left him with a
resentful feeling. Perhaps that proud little girl would be sorry
some day, when he had become a general, or written a book, or kept a
store, to see him go away and marry another. He almost made up his
cruel mind on the instant that he would never marry her, however bad
she might feel. And yet he could n't get her out of his mind for
days and days, and when her image was present, even Cynthia in the
singers' seat on Sunday looked a little cheap and common. Poor
Cynthia! Long before John became a general or had his revenge on the
Baltimore girl, she married a farmer and was the mother of children,
red-headed; and when John saw her years after, she looked tired and
discouraged, as one who has carried into womanhood none of the
romance of her youth.

Fishing and dreaming, I think, were the best amusements John had.
The middle pier of the long covered bridge over the river stood upon
a great rock, and this rock (which was known as the swimming-rock,
whence the boys on summer evenings dove into the deep pool by its
side) was a favorite spot with John when he could get an hour or two
from the everlasting "chores." Making his way out to it over the
rocks at low water with his fish-pole, there he was content to sit
and observe the world; and there he saw a great deal of life. He
always expected to catch the legendary trout which weighed two pounds
and was believed to inhabit that pool. He always did catch horned
dace and shiners, which he despised, and sometimes he snared a
monstrous sucker a foot and a half long. But in the summer the
sucker is a flabby fish, and John was not thanked for bringing him
home. He liked, however, to lie with his face close to the water and
watch the long fishes panting in the clear depths, and occasionally
he would drop a pebble near one to see how gracefully he would scud
away with one wave of the tail into deeper water. Nothing fears the
little brown boy. The yellow-bird slants his wings, almost touches
the deep water before him, and then escapes away under the bridge to
the east with a glint of sunshine on his back; the fish-hawk comes
down with a swoop, dips one wing, and, his prey having darted under a
stone, is away again over the still hill, high soaring on even-poised
pinions, keeping an eye perhaps upon the great eagle which is
sweeping the sky in widening circles.

But there is other life. A wagon rumbles over the bridge, and the
farmer and his wife, jogging along, do not know that they have
startled a lazy boy into a momentary fancy that a thunder-shower is
coming up. John can see as he lies there on a still summer day, with
the fishes and the birds for company, the road that comes down the
left bank of the river,--a hot, sandy, well-traveled road, hidden
from view here and there by trees and bushes. The chief point of
interest, however, is an enormous sycamore-tree by the roadside and
in front of John's house. The house is more than a century old, and
its timbers were hewed and squared by Captain Moses Rice (who lies in
his grave on the hillside above it), in the presence of the Red Man
who killed him with arrow and tomahawk some time after his house was
set in order. The gigantic tree, struck with a sort of leprosy, like
all its species, appears much older, and of course has its tradition.
They say that it grew from a green stake which the first land-
surveyor planted there for one of his points of sight. John was
reminded of it years after when he sat under the shade of the
decrepit lime-tree in Freiburg and was told that it was originally a
twig which the breathless and bloody messenger carried in his hand
when he dropped exhausted in the square with the word "Victory!" on
his lips, announcing thus the result of the glorious battle of Morat,
where the Swiss in 1476 defeated Charles the Bold. Under the broad
but scanty shade of the great button-ball tree (as it was called)
stood an old watering-trough, with its half-decayed penstock and
well-worn spout pouring forever cold, sparkling water into the
overflowing trough. It is fed by a spring near by, and the water is
sweeter and colder than any in the known world, unless it be the well
Zem-zem, as generations of people and horses which have drunk of it
would testify, if they could come back. And if they could file along
this road again, what a procession there would be riding down the
valley!--antiquated vehicles, rusty wagons adorned with the
invariable buffalo-robe even in the hottest days, lean and long-
favored horses, frisky colts, drawing, generation after generation,
the sober and pious saints, that passed this way to meeting and to

