Electronic Version For the Irish-American West Project directed by Matthew L. Jockers, Stanford University Department of English Sponsored by Stanford University at Stanford, California 94305
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This e-text is freely available for non-commercial purposes 2004 Driscoll, Charles. Country Jake. New York: MacMillan, 1946
Country Jake is the second in Driscoll's trilogy of his life growing up on a farm in Kansas.
This text was prepared for use in the Irish-American West project of the Stanford Humanities Lab at Stanford University. The two principal goals of this project are (A) to bring the wealth of western IrishAmerican literary and historical writing to the Internet in a scholarly project and (B) to counter the existing eastern bias in Irish-American scholarship, by providing an online collection of primary source material and scholarly articles devoted to exploring the works of western Irish-Americans.
BY Charles B. Driscoll 1946
All rights reserved--no part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in magazine or newspaper. First printing. PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Copyright, 1946, by CHARLES B. DRISCOLL
Prelude Behind each life is a combination of forces, people, countries, climates, and mysterious strains of unheard music. We do not understand it, but we call it background. For every one of us now peopling this cluttered stage, thousands have lived, loved, hoped, and died. This life is not what we make it. It is, in part, what we, our environment, our parents, grandparents, ancestors and neighbors make it. You may set out for a shining goal, along the track painted on the glowing planet by the rising sun, with confidence and courage high. Along the way you will meet fears, prejudices, faiths and doubts and disbeliefs and terrors; obstacles erected by hands long since turned to dust. In the faint light of early morning you did not see the detours on the map. If you had but to thread your hopeful way through and among the figures of the family into which you were born and the family you created by marriage and begetting, even though the course were complicated by poverty, disease, deformity or mystic curse, you might claim your prize as easily as a Knight of the Round Table hoped to grasp the Holy Grail. But back in the hills, shrouded by shifting mists, along your rugged way are Destiny, the Past, Force, Enmity and Fate. They ride upon the winds that buffet you. Far away, among the magic constellations and clouds and dimnesses and starry tracks, sits God, who over-rules.
ON DEDICATIONS It is my observation and experience that nobody reads dedications. I have dedicated, after much pondering and weighing, many books to many persons. In at least three cases there was not only no acknowledgment of the dedication by the dedicatee, but not even a thank-you note for the free copy of the book. In a fourth case there was acid criticism of the book, but not a word about the dedication. In most other cases there has been a polite and restrained nod of recognition, with the implied opinion that the dedication might have been a greater honor if the book had been worth reading. Homer Croy tells me that nobody ever has mentioned the fact that "How to Win Friends and Influence People" was dedicated to him by Dale Carnegie, although the book has sold into the millions. "How about the dedication?" asked my publisher. "I'm off on a plane in an hour. I'll send you the dedication. It will be to the first person I meet when I get out of the ship. "But I forgot the book until someone asked me about it, in an audience after I had spoken. "It's all finished-except the dedication, "I said, suddenly remembering. "By the way, what's your name?" So, I dedicate this book, with best wishes, to GEE (MRS. JOSH) LOGAN of Texarkana, U. S. A.
1. Charles B. Driscoll's Country Jake in electronic form
IT WAS going to be a nice day, after all. There had been rain during the night, but now, as the sun rose brightly and the womenfolk were clearing off the breakfast dishes, I came in to report that there were almost no clouds in the sky.
"Please, can't we go to the circus?" I asked Mother. "Van and I cleaned and shined our shoes last night while it was raining, because we thought maybe it would clear up. There'll be twenty-three elephants, and hundreds of the best horses in the world. We haven't been to a circus this year, and Barnum's came to town and we never saw it. This is Ringling Brothers' Greatest Show on Earth, and maybe it'll never come to Wichita again. Oh, please ask Dad if John can drive us to town to see the circus!" Van was standing on the back porch, listening, but his dignity would not permit him to beg. I was sniffling, while I recited how much work I had done all summer, and how much more I would do all fall, if only we could go to the circus. I displayed my shoes, which I had spent doleful hours cleaning, brushing and shining with Black Diamond Shoe Polish during the almost hopeless preceding night. Three buttons were missing from one shoe and two from the other, and there was a hole clear through the cobbled sole of the right shoe, but they were shoes, anyway, and besides maybe we wouldn't even get out of the wagon, and the townies wouldn't see how badly we were shod.
It was more than likely that we would not have to get out of the wagon. Going to the circus, of course, meant viewing the great free street parade. As for actually going into the big tent, we would no more think of asking for that mysterious privilege than we wouldconsider asking for a trip to Europe or a ride on the merry-go-round at the fair.
There had been circus days when we had gone to the Rogers Photograph Parlor and had pictures taken to send to all the relatives in Erie, Pennsylvania. But those were special days, for which planning had been done months in advance, and we had had new suits and new hats in which to pose in rustic chairs for the photographer.
This was just a circus day in an August that did not promise much in the way of crops. The Old Man was not in a happy mood. Mother had thought best to say nothing to him about taking the boys to the circus, lest he make a scene.
"Well, "she said, "it might rain yet. Anyway the roads will be muddy. And Himself is mad about something these last few days. I'm afraid he won't let us have the horses. Besides, maybe he needs John in the field." "Well, can't you ask him? Tell him about the twenty-three elephants. "Van came up to the screen door and offered a bit of the socialistic wisdom that characterized the maturity of his eleven years and made the innocent ignorance of my eight years stand out starkly.
"Tell him about the potatoes we've dug and the weeds we've pulled. See if he thinks a free circus parade is too much wages for two free farm hands. "When Mother said nothing, but seemed undecided, Van added: "Of course, he did buy us a milk shake apiece on the Fourth of July, but he couldn't get a nigger to work for a nickel a year and his board. "I was somewhat shocked by this spirit of revolt or red radicalism on Van's part, but Mother said nothing. She went down to the barnyard, where Dad was hitching a team to the sleek iron McCormick mowing machine. I sneaked up on the conversation, hiding in the buggy shed.
"Flurry, "she said, ingratiatingly, "the boys want to go to see the circus, and maybe the weeds would be too wet for them to work in them today anyhow. I had been thinking I'd like to go to towntoday. I've made a dress for Mrs. Mahan, and it has to be fitted. I'll get four dollars for making it, I know, and maybe five. So I thought we might be killing two birds with one stone if we could load the boys up, and Marie and Margaret haven't been to town all summer, only to church. So we might all go, if you could spare the team, and let poor John drive us. "Himself kept buckling straps, oiling the mowing machine, and occasionally spitting tobacco, never indicating that he heard anything his wife was saying.
When she had finished, and was petting old Charlie, the skinny bay, on the nose, Himself looked up, as if awakening from a nightmare.
"The circus is it?" he said, seeming to indicate that he had just heard of that institution for the first time. "Aye, let Jan dhrive ye all to the circus, and take care that Barnum don't take Jan for to dhrive his band wagon ourself. 'Tis the dude would look fine on the seat of a band wagon, with twinty harses in front of him, and he not knowing how to dhrive a half-dead-and-alive plug around the carner!" Big Flurry seemed rather well pleased with this speech, so he kicked one of the horses to make him move over while he adjusted the neck yoke.
"Are you sure you won't be needing John in the field?" asked Mother, unwilling to accept such bounty without showing due deference.
"Need him?" cried the Old Man, straightening up and opening his mouth wide. "Sure, as God knows that knows me heart, I wisht Jan had been sick in bed all summer, and me fields would be betther by far. The byes can catch a team of harses down in the pasture, and let Jan see can he get the harness on them and get his piccadillies on and go dhriving to the circus to see the elephants, with the lines slack on the dashboard, same as young Hazen that is incurable. "The last reference was to one of the neighborhood idiots. The Old Man was anti-John, and he chose to believe that his eldest son's lackadaisical way of handling the reins and his ineptitude in farmwork were indications of low-grade mentality. But John, in his early twenties, had established himself with the rest of the family as a young man of great promise, wise, inclined to' silence, and obviously thinking of matters far away from the farm and its drudgery.
Dad mounted the iron seat of the mower, and, as he was about to give the forward command to the team, turned to say, "Them harses that are in the so-called stable have got to rest today. But there's lots of harses in the woods. "Mother returned to the house smiling. I was ahead of her, informing Van that we were going to the circus, but that we must be off to the woods and pasture at once to catch a team of horses. It was growing late. The posters that we had seen said that the mammoth free street parade, with twenty-three elephants and all the monsters of the jungle, would start promptly at 10 A. M. We wondered if we could be on time.
"There is no doubt that we could be on time, "said John, judicially, "if you fellows would get the horses and hitch them up, instead of talking about it. No circus parade ever started on time, and the Ringling Brothers, John and Alf and the others, are far too wise in their day to permit their parades to start on time. Fools are forever straining to be on time-and for what? To contemplate their own folly!" When we had heard this, Van and I started off on a run to find horses. John was standing on the back porch, picking his teeth, as we grabbed two halters from the stable and headed for the woods, a quarter of a mile away.
We were barefooted, and the sand burs were thickly carpeted in many acres of pasture lying before the woods and underbrush that covered fifty or sixty acres of sand hills and valleys. But we ran fast through the sand bur patches, making for open spots in the woods where the horses might be grazing at this time of day.
We found six or eight horses in a small patch of pasture at the south end of the woods, after traveling at a frantic pace over at least a mile of brush trails. Our nervous haste was apparent to thehorses at once. As we approached with the halters, the herd bolted for the brush.
Now what were we to do? We could think up ways of following the brutes, trailing them by their tracks, but they would always run away from us.
We would coax and entrap them. Pasturage was at its August low, burned by the sun and unwatered by rain until last night. The horses were hungry.
I went out into a cornfield and gathered an armful of green stalks. I gave them to Van, and I carried the halters.
We found the coy herd in the open pasture. As Van walked ahead of me with the armful of green corn, the older horses pricked up their ears and walked toward us, followed by the others. Van scattered a few stalks behind him and the horses began to fight for them.
Presently two of the old horses were eating cornstalks from Van's hands. As they ate, I haltered them, and we rode off toward the house.
Like all country boys of our time and region, we could tell time more accurately by the sun than by most clocks available to us. We knew that the announced time for starting of the colossal street parade had arrived by the time we got the ill-matched team into the barnyard.
"Let's harness them and hitch them up right away, "said Van. "There's no use waiting for John to help. He will be shaving and getting dressed. "So we got the harness on the team in the yard, and hitched the stolid brutes to the spring wagon in the shade of the sycamore trees. We poured two buckets of water over each wheel, to make sure that the iron tires would not come off on the way to town, and then dived for the house by way of the back porch.
We were sorry sights, I suppose. The underbrush had been wet from last night's rain. We were soaked to the skin, our cotton shirts torn by thorn bushes, our bare feet and legs bleeding from many bruises, scratches and gashes. Our hair was matted with the seedsand twigs that had showered upon us as we crawled and ran through the brush. But most spectacular of all, I imagine, were our faces, flushed with excitement and anxiety, dirty, scratched, inflamed.
John was brushing his teeth on the back porch, and exchanging banter with his and our sisters, Margaret and Marie, who were rushing about the kitchen and dining room, preparing to get under way in case the boys got the horses in time.
In the minds of Van and me, as we ran from the spring wagon to the house, was one thought: Can we make it in time for the Colossal and Triumphant Free Street Parade, with Twenty-three Elephants?
John burst into uncontrollable laughter when he saw us coming. "Well, for the love of all that is holy and admired, "he cried, "come and see the young Buffalo Bills! They have been rounding up wild horses, and Saint Patrick wouldn't know them!" He threw back his head and laughed. We dived for the pump in the back yard, washed our feet and legs as fast as we could, and doused our heads in the horse trough. In the kitchen we wiped faces and hands on the roller towel that hung on the kitchen side of the door to the dining room, and hastily began to put on the Sunday clothes that Mother had laid out for us.
Van and I were first into the spring wagon. I sat in the back seat and he in the front seat, in meticulous respect to the prerogatives of seniority.
We were not dressed and washed with all of the ceremonious exactitude required for High Mass, but we had our Sunday clothes on. We wore white linen waists, blue cheviot suits with knee-length pants, black, ribbed cotton stockings held up by circular elastic garters, and high, buttoned black shoes. Our hats, almost alike except for size, were of blue felt, with brims turned up all around.
We were horribly uncomfortable, but we expected to be a little on the suffering side when dressed up. Usually we made fun of one another because of our unhappy appearance when dressed for town. Today, more serious matters were at stake.
After reaching the spring wagon and taking our seats, I said five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys as a petition that the circus parade would not start until we got there. Van was staring grimly ahead in a superior manner, and did not pretend to see me making the Sign of the Cross.
"The horses won't be as good as Wallace's, I bet, "I ventured, in order to get the social situation back to normal.
Van said nothing.
"No circus ever had horses as good as Wallace Brothers, "I persisted. "John said so himself. I don't see where they can get so many big gray horses, like the ones they drive to the lion cages. But Ringlings have the most wild animals. "Van said, "Shut up, will you? Shut your big Irish mouth. You'll say something that will make Mother mad, or you'll talk back like a freckled fool to John, and then maybe we can't go to the circus at all. When you start talking, you sound just like Paddy from Cork. You don't know anything about a circus, only that you wet your pants at Barnum and Bailey's. "This seemed an unfair thrust. After all, Van and I spent most of our days fighting one another, but had we not been partners this morning in a great adventure? We were almost friends an hour ago. Why bring up that story of my infantile indiscretion?
It was true. We had been inside a circus tent once in our lives. It was when Barnum and Bailey had toured the country with a super-circus. Not only did they have everything a circus could offer, but in addition they had a tremendous spectacle, the Panorama of Columbus Discovering America. It was the year of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, and even the Protestants sat in the big tent and saw Christopher Columbus kneel on the sand of the beach at San Salvador and pray while he planted there the glorious banners of Christ and Isabella. Christ had given him courage and Isabella had pawned her jewels to give him the money. We had a picture of her taking off her necklace for him, in the parlor at home.
I remembered nothing of that circus, to which I had been ad-mitted free as an infant, except the terrible moment when the tent was darkened and the moving canvas had displayed the caravels, tossing on a troubled sea. There was lightning and thunder. I was a storm neurotic. Because Mother trembled and prayed whenever a storm came rushing down out of the sky above the Valley, I also was afraid. I had not been born when the tornado blew away part of the house in which the family had lived in Butler county, but I had heard a lot about that fearful hour, and I was afraid.
So, when the lights went out and the artificial thunder roared, I cried and yelled and wet my new pants. But that was long ago, and it was not right that Van should mention it now.
"Well, "I answered, trying to think, of something disgraceful, to match the incident of the long-ago circus. "I don't stutter, anyhow, and I never pee'd all over Peck's Sun. "This was a knockout blow, I thought. I presumed that Van would be humiliated and ashamed by mention of the fact that he had got up in the night, only last winter, when he was sleeping with John himself, and had gone to the bedroom closet and urinated on a big pile of papers, instead of going outdoors to the privy or even into the back yard, where were plenty of conveniences for such a simple emergency. Old Man Morgan, the infidel, when leaving the neighborhood for California, had given us his complete file of Peck's Sun, a supposedly humorous newspaper. The papers were stacked, three feet high, in John's closet. Eventually, John was going to find time to look over the papers and decide whether they were safe for young people to read. And Van had destroyed the potential value of that mine of wit and wisdom because he could not make up his mind to go outdoors in a snowstorm.
Strangely enough, Van was not in the least ashamed. He laughed. He gloried in his shameful exploit. He thought it was smart to spoil all our humorous literature with his casual urine.
"Yes, I pee'd on Peck's Sun all right, "he said, "but I never wet my pants at the circus, just because somebody made make-believe lightning. What is Peck's Sun good for anyhow? Morgan was anold infidel. As John says, you can never tell what such people might do to anyone's faith. Didn't Old Man Morgan stand up and due God to strike him dead with lightning? Sure, he did. But say, it's getting so late that we'll miss the circus. Do you suppose it takes the girls so long to lace up their corsets, or is John putting some more stinky stuff on his hands?" It seemed that hours passed, but perhaps the elapsed time might have been measured in minutes. Mother came first. John, his necktie still untied, came out with her, to help her from the mounting block into her seat in the rear of the high spring wagon. John went back to finish his dressing. Mother sat there with her Paisley shawl about her, a bundle under her left arm, and a smile on her face.
I talked constantly of the circus, and of the probability that the parade might have started already. I figured the rate of progress of the parade, and consoled myself and the listeners by volunteering the information that elephants walk very slowly; almost as slowly as our horses.
We made progress that seemed slower than that of a measuring worm going through a wheatfield. The mud was bad. Hydraulic Avenue, the main highway to town, had been churned up by the earlier circus-goers. We did not see any other rigs on the road, and so assumed, with some degree of correctness, that we were the latest of all circus-bound farmers.
Sitting in the back seat with Mother and Margaret, I constantly pushed against the back of the front seat with my feet, to help the spring wagon along. This nervous gesture was as automatic and natural as that of the first-time airplane passenger who leans far over to the left to balance the plane when it is dipping the right wing in circling for a landing.
John had the only watch in the family. It was a large silver keys winder which he had found in a muddy alley, back of our church. He had advertised it in the paper, but no one had come to claim it, so it was his.
Because of John's dignity, it was not considered quite cricket forany of the younger ones to ask him for the time. John was not very busy with the driving. He permitted the horses to take care of themselves, and they did it in clumsy fashion, in no great hurry.
According to the sun, it was getting close to noon. I hoped the sun was wrong for this once, and remembered how Joshua had made a monkey of the sun and all sun time in order to accomplish a task that seemed to me trivial as compared with seeing the circus parade. For the first time in my life, I said a prayer to Joshua. Nowhere in the church calendar or within the rubrics, as far as I was acquainted with them, was there any license to pray to Joshua. Never the less, it was clear that Joshua was in heaven. Being there, he certainly, had a better chance to do something about this circus than I had, so I called upon him. I put my head away down so that nobody would see my lips moving, and said, "Joshua, please make the sun stand still again for five or ten minutes anyway, and make the circus stand still and all the twenty-three elephants until we get to Douglas Avenue. "I straightened up and in a very low voice asked Mother to ask John what time it was. She did so in a nice way, with a little laugh, as though it were not at all important, and John obligingly drew forth his silver watch.
"'My turnip says it is exactly high noon, "said John. "Yes-siree, twelve o'clock by the town clock, Greenwich mean time. If you were in Greenwich now, you would see the ball drop from the top of the Observatory. But we must take what comes to us, in the Providence of God, and we are not in Greenwich. "And the Great Free Street Parade was scheduled to start at 10 A. M. , rain or shine, promptly and without fail! Still, as John had said, they never started on time. My hope was in Joshua, who, in his long residence among the blest, must have acquired some sort of standing. If he could make the sun stand still while he was a mere man, surely by this time he could make the twenty-three elephants stand still until we got close enough to Douglas Avenue to see them pass by in their rhythmic march.
Now we were approaching the bend of the creek, where I was always frightened lest John's notoriously careless driving might cause all of us to be dumped into the water.
At this point Chisholm Creek made one of its many sharp bends. Hydraulic Avenue curved out of its surveyed course to get around this kink in the creek without a bridge. But the road came so close to the bank of the creek that it had seemed to me likely that our high spring wagon might some day turn over creekwards. I used to cling to Mother as we passed this spot. Now I was getting too big to do that. But I still clung to the Mother of God. I habitually asked her to save the family from drowning as we made the bend of the creek, and she always obliged.
Today the creek was high, because of last night's heavy rains. We had caught glimpses of the flooded waterway through the elm trees as we had come along the road. "Chisholm Creek is on the rampage today, "said John. "Many a poor soul has gone to its Maker because of the age long raging of that rushing river, "he added, turning his head so that I could not fail to grasp the significance of his story.
As we reached the bend, where the road turned to the left, John pulled right on the reins, and drove off the roadway, toward the turbulent creek. The wagon tipped sharply to the right, toward the flood water. I screamed and grabbed Mother, which was what John wanted.
The girls said nothing, but looked serious. Mother mildly admonished John, saying that we had little time for excursions if we were to see the circus. John drove back to the road, grinning broadly. It was just one of his little jokes. But the family was silent for several minutes.
At Harry Street, on the south edge of town, we began angling northwestward along informal cutoffs that went diagonally through the blocks that were largely uninhabited at this time. Thus we reached South Fourth Avenue, known to the wicked as The Row, and so northward toward the circus.
At the edge of the Red Light District a gang of youngsters was wandering about among the litter of garbage and trash beside theroad, in a vacant lot. The ragamuffins stood beside the roadway to watch us pass. When we were even with them, one ill-favored young gangster raised the familiar cry, "Country Jake! Country Jake!" The gang took it up. When we were a few yards beyond the knot of rakehells, they threw clods and tin cans at us. And, as we proceeded at a trot toward the heart of the city, we could hear the cry of derision mounting, "Country Jake! Country Jake!" Then the cadenced recitative: Hayseed farmer went to town, Spent all his money on the merry-go-roun'. Merry-go-roun', it went so fast, Throwed the farmer ON his ass!
This poem had become familiar to us through years of passing through the town's outskirts while on our way to church or on rare weekday excursions. It was known to all of us that the Kellogg School Gang was a rough lot, and that it was hell on country jakes. We had heard of farm boys who had been badly beaten, merely because they had talked back when they were taunted for being hayseeds and country jakes.
Nevertheless, Van, his face flaming with shame and anger, wanted to get out of the wagon and fight the gang when a clod struck the back of the seat in which Mother was sitting.
"Sit right where you are, "commanded Mother. "You'd look fine, fighting with a bunch of town hoodlums. And what do you think you could do anyway against the whole gang of them?" "I could knock an eye out of one of them, anyhow, "said Van, his voice high-pitched with anger.
"The best way to do is not to stoop to notice them, "said Mother. John slapped the lines on the horses' hips, gave a flick of the whip, and said, "They are the scruff of scurf. They are reeking with the drivel of their own imbecility. They are the offscourings of a degenerate society of the great city. Their end is destruction, and their carcasses will be picked by the untutored crows: 'The family remained silent after this pronouncement, which hadthe effect of a decision of the Supreme Court. The controversy, if any, was closed. The hoodlums were disposed of. I was lost in a daydream in which the Kellogg School Gang lay dead in long rows in our pasture, while a great flock of crows swooped down from the tall cottonwood trees to feast upon their remains.
"Hark!" said Mother, "I think I hear a band!" Yes, there could be no doubt of it. As we passed into Emporia Avenue and headed directly for Douglas Avenue and the circus, the band wagons were passing, playing brave music. We were still eight or ten blocks from the route of the parade.
"Well, "said Van, "we've missed part of the circus, anyway. It took so long to lace up the corsets that the Ringlings couldn't wait any longer for us. After we ruined our feet with sand burs and chased those darn horses all over the woods." "That will do for you, "said Mother. "We won't have any swearing here, even if we miss the whole parade. John, can you make the horses go just a little faster?" "The horses, "said John, "are doing their feeble best. They are ill-matched, to be sure. One is dragging the other forward in his anxiety to render utmost service. If the boys had known how to select a team, we might at least get to the circus in time to see the acrobatic ladies, sitting upon their fat behinds, aloft upon the elephants. "Now I pushed harder with my feet, and again resorted to prayer. Joshua obviously had not heard me, or had chosen to let the solar system alone in this crisis. I picked upon Saint Michael, the Archangel, as a likely source of influence and power, and asked him to cause one of the band wagons to lose a tire, so that the parade might halt until we could get to Douglas Avenue. "And, "I added, in order to indicate that I had not forgotten the important things, "thrust into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who roam about the world, seeking the ruin of souls. "As we approached Douglas Avenue we could see the crowds that were massed at the intersection. It was apparent that we could not drive much closer than half a block to the procession, but we couldstand up in our high wagon and see the passing wonders. And it was possible that we boys might get permission to get out of the wagon, despite our bad shoes, and force our way through the crowd to the very curb, and see the caged wild animals go by.
"I don't care, just so I get to see the elephants and the camels and the ant-eater, "I said.
Van volunteered: "We can't let that fellow run loose on the sidewalk. The Ringlings would catch him and put him in a cage. They'd make money showing the Wild Irishman around the country. He looks like an ape, and he'd be sure to turn into one if he went off with the circus." "You don't have to turn into an ape, you already are one!" I retorted. Then Mother put a stop to the repartee. "It is a sin to call your brother an ape, "she said.
John, sucking air through his teeth and slapping the horses' rumps with the lines, observed, "Is it not Saint Paul who says, `I thank God that I am what I am'? The heavens declare the glory of God, but the fool saith in his heart, 'There is no God. ' I think I hear the shrill notes of the approaching kally-ope. "The calliope, always the last vehicle in the Monster Free Street Parade, certainly was approaching the intersection from the left. We had missed the parade!
We drew up on the fringe of the crowd just in time to see the steam calliope pass. From that day until now I have hated the so-called music of the calliope. The modern ones, operated by air instead of steam, are even more objectionable.
To me their screeching always plays the mournful refrain: Missed the parade! Missed the parade!
. . . . back drop . . . .
An old castle towers o'er the billows That thunder by Cleena's green land, And there dwelt as gallant a roverAs ever grasped hilt in the hand;Eight stately towers of the watersLie anchored in Baltimore Bay;And over their twenty score sailors Bold Fineen the Rover holds sway.
Ah, there were great days, gallant seamen, and beautiful women in the background! I had seen pictures of Castle Baltimore, ancient headhouse of The O'Driscoll, whose blood flowed in the veins of Big Flurry Driscoll, and therefore in mine.
Sir Fineen O'Driscoll the Rover, bold pirate and patriot, was knighted by heretical Queen Elizabeth, and some of the descendants were ashamed of him because he accepted honors at her hands. But she must have had a good reason. Forgetting that the Virgin Queen had always a weakness for gallant pirates and marauders, I reasoned that she probably was overpowered by my dashing ancestor's piety and wit, and could not help granting him his knighthood.
Perhaps I could grow up to be a great pirate, plundering English ships for the honor and glory of God. Possibly the family would resume the "O" before the surname, an honor that had been discarded when the English invaders had humbled the powerful tribe O'Driscoll.
The sun turned orange in the western haze, as I meditated these things beneath a great apple tree that kept the soil at its roots cool despite the summer heat. Hopefully, I made the Sign of the Cross, and repeated the prayer that Mother had taught me: "Thank God for His goodness to us during the day, and may He watch over us during the night. God bless me and make a good boy of me. "When I came in to supper I was asked why I had not been pumping water for the cattle.
IT WAS agreed that we were not to tell the Old' Man that we had missed the parade. He might make disparaging remarks about John and his driving, or about the length of time it took the female members of the family to doctor their faces with "baking powdher" before going to town. And, besides, there was a sort of unwritten law making it improper to tell Dad about anything. One never knew how violent his reactions might be. He might refuse to let us have a team the next time we wanted to go somewhere.
So, if we boys were questioned by the Old Man, we were to tell him that we missed part of the parade, but that the rest of it was fine. That would not entail any sin, for it would not be exactly a lie. That calliope was presumably fine in its own way.
We drove to the home of the Mahans to give Mother a chance to try on the dress she was making for Mrs. Mahan. This lovely lady was monstrously fat. She was jolly, as so many fat people are. She was rich, for her husband and his brother had far the largest wholesale liquor business in this prohibition town. Not only did Johnny Mahan have the agency for Anheuser-Busch beers and some of the best Kentucky whiskies; he also owned most of the saloons, or "sample rooms, "in which these beverages were dispensed.
I had been in the Mahan home only two or three times, but the luxurious comfort of it had impressed and awed me. I knew that we were country jakes, and that the Mahans, with their fine clothes and city manners, must have realized it. Yet they never, by any slight sign or gesture, indicated that we were in any way inferior or peculiar.
Now Mrs. Mahan brought two colored servants out into the yard to help the family alight from the high wagon, and insisted thatwe all come in and visit. We boys were extremely self-conscious about our shoes, and, wrapping some old papers about our feet, asked to be excused. Mrs. Mahan would have none of it. Then Mother explained that the boys had been in such a hurry to get into the wagon in order to see the circus parade that neither of them had had time to put on Sunday shoes. The good lady undoubtedly saw through this innocent deception at once, but she gave no sign. She just instructed the colored boys to help us out of the spring wagon, and promised us plenty of candy.
The house was what we used to call an old one. It was two high stories, with a high basement and a high attic, and in these days could be made into a four-story apartment house. It was set in the midst of a large grove, and had been built by some long-forgotten capitalist of the boom era. It had the gracious spaciousness of the wealthier homes of that time in Kansas.
We felt out of place in these elegant surroundings. I was particularly fearful that some of the nice ladies would smell the cow manure on my shoes.
It was a genuine obsession with me that the odor of cow manure could not be removed from shoes. After half a century, I think I may have been right. And I still find myself, in any elegant company, looking at my shoes, and subconsciously wondering whether the refined folk in the party may smell the cow manure. Entirely aside from any neurosis or neurotic remnants of an inferiority complex, I feel that a good many of the customers at a literary cocktail party in New York do catch a faint odor of cow manure. Psychological, perhaps, but stronger than I could wish.
In the hospitable Mahan household, the symbol of perfect hospitality was beer. While Mother was making a final fitting of the black silk dress for Mrs. Mahan, who was called Lizzie or Lizz, beer was set out for all the visitors. I still blush when I record the humiliating fact that not one drop of the welcoming liquid was consumed. The country jakes were teetotalers. With certain medical modifications, our code was anti-alcoholic. Big Flurry, the head of the house, did all our drinking for us.
The household, which usually included some of Lizzie's relatives from Fulton, New York, consumed its beer with gusto, and on each visit we made, the good friends seemed to be a little fatter and a little happier. When one of my sisters spent a week or two at the Mahan home as a guest, she always reported that the household looked forward to the beer hour, just before retiring. It was with sad amazement that we learned that these good people actually liked beer. Not only that; they had what might almost be called a craving for it. They looked forward to the beer hour, and they were much more happy when the tall glasses of amber fluid came before them than they had been all day. Marie reported this phenomenon to the family with the same sort of disappointed wonder that one might expect from a nephew who had just returned from the Solomon Islands and reported that the natives out there never take a bath.
Van and I ate three pieces each of the delicious candy that was passed around, but politely refused the offer of our hostess to stuff our pockets with the same expensive luxury. We spent most of our time soaking up and noting the unbelievable luxury of the place.
We boys suggested, after leaving the delightful Mahan home, that we really wouldn't need any milk shake today, although we had rather looked forward to the possibility of having one apiece, especially since we missed the circus parade. Mother said that the milk shake store at Main Street and Douglas Avenue undoubtedly would be too crowded for adequate service. But there was an errand to be performed at the tea store, so we drove down Douglas Avenue, and it was thrilling to see the circus day crowds. They thronged the sidewalks, and their teams and wagons and buggies created traffic snarls in the wide avenue.
Rarely did we see such cosmopolitan life as now seethed about us. We drank it in, savoring its flavor to the full. Surely, I mused, nowhere in the world did people congregate in such numbers, and in such good spirits, as here on circus day!
We met the Balch family, Steve and Kate and their son Rolla and daughters Pearl and Bess, in their canopy-top surrey. We stopped to talk. While the elders were discussing crops, Rolla con-fided to Van, who was his own age, that the whole Balch family was going to the circus. "But the circus passed already, "said Van, "and we missed it." "Oh, shucks, you mean the parade!" said Rolla. "We don't bother about the free parade where they have all the cages closed up so you can't see the animals. We go right out to the big tent and see the whole show, and all the side shows, too. "Van was unhappy for the rest of that day. The Balches were some sort of superior folk. They could do the things we never could do.
On the way home, Van philosophized: "I'll bet nobody calls the Balches country jakes. They're not. They're just like city people. Dad is always telling us what a fine farm helper Rolly Balch is. "He imitated Dad's pronunciation of Rolla's name, to rhyme with holy. The rest of the world called this ineptly named youngster Roll, to rhyme with doll.
"Well, "persisted Van, "Rolly Balch always has good shoes, and warm clothes in the winter. What's more, he and his dad go hunting rabbits together, and his dad doesn't throw things at him. Takes him into the circus tent to see the real circus. We're supposed to be thankful if we get to see the kally-ope go by once a year, and maybe get a milk shake on the Fourth of July." "We must be thankful for what we have, "Mother moralized. "Steve Balch got money from his old dad. He got his farm free from his dad, so of course he can afford things that we can't afford. "Just to keep the conversation going, I offered this observation: "Steve is an infidel and the Morgans were infidels, and why is it that the Balches and the Morgans, you always say, are the best neighbors we have? Are infidels always good neighbors and good to their kids? Old Man Morgan gave his son a farm too, didn't he?" Mother's retort was what the lawyers would call "not responsive." "You are not to call older strangers by their first names. He is Mr. Balch to you. A body would think you were raised in the back-woods. "John, however, was unwilling to leave the theological question unsolved.
"The fool saith in his heart, 'There is no God. ' But he riseth up in the morning and goeth to his destruction. He flourisheth a little while and then he fryeth in hell forever. There is no fire so hot as the fire of hell, which consumeth fools. "The rest of the trip home was made in silence. Van and I unhitched and unharnessed the horses, while John went into the house with the womenfolk to change to everyday clothes.
When we had put the team away, Van and I took account of our condition. He was inclined to pessimism and rebellion. He thought we should run away from home. Many boys, he said, run away with the circus and grow up to be somebodies. We would never amount to a darn, he said boldly, if we continued to live like this, always getting places just in time for the kally-ope.
I was more conservative and fearful of change. I pointed out that it would be no time at all now until the Fair, and we would surely all go to the Fair at least one day. Yes, Van admitted, as long as we two could get in free, we'd probably go to the Fair.
And so we did, only five or six weeks later. Van was a little over the free age, and, being very tall, appeared even older than he was. Mother made him scrunch down in the seat of the spring wagon, so that he would not look so tall, and we got by the gateman by paying the quarter entrance fee for only four members of the family.
We went to the Exhibition Building, a long, barnlike structure, and viewed the exhibits of farm produce, jellies, canned fruit and fancy work. It was a considerable matter for pride that Dad's millet seed had taken the blue ribbon and his ear corn the red ribbon.
Big Flurry always exhibited one or more items at the Fair, and nearly always won a prize. Indeed, he took first prize for millet seed at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago, and the diploma hung on the dining room wall for many years.
For a reason unknown to me, Mother never exhibited her jellies, canned fruits or fancywork, although she surely would have takenmany prizes. She rejoiced when neighboring women's exhibits drew prizes and ribbons, and kept on making jellies and preserving fruits and crocheting tidies for home use exclusively.
At one fair I was permitted to have a toy balloon. When it suddenly blew up, I flew into a mighty rage, accusing each and every passer-by of stealing it. John, especially, was suspect, because he laughed at my plight and I thought taking the balloon from the end of the stick would be a typical practical joke of his.
We came upon a booth where were sold white silk ribbons, bearing the names of states. Mother and Marie went through the rest of Fair Day proudly bearing "Pennsylvania" pinned upon shoulders. When they met others with the same label, there was conversation about the glories of the home state.
We sat in the grandstand and watched the harness races. Year after year, we did this, but none of us ever took much interest in it. The Fair was on a good racing circuit, but we didn't know the horses, owners or jockeys, and it made no difference to us which horse won. Like Li Hung Chang, we already knew that one horse could run faster than another, and we were somewhat bored by the demonstration of this obvious phenomenon.
The thoroughbred hogs, chickens, cows and bulls that were exhibited in the Animal Husbandry Building were good to look at for an hour or so.
Dad attended the Fair on the first day, when he placed his exhibits, and sometimes came back on the last day to claim the exhibits and prizes.
He never went with the family. Sometimes he would take Van and me along in the farm wagon, and we would see the precious samples of potatoes, rye in the bundle, oats, wheat or whatever, placed among the exhibits of the other farmers of this region. This was not a county fair; it was much bigger and more important. Yet it was not a state fair, for the politicians had placed that annual event at Hutchinson, a smaller town but closer to the center of the state. This was a regional fair, attracting exhibits from all over Kansas and much of Oklahoma.
On such trips, the Old Man was usually silent. Once, as we climbed stiffly into the high wagon seat, all in our Sunday clothes, which we had outgrown, the Old Man remarked in a loud voice, which might be heard in the house, "In the Name of God, byes, 'tis a wondher yer Mother couldn't buy ye some clothes that would be cheaper and more durable! Ye can hardly move in yer piccadillies and tightlegged pants, same as Billy Barry. "That was about all of the conversation on that day's trip. Wandering about the grounds that afternoon, we stopped for a while outside of a tent show. A come-on performance was being given on open-air trapezes by a buxom group of girls.
Clyde Hazen, the most amusing of the neighborhood idiots, was watching the performance intently. He walked over to my father and said, in a high voice, "Mr. Driscoll, aren't you afraid those little ladies will tear their little rectums?" Dad did not deign to look at the idiot, but to us he said, "Come, we'm best be going. There's work to do at home. "On one of his trips to the fair grounds, the Old Man would look over the livestock, and perhaps pick a stallion to sire his next crop of colts.
At one memorable Fair I heard William Jennings Bryan speak. It was in the fall of 1897. Bryan had been defeated for the presidency the previous fall, but he was still the idol of the farmers. This whole region had considered itself betrayed by the trusts and moneybags which allegedly had elected William McKinley, instead of our Boy Orator of the Platte.
I was just twelve years old then; too big to slip through the gate free. Admission was only a quarter, admission to the grandstand another quarter. John and Margaret were to represent the family at the speaking, and were to sit in the stand. I begged to be permitted to go. I promised not even to ask for a seat. I would take my chances with the crowd. And I would climb over the fence and save the admission fee.
"If you climb over the fence you will certainly be shot, "warned John. "There are cowboys on horseback, armed with army rifles, patrolling the fences all around the grounds. If a guard draws a bead on you, throw up your hands and surrender. It will be better to serve sixty days on bread and water, at hard labor, than to be shot through the heart. He who climbs the fence, perisheth. "Mother relented. She gave me half a dollar, and expressed the hope that I would bring some of it back.
The fair ground occupied 160 acres on the south edge of town, only about three miles from our farm. It was surrounded by a board fence, about fifteen feet high. I was not a bit afraid that I couldn't scale it, for I was a good climber.
I squeezed into the cart between John and Margaret. When we reached a spot whence I could see the fair ground fence, I climbed down and walked across a patch of brush, a quarter of a mile, to the fence. Scaling was not difficult. When I reached the top of the high fence and prepared to jump, I saw a man strolling along, inside the grounds. I jumped anyway.
The man stopped his slow walk and watched me. Well, my time had come. I wondered that he was afoot, and I could not see any Springfield rifle on him.
I walked straight toward him. He was carrying a long club, and wore an enormous tin star on his civilian coat.
He was a decent, farmerish-looking chap, and he was grinning me.
I walked up to him with the half dollar in my hand. As I held it out to him I stammered, "I-I ah, forgot to pay my way in, and anyway nobody was there to take the money. Will you take it?" "Yes, Bub, I'll take it, "said the guard, who was having a hard time holding in the laughter.
"It's all I've got, "I said, hesitantly.
"That's all right. It only costs twice as much to come in this way as it does down at the gate. Now, the grandstand is right over yonder about a half mile. "I started out in the direction of the grandstand, traversing an unused portion of the grounds. I was in bare feet. My feet and legs were almost covered with sores resulting from mosquito bites, stubsand snubs and stone bruises, all well infected and inflamed. The thistles, sand burs and brush were not easy to take. My feet were bleeding badly and I was miserable when I reached the edge of the crowd.
The newspapers reported 60, 000 persons in that day's crowd. It was the biggest outpouring of the customers in the history of Kansas. Despite the presence of a regiment of the National Guard, there was no such thing as adequate policing. But the people were in good humor, for they all shared the opinion that today's speaker was born to them as a savior.
I circled far out in the quarter-stretch, in front of the grandstand, where acres of people already were standing. I could see the speaker's stand, of shining new lumber, built against the front of the grandstand, with its platform, reached by steep wooden stairs, high above the heads of the crowd on the ground.
A committee of local dignitaries, politicians and a few policemen were on the stand, and Bryan was beginning to speak.
It was a fearfully hot day. The Kansas midafternoon sun was burning down upon the masses of people. The speaker, turning from time to time to face another sector of his huge audience, kept mopping the sweat from his face, neck, and head. He was dressed in a black broadcloth Prince Albert suit.
It was almost impossible to hear anything the speaker said from the quarter-mile distance at which I stood. I began working my way in toward the speaker. This I could do because I was so much smaller than the adults about me. I slid between them, between their legs, around them, and under their arms. Nobody tried to stop me.
But, after a good half hour of this forward movement, I was still only just inside the outside rail of the race track, and there were some tough fifteen yards yet to go, I was sick from lack of air, and my sore feet had been stepped upon so many times that I was in anguish.
Suddenly I slipped to the ground, unconscious. A man picked me up, and the next thing I knew I was being handed over theheads of the crowd, in the direction of the open part of the quarter stretch.
As they passed me over the track rail, one of my feet struck the fence, and I partially awoke, due to the sudden pain. "Oh, my poor sore foot!" I moaned, and I heard somebody say, "He's not dead! He's talkin'!" Next time I awoke I was lying on the ground under a little cottonwood tree. Somebody was fanning me with a palm-leaf fan, and a doctor was pouring through my lips a miraculous liquid that made me sit right up.
"He just fainted, "said the doctor. "He'll be all right in an hour. But he certainly ought to have something done with those infected feet.
I thanked the doctor and his wife for their kindness, and immediately started back through the crowd, toward the speaker. I had made a wonderful scrapbook about Bryan and Sewall during the campaign of the year before, and in it were many pictures of the hero shaking hands with the multitude.
This time I made it all the way through the crowd, wedged shoulder to shoulder, to the foot of the speaker's stand. I was shaking with weakness and excitement when I began to climb up the crossed timbers of the stand. The speech had ended, and there was a pushing and shoving among the multitude. Everybody wanted to shake hands with Bryan.
Police and private detectives were trying to keep the crowd back. Bryan was stooping far over and shaking hands that were reached up toward him. His back was to me, his ample rump rising like a black wall in front of me.
I was on the platform! "Mr. Bryan, Mr. Bryan, please shake my hand!" I shouted. He gave no sign of hearing me. He was being pulled and hauled by the crowd.
Now the detectives and bodyguards were actually lifting him bodily to carry him down the stairs to the waiting carriage, which had driven up along the outside pole of the race track. Police in force were clearing a path.
I had hold of the great man's coattail, and kept shouting for a handshake. A great heave by the stout bodyguards, and the hero was disappearing down the stairway. But a handful of black broadcloth was firmly grasped in my hand. I took it home to show to the family, and proudly displayed it at school until one of the big boys took it away from me.
Twenty-seven years later I was in the working press section at a national political convention in Cleveland. Near me, also as a reporter, sat William Jennings Bryan.
The convention met and immediately adjourned to give the fixers time to fix the nominations. The crowd began filing out, past the press stands. Soon Mr. Bryan was standing at the railing, leaning far over, in the old, familiar gesture of shaking the hands of the multitude. Though this was a Republican convention, Bryan was stealing the spotlight from all the Republican dignitaries, who were getting none of the crowd's attention.
The great man was recalling faces, names, dates, in quick snatches of conversation with his admirers. He asked about the children and horses of people who had driven him from one town to another during a lecture tour, many years before. "How is your dear mother? Do you still have that black dog?" and such questions were poured down upon the admiring individuals as they passed before the bald and aging orator.
I stepped up beside him on the platform, and when he straightened up to mop his forehead, I said, "That's wonderful, Mr. Bryan. But you don't remember me. I got a piece of your coattail when you spoke at Wichita in eighteen ninety-six." "That was 'Ninety-seven, "he said, smiling, as he panted for the breath the crowd was pumping out of him. "At the Fair Grounds. ". . . . chant, with organ . . . .
Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, Qui fecit coelum et terram.
There was the dark shadow of the Cross over all. Thunder of the organ rolled over the town and plains and fields, and on up to heaven, with the solemn chant of the vested priest: "Our help is in the name of the Lord, "and the choir's appropriate response: "Who made heaven and earth. "Would the Lord, Who made heaven and earth, have time to hear my prayer? Dare I ask Him to make haste to help me? It seemed too much like asking the hired man to come quickly and pull me out of the mud.
I considered His power and glory as I walked through the silent valleys between the rows of sand dunes, in the woods. The tall trees shook violently as the approaching storm, heralded by sharp lightning from the black, towering clouds, gave warning. I heard the majestic roll of thunder along the distant hills, across the river. But in my ears the voice of an organ rose above the tonal reverberations: Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
I hid my clothes in a hollow tree, as the slashing rain cut across the landscape like blown sand. I walked alone in the clearing, and was washed.
Thou shalt sprinkle me, 0 Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.
The storm passed. The mighty organ pealed its thankful thunders away and upward, and I walked home pensively. I was late to supper.
EVERY WINTER one or two woodsmen worked in our woods, chopping cordwood. They selected the cottonwood trees that were straight, not too big around, and easy to handle. The sticks were cut in four-foot lengths, split when necessary to bring them to cordwood size, and neatly stacked in cords, eight feet long and four feet high. Our customers, chiefly bakers, iron foundries and private consumers, were insistent that they get exactly one hundred and twenty-eight cubic feet of wood, with no holes in the cord through which one could toss a cat.
The Old Man built a special rack for the wagon bed, out of heavy oak timbers. It would hold exactly a cord of wood, neatly piled, and could be loaded down with an extra quarter of a cord if the roads were good enough to permit the horses to pull so heavy a load. However, a cord of dry wood made an ideal load for a team to pull at a slow pace the five to seven miles usually traversed to market. Most of the day was used up on such a trip to town, and the reward was $2. 75 per cord. The woodsmen got sixty cents for chopping and piling the cord.