What a refreshment is that water-spout! All day long there are
pilgrims to it, and John likes nothing better than to watch them.
Here comes a gray horse drawing a buggy with two men,--cattle
buyers, probably. Out jumps a man, down goes the check-rein. What a
good draught the nag takes! Here comes a long-stepping trotter in a
sulky; man in a brown linen coat and wide-awake hat,--dissolute,
horsey-looking man. They turn up, of course. Ah, there is an
establishment he knows well: a sorrel horse and an old chaise. The
sorrel horse scents the water afar off, and begins to turn up long
before he reaches the trough, thrusting out his nose in anticipation
of the coot sensation. No check to let down; he plunges his nose in
nearly to his eyes. in his haste to get at it. Two maiden ladies--
unmistakably such, though they appear neither "anxious nor aimless "-
-within the scoop-top smile benevolently on the sorrel back. It is
the deacon's horse, a meeting-going nag, with a sedate, leisurely jog
as he goes; and these are two of the "salt of the earth,"--the brevet
rank of the women who stand and wait,--going down to the village
store to dicker. There come two men in a hurry, horse driven up
smartly and pulled up short; but as it is rising ground, and the
horse does not easily reach the water with the wagon pulling back,
the nervous man in the buggy hitches forward on his seat, as if that
would carry the wagon a little ahead! Next, lumber-wagon with load
of boards; horse wants to turn up, and driver switches him and cries
"G'lang," and the horse reluctantly goes by, turning his head
wistfully towards the flowing spout. Ah, here comes an equipage
strange to these parts, and John stands up to look; an elegant
carriage and two horses; trunks strapped on behind; gentleman and boy
on front seat and two ladies on back seat,--city people. The
gentleman descends, unchecks the horses, wipes his brow, takes a
drink at the spout and looks around, evidently remarking upon the
lovely view, as he swings his handkerchief in an explanatory manner.
Judicious travelers. John would like to know who they are. Perhaps
they are from Boston, whence come all the wonderfully painted
peddlers' wagons drawn by six stalwart horses, which the driver,
using no rein, controls with his long whip and cheery voice. If so,
great is the condescension of Boston; and John follows them with an
undefined longing as they drive away toward the mountains of Zoar.
Here is a footman, dusty and tired, who comes with lagging steps. He
stops, removes his hat, as he should to such a tree, puts his mouth
to the spout, and takes a long pull at the lively water. And then he
goes on, perhaps to Zoar, perhaps to a worse place.

So they come and go all the summer afternoon; but the great event of
the day is the passing down the valley of the majestic stage-coach,--
the vast yellow-bodied, rattling vehicle. John can hear a mile off
the shaking of chains, traces, and whiffle-trees, and the creaking of
its leathern braces, as the great bulk swings along piled high with
trunks. It represents to John, somehow, authority, government, the
right of way; the driver is an autocrat, everybody must make way for
the stage-coach. It almost satisfies the imagination, this royal
vehicle; one can go in it to the confines of the world,--to Boston
and to Albany.

There were other influences that I daresay contributed to the boy's
education. I think his imagination was stimulated by a band of
gypsies who used to come every summer and pitch a tent on a little
roadside patch of green turf by the river-bank not far from his
house. It was shaded by elms and butternut-trees, and a long spit of
sand and pebbles ran out from it into the brawling stream. Probably
they were not a very good kind of gypsy, although the story was that
the men drank and beat the women. John didn't know much about
drinking; his experience of it was confined to sweet cider; yet he
had already set himself up as a reformer, and joined the Cold Water
Band. The object of this Band was to walk in a procession under a
banner that declared,

"So here we pledge perpetual hate
To all that can intoxicate;"

and wear a badge with this legend, and above it the device of a well-
curb with a long sweep. It kept John and all the little boys and
girls from being drunkards till they were ten or eleven years of age;
though perhaps a few of them died meantime from eating loaf-cake and
pie and drinking ice-cold water at the celebrations of the Band.