In the course of his winter wood journeys, Dad discovered a new market for cottonwood. The Pearce Furniture Company occupied a one-story, long factory building on the Santa Fe tracks, in our end of town. It used great quantities of cottonwood for making excelsior, with which most of its furniture and mattresses were stuffed.
For this market, the wood had to be carefully prepared. The sticks must be sawed, not chopped, into eighteen-inch lengths. They must be smooth, not knotty, and not exceeding a certain small diameter. But the furniture company paid $3. 50, and would take any quantity, up to hundreds of cords in a season.
So several men were hired to chop down trees, trim them and cut them into logs eighteen feet long. These were piled with the aid of horses and cant hooks, and a steam-driven saw was brought in to cut them into eighteen-inch sticks. The result was some needed mid-winter money.
In the course of excelsior wood negotiations, the family met Mr. Pearce, proprietor of the furniture plant. He came out to the farm and asked permission to view the woods, along with an estimator he had brought with him in a shiny livery rig.
After a full day in the woods, Mr. Pearce had a talk with Big Flurry. Later, he made another trip to the farm and asked to talk with the lady of the house.
Mr. Pearce was a short, thin, worried-looking gentleman, with low voice, cultivated speech, and a gracious way with the ladies. He was extravagant in his compliments, bowed low from the waist at the slightest provocation, and preferred circumlocution to direct statement.
We boys watched through a crack in the door while Mr. Pearce talked to Mother. Thereafter we imitated his city manners and precise speech for the amusement of the family.
"I am in the business of producing fine furniture, "said the city man, "and it has occurred to me that you and your lovely family are deserving of the best. You have charmingly arranged this parlor, but the furniture in it leaves something to be desired in the matter of style and durability.
"I want to fill this parlor with the finest furniture in the world. I want you to have such furniture here as any banker would be proud to possess.
"In pursuance of this ambition on my part, I have been looking at some old trees in the woods on your lovely farm. There are some there that I could use in my business. They are too big for any other use, and are fulfilling no purpose where they are.
"I have made Mr. Driscoll a proposition, and he has graciously referred the matter to you.
"If you will call at my factory at your convenience, I shall behappy to show you the elegant furniture that I can deliver to you inexchange for some logs, which my own men will cut and handle.
There will be no trouble for anyone in the family, and so you will really be getting your parlor furnished most elegantly, free of charge.
Mother said she would talk the matter over with Big Flurry and with John, who was an excellent judge of such matters. Mr. Pearce clicked his heels, bowed low, and departed.
When consulted, Big Flurry said, "Aye, he told me that the threes he wants are no good because they're too big to cut into cordwood, and that's the thruth for him. He said his men will do all the work and the hauling. How many threes he wants I don't know, I'm chure. But ye do be wanting stylish furniture for the parlor, and maybe this would be the way to get it.
"Anyway, 'twill be good maybe for ye to dhrop in at the factory by way of no harm, and see what he'll give ye for the threes. Then we can talk business, and Jan, that can write such pretty ovals can maybe see that we don't get cheated. Misther Pearce is a city gentleman, but I don't like the cut of his jib. He never sails a straight course, but keeps yawing and backing and filling and tacking this way and that, same as a Welsh coal boat in a gale of wind. Maybe ye can make some sense out of him." "He seemed very nice, "said Mother.
"Aye, exactly. Never mind the man that seems very nice. "The Irish colloquialism, "Never mind the man" may be translated "Don't trust the man. "Within a week, Mother, John and Marie visited the furniture factory, and Mr. Pearce graciously entertained them in his showrooms, serving lemonade and cake, and pointing out the elegant furniture that they might look forward to seeing in their parlor. Later there were other visits, and Mr. Pearce became more specific. He picked out ten pieces upon which the family agreed as an ideal parlor set, and promised to deliver these when his men should have completed hauling out the logs.
John asked that he be equally specific about the logs, and themanufacturer promised to have a contract drawn up, covering every detail.
When the contract came, it was found to contain a clause giving Pearce the right to take every tree four feet or more in diameter. He got the cordwood as well as the trunks, but his crew was required to clear up the ground and burn the brush left from the trimming.
When this contract was submitted to Big Flurry, he was neutral. "It's a big lot of threes, but ye'll never get grand furniture any other way. If ye think it's a good bargain, go ahead. "Nobody seemed to know whether it was a good or bad bargain. The chief argument in favor of it was that we probably never would sell those big trees anyway.
One day Dad made his mark at the bottom of the contract, and Mr. Pearce signed for the furniture company.
Timber scouts swarmed into the woods, marking with a blaze and an estimate figure the trees that were to be taken.
Van and I were sentimentally devoted to the great cottonwoods, for we had played Indian under them since we could remember. These were really old trees, and as big as cottonwoods ever grow. There were not many such patches of big timber in Kansas. These trees grew on two sandy ridges, running the half mile width of our farm. Most timber in this part of the world had been destroyed by annual prairie fires up until the white settlers came in and broke the sod. These trees had been on islands in the Arkansas River, and thus had been immune to the fires. The river, working always eastward, had left the ridges high and dry probably forty years before Mr. Pearce coveted the lumber.
When the timber scouts began their work, Van and I made many farewell visits to our old friends, the great trees. Each time, we would find more of the giants marked for destruction.
We were truly grief-stricken when, on a Sunday afternoon visit to the woods, we found the scouts' red figures marking our favorite forest tree, which we had named Wreck-Tree. The name commemorated an accident, not important in history, but to us a purple scene in our uneventful lives.
Dad and John had loaded a flat hayrack with grapevine trimmings. We boys, then not more than six and nine years old, were invited to sit on top of the load to help hold it down. Dad drove the load to the river bank, through the woods, and it was duly dumped into the shallow water that had been blocked off with a short row of posts. The object of this engineering scheme, which absorbed many loads of brush and vines, was to catch silt and sand from the river, thereby bridging and filling up a narrow channel between the mainland and an unclaimed island, about twenty acres in extent, upon which was a fine stand of young cottonwood trees. In the course of a few years this operation was successful.
On the way to the river that day, the tall load of twisted vines was caught by a horizontal limb of a great cottonwood tree, just as the horses were starting down a hill. The load was pushed off and the rack tipped over. We boys had the delightful experience of jumping from the top of the load into the soft sand to save our lives.
So we called it Wreck-Tree, and the trail that wound past it was Wreck-Tree Path. We often visited the tree, and we made these visits personal and intimate. Wreck-Tree had suffered from fire at some distant time, and there was room inside the hollow trunk for both of us to stand. Often we took shelter there during a rainstorm.
When we visited our old trees we used to talk to them, and they talked back in language that we could understand. I sometimes translated their talk into brave stories of buffalo that were killed here by Buffalo Bill and his boys, of great Indian fights that had taken place hereabout, and of snipers that had hidden in the branches of old Wreck-Tree.
One of our woodsmen, several years before the coming of Pearce, was Walt Dunlap, who was a junk collector in summer and a woodsman in winter. He came from the timber country of Tennessee, and used a double-bitted axe. It was as good an ax as could be bought, and Walt kept both blades almost as sharp as a razor.
Walt was a well seasoned backwoodsman, with a long, tangled beard in which he kept matches, tobacco, and his pipe. He lived in ashack on the south side of town, and walked every winter morning to our farm, carrying his precious ax over his shoulder and his lunch in a tin pail.
Usually, Walt walked along the highroad going and coming. His comings were before sunup and his goings well after sundown. He chopped during all the daylight hours.
One evening, Walt walked through the barnyard and our east yard, on his way home. He stopped at the horse trough, took off his old slouch hat, and doused his head well in the cold water. Then he ambled over and sat on the porch steps.
Someone, in passing, saw that Walt's head and face were covered with blood.
"What's the matter, Walt?" "Jest settin' here studyin'." "But you're all bloody!" "I reckon I am a mite bloody. Nicked my haid a bit with the ax. It's a pow'ful sharp ax. "We called Mother, who presently had a steaming cup of coffee for Walt. He said he was mighty thankful for it. "I ain't jest as stiddy on my pins as I were, "he explained.
Walt was chagrined when he had to tell the details of the accident, a simple one. He had been chopping a little later than usual, and the light was bad. He was tired too, and made a careless swing. The ax-handle struck a horizontal limb of the tree under which he was working on a fallen trunk.
The handle was caught by the limb just behind the bit. The force of the blow swung the ax out of the woodsman's hands and sent it whirling up into the big tree.
In the darkness, Walt could not find his ax. He thought it must have fallen in the sand, noiselessly. As he groped for it, a breeze stirred the big tree, and the ax fell, splitting the heavily matted skull of the worker.
"Purely lucky, I am, "said Walt. "I never cut my hair nor comb it, not holdin' with the heathen. If God wanted our hair cut or combed, He'd 'a' cut and combed it fer us at the beginnin'. So the ax didn'thave enough evil in it to go clean through my haid, but it did bothah me a mite. "When Walt had drunk his coffee, he arose and went home. Next morning he made a great point of walking through the yard again on his way to the woods, through newly fallen snow.
We boys found where Walt had been working by the great blotches of blood on the timber. He had been standing under Wreck-Tree, and the ax had been caught up by that sentient old sentinel and tossed back at the woodsman.
I wrote a long story about it, called "Wreck-Tree's Warning, "the substance of which was that the old guardian of the forest did not like woodsmen and split old Walt's head as a warning of what would happen if anybody ever laid an ax to the hollow trunk of Wreck-Tree.
Now, here was Pearce, the city slicker, hiring men to destroy our favorite, along with hundreds of our other good friends of the woods. Wreck-Tree was shaped almost exactly like the tree pictured in a school reader with the old poem, "Woodman, Spare That Tree. "Recalling this resemblance, I said to Van, "Do you suppose it would do any good if I'd write a poem like 'Woodman, Spare That Tree, ' and go and recite it to Mr. Pearce?" "Mr. Pearce wouldn't look at you, and if he did he'd have to laugh, because you have the map of Ireland on your face, as John said himself." "I'll bet he would spare Wreck-Tree if I'd write a good poem and recite it to him, right in his office. "" Why, you couldn't even find his office, and if you did, the clerks would throw you out into the street. And besides, you' couldn't even write a poem." "You're a liar, and I'll show you!" So we fought. Next day I wrote the poem, beginning thus: Mr. Pearce, spare old Wreck-Tree; Cut down all the others, But please let this one beIs the prayer of us two brothers.
I read the poem to Van. He laughed and whooped as nearly like Steve Balch as he could. Steve ended a laugh with a strange whoop of joy that could be heard for miles on a calm day. Van said, "If Mr. Pearce heard you recite that stuff, he'd spit on you and call you a fair-freckled turkey egg, and that's what you are. You couldn't get me to go with you, and I don't want you going around telling people that you're my brother. I'll say you're a liar if you do. "So we fought again, but the idea of a poetic appeal to save our old friend from the ax was abandoned.
We took our friends from town to see the great trees, and gloated over the blood-soaked chips that we had preserved inside WreckTree's trunk as mementoes of Walt Dunlap's mishap. One winter day I was telling the story of Wreck-Tree's Warning, just about as I had written it, to Don Fordyce, son of our physician, as we were sitting on a log in the woods.
Walt Dunlap himself strolled up, and, without making his presence known, listened to the story. He had been chopping a short distance away. When I had finished, Walt stepped out and said, "That-there is surely a bang-up story, young fella, but there ain't a word of truth in it. It wa'n't no wood-sprite that thrun the ax at me; it was Jesus. He done it to me fer my sins, an' I said, 'Thank You, Lord. ' He'd told me time an' ag'in to quit my sinnin' or he'd bash my brains out. This was jest a friendly warnin', an' I taken it. Yessir, I taken that warnin', and now I'm free from sin! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!" The last lines were shouted in a high-pitched tone that reverberated through the woods, as Walt spun his two-edged ax over his head and burst into song: "I am washed in the blood of the Lamb!" As the song continued and the ax was flying through the air like a drum major's baton in a parade, we boys stole away.
"Well, the ax certainly drove old Walt crazy, "I said. We walked through the woods silently, pondering upon the woods, the trees, and men, who destroy great trees in brief hours of work.
Mr. Pearce was unable to get all his timber out of the woods that winter, though he had a large gang at work. Most of the logs were sobig that only one could be moved with two or four horses and a low-slung logging truck. The roads had been bad all winter, and the furniture man asked for an extension of one year on his contract. This was granted without further consideration.
Throughout the second winter, the logging went on. Wreck-Tree was the last to fall, and the last to be logged and hauled.
Van and I made many trips to visit our old friend after he was chopped down and cut into three great logs. (We always called our trees "he, "as they seemed protecting patriarchs to us.) I noted in my pocket diary, which was an annual advertisement of Wakefield's Blackberry Balsam, the numbers the scalers had written on the logs, because I thought I'd write an English composition at school about the tree.
It was late spring when the last logs were hauled out. The very last truck, heavily loaded, slipped off the muddy road into a ditch, at the foot of our driveway, on a Saturday afternoon. The men abandoned the wreck and rode to town on their horses.
On Sunday, Van and I went down to see the wrecked truck. Our poetic superstition was given a tremendous lift when we found by the numbers in red chalk that this was Wreck-Tree himself.
Of course, I wrote another masterpiece of verse, "Wreck-Tree's Revenge. "Shortly after this incident, John, Marie and Mother went to the Pearce showrooms to pick out their furniture. Mr. Pearce supervised the job, and, in fact, did the selecting.
Mother remarked that she did not like some of the pieces, and that they were far inferior to the ones Pearce had promised, two years earlier. The little man's face flushed and he started to raise his voice as he said, "You're a-ah, mistaken, Mrs. Driscoll; these are the very pieces. "They were not, but what could be done? Consulting the contract, it was found that, while the sizes of logs had been carefully specified, nothing was said about the number or kind of furniture items that were to be paid in exchange.
We wound up with what Pearce sent out in a moving van. Therewas a pedestal rocker, the prize showpiece of the lot. There were a long settee, a shorter settee, a host armchair, and two side chairs. All but one piece were matching items, in golden oak finish and baby blue and tan upholstery of a cheap, shiny texture. The smaller settee was of fumed oak, of different design, and more sturdy than the other pieces.
Pearce never made any accounting as to the number of feet of lumber taken; but there was not an old tree left in the woods. Judging by the expense he put into the logging operation, I should say we paid at least a thousand dollars for six pieces of cheap but showy furniture, worth a total of $8o at the outside.
Dad took no interest in the deal, once it had been concluded, except to curse loudly when he learned, after the last load of logs had gone, that the men had taken down a long stretch of his barbed wire fence to provide exits, and had not had the decency to put it up again.
He watched the furniture being unloaded, but did not bother to go into the parlor to see how it looked. The parlor was tabu to him since the funeral of his son Stephen was held there.
The new furniture was a wonder in the neighborhood, though Mother never thought highly of it. Still, it replaced decidedly shabby secondhand furniture that had served its time long ago.
The six parlor chairs that had served since Mother began housekeeping in the Valley were cheap, unupholstered, cherry-finish chairs of a type then well known. The seat was a slab of thin wood with holes in it making a large star pattern. When a seat split or wore out, you removed the brass-headed tacks that held it and tacked down a new slab, costing a dime at the hardware store. The back was a curved bit of wood with another thin piece of wood across the top of the curve, also holed through in star patterns. These chairs now went into the dining room.
Also to the dining room went the black walnut rocker commonly known as Mother's chair. It was low, rocked evenly and comfortably, was almost devoid of springs, and was reupholstered from time to time. Also a more frail rocker, cane-bottomed and cane backed, finished in red mahogany stain and varnish. This one was beginning to show wear.
Mr. Pearce refused to give us a center table, so we kept the lame old one that we had had always. It had to be blocked up under one leg, and was so unstable that the photograph albums and other precious material on its top were in danger constantly. It was finished in an imitation mahogany, too. There was a round little table halfway down among the curving legs, and here reposed our stereoscope, which had one lens that was constantly falling out, and a small collection of stereoscopic views.
A nice throw, crocheted by Marie, usually covered the center table and hung down at the sides.
The cherry-finish bureau or dresser, which had occupied a place of honor on the north wall, was now relegated to the big bedroom upstairs.
This piece had been bought at an auction when the house was being furnished, and was quite the most magnificent piece of furniture in the house until Pearce came. It was a three-drawer dresser, surmounted by a large mirror and a marble top. The mirror was scalloped into a terrible shape, and was surrounded by a heavy frame of tortured wood. It became Mother's dresser, or just "the bureau. "In the bottom drawer Mother kept the last clothes and mementoes of her dead children. As was the custom in our part of the world in those days, this fine piece of furniture stood cater-cornered.
Where the dresser had been in the parlor, John erected a mantel shelf. There was no fireplace in the house, but if there had been one this would have been its location. So we just pretended that there was a fireplace, and John designed and executed a very long and handsome shelf of wood, which was then covered with some sort of fancywork.
On this shelf were placed photographs of friends of the family, two glass-enclosed Swiss scenes that came from the tea store, a highly decorated picture of the Pope that Aunt Fannie sent from Erie with assurance that the Holy Father himself had blessed it, and sundry wax flowers, vases and curiosities.
In one corner of the room was a lame table, always off balance, just big enough to hold up the family Bible. Near it was a plush-covered chair that had one leg broken and was never used. A jig-saw what-not was nailed up in another corner, and held, usually, a vase that had been improvised by the girls out of an old bottle. The bottle had been covered with putty, into which had been stuck a thousand pieces of colored glass, imitation stones, bright buttons, shells, and other pretties.
Mother found a secondhand hanging lamp in a small store in Wichita. The price was a bit steep, twelve dollars, but the blackberry patch was coming into bearing now, and the berries were to be Mother's own, to pick, market and spend. Berries were bringing two dollars per crate of twenty-four quarts, so it would take only six crates to pay for the lamp. There were other things to pay for, but, with the help of God, Mother said, we would manage. She bought the lamp.
There had been an iron hook for a hanging lamp in the center of the parlor ceiling ever since the house was built. It was of heavy decorative iron, and it looked funny there, all these years, waiting for something to hold up.
So Mother took the lamp on tick, and paid Mrs. Palmer, the storekeeper, with blackberries.
The lamp was a magnificent piece of household decoration, and practical, too. Four brass chains that ran over a pulley arrangement suspended the lamp from the hook. The lamp itself was a simple copper can, surmounted by a wide double burner. Two wicks, separately regulated, threw a powerful light when properly trimmed and supplied with coal oil from below.
The copper container fitted into a decorative china bowl, blue with yellow flowers on it. Under all was a brass ring by which you pulled the lamp up and down. Over all was a delicate glass shade of streaked yellow. The shade was cracked, and that, we were told, was why we had got the lamp so cheap. A circle of crystal pendants hung all around the edge of the shade.
This lamp made our parlor complete, and there was some talk ofchanging the room's title to drawing room, on account of something the girls had been reading in the Ladies' Home Journal. This project was abandoned out of respect to the Old Man. "He'd raise hell, "John said, and I suppose he was right.
We used the parlor now more than we had in the past. About once a week, Mother would light the hanging lamp, and, after supper, we would all go in, sit on the new furniture, and look at the hanging lamp. When Van and I had clean clothes on and had thoroughly washed our legs, we were permitted to rock in the pedestal rocker, taking turns. As a reward for bringing in the wood without being told, keeping reasonably clean and not talking back, we were allowed to use that rocker on some weekdays for reasonable lengths of time. Van and I traded each other out of rocker turns, using clippings for our scrapbooks or turns at the pump as merchandise. Each of us had a certain amount of pumping to do. I would offer to pump a hundred strokes on Van's time if he would let me have a hundred rocks on the big rocker out of his quota. Sometimes he would accept, sometimes not.
We children were warned not to touch the hanging lamp. It slid up and down on its chains easily. A metal bell came down as the lamp went up. I don't know what the purpose of the metal bell was. But when the lamp was raised too far, it cut off the oxygen supply just enough to make the wicks burn imperfectly, and smoke resulted. There had to be a nice balance, and this was determined by Mother whenever she lighted the lamp.
One night, after the lamp had been lighted and Mother and the girls were working in the kitchen, Van, in the front part of the house, let out a scream. When we came running, Van was standing, pale and transfixed, in the parlor door. The hanging lamp had caught fire down in the well of kerosene, and flames were licking the ceiling.
Someone, apparently, had pushed the lamp upward. The metal bell had come away down toward the lamp chimney, shutting off the oxygen so that the blaze had retreated down into the container, which held a quart of kerosene. The glass chimney had fallen inpieces on the parlor carpet. At any second the copper container would explode, and the jig would be up for all of us. There was no way of putting out a fire in that house.
Mother did not utter a word or a scream. She rushed to the lamp, pulled it down as close to her as it would come, then reached up and picked the blazing can out of the china well. There was no handle on the can. She had only a narrow rim, a tenth of an inch wide, to catch hold of. She caught it with both hands, lifted it up and then down in front of her, and carrying it at arms' length, ran out the front door to the porch and flung it into the front yard.
To do this she had to reach above her head, for she was a little woman. I have lived a long time without witnessing a more courageous action.
Still without a word, she walked back into the parlor, briefly viewed the damage, went to the kitchen, and applied butter to her burns. Her hair, eyebrows, face and hands were seared. Not once did she refer to her hurts, but she did want to know who had tampered with the lamp. Suspicion pointed to Van, but he denied the crime.
After that, we did not use the hanging lamp much. The damage was easily repaired. Mother had enough ceiling paper, left over to repaper the scorched area of the ceiling. The rest was merely a cleaning job.
The parlor was closed up again, more or less permanently. About two or three times a year, neighbors would make formal calls, usually bringing the entire family on a Sunday afternoon. The parlor was the place for entertaining them. After a piano and cozy corner were installed, there would be singing and music there when any visitors arrived. The Mahans, Murphys and Faheys came out from town for occasional visits, and they were entertained first in the parlor, then all over the house.
When Marie acquired a beau, the parlor was used every Friday night, and we even installed a small stove there for the comfort of the lovers and the preservation of the piano.
On summer afternoons I was permitted to lie on the floor in the parlor and read the Bible, because I had begun to take a great dealof interest in the Book, and this was regarded as a hopeful sign. Incidentally, my interest in Holy Writ was not lessened by the circumstance that the parlor was the only cool room in the house during the hottest weather.
. . . . distant drums . . . .
Confused noises; lurid lights. Hell and the world closed in.
A gentle woman in a white robe stooped over me each night, before I slept. She made the Sign upon my forehead with her thumb, dipped in holy water, and said, in soft whisper, "May the Cross of Christ be between you and all harm. "I mumbled, "Good night, Mother. "I turned then, if I were still awake, to the Beautiful Lady, the Queen of Heaven, whence so many troubled souls, in youth and age, have drawn solace.
"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!" I recited, without moving my lips. That was from a medal I had recently received from Aunt Fannie.
How should I, sinful and unclean, address her? She was, as our Litany told us, the Queen of Virgins, Gate of Heaven, Tower of Ivory, House of Gold, Ark of the Covenant, Seat of Wisdom, Cause of Our Joy, Mirror of Justice, Mystical Rose, and Singular Vessel of Devotion.
I did not know what most of these titles signified, but they had an impressive echo in the depths of a reverent mind.
Hired men brought tales of a cruel world beyond the Arkansas River. A world filled with Protestants, Jews, infidels, confidence men, drunkards, wicked women, thieves, slickers, ruffians, Turks, jails, smallpox, villains, and even Mormons.
How was I, weak and bowed down by sin and ignorance, to front such a world?
Black-robed missionaries from Union Hill, New Jersey, hurled hell in our faces, from, beneath the arm of the great cross at the sanctuary rail.
John preached to us of the Day of Judgment, before retiring. "Men withering away with fear! The Abomination of Desolation in the market place!" I slept, and dreamed of Doom.
JOHN COLVILLE came to work as a hand on our farm when I was about five years old. He taught me to read and write, and told me many stories that made me want to read the books out of which he had acquired so much knowledge.
He was a slight young man of medium height, fair complexion, and a reddish mustache. He was meticulously clean, a rare quality in the farm hands of that time and place.
Dad disliked Colville for two chief reasons. First, the young man could not plow as much in a day as a thoroughly healthy hired man was supposed to plow. He rested too much. Secondly, the Old Man thought it was not appropriate for a hired man to be talking book learning to the family after working hours and becoming as one of the household. "It would be fit-ther for him by far to be studying how to plow than to be blathering the night like a sea lawyer, "he said.
Colville said to Mother, "I know Mr. Driscoll is dissatisfied with me, and I don't blame him. He's paying me sixty cents a day, and he can get a good hand for that. I'm not a first-class hand. I'm not strong enough to do the work of a good hand. But I'll be willing to take a colored man's pay, fifty cents a day, and I think I can earn that. I like to be here, and I like the way the children are so anxious to learn. I'll be happy to teach them all I can, nights and Sunday afternoons. "Mother liked the young man. When she learned that his feet troubled him sorely, and saw that he always washed his feet before he entered the house, she gave him some remedy which he was to drop into hot water for foot-washing before retiring. John was full of gratitude. He went out in the back yard everynight and bathed his swollen feet in hot water from the kettle on the kitchen stove, and declared he felt much better.
Gradually, we learned his story. He was a graduate of a state normal school, and had taught a few years in common schools when his health broke down. He learned that he had tuberculosis, went to a sanitarium, and was pronounced cured. But the doctors told him he must do outdoor work, and that if he went back to the schoolroom he would surely have a relapse and recurrence. So he sought work as a farm hand.
"If I regain my health this way, "he told Mother, "I hope to go back to school, and, with a college degree, to go back to teaching. 'That's what I like to do. "Colville was thoroughly washed and combed before he entered the dining room for any meal. The other men noted with snickers that this citified fellow waited for the women to enter first, though they were there to serve. He said " please" and "thank you, "which the old-line hands thought positively pretentious. This fellow was not popular with the other hands.
He went through the fall plowing and the cornhusking, and then quietly asked to be paid off. He had had all the farm work he could stand for the season, he said, and would seek some other kind of work until he was able to go back to school. The fresh air and good food had added weight, and the young man felt better than he had for two or three years.
We next heard of our intellectual farm hand when he ran for the office of county superintendent of public instruction.
While electioneering through the county, he drove in and had dinner with us. The family was happy to see him looking so well. He was elected that fall, and served many years as superintendent.
It was one of the duties of that officer to visit each school in his county at least once during the school term. Colville always visited our school twice during the winter.
One of our few glories, in a school where Van and I were misfits, happened when Superintendent Colville came to visit. He never failed to come around and sit down with us, to ask about the familyand the horses and dogs, and to inquire especially about Mother's health. He asked in detail about our progress in school, and consoled me when I admitted that I was doing badly in arithmetic.
"I've been looking at your work in English, "he said. "Keep it up. That's your medium. "He told the school and the teacher how he had plowed for Big Flurry Driscoll, and how kind Mrs. Driscoll was to him when he was lonely and sick and far from home. We blushed with appreciative embarrassment, and for a day or two the other pupils refrained from making fun of us and beating us up.
I mentioned John Colville in my newspaper column a few years ago, and had a letter from a relative of his, saying that he was still living, at a fabulous age, and was enjoying excellent health. It is not true that all the good die young.
Senator-Captain-Doctor Smith was a voluble, good-humored, pathological liar who husked corn for Dad in the fall, and stayed on through the winter for his board and lodging. There was always casual farm labor available without wages during the winter months. Such workers became more intimate with the family than summer workers, because in cold weather the entire household gathered closely about the fire. Also, most of the work the free laborer had to do was concerned with matters close to the house, such as shoveling snow, chopping wood in the back yard, and tending to the animals.
Smith early ingratiated himself with the family by giving scientific readings of the skulls of all the children. He let it be known that his medical studies (" Yes, Mam, I'm a doctor, all right" ) had led him to most profound knowledge of the brain and its effects upon the form of the skull. Before he had obtained his degree of Doctor of Phrenology from a correspondence school in Kansas City, he had been a barber, and thus had had unequaled opportunity for study of the human cranium in all its forms and manifestations, he explained.
"For a doctor in any line, "he said, puckering his wrinkled brow, "there can be no preliminary training equal to barbering. I advocate it. Yes, Mam, I advocate it. A doctor who has had no barberingexperience is not a safe person to entrust your child's life to. Many ailments, such as the common cold, originate in the brain. "Doctor Smith's phrenological diagnoses were all flattering, except in my case. The learned man was obviously trying to build up a reserve of favor in the household, so that he might stay on through the cold weather. This child was gifted with art, this one in science, and a third would some day startle the world with discovery of a new continent. John was destined to be a great painter. The Doctor had heard Mother enlarge upon John's artistic ability, and he was not missing a chance to make a little hay.
In my case, the savant did not mean to be on the wrong side, but he delivered his diagnosis with unfortunate phraseology. He was feeling the heads of Van and me at the same time. He was giving a twin diagnosis. Both of us were destined for fame and fortune, but in different spheres of accomplishment.
Pointing to Van, he said, profoundly, "There's the one to think, "and, pointing to me, "There's the one to say it all. "I have never lived it down.
While discussing the political philosophy of Grover Cleveland around the kitchen stove one cold winter night, the family was enlightened by Doctor Smith: "He is fighting for everything that I stood for during my time in the Senate. (Oh, yes, Mam, I was a member of that august body for many years. Perhaps you may have read of Senator Smith of New York.) Well, I told 'em, I said, 'A man will come out of Buffalo whom you know not, and he will establish Free Trade throughout the earth. ' I knew what I was talkin' about, Mam. "We boys began addressing the hired man as Doctor and Senator alternately. It seemed to please him.
An Indian in war paint and war bonnet had come to the house one autumn day when Dad was in town and the other men were in the fields. Mother had been badly scared, as we had heard that the Indians in Indian Territory were off the reservation and threatening trouble. When the Big Chief appeared at the kitchen door and demanded food, Mother had admitted him. There was nothing else todo. She gave him a chair at the kitchen table, and filled him full of hot coffee and beef stew. After a grunt, he had gone about the barnyard and picked up what he wanted, including a ham that was hanging in the granary.
There was excited discussion of the matter that evening. Senator-Doctor Smith puckered his whole face as he prepared to deliver the summary.
"They are mean enemies, "he said. "Unscrupulous. Why, when I led my men against them in the Dakota uprising, they did not hesitate to play 'possum, only to rise up and attack us from the rear." "Oh, were you a soldier, Senator?" "Yes, Mam, I was that, and a good one, too, if I may believe seven citations for valor. I found it my duty to resign my Senate seat to take up arms against the red devils; I entered as a private and came out a captain. "Hence the complete title, Senator-Captain-Doctor Smith, by which this odd specimen was known in our household.
The Senator also revealed to us that he was the Lost Charlie Ross, son of a wealthy Philadelphia family, who had been kidnapped many years earlier. Charlie Ross's fate remains a mystery today, and thousands of mentally unstable men have confessed that they were he.
Big Flurry liked to draw his eccentric hireling out on evenings when he felt in good humor.
"Aye, aye, "he would say, interestedly. "'Tis yourself has had the fine life: Go on now, and let us have some more of the blarney. "Arising to prepare for sleep one night after Smith had related the story of the fine home and many carriages he had once owned in New York state, Dad stretched noisily and yawned audibly, closing the session with one of his favorite maxims, "Aye, cows far away has long harns. "The Slade boys, as they were called in the Valley until they tottered to their aged finales, lived in a two-room shack, always. Sometimes they owned the shack, or built it with their own hands. But they were not one-room poor whites, as they often reminded the public.
It was impossible to tell how old they were or which was the older. They always seemed old, as long as I knew them. Harry never married, and Clem married only occasionally.
Harry was heavily and clumsily built, and wore his head forward and shoulders humped. His long arms dangled to his knees when he stood in normal posture, and there was always a cavernous grin upon his high-cheeked, rugged face. Blond, graying hair was on his head in great quantities, and straggled down his back and in front of his eyes in long, straight strands. Harry looked not unlike a blond anthropoid ape, if there are any blonds among those hardy creatures.
Clem was slighter, shorter, smooth-faced, and a little more attentive to his personal appearance. He was perpetually on the lookout for another charmer to share his fortunes, so he generally shaved once a week.
Harry's talk was almost exclusively concerned with the future life, while Clem loved to discourse upon the sciences and arts of this world.
One morning at breakfast Dad said to me, "Charley bye, like a good bye, you do a task for me. Go on up the hill narth to the shanty in the lilac patch, and see can you get Salvation Harry to come down and do a bit of work for me today. He's no good, as God knows that knows me heart, but maybe he can stop a hole in a fence. He won't want to work, but tell him 'tis bad I need him and that I wouldn't have anybody else but him because I like him singing to God when I want the cattle scared like I do this day. Tell him I'll give him a week's work at regular man's wages if he'll hurry on down this marning. "I walked the quarter mile to the old shack, and was passing through a narrow path in the dense lilac thicket when I heard a fearful screaming coming from within the shack.
"That's it, that's it, that's it!" was repeated rapidly, in a rising crescendo tone, as if it were a college yell. Sometimes it was "That's it, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, that's it, Jesusl" As I passed the window in the side of the shack, the light of a kerosene lamp (it was not yet daylight) revealed Harry, dashingfrom chair to bed to floor to table, agile as a monkey, screaming the while. He wore his long gray cotton nightshirt, which may once have been white. His strawlike hair was streaming wildly in the breezes his antics created.
I knocked loudly at the front door. The pandemonium ceased. Harry appeared at the door in nightgown and bare feet, puffing hard. "I was filing a saw, "he said, grinning foolishly. "Filing a saw. "He puffed a few times and added, as in confirmation of a disputed statement, "Yes, I was filing a saw. "Clem was good at hoeing and similar handwork, but could not handle a team to any advantage. He was at his best when hoeing sweet potatoes or chopping wood. For a time he did such work on our farm and lived in the house. In those days we had fun. We children enjoyed hearing Clem expound the learning of the centuries.
His teeth were all gone, but he had a way of clamping down his jaws after a positive statement which was impressive. It was as one might say, "Here stand I. God helping me, I can do no other." "I had to teach the City Engineer how to make a city turn the other day, "he related one evening. A city turn, we learned later, was the curve in the curbing at a street intersection.
"I saw the gang making the city turn, and it was all wrong. So I went over and spoke to a big guy in boots and canvas clothes that was bossing the job. I reckon he was the City Engineer. I said to him, I says, `Why don't you use your degrees? You can't get the right kind of a city turn without using your degrees, ' I says. So I shown him how to use his degrees, and he got a pretty good one that time. No wonder they got such different kinds of city turns all over town." "So you must know a lot about mathematics, Clem, "said Van.
"Well, I went clean through Ray's Elementary Arithmetic, Ray's Higher Arithmetic, Ray's Algebray, and Ray's Key to Algebray. The trouble with these people that try to make city turns is that they never went that far. None of 'em ever heard of Ray's Key to Algebray.
Now, even the youngest of us knew that the Key was the book of answers to algebra problems, sold to teachers, and that Clem hadmerely seen it in a bookstore window, and had been dreaming about it.
One winter, Clem and Harry contracted to chop in the woods, at the prevailing pay of sixty cents a cord, without limit as to the amount of wood they could produce. Clem procured the loan of a cook shack on wheels, belonging to an idle threshing outfit, and for a day borrowed a team of horses. He borrowed a woman for the winter, divided the cook shack into the customary two rooms, offered Harry a home for the winter, and was launched upon a new and romantic enterprise.
Caesar, rolling down the Appian Way in his chariot, with Numidian kings tied to his hubs, never was more imperial than was newly-shaven Clem as he drove the big red cook wagon into our yard, on the way to the woods, one nippy autumn morning. On the seat beside him was Harry, grinning foolishly and occasionally letting out a "Glory to God!" Standing behind them was the new female companion in a bright new blue-and-white calico dress. They stopped to borrow the pump tongs, and to display the new residence.
Clem had selected a sheltered spot near one of the sand hills that was covered with walnut trees. He and Harry dug four deep ruts for the four wheels, and drove the shack into them so that the floor was almost touching the ground. They piled brush and dirt around the four sides, to keep winter blasts from coming up from underneath. They dug a shallow well, drove a pipe down four feet, and attached an iron pitcher pump.
The water was not very good, for it was surface water. But Clem said that any water was good if you had enough gin and wine and whisky wherewith to dilute it. Anyway, it was a severe winter, and there wasn't even a cold or a cough in the Slade ménage.
Once a week one of the Slades walked to town "for groceries. "Applejack and gin were among the most essential of the items on the grocery list. Little was needed in the matter of commissary. Clem had a rifle and ammunition, and he was a good shot. He had fishing gear, and loved to fish. There were rabbits, squirrels, 'possums, several kinds of fish, wild duck and goose, corn from any neighboringfield, turnips to be had free in quantity, walnuts, quail, wheat for which no farmer would charge anything, and an occasional donation of a side of bacon or a mess of spareribs when we were butchering.
The Slades lived high that winter, and enjoyed life. The interim wife was a good cook, and both the brothers liked skinning wild animals and scaling fish. Even when the snow piled high against the shack, all was warm and cozy within, for there was abundance of dry wood to burn in the monkey stove, and the boys liked to chop it.
At Christmas time, they walked to town. Harry and the lady overstayed the holiday, but Clem came walking out through a snowstorm on the second day after Christmas.
"Harry overeat hisself, "he explained. "He can't go back to work for a few days, and Liz is takin' care of him. Yes, he overeat hisself. We had roasted 'possum for Christmas, lots of it, and yams and nuts and a little of the old firewater. It was a grand Christmas, but Harry overeat hisself. He'll be all right; he only overeat hisself. "The insistence upon overeating was due to two factors in Clem's culture. First, he knew that Mother was anti-liquor, and therefore he could not admit that Harry and Liz were merely suffering from a hangover. Secondly, it was a matter of pride with these people to eat too much when the opportunity offered, and to talk about it. Abundance was not one of their regular possessions. When there was too much, they must consume it and pridefully boast about it.
When we had butchering or other special occasions, requiring more help than was available at the farm, someone would send for Clem, offering more than he could earn at the woodchopping, and get him in to help. He got sixty cents a cord for chopping wood, and he and Harry together could get out three cords on a favorable day, under favorable conditions. For a special day of butchering or such labor, Clem would get a dollar, plus odds and ends of the hog or beef, or some other friendly reward. On these occasions, too, he would get dinner and supper at the farmhouse, and would sit about and talk for a while before walking back to his shack in the woods. He told us how he was going to make a fortune.
"It's simple, "he said. "I'm going in for ginseng. "He pronouncedit " gin-sang." "Yes, sir, I got two lots there by my shark, south of Harry Street. "He and Harry, had boldly squatted on a pair of lots that had never been occupied, and had built their home there. This was common practice in Wichita at this time, because almost any vacant lot was reasonably sure to be a tax-title parcel, on which delinquent taxes had accumulated so that the owner never wanted to hear of it again.
"Well, I'm going to plant the whole of it to ginseng in the spring. Maybe I'll rent the rest of the block, and put it all into ginseng. "But I Can easily clear twenty thousand dollars off my own two lots. If I decide to go in for a big operation, I'll hire a gang and plant the whole block. That'll bring me in a quarter of a million anyhow, and it won't be much work. Not half as much as sweet potatoes." "What is ginseng, Clem?" I asked, to keep him talking. "Ginseng? Well, now, it's funny, ain't it, that a son of smart parents would be askin' that?
"Well, sir, it's a root that grows without much hoeing. The Chinks buy it. They pay terrible prices for it. An acre would make any American richer than Vanderbilt.
"Now you're goin' to ask me, why ain't it raised around here? Well, my boy, that's on account of the human mind, which is purely baffling to philosophers. The farmer wants to raise what his ancestors raised, and they didn't raise ginseng. So that leaves ginseng to the men of imagination. These poor farmers in this valley slave and hoe and starve. I feel sorry for 'em, honest I do. Anyone could let his farm go to weeds and make a million dollars out of ginseng right in his front yard. But it takes imagination.
"I been making my banking arrangements this-here last week. I will need a warehouse next fall. I got my eye on the broomcorn warehouse on the Rock Island tracks. Yes sir, I'm afraid if Mr. Driscoll wants me to chop wood this time next winter, he'll have to drop me a note to Shanghai, China. I'll be over there, sellin' the stuff. "But the next fall, Clem was back again, doing odd jobs around the farm and talking, talking, talking. He had abandoned, the ginseng idea. "The Chinks ain't got the money to pay for it, "he said. "I'vedecided to open up a soft drink establishment next summer. There's lots of money in that business when it's run right. I've got my eye on a place near the Santa Fee depot, and I've got the plans all made for making it into a soft drink establishment. The town has got too many pop stands and soda water counters, but it ain't got one first-class soft drink establishment. "It must have been twenty years later that we read of Clem's passing. He was found frozen to death in the hayloft of a barn, southwest of town. He had set out afoot on a cold night to walk to a farm near Oatville, where there was a job to be had. A blizzard had blown up, and Clem had taken refuge in the barn, and there had dreamed his ultimate dream of grandeur.
Mark Patterson was an occasional hand on our farm, very different from the regular hands. He was a proprietor, and bore himself as one who had a reputation to sustain for his wife and children. He lived as a squatter on an island that was little more than a sand bar, near the north bank of the Arkansas River, beside the Hydraulic Avenue bridge.
Mark could not make a living off his island farm, so he had to hire out as a hand from time to time to make ends meet. His home was a board shanty, a story and a half high, which never had been painted. It was a lonely-looking place. Sad loneliness seemed to look out of its two windows that faced the bridge. When I had to drive past the house on the way to market with a load, before daylight, I always felt a deep weight of depression.
Every spring Mark planted the very sandy part of his island to sweet potatoes, and the better soil, where the ground was higher, to corn.
Every summer the river rose and washed out the crops. At least once during each summer, the Paterson family was flooded out of its home and lived in a tent on one of the neighboring sand hills until the flood subsided.
At such times, some of the neighbors would stop while passing the Patterson tent, make inquiries as to the health of the family, and askwhether anything was needed. A quarter of beef, some salt pork, or maybe a batch of bread?" No, thank you, we're makin' out, "Mark would say, quietly. "But if you happen to be needing a hand, I have lots of time now. "So he would get work; often at the high rate of seventy-five cents a day, for he was one of the best sweet potato hands anybody could find. Most of the Valley farmers raised great quantities of sweet potatoes, and always could use another hand. Mark walked back and forth from work to his home.
He was a tall, thin, blond man, in the thirties at the time I knew him. He had a well shaped head, a light mustache, and blue eyes that were nearly always cast down. He was neat and clean, though his clothes were patched.
Because he rarely looked at a person when talking, and because he spoke in a low tone, some neighborhood gossips spread the altogether baseless story that Mark was a thief and undoubtedly had done time. Yet, so far as the evidence went, Mark was meticulously honest, never owed anybody anything, and attended strictly to his own business.
Mark never joined in the banter and horseplay of the hands or took part in their horseshoe pitching or wrestling matches. He appeared for work before sunup and left after supper to walk to his home.
He had been seen to beat his gray horse, upon which he depended for his farm work at home. This caused talk, too, and the gossips said he was a cruel man and probably beat his wife. As a matter of fact, the exasperation and worry and frustration of his daily life were enough to make a patient man beat his horse.
Mrs. Patterson was a legendary figure. Few of the neighbors had ever seen her. She did not attend the Last Day of School exercises. She never went to church nor joined any of the neighborhood movements for bettering the world with prohibition or missionary effort. When her babies were born, her only attendant was Mark, since the Pattersons were too shy to ask a neighbor to help, and nobody in our part of the country employed physicians for such a normal function as giving birth.
A few times committees of do-gooders visited the Patterson home to inquire whether there was anything they could do, or whether Mrs. Patterson would like to join a sewing circle. They were quietly and politely rebuffed by a pale little lady in a faded calico dress, and usually did not manage even to get into the house.
The few who had been in the house reported that it was neat and clean and orderly, though desperately poor.
When Big Flurry went on his one long, historic binge, lasting the better part of a year, he had seven barrels of his own wine in his cellar, plus ample supplies of gin and whisky. When he staggered out of the cellar to get his spring plowing under way, he reported to all comers that somebody had stolen at least two barrels of his wine, and possibly three.
The evidence? Well, there had been seven barrels of wine, hadn't there? Now, after only six or seven months, there was only one barrel left to get through the summer on, unless one should count a barrel and a half of old wine in the opposite corner of the cellar.
Mother's simple solution, which was undoubtedly correct, was that the Old Man had drunk up the wine, with the help of Uncle Jim and a few cronies. The empty barrels were there.
"They couldn't roll the barrels up the cellar steps, so they siphoned the wine out and poured it into their own barrels, av coorse, "explained Big Flurry.
But who would steal his wine? Wine was too cheap to steal, and besides, every farmer who wanted any wine made his own.
"That Mark Patterson is an omathon I don't like, "said Dad. "He keeps his eyes on the ground, same as a monk saying his office. Likely as not, 'tis he that took the wine. "This talk evidently was made in the hearing of the neighborhood gossips, and perhaps more than once.
One summer Sunday afternoon, Mark Patterson appeared in our yard, neatly dressed, wearing a necktie and apparently much perturbed. Dad was seated on the windmill platform, whittling.
"Mr. Driscoll, "said Mark, speaking excitedly for the first time inour experience with him, "I hear that you suspect me of stealing your wine.
"Aye, Mark, somebody took it." "Well, I didn't. You know, Mr. Driscoll, that I don't drink, and you ought to know that I don't steal.
"I've lived in this neighborhood a long time. I'm poor, but that don't prove that I'm a thief. You know that I don't even own a team to haul your wine away, or a wagon big enough to hold the barrels. I wouldn't have any way of getting your wine out of the cellar, even if I wanted it and was a thief.