The gypsy camp had a strange fascination for John, mingled of
curiosity and fear. Nothing more alien could come into the New
England life than this tatterdemalion band. It was hardly credible
that here were actually people who lived out-doors, who slept in
their covered wagon or under their tent, and cooked in the open air;
it was a visible romance transferred from foreign lands and the
remote times of the story-books; and John took these city thieves,
who were on their annual foray into the country, trading and stealing
horses and robbing hen-roosts and cornfields, for the mysterious race
who for thousands of years have done these same things in all lands,
by right of their pure blood and ancient lineage. John was afraid to
approach the camp when any of the scowling and villainous men were
lounging about, pipes in mouth; but he took more courage when only
women and children were visible. The swarthy, black-haired women in
dirty calico frocks were anything but attractive, but they spoke
softly to the boy, and told his fortune, and wheedled him into
bringing them any amount of cucumbers and green corn in the course of
the season. In front of the tent were planted in the ground three
poles that met together at the top, whence depended a kettle. This
was the kitchen, and it was sufficient. The fuel for the fire was
the driftwood of the stream. John noted that it did not require to
be sawed into stove-lengths; and, in short, that the "chores" about
this establishment were reduced to the minimum. And an older person
than John might envy the free life of these wanderers, who paid
neither rent nor taxes, and yet enjoyed all the delights of nature.
It seemed to the boy that affairs would go more smoothly in the world
if everybody would live in this simple manner. Nor did he then know,
or ever after find out, why it is that the world permits only wicked
people to be Bohemians.



One evening at vespers in Genoa, attracted by a burst of music from
the swinging curtain of the doorway, I entered a little church much
frequented by the common people. An unexpected and exceedingly
pretty sight rewarded me.

It was All Souls' Day. In Italy almost every day is set apart for
some festival, or belongs to some saint or another, and I suppose
that when leap year brings around the extra day, there is a saint
ready to claim the 29th of February. Whatever the day was to the
elders, the evening was devoted to the children. The first thing I
noticed was, that the quaint old church was lighted up with
innumerable wax tapers,--an uncommon sight, for the darkness of a
Catholic church in the evening is usually relieved only by a candle
here and there, and by a blazing pyramid of them on the high altar.
The use of gas is held to be a vulgar thing all over Europe, and
especially unfit for a church or an aristocratic palace.

Then I saw that each taper belonged to a little boy or girl, and the
groups of children were scattered all about the church. There was a
group by every side altar and chapel, all the benches were occupied
by knots of them, and there were so many circles of them seated on
the pavement that I could with difficulty make my way among them.
There were hundreds of children in the church, all dressed in their
holiday apparel, and all intent upon the illumination, which seemed
to be a private affair to each one of them.

And not much effect had their tapers upon the darkness of the vast
vaults above them. The tapers were little spiral coils of wax, which
the children unrolled as fast as they burned, and when they were
tired of holding them, they rested them on the ground and watched the
burning. I stood some time by a group of a dozen seated in a corner
of the church. They had massed all the tapers in the center and
formed a ring about the spectacle, sitting with their legs straight
out before them and their toes turned up. The light shone full in
their happy faces, and made the group, enveloped otherwise in
darkness, like one of Correggio's pictures of children or angels.
Correggio was a famous Italian artist of the sixteenth century, who
painted cherubs like children who were just going to heaven, and
children like cherubs who had just come out of it. But then, he had
the Italian children for models, and they get the knack of being
lovely very young. An Italian child finds it as easy to be pretty as
an American child to be good.

One could not but be struck with the patience these little people
exhibited in their occupation, and the enjoyment they got out of it.
There was no noise; all conversed in subdued whispers and behaved in
the most gentle manner to each other, especially to the smallest, and
there were many of them so small that they could only toddle about by
the most judicious exercise of their equilibrium. I do not say this
by way of reproof to any other kind of children.