"You are welcome to come and search my house and my farm for your wine, if you want to." "No, I'll take your word for it, Mark." "Well, I hope you won't say that thing again to anybody, Mr. Driscoll. My reputation is as valuable to me as yours is to you." "Aye, I suppose it is. Well, you'm best be getting along now, Mark, and God go with you. "The Old Man didn't say any more about the theft of the wine, but he surely was puzzled by all those empty barrels.
George Sealamber stayed with us longer than most hired men. He was on the monthly payroll for two years, most of the time at the customary wage of sixteen dollars a month. He occupied the small bedroom on the ground floor, off the kitchen.
He was tall and strong, probably nearing thirty years of age, and his large head, covered with coarse black hair, was seemingly devoid of brains. George was lazy, slow in his movements, and never quite up to Big Flurry's standards for hired help. He was kept on from month to month because he was easy to get along with, caused no particular trouble, and could handle horses as well as anybody.
George had Saturdays off, after finishing the morning chores of stock feeding, stable cleaning, stock watering, horse currying, and perhaps a little wood chopping. He usually walked to Wichita on Saturday afternoon, returning Sunday night.
Once, Dad did not have the money to pay George on the daywhen the wage was due. He asked the hireling to wait a week for his pay. Meanwhile, Dad would sell a load of hogs, and there would be plenty of money.
There was nothing for George to do but accept the situation. However, he did not like it, and proceeded to show his feelings by staging a sit-down and slow-down strike. He was plowing in the east lowland. The Old Man was anxious to get this tract plowed right away, because he intended to sow it to wheat, and it was already time to begin drilling. George loafed conspicuously on the job that week. At the north headland, where he would be plainly visible from the barnyard, he let the horses rest for long periods, while he sat on the plow handles and whistled. When we boys took him a bottle of water to drink, he said, "I'm takin' it easy. No use to break my neck when the Old Man don't pay me. "George rightly guessed that we would relay this conversational bit to Dad. Mother was called, out to the barnyard by the indignant farmer to witness the sit-down.
"Do you see that lazy divvil, Ellen?" he asked, as if his wife could somehow relieve the situation. "He's wasting me time because he hasn't got last month's pay to spend on the fancy women in Wichita. He'd laugh at me if I was to tell him to get to wurruk. That he may die before night and rot in hell, the lazy pismire!" And, turning away from Mother, who looked helpless in the situation, he cried to the wide sky, "God Almighty, do you see the lazy basthard, scratching his idle arse, and me paying for it? Sthrike him dead!" This final command was issued in a bellow so loud that George, a quarter of a mile away, heard it, whether God did or not. George slowly got to his feet and started the team down the furrow line.
Later, there was hedge brush to burn, along the west boundary. Dad and George worked together, rolling the thorny trimmings into great piles and setting fire to it. It was necessary to keep pitching the outer brush into the heart of the fire with pitchforks, in order to insure a clean job.
Dad, relating the incident to Mother, as if he despaired of doinganything with the recalcitrant hired man, said, "The thrifling' beggar was leaning on his pitchfork, watching the pretty fire, same as a schoolboy at Paine's Fireworks.
"Says I, 'Jarge, get in there and pitch brush on the fire!' "'Too hot!' he says.
"Too hot! Glory be to God, Ellen, does the loafing omathon think I should put ice on the fire for him? And me burning me whiskers off at the same time, doing all the wurruk! I'm a mind to discharge the lout as soon as I hand him his payl" But George stayed on, mostly because he had been with us so long, had a nice way with the children, and was accounted clean. He had the mightiest appetite of any hand who ever worked on our farm. He chalked up an all-time record at a late breakfast on a snowy winter morning, when he consumed twenty-three pancakes, each the full size of a griddle, or about the diameter of an ordinary stove lid, with a quart of syrup, five big cups of coffee with cream and sugar, and a dozen slices of bacon for solidity.
"The pancakes don't stick to the ribs, "explained George, while we boys stared at him with open-mouthed admiration and amazement, "so a little hawg-meat sure adds sompen to a little repast like this-here. "George's downfall came like the crash of an ancient idol in an earthquake. While he was in the field on a Monday forenoon, following one of his week end visits to the city, Mother, removing his bedclothes for washing, discovered an insect on a sheet.
In trembling panic, she captured it and put it into a bottle. She showed it to John, but he had no idea what it was. She then showed it to another hired man.
"Why, yes, Mrs. Driscoll, "admitted the reluctant witness, "T reckon you might call it a louse. It ain't a reg'lar louse, you know, but a special kind they have in some parts of the city. That-there's called a crab, and it's very special. "When the men came in from the field for noon dinner, all of George's belongings were piled up in the back yard. All of his bedclothes were on the clothesline. The bed itself, taken apart, was lyingagainst trees and logs, and the odor of carbolic acid came from springs and bedstead. The straw tick was smoldering ashes.
Mother met Big Flurry on the back porch and told him the story briefly. She was as excited and nervous as though bubonic plague had broken out in the family.
The Old Man answered not a word. He walked over to George and handed him the pay that was due, up to that hour. Then he said simply, "I guess you'm best be going, Jarge. You can have your dinner out here on the windmill platform if you want it." "No, thanks, Mr. Driscoll, "answered the discomfited George. "I'll just go right along. "He gathered his belongings into a gunnysack, and sadly plodded down the hill.
We seldom took on colored hands. It was generally conceded among the farmers in our neighborhood that niggers, as they were called (without rancor or malice) were unable to handle horses well, and that they were slower than white men. For hoeing and hedge cutting they were sometimes the best. hands, however.
There was no race prejudice against the colored hands in our family, but most of the old-time Negroes preferred to eat their meals on the back porch and sleep in an outbuilding. They were not accustomed to associating with white people any more than necessary, and insisted upon isolation when that was possible.
Nigger Knight, who worked as an off-and-on hand at our farm for a dozen or more years, was an exception to the rule. He was what was known in the South as a house nigger.
(I should explain the name, Nigger Knight, for those unacquainted with the folkways of the Southwest. It was customary to call all black hands by their last name, with or without the prefix "Nigger. "They referred to themselves and to one another in this manner, and did not consider "Nigger" a term of opprobrium.)Nigger Knight had been born a slave, so he must have been toward middle age when he came to work for us. He was a little man, coal black, with heavy eyebrows and a black, kinky, scraggly whisker on the end of his chin. He was a younger edition of the Uncle Tom we used to see in shows. He spoke the patois of the Deep South Negro.
Nigger Knight ate the midday meat with us at the table, but slept at home, in a typical Alabama nigger cabin on South Fourth Street, about three and a half miles from our farm. He had an enormous Alabama wife, weighing more than 300 pounds, known as Knight. He called her Knight and she called him Knight. They spoke of themselves as niggahs and of all white people as "the white-uns. "Nigger Knight was a faithful but fumbling worker. Hours meant nothing to him. He would cheerfully work until it was so dark he could no longer see what he was doing, and get to the field in the morning with the first streak of dawn.
He got along with horses, as did most colored workers who could handle horses at all, on a basis of friendly equality, constantly arguing with and scolding the horses, and devising absurd methods of controlling or "hinderin" ' them.
Once Knight drove in from the field where he had been cultivating corn. Big Flurry was astonished when he saw that the left mare was done up in a veritable truss of baling wire, twine and sticks. Wire strands ran from Old Moll's right bridle bit to the hames of her team-mate, from her left bit ring to her bellyband, and from the checkrein to the cultivator itself. Jockey sticks had been fastened with binder twine. The whole mess looked fantastic.
"Knight, in the Name of God, what kind of jury rig is this, I don't know?" asked the Old Man. "You've got gear enough here for a fine brigantine, ourself! Sure, the fore t'gallant backstays and the flying jib martingale would do credit to Lard Nelson. Tell me this, man, when did you get time to do all this?" "Why, Miss'r Driscoll, that there filly, she eats the cawn all the time, and I jess fixed up these foo little schemes. The Good Book says schemes and plans comes afore stren'th, and I sho' do believe in that Old Book, yassah." "But, Holy Joe, Knight, that rig will never keep her head into the wind!" "Trufe, Miss'r Driscoll, hit don't exactly keep that filly fum eatin' the cawn, but it bothahs her a little, like it say in the Good Book, keep not that fillly fum eatin' the cawn, but bothah her a little." "Well, you belay the gab about the Book and see can you strip that cordage down and lave it alone from now on. I don't want me harses all dhressed up in naygar gear, same as Auld Konkle's. "Auld Konkle was Old Man Konkle, who lived on an island in the middle of the Arkansas River, at Hydraulic Avenue. He was known as "pore white" in the neighborhood. His horses groaned under the weight of harness that had been patched with wire so often that the patches far outnumbered the whole pieces of leather. Big Flurry mended his harness neatly with waxed-end, awl and harness needle. He thought any other kind of patching was characteristic of "naygars" and such poor whites as imitated colored folkways.
Knight, could not read or write, but he faked a knowledge of "that Old Book" that was unlimited and extremely amusing. For any point, he quoted the Bible, putting into the mouths of the evangelists and prophets all manner of weighty and virtuous sentences, most of which he made up or patched together out of revival sermons he had heard in the shouting colored churches.
After the manner of Alabama black servants, he assumed much responsibility for the rearing of the younger members of our family. He often quoted Scripture to Van and me in private, to point a bit of practical advice.
One day in early spring, when we had been in school most of the winter, we were chopping wood. Knight noticed that our hands were bleeding and blistered from unaccustomed swinging of the ax.
"A-a-a-ah, Cholly and Fonce, I see you got tendah hands, like all the white-uns that don't wuk right reglar. I tell you how you make yo' hands tough, so they don't hurt no moah. You read it in that Old Book, where it says, `When thy hands blistahs, jess step to one side an' wet on 'em. ' Yassah, boys, you cain't go wrong effen you reads that Old Book. `Step to one side an' wet on 'em, ' it says, and it shuah is the Word of God. "Knight stoutly maintained that the horse witches rode some of our horses through the sky at night, thus wearing out the poor animals. Every female horse was a filly to Knight.
"That-there bay filly, she sho do suffah fum the hoss witches, "said the black sage. "I goes down to the stable in the mawnin', an' she sweatin' and hangin' her haid. You kin always tell when the hoss witches been ridin' the fillies, 'cause they braids the manes whilst they's a-ridin' 'em. That-there filly, she always got her mane braided almost evvy mawnin', and she sho' do suffah!" Knight kept on the right side of Mother by agreeing with her in all things, and especially concerning John, whom he knew to be the apple of her eye.
"That-there hossname Johnnie, Miss Driscoll, he ain't long for this world. No Mam, he ain't. He got that sad look. My Wooly, he had that sad look, and the Lawd, he done come an' took him away in the, night, to go up to heaven. He'll be a black angel, an' wait on somma them nice white angels." "Hossname" was usually prefixed to anybody's name, except in direct address. It was a vulgarization of "what's-his-name, "but was used without any meaning at all by Knight. Mother agreed that Poor John probably was too good for this world.
As Knight saw it: "Yes, Mam, that's trufe. Now, hossname Cholly an' hossname Fonce [Van] they ain't got that sad look, though true, they're right good boys. They's meant fo' this world, but hossname Johnnie, the Lawd sho' got his eye on him. "While Knight was extremely religious and righteous, he followed the custom of toting, common to his people, in the South. Toting is the taking home of the master's or employer's goods, to such value and in such quantities as may seem good to the servant. Knight would never steal, but he would tote enough to keep his household well supplied.
During the apple picking or apple sorting time, Knight made a practice of tossing to one side some of the finest, reddest apples. After supper, he would go out with a gunnysack and gather up thesepiles of choice apples. He would put the sack in his "jump, "or twowheeled cart, and tote it home to Knight.
One winter night, Mother stopped Knight as he was driving through the yard, to give him a glass of jelly to take to Knight. Stepping up to the cart, she noticed the bag, and while talking to the old fellow, took a good peek inside. Knight was only slightly embarrassed, if at all.
"Miss Driscoll, I tote these red apples home to Knight. That woman, she sho' do like red apples. True, they ain't no mo' good than otha apples, but Knight, she's jess wild about 'em. So I tote these nice ones. "What could you do? Nothing. Knight valued his toting privileges more than his wages, and he would surely quit if he were not permitted unlimited toting.
The Reverend Mr. Fox came in midwinter to trim the grapevines. He was reputed to have more skill in this work than any other available man in our part of the country. He was in demand for grape trimming throughout the Valley, except at the Balch farm. Steve Balch trimmed his own vines, and would trust nobody else to do it.
Fox wore a long, red whisker, and his reddish hair reached to his shoulders. He said he was sent by God for the salvation of men, and that it was his pleasure to sing hymns and canticles in praise of the Lord. He was permitted to sing, without accompaniment, one hymn each night, in our kitchen, before retiring. He sang "The Old Rugged Cross, ""Shall We Gather at the River, ""In the Sweet Bye-and-Bye, "and many other popular hymns. To many of them he added certain original touches. He filled in any lines that he did not remember perfectly with irrelevant matter.
The Fox favorite went thus: It was the precious ointment Down Aaron's beard did flow, And down it went until it rent His garment-skirts untoe!
Besides the hymn which he sang by special permission at night, Mr. Fox sang many songs of praise in the vineyard. He would cease his snipping of grapevines every hour or so, straighten his back, raise his red whisker toward the horizon, and let out a whoop.
"Thank you, Jesus!" he would howl. "You saved me, Jesus! I'm free from sin, Jesus! Washed in the blood of the Lamb!" Then he would sail into the hymn, "Washed in the Blood. "Or perhaps it would be "Oh Happy Day, ""If Ever I Loved Thee, My Jesus, 'Tis Now, "or "He Leadeth Me. "Big Flurry did not appreciate these religious recesses in the day's work. Still, he knew that steady snipping made anybody's hands tired and sore, and that rests at intervals were necessary for a fast trimmer.
"Sure, the auld divvil is as crazy as a conger eel with a hook in his mouth, "said the Old Man, "but I'll kape him till he's finished the grapes, because I can't get anybody else. "At the close of each day's work, Fox would come toward the house, shouting, singing, or proclaiming some great news.
"I'm safe in the arms of Jesus!" he'd roar, waving his arms and grinning amiably. "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Another day's work in His vineyard!" "Belay the tall gab, now, Fox, and come in to supper!" Dad said to his reverend hired man when the shouting became too much to bear. "It's not in a nor'wester off Cape Harn you are now at all, and Our Lord can hear you aisy, even if he's as far away as from Skibbereen to Ballydehob!" "Right you are, my friend, "responded Fox, smiling benevolently. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Jesus talked to me this day in the vineyard, and told me I am saved from sin. Praise the Lord!" After supper, Fox sat in the ill-lighted kitchen and read his Testament. He read silently, but every five or ten minutes would burst out with "Yes, Jesus, that's so!" or "Thank you, Jesus! Thank you kindly, Lord!" One evening the evangelist made a bad error. Apropos of nothingat all, he remarked to the empty air, "The Roman Catholics! Poor, priest-ridden sheep!" Mother turned on him, her face flaming.
"You can't talk that way in this house!" she said. "We put up with your foolishness because we know you haven't good sense, but we won't permit you to speak disrespectfully of our religion or its priests. You'll have to get out of here and stay out the next time you say any such contemptible words. Do you understand?" "You can't hurt me. I'm dead to this world, "said Fox softly, into his whiskers. He talked religion no more in the house, and his nightly hymn-singing franchise was quietly canceled.
Dick Clark was one hundred pounds of human frustration and failure. Prison pallor marked him and prison fears and hatreds dogged his steps, when he went to work on our farm in the fall. He wasn't strong enough for regular field work, but he wanted little pay and he seemed thankful for shelter. He probably was hiding out.
He taught Van and me many things about the big and wicked world that lay beyond our snug horizon. He had been an attendant in the Kansas State Prison, he said. This gave him an opportunity to talk about the world of which he knew so much. He told of prison ways and traditions, of immoderate beatings with the cat, of solitary and bread-and-water, and many cruel tales that made us lie awake nights, afraid to sleep lest we dream of man's inhumane treatment of men.
Dick was about five feet, five inches in height. His age was something anybody might be mistaken about. He said he had been a soldier of the United States in the Philippine insurrection, and he may have been. He had chronic dysentery, and may have got it in the process of bringing perpetual peace and civilization to the Little Brown Brother.
He wore a slight blond mustache, and his slouch hat was usually pulled down over his pale blue eyes. He had a strange habit of looking over his left shoulder, even in the open fields.
Dick told us that he had been a confidence man, following streetfairs about the country. He showed us how to do the shell game, and learnedly discussed gold bricks and three-card monte. If only his health would improve he could still make a killing with the carneys, he said. But a man needed to be strong enough to take a beating once in a while, and Dick was afraid he had taken his last beating.
However, he was absent from work for three days after a Sunday in town. When he returned, he explained that he had been in a hospital. His face was swollen and his hands were so sore that he was not much good at farm work. He told Mother that he had been trampled by a runaway horse. But he told Van and me that he had been in a saloon fight.
"I seen a fella there that done me dirt two years ago, "said Dick. "Yes . . s . . sss. "His method of emphasis was a long-drawn affirmative, following an audible intake of breath through the front teeth.
"I come up behind 'im and hit 'im behind the ear with a bottle of beer. Yes . . s . . sss, I hit 'im all right, and when he went down I was right on top of him. I kicked 'im in the face and I jumped on 'im. Then I kicked 'im where it hurt most, until he didn't move no more. I fixed 'im, yes . . s . . sssl" "But how did you come to get hurt?" "Oh, I hurt my hands beatin' im, and a cop hit me across the face when I was just about through with my work." "But were you fighting fair with the fellow?" "Oh, no, I don't fight fair! I'm a little guy, and I ain't strong. It'd never do for me to fight fair. I just let 'im have it, and I don't give 'im any chance a-tall. "Poor Dick! He did not long survive his victory. He had to quit work after a week and enter a hospital. It seems that in jumping up and down on his friend he had opened up an old hernia and aggravated a heart lesion. He contracted blood poisoning in his skinned knuckles and erysipelas in the wounded face. He died "on the county" and was buried the same way.
. . . . storm approaching, with clouds . . . .
Trouble, long brewing, was beginning to boil.
The Old Man was drinking. When the girls were at home, he was tame enough. In John's presence he was sullenly silent. When the elder children were off the premises, the Boss raved, shouted, cursed the day he was born, drank whisky out of a gallon jug and wine through a siphon out of a barrel. He threw metal half-bushel measures at the horses, slammed the granary doors, called upon God to strike somebody dead; anybody would do, apparently. We were silent, huddling in the kitchen, parlor, or on a porch. Mother had her rosary. Seeing me pale and shaking, she assured me that Big Flurry would hurt nobody; he was just bluffing.
We heard fragments of the maledictions: "Half a pound of tay . . . Big Laird of a brother . . . Lave here! . . . Extravagant family . . . A fine bottom faarm, says she! I wisht I was in hell, and to hell I'll be going on a harse!" I bowed my head and repeated my favorite tribulation prayer: "0 Lord, remove not my help far from me; look towards my defence; save me from the lion's mouth, and my lowliness from the horns of the unicorns. "It was from the Palm Sunday Mass, and seemed to fit my circumstances, though I was not sure whether the Lord would understand that we had neither lion nor unicorn on the farm, but only Big Flurry, wild, roaring, raging like a tornado.
I explained this all to God in a whispered footnote, glancing furtively at Mother the while, and wondering whether she could weather just one more storm.
WHEN I was twelve years old I suffered an injury from which I never recovered. I was pumping water from an iron pitcher pump into the large tank from which the horses and cattle drank. This tank was about twelve feet long and four feet deep in the center, shaped like a half of a long tube that had been split down the middle.
I was not tall enough to stand on the ground and work the pump. I had to perch on the edge of the tank or on a neighboring fence and reach the handle however I might. One tired quickly, but had to continue pumping, for the cattle, horses and hogs had to have much water. The water was furnished to the hogs by dipping out of the tank and spilling into the v-shaped hog troughs in the next pen.
The tank extended from the main corral into a smaller pen, where fatting steers were sometimes kept. The fence was continued over the tank by means of a single two-by-four oak scantling, to discourage excited animals from trying to break through from one pen to the other by way of the tank.
I had General Washington with me that day. He was a large spool, on which black linen thread had come. Mother used much thread in her dressmaking, and the spools were almost the only toys that Van and I had had from early boyhood. We used them as soldiers, lining them up on a smooth floor and taking alternate shots by snapping the copper end of an empty shotgun cartridge back and forth. The one whose men went down first lost.
General Washington was always the leader of my men, no matter whether we were fighting the Revolution, the Civil War, or the Franco-Prussian War. Similarly, Van relied for leadership alto-gether upon his Parker, a noted veteran of the spool army. We were not playing the war games much any more, having largely outgrown that juvenile taste, but we took pride in the exploits of our respective generals. Van had once taken Parker to the Fair, and now was threatening to attach him to the balloon, so that he could make an ascension. He would arrange with the balloon man to retrieve Parker after the ascension.
I had caused General Washington to sleep all night in the top of a lonely elm in the woods, and had tied him to the horn of Old Red, an obstreperous cow, and compelled her to carry him about the woods and pasture for a whole day. But I was worried about Van's threat to break into national and celestial fields of adventure with his Parker.
Today I outfitted Washington with a small parachute, made of paper, a grocery-string harness, and a small lead weight. During an interlude in the tiresome business of pumping water, I climbed to the two-by-four scantling that passed over the tank. It was wet and slippery, and so were my bare feet. But I prepared to give Washington his first parachute descent. He was to make a heroic dive into the tank, which was now almost full of water.
I arranged the parachute and weight, held Washington aloft, and let go.
A foot slipped, and I fell headlong. The fall was only about five feet, and could have been managed a hundred times without injury. But, as Fate arranged it, I fell upon one of the up-jutting bolts of the tank. It struck directly above the heart, shattering a rib.
The first thing I knew was that I was in extreme pain, and could not breathe naturally. Breath came in short gasps, each one more painful than the last. Breathing caused the broken rib to stab into the tissues.
I got to my feet, squealing and gasping. I staggered and ran, falling frequently, up the hill from the corral, through the barnyard, and into the back yard of the house. About twenty feet from the porch I collapsed, unable to take another step.
Most of the family gathered about. I could not talk, but could onlysqueal and scream with pain. John came, and was much concerned. A quilt was brought, for I was now suffering chills, though it was a very hot day.
Dad, coming in from the field for a drink of water, stood over me and said, "What's the matther with this fellow, I don't know?" It was explained that I had somehow hurt myself while pumping. "Ah, "said the Old Man, "it's my fault. I should have built a platform there for him to stand on when he pumps. He slipped on the edge of the tank, av coorse. Oh, wurra, wurra, God help us!" There was some talk of getting a doctor, but the project was dropped. We owed Doctor Fordyce so much money that Mother and John were ashamed to ask him to come to the farm again until he should be paid, in part at least.