These little groups, as I have said, were scattered all about the
church; and they made with their tapers little spots of light, which
looked in the distance very much like Correggio's picture which is at
Dresden,--the Holy Family at Night, and the light from the Divine
Child blazing in the faces of all the attendants. Some of the
children were infants in the nurses' arms, but no one was too small
to have a taper, and to run the risk of burning its fingers.

There is nothing that a baby likes more than a lighted candle, and
the church has understood this longing in human nature, and found
means to gratify it by this festival of tapers.

The groups do not all remain long in place, you may imagine; there is
a good deal of shifting about, and I see little stragglers wandering
over the church, like fairies lighted by fireflies. Occasionally
they form a little procession and march from one altar to another,
their lights twinkling as they go.

But all this time there is music pouring out of the organ-loft at the
end of the church, and flooding all its spaces with its volume. In
front of the organ is a choir of boys, led by a round-faced and jolly
monk, who rolls about as he sings, and lets the deep bass noise
rumble about a long time in his stomach before he pours it out of his
mouth. I can see the faces of all of them quite well, for each
singer has a candle to light his music-book.

And next to the monk stands the boy,--the handsomest boy in the whole
world probably at this moment. I can see now his great, liquid, dark
eyes, and his exquisite face, and the way he tossed back his long
waving hair when he struck into his part. He resembled the portraits
of Raphael, when that artist was a boy; only I think he looked better
than Raphael, and without trying, for he seemed to be a spontaneous
sort of boy. And how that boy did sing! He was the soprano of the
choir, and he had a voice of heavenly sweetness. When he opened his
mouth and tossed back his head, he filled the church with exquisite

He sang like a lark, or like an angel. As we never heard an angel
sing, that comparison is not worth much. I have seen pictures of
angels singing, there is one by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck in the
gallery at Berlin,--and they open their mouths like this boy, but I
can't say as much for their singing. The lark, which you very likely
never heard either, for larks are as scarce in America as angels,--is
a bird that springs up from the meadow and begins to sing as he rises
in a spiral flight, and the higher he mounts, the sweeter he sings,
until you think the notes are dropping out of heaven itself, and you
hear him when he is gone from sight, and you think you hear him long
after all sound has ceased.

And yet this boy sang better than a lark, because he had more notes
and a greater compass and more volume, although he shook out his
voice in the same gleesome abundance.

I am sorry that I cannot add that this ravishingly beautiful boy was
a good boy. He was probably one of the most mischievous boys that
was ever in an organ-loft. All the time that he was singing the
vespers he was skylarking like an imp. While he was pouring out the
most divine melody, he would take the opportunity of kicking the
shins of the boy next to him, and while he was waiting for his part,
he would kick out behind at any one who was incautious enough to
approach him. There never was such a vicious boy; he kept the whole
loft in a ferment. When the monk rumbled his bass in his stomach,
the boy cut up monkey-shines that set every other boy into a laugh,
or he stirred up a row that set them all at fisticuffs.

And yet this boy was a great favorite. The jolly monk loved him best
of all and bore with his wildest pranks. When he was wanted to sing
his part and was skylarking in the rear, the fat monk took him by the
ear and brought him forward; and when he gave the boy's ear a twist,
the boy opened his lovely mouth and poured forth such a flood of
melody as you never heard. And he did n't mind his notes; he seemed
to know his notes by heart, and could sing and look off like a
nightingale on a bough. He knew his power, that boy; and he stepped
forward to his stand when he pleased, certain that he would be
forgiven as soon as he began to sing. And such spirit and life as he
threw into the performance, rollicking through the Vespers with a
perfect abandon of carriage, as if he could sing himself out of his
skin if he liked.

While the little angels down below were pattering about with their
wax tapers, keeping the holy fire burning, suddenly the organ
stopped, the monk shut his book with a bang, the boys blew out the
candles, and I heard them all tumbling down-stairs in a gale of noise
and laughter. The beautiful boy I saw no more.

About him plays the light of tender memory; but were he twice as
lovely, I could never think of him as having either the simple
manliness or the good fortune of the New England boy.

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