Anyway, it was three years before I had any medical attention as a result of the accident. Meantime, after months of invalidism and most of two winters out of school, I had developed serious heart trouble, and frequently fainted.
Then Mother took me to an osteopath who had been recommended by friends. He said that the fractured rib had healed badly, forming a very large callus, which could be felt with the fingertips.
The osteopath said that the callus was pressing upon the aorta, impeding the circulation, interfering with the work of the heart, and causing pain. He said that I was suffering from anemia. He recommended beefsteak and iron. He gave me osteopathic treatments. By putting one knee in my back and pulling my shoulders toward him, he tried to spring the ribs outward, so as to relieve the pressure on the aorta.
Whether any of this work was of therapeutic value, I did not know then and do not know now. I seemed to gain somewhat in strength during the year or more occupied by the treatments, but I was still far from well.
The heart misbehaved badly, and grew worse from month to month. It raced, took my breath away, and sometimes seemed to run down, like a worn-out watch. On one of the occasions of almostcomplete failure of the heart, I was sitting beside the kitchen range, feet on the oven door, feeling that death was approaching. Yet I could not describe my feelings to the family. My appearance must have caused some alarm, for Mother and the girls were watching me, wanting to do something for me.
Suddenly, without pain, strength seemed to go out of me with each breath, and with each breath I let out a despairing wail, though not because of any pain. The wail seemed to be squeezed out of me without my willing to make any sound.
Dad, who was sleeping in the small bedroom off the kitchen, arose, stood by the range, looking at me strangely. "What's the matther with this fellow now?" he asked, in as kindly a way as he could command.
"I think he's having a congestive chill, "Mother replied. She was rushing remedial measures, putting my feet in a pan of hot water, wrapping blankets around me. My body was turning cold.
And then I died. Suddenly, all my pains and troubles were over, and I entered upon an existence that was timeless, restful and oblivious of any previous existence. I was like what a new-born infant might be if he had no pain and no unhappiness or discomfort.
How long I was in this state I do not know. The people about me believed me dead, but hastened to attempt resuscitation as a desperate gesture.
Somebody was pouring whisky into my mouth. The sting of it brought me back. Slowly and reluctantly I came away from the state of well-being into which I had drifted so happily. As my eyes regained sight, I saw a strange world, and as my ears regained their functions I heard voices that had a distantly reminiscent sound. Once, long ago, I had heard these voices. Where was that, and must I go back there again? I closed my eyes and hoped that I might return to that other world, memory of which was already fading. I tried to cling to it, as one might strive to return to a happy dream.
The voices were getting clearer now. Opening my eyes, I saw the bright nickel-work of the range, and read the words "Quick Meal" in front of me. I smiled wanly as I remembered that we had once had a stove like that.
There was much stirring and excitement around me. Someone was rubbing my hands, and saying, "He's coming back! See, he smiles!" I sat there, exhausted, unwilling to talk. I was thinking, cherishing a memory of happiness of which I dared not speak, because nobody would understand.
Since that hour I have often been close to death, but I have never feared it. Scientifically speaking, of course, I did not die, for, scientifically speaking, one does not die and live again in this world. But I have been where space and time and trouble are not, and I have no fear of death.
After this incident, Mother consulted two medical doctors about my case. Dr. Fordyce merely prescribed a tonic, and said that nothing could be done for the heart condition. He warned Mother, in a low voice, just loud enough for me to hear and understand, that I could not live many weeks.
The other doctor made no bones about the situation at all. He was slightly intoxicated at the time, and did not even try to lower his voice when he said that I couldn't live three months. He prescribed digitalis, which nearly finished me off in one day. I threw the remainder of the medicine away.
While I spent much time in bed, and suffered with the heart when I walked about, I nevertheless determined to have it over with by means of some sort of activity. I became accustomed to the loud pounding of the heart, and walked about in spite of it.
After some months, I was able to do odd jobs about the house and yard. But I had to spend many days in bed.
Once, while I was lying in bed, meditating upon the possibility that I would never be well enough to go back to school, Mother returned from a trip to town. She had seen the doctor and talked about my case. She kept her voice low as she said to Margaret, "We'll have to get to work right away with housecleaning. Thedoctor says he will die any day now, and we'll have to have things clean for the funeral. "All of this seemed weighty evidence, but I was convinced in my own mind that I was going to live to grow up. When I had bad days, and especially when acute attacks of heart trouble were upon me, I believed the doctors. I was going to die immediately. I was not at all reluctant to go, but I had a tremendous conviction of sin, and I wanted to be in a state of grace when the time came. This was not an easy objective to accomplish, since the attacks came suddenly, and often when I was fighting with Van. I thought there was a strong probability that if I went out while fighting my brother I might be tossed peremptorily into hell, without being given a chance to explain that Van had started the fight.
Most depressing was the realization that I was being accepted as a permanent invalid, when weeks passed and I did not die. I had no place in the affairs of the little world in which I lived a half-sick-half-well existence. Nobody even told me to go out and bring in some firewood any more. I tried to make my way in the world by bringing in wood and water without being asked to do so, but these seemed futile ways of earning my bread, even when they did not result in heart attacks.
My family was not geared to the business of housing and taking care of an invalid. So firmly established was the law that one must work in order to eat that I subconsciously felt that I was not worthy of the food I ate. My appetite, formerly whetted by outdoor work, failed. I ate little, and what I ate was not the most nourishing of foods.
While I was going to the osteopath twice a week, I did most of the household errands in town. I got the groceries, took shoes to be mended, and performed special missions.
But it was depressing and humiliating to me to be doing these casual and unimportant chores while boys of my age everywhere were in school or at work. An out-of-the-world psychology began to possess me. I looked apologetically at boys and men, because I was an odd stick, a cripple, one who was not earning his keep. Iavoided meeting boys of my own age. I did not even look at the girls of my own age whom I met in church or on the streets. I suspected that they were looking curiously at me and saying, "I wonder why that fellow isn't at some useful work. "I was not consulted when any farm or family plans or projects were under discussion. What could I know or contribute to the discussion? Since I was not taking on any share of the work or responsibility involved, what right had I to offer an opinion?
I was extremely sensitive about this situation. The psychological quirk that it engendered was destined to remain through life. It had two permanent effects. One was to make me unduly suspicious about real or fancied planning or plotting against my interest, in business, professionally, or in matters of everyday living. Carried outside my own personal affairs, it made me suspicious of politicians and public servants. In editorial work, this distrust of the public man served well, for the public men often proved to be altogether worthy of the suspicion. I caught and pilloried many of them, in situations that a less suspicious editor never would have gone into at all.
The other result was to make of me an independent worker, rather than an organization man. No matter what kind of an organization I was working in, I have always been doing my best work independent of any direction or control.
When I felt at all strong, I went outdoors and did some kind of work that I could do on my own, without orders. I got a hoe, filed it carefully, and went to work on weeds. I was beginning to lean to the right habitually, to ease the soreness and pain in the cardiac region. I could lean to the right and hoe. Not fast and hard, as a real farm hand should, but enough to make a little showing.
I did not want anybody watching me, because I worked so slowly; but I took pains to do my job well.
I picked potato bugs in summer, and found this a job that could be done at a slow pace. The very hot days would send my heart on a pounding rampage, and I would have to lie down under a tree. I hated to be discovered thus, lest I be thought a common loafer.
But most of all I worried because I was missing school. I missedtwo entire terms, and when I returned for short intervals of school I found myself away behind boys and girls of my own age. When I tried to take up where I had left off, there were great blank spaces.
Mostly, the teachers were unsympathetic and unhelpful, when not downright hostile.
I had developed a reading habit, and, during my long months of inactivity, I had managed to do an unbelievable amount of reading. I was, therefore, away ahead of any pupil and most of the teachers in general information and literary knowledge. I spoke with an academic correctness that was looked upon as putting on airs. But I did not know what nine times nine was, and I could not do a simple problem in long division.
. . . . storm still . . . .
Big Flurry's lack of respect for the Right Reverend Ordinary of our diocese was a source of domestic disturbance. Dad attributed his defection from the True Church to Bishop Hennessy's inordinate vanity, as well as to his enormous paunch and purple countenance, which the Irish farmer quite naturally assumed were evidences of high living, laziness, and too much red wine. John and Mother maintained that the Bishop was a holy man, and dyspepsia, caused by much fasting and long vigils before sacred shrines, had caused, in turn, the bloating and distended capillaries.
Dad loudly praised St. Kieran, who was one of the notable O'Driscolls of early history, a bishop in Ireland before St. Patrick could button his suspenders, the head of our house declared. This saintly man went about his diocese with all his vestments in a bundle over his shoulder, and a blackthorn stick in place of the immense jeweled gold staff so officiously displayed by Hennessy, a former section hand.
"When Jazus puts him back on a handcar, I'll go to Mass, "said Flurry. Van and I secretly agreed with Dad about the clergyman's pomp and circumstance, as did many members of the congregation.
We were edified by an insane farmer with a white whisker, variously called Mulligan, Milligan and Monohan, who sat far forward, near the Bishop's scarlet throne, and often prayed aloud. When the holy pastor of our souls turned his rotund façade toward us to give his blessing at the close of High Mass, the bewhiskered lunatic spread wide his arms and chanted, "0 God, bless our big-bellied Bishop!" Van and I used to imitate Mulligan when we were far from the house, but Mother warned us that to laugh at an insane man was to invite lunacy into our own home.
Meanwhile, the Old Man raged and stormed, and we all prayed to excess.
WORRY AS to whether we were to get an education was a common affliction of Van and me, long before and after my injury. Neither of us had any desire to stay on the farm all our lives.
Van was sure that he was neither physically nor temperamentally fitted for an agricultural career. He was high-strung and nervous. His eyes were bad. He had granulated eyelids and inflamed eyes, and the whole situation was generally summed up in the statement that he had weak eyes. I suspect some early illness, such as measles, may have had something to do with this trouble.
When he was about ten years old, Van showed talent for drawing. And at about that time he developed an abscess in the gland behind the right knee. It was alleged that this resulted from his having kicked at a calf and missed, in the corral. When he and I were fighting, during his affliction resulting from the abscess, I always played up the calf, and told Van that it was a punishment from God, richly earned by his tendency to kick dumb animals.
Doctor Fordyce came to the farm and lanced the abscess when the pain became unbearable. But healing was slow, and for along time it was feared that Van would have a stiff leg, or a leg drawn up somewhat. I believe some such condition would have resulted had it not been for the boy's persistence in exercising the painful leg and forcing the muscles into a correct position.
For a while, Van planned a career with a crooked leg. He was much interested in Bill Nye, the newspaper humorist, whose writings were among the first in the world to be syndicated. The Sunday Eagle carried Nye's humorous column, with two illustrations. These were ridiculous caricatures of Nye, sent out to the newspapers in metal, since the mats which have made widespread syndicatingpossible were not yet invented. Each caricature of Nye showed and emphasized a crooked leg which, I believe, was a real affliction. Van hit upon the idea of writing funny paragraphs and vest-pocket funny essays for the newspapers. He wrote out a good many samples, illustrating each column with a self-caricature, emphasizing a crooked or stiff leg. He lost interest in the journalistic career when his leg straightened out and it became evident that he was going to have a stronger-than-average body, according to all indications.
But the writing bug stayed with Van for several years. When he turned away from journalism, he took up historical writing. He bought a number of nickel pencil tablets and started writing "Driscoll's History of the United States. "There were half a dozen school histories that had been used by older members of the family, scattered about the house. Van got Mother to buy him a Children's History of the United States for one Christmas, and an adult Redpath next Christmas.
He read all of these assiduously, digested them, and proceeded to write his own history. I made fun of him for imagining that he could write a history. Indeed, it was a point in our code of conduct that each of us should ridicule any undertaking of the other.
Obviously, his history could be no more than a juvenile compilation from the pages of the histories he had read and studied. But that was better than no history at all, and it did something for its author and sole reader. As a result of that seemingly impossible job, Van achieved a knowledge and understanding of this country's history which served him many a good turn in life. He learned the Constitution inside out, and the story of its making. As a lawyer, he profited from that knowledge often and continuously.
At another time, Van decided to become an engineer. To this end he studied arithmetic, a subject he hated, until he was a top-notch student in it. He went in for algebra, figured his lone way through two high-school texts, and got started on geometry.
Something dissuaded the youngster from the engineering career and caused him to take a go at law. I think he had figured out thatschooling in engineering was almost sure to be beyond his reach, while he could read enough law to pass a bar examination.
John's business college textbook in commercial law was the only printed matter available for his career, and Van ate it up. Meantime, I was going in for general reading.
When we had few books in the house, I read all of them, spending most of my time on the Bible. It seemed to me to contain a store of wisdom that it would take a lifetime to digest. The sonorous language of the Psalms and the prophets, the wise sayings of Solomon, and, above all, the letters of St. Paul, shot through with mysticism and lofty thought, held me spellbound.
After we had read almost everything in print that our small store of books contained, Van and I schemed to get cash of our own to buy more books. Both of us had wandered about the Rock Island Book exchange, where the bookish proprietor had been considerate of our obvious curiosity about this treasure cave of books.
Walt Dunlap, the bewhiskered woodsman, became a junk man in season. He had an old horse that was almost ready to pile, piece by piece, into the rickety junk wagon to which it was hitched. Walt sat on the high seat and drove up and down the Valley, collecting bones, old iron, and other bits of scrap from farms.
Junk was recognized as being strictly in a boys' field. Throughout the year, Van and I collected it and piled it behind the chicken coop. Sometimes Old Walt would come around twice during the year. He encouraged us to collect junk for him by paying well, and, I am sure, honestly.
Bones were not difficult to find. Buffalo had died in the woods and open spaces along the river for centuries, and many had died there only a few years before Big Flurry came out of the east to start his farming. We found plenty of buffalo bones, easily recognizable by the great skulls and blunt, short horns.
When cattle and horses died on our farm, there was never any attempt made to bury them. If one died in the corrals, yards or stable, a team of horses was hitched to the carcass and it was hauled to some remote part of the woods. There Nature, coyotes and buzzards hadtheir way, and within three months there was another whole load of bones for Old Walt.
In our early junk collecting, we did not have the use of a team and wagon. But when books were to be bought and we knew just where those books were to be had, lack of horses did not deter us. We took a length of small rope or baling wire with us whenever we went to the woods. We tied on as many bones as we could drag, and hauled them home by as simple a system of transportation as ever was devised.
If the junk money were a large sum, such as three or four dollars, we would not expect to be permitted to spend all of it for books. We had to invest most of it in school supplies or even shoes. But small amounts could be counted upon, and the secondhand books at the Rock Island were inexpensive. Those long-dead monarchs of the plains who left their bones in our woods did noble service in the cause of learning.
Another source of books was coffee. We used a great deal of coffee at our house, and for many years bought only two brands, Lion, distributed by Woolson Spice Company, Chicago, and Arbuckle Brothers' Ariosa Brand.
Both coffees came in one-pound sacks of heavy paper, which were highly decorated in colors. We cut the lion heads from Mr. Woolson's coffee sacks and the Arbuckle signature from the others. Each company put out a list of premiums given in exchange for these trademarks, and they did not accept a reasonable facsimile thereof. We were interested in the books offered, but in nothing else.
For coffee trademarks we got "The Pathfinder" and "The Last of the Mohicans, "and thus started upon an orgy of James Fenimore Cooper that, with me, lasted for years. We also got "Robinson Crusoe, "and thereafter haunted the islands of the Arkansas River, imagining perfect solitude and remoteness from humanity, and finding all kinds of footprints in the sand.
Two incidents ended the dearth of reading matter at our house. The first of these was the affair of Good Literature. This was a giveaway magazine, of no earthly value, published by F. M. LuptonPublishing Company, New York. It was filled with trashy fiction and trashier advertisements. Nothing even remotely good in literature ever was found in its pages.
But there appeared one day in Good Literature one of the greatest advertisements of all time. It announced the most sensational book bargain ever offered to any public.
The Lupton company advertised that it had on hand a great quantity of books, including some of the finest titles in print, and that these would be given in extravagant quantities to those who would subscribe for Good Literature at the customary rate of four dollars a year.
The list was truly amazing. It was specified that the books were all paper bound. The prices ranged from five cents to twenty-five cents per book. Most of the titles were a dime, only such thickies as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" going at the high price of a quarter.
Now, you could not pay for these books. But you could send the four dollars, and you would get the magazine for a year, together with books chosen from this list, to the extent of eight dollars' worth at the list prices.
I spent a delirious week making up my list. I talked so much about it that Van, in an envious rage, made fun of my pronunciation of the name of the firm and of my ambition to soak myself in thrillers and dime novels. Van was in one of his studious periods then, and did not try to keep up with me in the pursuit of beautiful letters.
When the package arrived, I went into an ecstasy. Now I knew that life was good, and that I was about to enter into the realm of the blest who have all the reading matter they can consume.
The five-cent books had no covers and were printed in double-column format on newsprint in sheets about four times the size of an ordinary book page. They were stapled in the center. The dime books bore green covers, and were stapled also, but were about the dimensions of ordinary books, except in thickness. They were on newsprint too, and in small type. The quarter books, of which I selected only two, were thicker, with pages assembled as in a real book. A strip was pasted along the backbone.
I believed the price averaged about ten cents each, which would mean that I had from sixty to eighty books. Some few were not very good reading matter, but the average was as high as you would find in a school library. Of course, the books were printed from old and worn plates, and Mr. Lupton was not paying any royalties on them. In some cases copyrights had expired. In other cases the books were of foreign authorship and pirated, or not properly protected by American copyright.
Among the nickel books were "The Misadventures of John Nicholson, "by Robert Louis Stevenson. This was the first edition of this book published in America, and was pirated. Twenty years later A. S. Rosenbach, a New York collector, got $2, 000 for a copy of it, in this same edition.
"Treasure Island" was among these treasures, too. The reading of it set me off on a pirate hobby that has been a very present help to this day. Long before reading "Treasure Island" I had decided to make my living by writing. At the age of seven I had been well laughed at by a group of boys for declaring this intention, although it did not seem funny that one of them was to be a lawyer, another a whale-harpooner, a third a zoo-keeper, and the fourth was going to travel the world, driving the band wagon for a circus. Somehow, there has always been something absurd in anybody's declaring that he is going to make a living by sitting on a chair and writing stories, books, poetry, or even editorials.
When I finished the third reading of "Treasure Island, "I decided that I, too, would write stories of pirates and hidden treasure. So, I did. By the time I was fifty I had written more words about the subject than anyone else has ever written. I had traveled to almost every place where rumor told me of a hidden or sunken treasure, and had written several books on treasure and pirates. Also, I had collected the largest library on these romantic subjects in the world.
I still consider that the price of "Treasure Island" was well spent, even though a good many buffalo bones, hauled miles at the end of a rope, may have gone into the making of the dime.
There were six A. Conan Doyle books in the stack, including "AStudy in Scarlet, "and two books by Jules Verne. Hawthorne, Dickens, Emerson, Thoreau, the Bronte sisters, Sir Walter Scott, and Miss Mulock were among the other authors represented.
It was true that I often neglected farm work for reading. One winter, when I was well enough to go to school, I was kept at home to herd cattle on the cornstalks in a large field that was not fenced for cattle. It was a severe winter, and I was cold, mounted upon skinny Old Roan, wrapped in two overcoats and wearing a woman's knitted fascinator around my head to keep my ears from freezing.
I was restless about remaining out of school for this kind of work, while the other boys and girls continued to outstrip me in the schoolbooks. But I had any consolation always under my coat.
Each morning, before saddling the horse, I slipped one of the Lupton paper-covered books under an outer garment, and when I reached my post of duty I brought it forth. With Roan's rump to the north, under a windbreak of mulberry trees, I read on and on, page after page.
Having finished a leaf, I tore it out and let the strong north wind carry it across the field. Thus I avoided the detection that might come if I were to return to the house with the book. Each day, with any kind of luck, I could complete the reading of one book. When I unsaddled my horse that night, the book was gone, but only from my coat. It had been copied in my head, and the winds could have their way with the cheap, flimsy pages of it.
During this period of unwilling cowboy service, the cattle often got away. I would look up from a particularly interesting chapter to discover that every pesky head of them had disappeared. Riding along the patchwork hedge fence that separated our field from Steve Balch's, I would see our cattle greedily devouring Balch's ungrazed field. It might take an hour, with the help of two dogs, to round them up and get them back where they belonged.
Fortunately, Steve Balch was a most forbearing neighbor. He never made complaint about our cattle or the damage they did to his fields. So I was considered such a good free hand at the cowboy business that I did not get back to school that winter, except forfour weeks. I spent those weeks reading, as usual, and paying no attention to the curriculum, if there was any.
Another incident that forwarded immeasurably my literary ambitions took place during these years of yearning after Pegasus.
I spent a night and part of two days as the guest of my friends, Joe and Donald Fordyce, sons of our family physician, in their impressive home on North Lawrence Avenue, in The City. It was the first night I had ever spent away from home.
Disease and the Fordyce kids, as we always called them, descended upon our farm home at frequent and irregular intervals. In the case of the former, we sent for Doctor Fordyce. In the case of the latter, we boys were happy. I was happier than Van. Joe Fordyce was about my age, and Don was in Van's age group, as the bureau sociologists of a much later date would express it. Joe and I got along much better than did Van and Don. This was partly due to the fact that Don was hard of hearing, and often continued talking when Van thought he should have the floor.
Sometimes the boys came out with the Doctor when he came to see a patient at our house. In such cases, unless the boys were in school, both brothers usually stayed for an indeterminate period. We never had cash to pay the Doctor, and rarely were able to pay his total bill up to date. About once a year he wrote a friendly letter, offering to cut the amount owed by half if we could send the balance within a reasonable time. In such cases, we usually delivered several bushels of potatoes, baskets of apples or peaches, or a barrel of apple cider, to the Doctor's mansion, on account. During the healthy periods of the family we also supplied the Doctor's large household with butter, eggs, and such other items as seemed appropriate.
Of course, no account was rendered for the board and lodging of the Fordyce kids. Their entertainment was on a purely social basis, and I, for one, felt that for every day the kids stayed on our farm, we were really further into debt to the Fordyce family. We boys had no other townie friends except John Whaley, who lacked some of the cultural assets of the carefully reared Fordyces, even though John was a Catholic and the Doctor's boys were Presbyterians.
Yet I have no doubt that the good Doctor, who loved all of us, was constrained to make some such entry as this in his books, about once a year: "Charge balance of Driscoll account to recreation, education, board and lodging of Donald and Joe. "Once or twice, Dad tried to make some agricultural use of the Fordyce kids. They were willing and strong, but they were not agricultural. Joe often went into some farm chores with zest, and enjoyed the learning of a new craft. Donald was interested only if some animal were involved in the job, preferably a snake or a rather unusual amphibian. On the whole, the effort to salvage a bit of farm labor out of the boys was a failure.
Not only so, but it was quite obvious that Van and I were of limited industrial value while the Fordyces were our guests. We spent as much time as possible in the woods. We contributed nothing to the wealth of the plantation.
Van was so much more mature than the rest of us that he could hardly fit into the frame. Van was a man of the world, although he had not had an opportunity to get into the world. He wanted to be doing a man's work while we others were merely playing. He had some of his dad's prejudice against play.
Still, Van wanted to be sociable. One day the Fordyce kids came to visit us while the rest of the family was on a trip to town. Van, wishing to please and willing to justify himself in the eyes of these playboys, got out a sharp ax and chopped down an apple tree.
It was an old tree, and of no importance. So far as anybody knew, it had never borne an apple. It was a unit in an old orchard that Dad had planted when he knew nothing of farming. He had selected the best-looking specimens from an agent's catalog, and as the Old Man was not especially interested in sex life among apple trees, he paid no attention to getting males and females close enough together to provide for pollination. In fact, if an agent had started talking about any such fancy ideas at our house in those days, he undoubtedly would have got the boot where it would have been most effectual.
So this apple tree was a lonely bachelor, and there had been no fruit. Van had a fine time cutting it down. The Fordyce kids should seethat he was now a serious farmer and woodsman. He partook of some of their interests, to be sure, but he had work to do. We watched with suspense and dramatic interest as the thin, wiry, nervous youth laid the sharp ax to the soft, fragrant green wood. We stood as spectators at a hanging when we saw the old tree topple to the ground.
When the tree was down, Van lost interest in it. He liked the drama of the crashing tree, but he did not care for the uninteresting job of cleaning up, trimming off the limbs, disposing of the brush, and chopping the wood-into firewood. He went off to some other pressing duties.
We three boys were impressed, but I said, "Wait till John sees what you've done!" John and Mother came home from town at sunset. There was an atmosphere of doom about the barnyard.
Mother said, "Glory and honor be to the Almighty and Merciful God, what devil possessed whoever chopped down that fine tree?" Van said, "I chopped it down. It was in the way here, and never was any good. We need this space for haystacks. "He was right, too. John arched his eyebrows, looked at the fallen tree, and then gazed into the sky.
"God makes apple trees, "he said, "and fools cut them down. "Van was frustrated, angered, and excited. He nearly got me when I remarked, "He was only trying to show off to the Fordyce kids. "Thereafter, any tendency of anybody to show off before strangers was known in our family as chopping down apple trees.
It was some time before the incident of the apple tree that I was the guest of the Fordyces in their impressive home on North Lawrence Avenue. The house was really an architectural monstrosity, one of two built exactly alike by some wall-eyed, boom-crazed investor, back in the late eighties. The basement, built entirely above ground, was of stone, and was the highest section of the house. Upon this square foundation, extending a full story into the air, sat the square frame house, of two and a half stories. The front entrancewas reached by a steep wooden stairway, beginning near the sidewalk line.
The very quaintness of the place made it a house of mystery. I had often viewed it from the outside and pictured the good doctor, mixing miraculous medicines and concocting baleful distillates in its enchanted interior.
The occasion of my visit was the first street fair and carnival ever held in Wichita. I was invited to be the guest of the boys, who would show me the street fair. I stayed two nights and a whole day. It was the first time I had ever been away from home overnight.
On the very first afternoon I went with Joe to the fair. I had brought from home the quarter to pay my admission, but Joe would not permit such expenditure.
A handsome arch, finished with stucco, had been erected across Main Street, beside the City Hall. It had towering pinnacles, stout bastions, flags flying, and electric patterns that kept spinning like pinwheels. Two blocks of street and sidewalk constituted the Midway behind the arch, and on both sides of this street some two blocks of vacant lots had been fenced in for carnival attractions. The big free stunts were the Electric Fountain, which showed at certain intervals, and Daredevil Kilpatrick, the one-legged wonder, who drove a red horseless carriage down a steep incline, jumping it across an open space near the ground.
Never has enjoyment of entertainment reached for me such heights as it did that evening at the street fair. This was a wonderland, full of marvels that were being enjoyed by countless thousands of carefree, happy people. Many years later, as I plodded through the garish whoop-la of the World's Fairs at San Francisco and New York, and saw other thousands similarly plodding and critically appraising, I looked back upon that starry night with Joe Fordyce at the carnival, and wondered why the amusement geniuses of the world could no longer devise such magic.
The great fun was in throwing confetti at the girls and bouncing little rubber balls on rubber strings at them. There were acres ofgirls, and they didn't mind a bit. They giggled and ran and puffed, and it was thrilling to see them loosen their blouses around the neck and shake out the accumulations of confetti. I had not supposed that girls could be so much fun. Nor had I realized that girls were so pretty and so charming.
That night I was more tired than I had ever been after hoeing in the field all day in a hot sun. Even digging potatoes did not bring on the same kind of beautiful weariness.
There had been a wonderful supper in the big dining room, with all the family present, before we went down for the evening session of the Fair and a view of the Electric Fountain with the beautiful live lady, almost naked, dancing behind the many-hued sprays of water.
Dr. Fordyce, whom I had known from babyhood as a grave and wise physician, here appeared as the benevolent head of a large household, carving, talking, and promoting discussion. The family was slightly embarrassed by the circumstance that Father was a bit tight this evening. I rejoiced in the fact that the Doctor talked incessantly and entertainingly, and even put on a demonstration of the hypnotic stare. He had been taking up hypnotism as a hobby, of late. He gave me a sample of the hypnotic stare, in which his fine brown eyes seemed to pop out of his head, and asked that I submit to a little hypnotic treatment presently.
"No, thank you, Dr. Fordyce, "said I. "Mother says I'm not to be hypnotized. "Indeed, Mother had warned me that the Doctor might try to hypnotize me, in case he had had an extra glass of wine. The Doctor now brought many arguments to bear, chief among which was the obvious statement that he certainly would not willingly do me any harm. I was firm in refusal, which seemed to relieve the family greatly.
Then had come the night visit to the Fair, terrific crushes, and all that fun with the happy girls.
I was given a great bed with feather mattress and down quilts, and slept as I had never before slept.
Next forenoon, after visiting Donald's laboratory in the attic, where the elder son was experimenting with all manner of strange chemicals and insects, Joe and I made a call at "Papa's Office. "Dr. Fordyce and Dr. Van Nuys, both middle-aged and bewhiskered, occupied a noble suite of rooms, up one flight, in a four-story skyscraper known as the Getto Block.
The Doctor, after polite conversation with me about the wonders of the city, called Joe into private consultation. Then Joe announced that we were going to the City Library. I was altogether in favor of such an expedition.
The correct title of the institution was Wichita Public School Library. It was a modest beginning which, with the help of Andrew Carnegie, was destined, some years later, to blossom into a real public library. At this time it occupied cramped quarters under the slate roof of the awkward imitation of a French castle known as City Hall. It was designed to cater chiefly to the needs of Wichita public school pupils. Country pupils in the vicinity were permitted to take out books upon payment of a fee of one dollar a year. I had never hoped to achieve the standing of ticket-holder, but I had read some books borrowed by friends of mine from this library.
As soon as we reached the library, Joe said he had some business to transact at the desk. I walked about among the shelves, getting a strange thrill out of the very sight of the name Jules Verne, on the backbones of a group of books which I discovered. Lucky town kids! They could read all of Verne! I could not imagine why the town kids, collectively, permitted such books to remain on the shelves, even overnight.
Joe sought me out in my ecstasy, behind the stacks, and proudly handed me a card, extending to me all the privileges of the library for one year.
I must have turned several colors as I stuttered out my amazement. "It's all right, "said Joe. "Papa gave me the dollar and told me to buy it for you. It's a present. "Joe showed me how to draw a book, and warned me that you could take only one at a time, keep it no longer than two weeks, and that there was a fine of two cents a day for overtime. I said there would be no danger of overtime.
I drew at once Jules Verne's "The Mysterious Island, "and asked if we might go back to the house and read. I read the book that day, and was desolated to learn that you might not borrow two books in one day. We took a short walk, talking over the wonders of cities and islands, and then Mother called for me. I went home from the most exciting experience of my life, starry-eyed, full of ideas and ambitions. Next day I walked to town and exchanged that book for "Off On a Comet, "by the same author.
During that year of unrestricted library reading, I covered a lot of ground. Winter and summer, I found that the house was not a good place for reading in daytime. One got in the way of the womenfolk as they went about their household duties. One was constantly being told to go out and fill the woodbox, fill the reservoir, pick up some chips, split some wood, or otherwise keep busy.
I found refuge in the chicken coop. It was no longer used by the chickens, but contained an immense quantity of kindling wood which I had chopped and broken up late in the summer. A quarter mile of pine picket fence that had served its time, together with tons of other wreckage, had been hauled to the yard and dumped. Remembering the difficulties in starting fires during the previous winter, I began cracking up this old, dry wood, and tossing the short pieces, thus produced, into the chicken coop. Eventually, I had the little building full. It was a single room, probably twelve by fifteen by fifteen feet. There was no trouble about dry kindling that winter.
I had left a small space, next to the roof. This was now my daily retreat for reading. As kindling was used from the supply, my nest near the roof became roomier, but at the worst I had room to crouch on the sticks, placing my book near the hole in the roof where once a chimney had emerged, and read, so long as there was daylight.
Sometimes I would hear myself called from houseward, for some chore that needed doing. By prying off two roof boards near therear, so carefully that they could be laid back into their proper position without difficulty, I arranged to jump to the ground at the rear of the coop and come walking up the path as though I had just come from watering the hogs or doing some other useful barnyard task.
Not until the kindling and the winter were almost gone did Van discover my informal study. By that time I was perching on two chicken roosts, near the roof of the coop, so as to be comfortable and out of sight of casual passers.
"So this is where you've been idling away your time all these months, "said Van. I confessed that I had got a lot of reading done here. All of G. A. Henty, Verne, Bulwer-Lytton, Cooper, and such of Irving's works as I had not read on Margaret's library card, a year or two previously.
Van did not have the heart to report me for my dereliction. In fact, I strongly suspected that he had had some sort of secret retreat for some months, too, since he had been making remarkable progress in mathematics, and had committed John's "Commercial Law" almost to memory. In any case, he seemed highly amused that I had chosen to take such awkward postures for reading, especially on cold days, when there were chairs and tables in the house. But we did not discuss the matter much. I believe there was a mutual understanding.
We used to talk together about this all-important matter of education. This became much more important to me after my injury, for then I knew that I could never make a living as a farmer. Said I to Van, "It's now nearly Christmas, and I'm supposed to stay out of school until all the corn in the east forty is husked out of the shock. "Well, that's punishment because you sassed Mother." "All right, there'll always be punishments and anything I say will be sass, as long as there's work to be done. "Van, arguing against his own beliefs and desires, nevertheless felt it necessary to uphold authority.
"What do you want them to do, let the corn rot in the shock?" "Yes, as far as I'm concerned. Twenty years from now, when I goto a boss in town and ask for a job, and he says he can't hire me because I'm not educated, do you suppose it'll do me any good to tell him that the corn might have rotted if I'd gone to school?" At about this stage of the conversation, Van would begin a harangue on the same subject, and it would make mine pale. He pointed out that he was three years older than I, and therefore three years more retarded in the matter of education. He pointed to the town kids who were already in prep school, and asked what kind of chance he was going to have to catch up with them if ever he did get to go to school.
One of our educational substitutes was scrapbook making. Van and I started even in this enterprise, collecting materials on a 50-50 basis, and competing in style and makeup of scrapbooks. During the winters I was out of school on account of my injury, I worked at scrapbooking when I was able, and thus surpassed Van's efforts.
My first scrapbook, which I still have, permanently bound, in my library, is about the political campaign of 'Ninety-six, when Bryan and Sewall, on a Free Silver platform, ran against McKinley and Hobart. The latter part of it and the entire second scrapbook are about the Spanish-American war.
We used tailors' sample books for scrapbooks. These were enormous books, sometimes more than an ailing boy could lift. We got them at tailor shops where we were acquainted, free. Where we were not known, we paid a dollar for the book.
Each book was full of square samples of suitings and overcoatings for men. When these were torn out, the book was ideal for scrapbook purposes, as the strong binding had been built to allow room for the samples, now replaced by scraps.
Mother and the girls made quilts of the woolen samples. They were the heaviest quilts I've ever seen, and warm, too. Hundreds of size-matched samples of woolen suitings furnished the top surface. Some sort of smooth cotton fabric was used for the under side, and between the two surfaces was a half inch of cotton batts. Top was tied to bottom with some hundreds of woolen, yarn ties. Upon these tailor-sample quilts we depended for protection from severe winterweather, and were not disappointed. The cold from which we suffered in bed in winter came up from below. We used straw-filled ticks on the bedsprings. There was only one store mattress in the house during my boyhood, and it was on Mother's bed. It was just a little bit better than the straw ticks the rest of us used.
When the samples had been torn out of the books and we had gone through each book carefully with a putty knife, scraping away the last remnant of glue that had held the samples in place, we were ready to start work on a new scrapbook.
What to paste into the book? Chiefly, of course, newspaper clippings. We boys had a considerable sense of the historical importance of our times. We believed that Bryan would become one of the great figures of history, and might even lead a revolution which would be greater and more important than the one set off by Paul Revere. In our eyes, the Boston silversmith was the real American Revolution, and Bryan might well lead the farmers in a similarly significant revolt against the money lords and boodlers of the wicked East.
We had no mail delivery at that time, and the Weekly Kansas City Star, at a quarter a year, was the only newspaper for which we subscribed.
However, we had friends. The Faheys, who attended our church and operated a prosperous saloon, had come from Back East. East St. Louis, Ill. , to be specific. They subscribed for the St. Louis Republic and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and for the New York World. When they learned that the two young boys in the Driscoll family were fiends for reading and clipping newspapers, they sent armfuls of newspapers to us. When the girls were in town, they usually stopped at the Fahey home, a quiet, domestic place among maple trees, at the corner of Kellogg Street and Ida Avenue. We boys were guests at dinner there, along with the rest of the family, once or twice. The family noted with interest how we devoured the St. Louis and New York newspapers. Being understanding folk, and sympathetic, they began sending out bundles of newspapers.
Our first insight into the tragedy of abundance came with the realization that many of the valuable newspapers from Back Easthad not even been removed from their wrappers before being included in the bundles sent to us. It was a shock to us to realize that there were people in the world who had so much and lived so fully that they could receive a newspaper in the mail and not even open it. Only recently we had heard that Johnny Mahan suffered from chronic indigestion from overeating, and that he sometimes had to have his stomach pumped out after a banquet. I looked with incredulous horror into our little window which thus gave us glimpses of a world where people had too much.
But the newspapers were welcome, regardless of their age. In the New York World, then in its flowering of yellow journalism, we followed the sensational doings of a lady reporter who did all kinds of stunts, posed as many kinds of persons, and wrote about her experience. She even rode on a bicycle made for six, called, I believe, a sextette, a sexcycle, or some such sexy name. There was a tremendous picture of the six on the cycle, the men, with wide-flowing mustaches and knickerbockers, and the daring queen of journalism, in a divided skirt, as they came in from their breathtaking dash around a one-mile race track. Followed, in big type, the signed story of the hair-raising experience, by the lady journalist.
I read these stories over so often that I committed them to memory. It was my delight to bore Van, while we worked together in the potato patch or in the orchards, by repeating some signed story from the World's Sunday supplement, word for word, over and over.
There was one pair of scissors that we were permitted to use in paper clipping. Mother kept another pair that was for her own dressmaking use only. Both were good tools, of high-grade steel, and kept in fine form by frequent treatments at the skilled hands of John. We understood that cutting paper is apt to spoil the edge of a blade for proper cloth-cutting. Van and I shared the paper-scissors.
We were careful in our clipping and pasting. To this day I suffer physical pain when I see anyone tear a selection from a newspaper, punch it out with a pin, or carelessly clip it with a pair of scissors. In those days of precious newspapers and limited supply, I learnedto clip on the line, straight and true, so as not to spoil any more of the other side of the sheet than necessary.
We built up standards of discrimination in clipping and pasting. We selected those articles and news stories that seemed to us to have more than passing interest.
So we made our special scrapbooks on the Free Silver campaign and the Spanish-American war. For the Bryan-McKinley battle we had to depend upon such newspapers as might come our way, through the Faheys or from other sources. One grand mine of scrapbook material was the under-the-carpet newspapers.
Once a year the dining room carpet was taken up, cleaned, and relaid. The wide boards of the floor were carefully scrubbed. I remember that those wide matched boards were a source of shame to Mother and the girls. All stylish houses had narrow boards in the flooring. What could have possessed the Old Man when he chose such country fake flooring? Well, it was kept tightly covered throughout the year, except when dances were given. Then it was waxed, and we hoped that not too many people noticed that the floor boards were wide.
Under the carpet were newspapers, to serve as a cushion, for warmth and comfort, and to save the carpet. Today's homes use specially designed and constructed pads under the rugs and carpets. I believe we did better with newspapers.
The newspapers were changed once a year, because a new supply was cleaner and had more spring. The new papers were bought at the news-and-confectionery store at the corner of Main Street and Douglas Avenue. The proprietor charged not more than half a dollar for all the out-of-date newspapers you wanted. These were unsold copies of papers from out of town, kept largely for the drummer trade. There were lots of unsold copies of the Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha and Dallas papers. Seldom were there any from New York or any other points east of Chicago.
The number of papers required for cushioning the dining room carpet made a pile that was about all one man could handle. John carried it in from the spring wagon, and deposited it on the kitchenfloor. Immediately, Van and I attacked the pile, picked out half a dozen interesting-looking issues, and hurried off to some haven, out of call, to read the fascinating news of the great world. We were required to bring back the papers, for all would be needed in the laying of the carpet. Here and there we found articles of such great historical interest that we begged Mother to let us clip them for our scrapbooks. In extreme cases this permission was granted, provided we promised to keep the woodbox and reservoir filled. But there were the last year's papers, newly reclaimed from under the carpet. These were piled in the back yard carefully, because they were full of fine dust. Van and I picked them up, one by one, gently beat the dust out of them by whacking them against a log, and proceeded to cut them up with scissors.
At this time of year, wallpapering was going on, and there was plenty of white flour paste to be had for the stealing. While the womenfolk and John labored in one part of the house, Van and I clipped and pasted in another room. When the big dishpans full of paste for papering were not available, both of us knew how to mix and cook our own paste, in smaller quantities.
Our town friends gave us some old copies of the Scientific American during the Spanish-American war. These journals, on slick paper, contained pictures of all our warships, with detailed diagrams of guns, fire control and torpedo tubes. This made great scrapbook material.
I determined to subscribe for a daily newspaper. This was a revolutionary decision, since nothing of the kind had ever been attempted, there was no way for the paper to be delivered, and the cost was outrageous, forty-five cents a month.
I made the forty-five cents by gathering up two half-bushel baskets of summer apples that grew in the old orchard and would otherwise have gone to waste, and driving to town with them in the cart, with Old Bones, the gray mare.
At the business office of the Wichita Eagle I handed over my forty-five cents and was enrolled as a regular subscriber. The subscription, I was informed, would start at once, and the smiling gentlemanbehind the counter, sensing my eagerness, handed me the papers for the last three days.
The Spanish-American war was at its height. The paper made exciting reading. I stopped Old Bones several times on the way home, under some roadside tree, and read the papers. The entrance I made that day at home must have been impressive. Here were the daily papers for the whole family to read. We could be right up to date on the war now. For a whole month, at least, we would be almost as well informed as city people. And maybe, meanwhile, I could devise ways of getting hold of another forty-five cents.
Thereafter, if any member of the family were going to town, he or she would stop at the newspaper office and collect my paper for me. If not, I would walk the six miles to the Eagle office, pick up my paper, and walk home. On the way, I would rest under trees and read every word in the paper. Thereafter, various members of the family would have the advantage of the news, and next day I would cut out the important items and paste them in my war scrapbook.
Only once during the fast and dashing progress of the SpanishAmerican war did Dad exhibit any interest in what was going on. He undoubtedly had noted the feverish interest of Van and me in the war, and had heard of my barefoot journeys to and from the city to obtain the latest news.
One day I was tramping down the hay for him. We had a field of very coarse prairie hay on the extreme south end of the farm. It was not good prairie hay, and sometimes grew so coarse that the sharp edges of the blades cut the horses' mouths. But it served our stable as our only portion of this kind of food, which Kansas farmers considered an essential factor in horse diet. The hay was mowed, raked into windrows, and gathered into a hayrack, which was then driven to the barnyard for the stacking. In order to get as much hay as possible into the rack, it was necessary to employ boy-power to tramp it down. This job Van and I did, at the cost of many a cut to our bare feet.
Big Flurry seldom spoke a word, except to the horses, on these missions. So my surprise was great indeed when, on a hot summer after-noon, he said, without looking up from the hay he was gathering with his fork, "Charlie-bye, where is Dewey now, I don't know?" Proudly I related the latest news of Commodore George Dewey. He was in Manila Bay, had virtually captured the Philippines, and in Washington they were saying that our flag, once planted there, would never be hauled down.
The Old Man said "Aye, "and that was the end of his expressed interest in the great war to liberate the oppressed subjects of Spain.
. . . . trumpets, muted . . . .
There's a land that is fairer than this, And by faith I can see it afar.
So sang the Protestants. I hoped they were right in this matter, though they obviously were bound for hell because they said such wicked things about our Holy Father, the Pope.
Surely, there must be a land fairer than this, where nobody was beaten, cuffed and kicked for being a Damn Ol' Kafflick.
Locusts fiddled their Doomsday Symphony, drought ate the crops, and the multiplication table mocked me with its inexorable formulae. I loved the fervor with which our Protestant neighbors sang: It gladdens my heart with a joy that's untold, To think of that land where we'll never grow old. 'Twill always be new, it will never decay;No night ever comes, it will always be day.
Wichita was a great city. l knew no other; but any reasonable person was bound to agree with Marsh Murdock and Dave Leahy when they wrote extravagant praises of the Peerless Princess of the Plains.
Still, the thought stole over me early in the morning, as I drove through those enchanted streets, peddling watermelons, that the multiplication table probably dwelt in the marble halls of those noble public schools, and even at the vast Garfield University, west of town. Maybe they beat boys there for being Damn Ol' Kafflicks.
I responded to the pathos in the voice of the Protestants, as they sang: When we meet in the beautiful city beyond, We will sing the new song of the angelic throng, In the beautiful city beyond.
Secretly, I prayed for the Protestants.
Lord, Jesus, please do not send them all to hell. They sing so hopefully of a land that is fairer than this.
THE ANXIETY about getting to school, which dominated the lives of Van and me throughout youthful years, was in no way related to any excellence of curriculum or love of teacher at School 136, otherwise known as Riverside School, where we were nominally students. It was due entirely to the conviction that if we could attend this primitive house of learning until we had finished its course, we might begin to hope for schooling in some of the wonderful schools we had heard of.
Generally speaking, our district school rated low in educational excellence. With few exceptions, our teachers were not wholly competent to teach, and were chiefly concerned with punishment and discipline. Under some of the less humane teachers the other children of the school were incited to acts of violence against us because we were Catholics. Some of them required little incitement.
So our lives in school were not always pleasant. In fact, after our sister Margaret finished her country school course and started training for teaching, it was not safe for Van and me to appear on the playground during a considerable part of each year. We acquired the habit of remaining in our seats throughout the two fifteen-minute recesses and the one-hour noon period. We read books instead of taking part in the games on the school grounds. When we ventured out, we were often ganged and beaten, solely on the charge that we were "damn ol' Kafflicks" and were plotting to destroy all white Protestants. Since the majority of fighting forces against us usually averaged ten or twelve to one, we had little choice as to our brand of valor.
While Margaret was in school her simple dignity and her scholastic friendship with the teachers more or less protected us. She hadthe power to make a direct appeal to the teacher's sense of fair play, if any.
But Margaret graduated. She was the first pupil who had ever graduated from Riverside School, though the school must have been in existence for at least thirty years. Other pupils had simply attended school until they were married or moved away or had been expelled. Margaret heard about county examinations and diplomas, and she decided to take the examinations and get the diploma. There was a grand commencement in the M. E. church, next to the school grounds. Margaret read a resounding oration which mentioned Napoleon and Caesar, and many other important folk, in terms of familiarity. We were mighty proud of this brilliant Driscoll. The current teacher became so famous by reason of this first graduation from what was by courtesy known as the eighth grade that she was hired to teach the school the following term at an increase of five dollars a month.
There were no grades in our school. We were always puzzled when the town kids asked us, "What grade are you in?" We did not know what that meant.
All the pupils sat, studied and recited in the same room. There was not even an entry, anteroom or cloak closet. When I started to school, the white clapboard schoolhouse had two windows on north and south sides, one door at the center front, and a blank wall at the rear. Several years later, prosperity and the growth of population compelled the school board to add a section at the front, or east end. Then we had four windows on each side and a belfry, with a real brass bell that was rung by a bell rope reaching to a point near the front door.
Approximately in the center of the room was a round-bellied iron stove, with a tall sheet-iron drum on top of it. Throughout the winter, this stove was kept red hot with coal from the red coal house, just south of the pump, about fifty feet from the schoolhouse.
It was necessary to keep the stove going full blast, with red sides, in order to get any heat at all in the front and rear of the schoolroom, since there was no air circulation worth mentioning. The teacher, far away at the blank end of the building, had to wear a coat or cloak all winter, and many times a day had to walk down to the stove to warm her hands. She nearly always had a cold, but so did the pupils.
The worst seat in the schoolroom was the one next on the right of the stove, about three feet from the red-hot iron barrel. On the left, there was a considerable distance between stove and seats. The unlucky wretch who sat on the right of the stove had his left side roasted so that you could often smell his clothes burning, all over the house.
One teacher, who had the school for three terms, assigned me permanently to this seat. I acquired earache, toothache, and a bad eye, all on the side next to the red-hot stove. The drum of that ear was burst or pierced five times during the first twenty-five years of my life. It's a wonder that I can still hear a good thunderstorm.
This teacher, Miss Oxie, weighed approximately two hundred and twenty pounds, and was not of unusual height. Her arms and legs were roughly of the same dimensions and design.
She was muscularly powerful, and several times succeeded in whipping some of the biggest boys in school. These boys were really men of twenty to twenty-three years old, who came to school in midwinter for the fun of it, because they had nothing to do at home. They did not like discipline. They had become accustomed to beating horses, killing cattle and hogs, and bargaining with their peers. They laughed at Miss Oxie when she gave them orders, but when she came at them with a long hedge club they usually turned their backs and took their beatings.
One of our individualists, to the great delight of the entire school, defied Miss Oxie. The teacher had decided to give Grover Stuckey a whipping, for some minor infraction of discipline. I believe Grover had passed a note to his girl friend, Tot Scott. For some strange reason, passing a note was one of the most calamitous of offenses against rural school discipline.
When Miss Oxie came down the aisle with her stout club, Grover rose from his rear seat, stepped in front of the stove, and seized the iron poker.
"If you hit me with that, I'll hit you with this, "he said, simply and determinedly. He braced himself for the blow. She issued her usual sharp commands, with no result. Grover faced her, so that she could not strike from behind, as was her custom. The two maneuvered for several minutes, Grover always facing the threatening stick, poker held high.
After this had gone on long enough, Grover stepped up close. Holding his poker poised over the head of Miss Oxie, he grasped her hedge club with his left hand and wrenched it from her.
"Now, you go on about your business, "he said.
There were always several idiots or feeble-minded pupils in our school, and some of them presented problems for which even wise teachers might not have ready solutions. At Riverside, these pathetic and sometimes dangerous persons were theoretically exactly like the rest of us. They attended school day after day and year after year, never advancing in their classes, and leaving school only when they married or were committed to some institution.
There was a cretin named Bob Hood who caused Miss Oxie a lot of embarrassment. He came of a nondescript tribe of poor whites that occupied shacks on sweet potato land, a mile or so away from the schoolhouse. He was perhaps a little older than I, but very early in life became an overgrown, stooped, apelike monster. His skin was of a dark yellow shade, remindful of a Malayan crossed with Chinese. He had a cleft palate, was tongue-tied, and his big, loose jaw hung open all the time. Spittle coursed down his chin. He usually wore a foolish grin. Bob was physically powerful. But he was so awkward in his movements that a far weaker boy could knock him down by a simple trick of tackling. Even I could handle him, at most times, by taking advantage of his misplaced center of gravity. Running at him head-on, I would reach out both hands and push him by the shoulders. He would invariably topple over backwards, howling and crying. It wasthought great fun to knock Bob down and heap indignities upon him.
So Bob carried a weapon. It was a heavy iron bolt. Once you had him on the ground, you had to look out for that deadly weapon. Bob, while yelling unintelligible imprecations, would get out his bolt and aim it at your forehead or eyes. He might hurt you.
When Bob, by flailing about with his over-long arms and using them as levers, was able to roll over on top of his opponent, he was ready to strike the lethal blow with his bolt. At this stage of the battle, he was wont to say, "Now, dod-damn oo, I till oo!" At this moment, some of the watchers of the battle regularly interfered. Even when the prospective victim was a "dam ol' Kafllick, "the spectators were not willing to see a murder enacted on the school grounds.
Cruelty toward the mentally warped seems to be a characteristic of many children, especially those reared in fairly primitive conditions. Most of the boys at our school liked to tease the idiots and play cruel tricks on them.
There were two white-painted two-hole privies on the school grounds. The one on the southwest corner of the grounds was for boys, the one on the northwest corner for girls. When we had a man teacher, which was seldom, the boys' privy was not molested by vandals, because the teacher himself had recourse to this house of limited comfort from time to time, and would soon check up on vandals. But when we had women teachers, the boys liked to ruin their own privy in one way or another. They knew that the teacher dared not interfere, for she must not venture upon such private grounds of the males.
One female characteristic that we could never understand, and which we unanimously resented, was the practice among the girls of going to the privy with Teacher. Among boys, no matter how depraved, there was a natural sense of propriety about these affairs. No boy would think of entering the privy along with the male teacher, or of disturbing him while he was engaged in that citadel of privacy.
But Miss Oxie never went to the privy without a whole retinue of girls of all ages as a sort of guard of honor. Especially in spring, when the girls were all clothed in bright calico dresses, the procession made an imposing spectacle. Sometimes there were so many attendants that half of them had to wait outside, like prospective customers at Sardi's restaurant on a Broadway opening night.
There was murmuring among the boys, from season to season, concerning this display of indelicacy, but nothing was done about it until Willis Stuckey, the oldest boy in school, organized a mass protest. On a spring day. Willis formed all the boys, except the little fellows and the idiots, into a shock battalion. We entered the coal house and armed ourselves with three lumps of coal each. Willis then lined us up behind the coal house, with scouts to report any sortie on the part of the teacher and her retinue.
When the word came that the usual noon party was making its triumphal progress toward the girls' privy, we formed ranks and slowly advanced to a position that had the privy within range. Willis had warned us to await the three commands to fire. He pronounced it "far, "as did nearly everybody in the Valley.
When the entire company had disappeared within the little white house, we moved closer, so that even the younger boys could get the range.
"Far!" said our commanding officer, and thirty lumps of coal went sailing through the air toward the girls' privy.
"Far!" he said again, as soon as that salvo was in the air, and out went our second protest.
The first volley was just crashing upon the frail structure when the third was on its way. By the time it had hit, we were all scattering about the playground in innocent idleness.
That evening, Miss Oxie commanded all the boys to remain after school. She sat at her desk, obviously discomfited. Her face was red, as we thought it should be.
As soon as the girls had left, she started the inquisition: "Willis, did you throw a stone against my door?" "No Mam, "said Willis, modestly, giving the rest of us the cue.
She proceeded with the same question, addressed to each of the boys. By common impulse, no boy looked at her. We were ashamed, not of our action, which we considered the ultimate in gallantry, but of her and her sorry behavior.
Each boy answered as had Willis, without raising his eyes from the desk in front of him.
She was defeated, publicly rebuked. After a foolish lecture, to which we listened while looking out of the windows and in silence, we were dismissed.
After this incident, the progresses to and from the girls' privy were not as frequent or as magnificent as they had been theretofore. But there came a time, that spring, when there was another serious interruption of the festival.
The boys, feeling the urge of spring, had undertaken to remodel their privy and to introduce certain unique improvements. A crippled shovel had been borrowed from some neighboring barnyard, and a tunnel was dug. Its entrance was fifteen feet back of the school ground boundary, in a field that had not yet been planted. Its exit was in the privy vault.
As soon as the tunnel had been completed, it was decreed by the committee that all persons desiring the accommodations of this house would have to crawl on hands and knees through the tunnel.
The door to the privy was nailed up, permanently. Most of the floor was removed. By the exercise of native dexterity, a customer could enter through the rearward tunnel, and, bending double, climb up through the hole in the floor, with only inconsiderable soiling of the hands, feet and clothing.
Smoking of cigarets, cigar stubs and cornsilk cigars, was encouraged as a manly exercise. Those who could get the insides of rawhide buggy whips at home were most popular, for these, properly encased, made great smokes for privy consumption. I was admitted to the privy confraternity, despite my supposedly idolatrous religion, because I supplied the insides of three worn-out buggy-whips.
The council voted to excommunicate Bob Hood, the cretin. Not for any specific reason, or upon any definite charges. It was pointedout by some of the influential members of the privy council that it might be great fun to see what Bob would do when he was denied access to the clubhouse. We were becoming exclusive, class-conscious. Given enough rope, we would be hanging niggers or excluding Jews from country clubs in another twenty years. My father always said, "Give a fool enough rope and he'll hang a naygar. "Bob was informed by one of the guards at the mouth of the tunnel that he was not going to be permitted to pass through. The big, hulking idiot went to the privy door, knocked gently upon it, and called out, "I got to git in, t'ank you!" The boys howled with innocent merriment, and gathered in knots to speculate upon what Bob might do next.
The poor brute threw himself against the door, jumped the fence, and lunged for the tunnel entrance, only to be tripped and buffeted by the gang.
Now he was crying like a baby, his great, loose lips flopping and his tears rolling down his face, as he shouted and ran hither and yon about the grounds. Between sobs he shouted, "I got to pith, t'ank you! Pleath, I got to pith tho bad!" Some of the boys laughed and shouted, and a few mocked the victim in loud tones, but most were deadly serious. They simply watched and were zealous in carrying out orders to see that Bob did not, in any circumstance, get into the privy.
At this stage of the proceedings, Miss Oxie and her band of virgins were passing in review on the other side of the schoolhouse, going to their privy. The hysterical Bob, running back and forth like a tortured animal, broke away from his tormentors and started toward the gaily bedecked group of pilgrims. He was halfway across the grounds, and within 'a few yards of Oxie and her attendants, before he could be tripped and silenced.
Meantime, the bawling idiot was shouting, again and again, "Mith Oxie! Oh, Mith Oxie! Theeth boys won't let me in, an' I got to pith tho bad! My Maw and my Paw, they both told me not to pith in my panth! Come here quick, Mith Oxie, and let me in!" Five boys were on top of the scandal-giver in no time, and his mouth was covered so that only indistinguishable noises could be emitted. The great Oxie had halted in her progress down the primrose path to hear the appeal of one of her subjects who seemed about to be deprived of some of his civil rights. As the boys brought Bob to earth and stifled his cries, she slowly turned and headed for her white castle. Her virginal train did likewise, in embarrassed silence. There was no precedent in the books for the handling of such a case.
Miss Oxie was able to take out some of her spleen, resulting from the Grove Stuckey defiance and other humiliations, on me. She was aware of the fact that the children of our family were subject to certain home discipline that made her tyranny safe. We dared not defy the teacher, as Grover Stuckey had done. Our mother, in a mistaken zeal for discipline, always told the teacher, at the beginning of a school term, that if one of her boys should get a whipping in school, he would unquestionably get another as soon as he reached home. That was Mother's idea of supporting constituted authority. An honest notion, but, according to my own experience, an erroneous one.
Miss Oxie cherished a violent dislike for Van and me. There may have been many reasons for this, but we could see only two of them. The first and most durable of these was the simple fact that we were Catholics, and she had been reared in the tradition of the region, which held that all Catholics were undesirable citizens, dangerous to the welfare of the community and addicted to idolatry. The second motive that we could understand was grounded in the circumstance that both Van and I could see through the school teacher veneer, and stubbornly refused to pay homage.
There was some disturbance on the playground one day, and several of us were engaged in a fight. Miss Oxie summoned witnesses, and Arthur Stuckey, who was a nice, mild-mannered boy, three years older than I, cross-eyed and perhaps a bit sensitive, reported that Charlie Driscoll had called him a dirty name, had said dirty words, and that he, therefore, had socked Charlie in the eye.
This, he said, had started the trouble. I don't remember how much of this was true, but I do remember that I had called Arthur a dirty name.
All the other participants in the riot were dismissed. Miss Oxie kept me in at the noon hour. She cleared the room, even of the girls who were accustomed to eat their lunches at their desks. She locked the door. Then she came to my seat to talk to me.
The seats were made to accommodate two children each. When Miss Oxie got her enormous behind into the left part of my seat, there was little room for me. I was sliding off the north end. She put her right arm around me to keep me from falling into the aisle. Sometimes she had to hold on rather tightly, it seemed to me, to make sure that I wouldn't fall off the seat.
She talked in a low, soothing voice. She told me that l had been a serious problem to her, but that she was more than willing to forget the past and be my friend. She said that my work in English had been impressive, and that she had great hopes for me. My refusal to pay any attention whatever to arithmetic was a charge upon her conscience, and she would not be responsible for my future unless I finally consented to bow to constituted authority and learn the multiplication tables.
During all of this I was nervous and ashamed. I was particularly ashamed because Miss Oxie seemed to be unconscious of the fact that her enormous bosom was whacking my face and head from time to time, despite my squirming.
After the lengthy prelude, Miss Oxie gently murmured, "Now, Charlie, did you say a dirty word to Arthur? Did you call him a dirty name?" "Yes." "You must tell me just what you said to Arthur." "No. I can't do that." "Yes, indeed, you can too. Nobody will hear but I. What did you call Arthur?" "I can't tell you. It was too dirty. "By this time I was crying, and Miss Oxie had to wipe my eyesand face. She was very gentle, but was unable, in her awkwardness, to keep me from feeling that I was being hit on the head and face by sand bags.
"You will have to tell me the dirty words you said to Arthur. Arthur is a nice boy, and it must have been pretty bad, or he would not have told me about it." "Yes, "I wailed, "it was very, bad. But I can't say it in front of any woman. "The noon hour was up. My eyes were swollen with crying, and, of course, would be no good for the rest of the day. Miss Oxie told me that I was to stay after school, and that she would keep me until I had told her exactly what I had said to Arthur.
The three o'clock recess was a fifteen-minute repetition of the noon inquisition. I wilted in my seat and wept most of the afternoon. When school was dismissed at four o'clock, Miss Oxie ordered all the other pupils to clear out at once. I was to stay.
When the room was cleared, she came and sat with me again, making me miserable, uncomfortable, frightened, and, beyond all else, ashamed.
She said she would whip me unless I said the word. I told her to go ahead and whip me and have it over with. After an hour of cajolery, threatening, lecturing and tender nursing she said she would tell my mother all about it unless I told her the dirty words.
She had been bathing my hot face in cold water, offering me fresh water to drink and taking great care that I should not fall off the north end of the seat. Sometimes she knelt in the seat in front of me and sometimes sat in the seat with me.
I told her that I had cows to milk and that I could not stay all night at the schoolhouse. I had a mile and a half to walk home and darkness was already gathering. She said that we would stay here together all night unless I told her the dirty words I had said to Arthur.
It was the threat to tell Mother that broke me down. I knew that Mother would not back up the fat teacher's demand but I also knew that Mother would suffer intense humiliation in learning that herson had given scandal before the Protestants by using some sort of indecent language.
It was getting dark. I was thoroughly frightened and convinced that Miss Oxie meant to keep me there all night. I was alarmed when I thought of home and how Mother would already be wondering about my long absence. Miss Oxie continued her ministrations, threats and cajolery.
"Now, Charlie, just say it in a low voice. What did you call Arthur?" Burying my burning face in my hands, I confessed. I uttered the dirty words.
"I called him a dart-legged ass!" "A what, Charlie?" "A dart-legged ass!" "A what, Charlie?" "A dart-legged ass!" I did not look at her then. But when she lifted my face a few minutes later to bathe it with cold water, I could see that her face was very red. I felt greater shame than ever, because I had obviously brought shame to this enormous hulk of a woman.
"Dart-legged, "she repeated. "That doesn't mean anything, Charlie, but ass' is a very bad word." "I know. That's why I didn't want to say it again." "Ass, Charlie? Did you say ass?" "Yes!" I yelled. "Ass! Ass! Ass!" "'Ass' is not nice, Charlie. Did you ever say ass' to anybody else?" I admitted that I had said it to my brother Van. I had even called him assy-assy-donkey.
"Did you ever say ass to any of the girls here at school?" I was horrified at the idea. Certainly not.
"Well, "she said, "I will have to punish you for saying ass' to Arthur. I will keep you in at noon tomorrow, and I will have Arthur here. You must say to him, in front of me, I am sorry I called you a dart-legged ass. ' Do you understand? Then you must be agood boy, and not say ass' any more. If you feel like calling anybody ass, you must stay after school and tell me about it. "Next noon I went through the ordeal, which Arthur seemed to take very seriously. We were good friends after, as before, the incident. But my hatred of Miss Oxie piled up. So too, her hatred for me.
After the dart-legged incident, Miss Oxie often persecuted or punished me with the big-eye. This was a cruel and unusual form of punishment, known only to Miss Oxie and her pupils. This was the manner of it: I would be sitting in my seat, eating my lunch, at noon. Perhaps I would be talking to one of the girls, and it usually happened that I was engaged in persiflage of an innocent nature, with Pearl Balch or Elsie Peddicord, when the big-eyeing began. I would look up from my lunch to find that Miss Oxie, at her desk at the end of the schoolroom, had her big, glassy blue eyes fixed upon me. Unblinking, she stared. The worst of it was that she continued to chew her food in a vigorous manner, but never looked at her lunch box, her desk, or a morsel that she was about to stuff into her enormous face. She just stared at me.
The eyes seemed to be bulging out of her skull. I have seen the hypnotic stare several times since, and have been forced to the conclusion that Miss Oxie was taking a correspondence course in hypnotism, and did the big-eye at me for practice. Nearly all the rural magazines and throw-aways in those days advertised courses by mail in hypnotism and mesmerism. The Dale Carnegies of the hour were teaching the yokels, according to their advertisements, to "bend any person to your will; compel him to do whatever you wish him to do. "Maybe Miss Oxie was trying to force me to learn the multiplication tables. If so, her instructor was a fraud, for I have not learned them yet.
Perhaps a half or a third of the pupils were eating lunch at their desks during the noon hour. All the girls did this regularly, and some of the boys preferred to eat at their desks, especially if they hadgood food and were hungry. The more active boys, and those who had not much of a lunch to consume, tore out of the schoolroom at dismissal, carrying a sandwich or a piece of pie in one hand and an apple in the other.
It was clear to everybody in the room that Miss Oxie was big-eyeing me. As the eyes bulged, the face, with high cheek bones and wrinkled forehead, grew redder and redder. During the entire period, or so long as I could sit and take it, the position of the great, bony head never changed, and the eyes continued their awful, bulging stare.
Miss Oxie had big-eyed some other boys, including my brother Van, but I was the notorious victim of her most virulent attacks, which came in series after the "dart-legged ass" incident.
Miss Oxie's final excommunication of me happened some weeks after that incident, and after several big-eye sessions. A history recitation was in progress, with a dozen pupils sitting on the recitation bench, each rising to recite when called upon. It was an oral review.
The recitation bench, which was backless and as primitive as anything in the legend of frontier schools, would not seat so many pupils, so the overflow occupied the front seats. I was in one of these seats. I was not interested in the lesson, and, having read school histories since I could read, didn't have anything to worry about.
I was dreaming up a humorous story for my own entertainment. It was entitled "The Humiliation of Miss Oxie. "The County Superintendent was visiting the school, in this short short story, and Miss Oxie was trying to show off her dignity and skill to him. Sitting at her desk, she started to hand an open textbook to the courtly Superintendent. Her great backside unbalanced her, and over she went, backward, a wild look in her eyes and her tatted pants showing before all the world as her fat, stubby legs went skyward.
At this point, I burst into a loud guffaw, totally unconscious of the circumstance that I was in a history class with a lot of other pupils. I slammed my book over my face and tried to kill the noise, but it was too late.
Laura Nelson, a Swedish farmer's daughter whom I liked, had just risen to recite. The teacher had asked her about the Civil War. "Well, "said Laura, "the Civil War--well, it was very great . . . "At this point Miss Oxie, in my story, toppled backward, and I laughed like a horse in a nightmare.
Forgetting Laura and the Civil War, Miss Oxie turned to stare at me. Slowly she rose from her chair, her face growing redder and redder. She walked over to where I sat, stood a moment in front of me, and then swung on me, first with the right fist, then with the left. They were terrific blows. My head swam, and, for a moment, I did not know where I was. As the blood started spurting from my nose, I stood up, turned, and blindly staggered down the aisle and out the door, to the pump.
As I groped my way toward the door I heard Laura, who was still standing and had been peeking into her history book to get an answer ready, saying, "Well, Miss Oxie, it says in the book that the Civil War was very great. The North went against the niggers and put them down. "Miss Oxie must have motioned to the brilliant young historian to be seated. She stepped to the side of her desk and addressed the school.
"I want to tell all of you boys to keep away from Charlie, for he's a very bad boy, "she said solemnly, in a trembling voice.
When I got my nosebleed under control, I went home. Van had the decency not to tell on me, but my swollen face called for an explanation, and I told Mother the truth. She seemed very thoughtful, but said nothing.
I missed a month of school while we were in the midst of fractions. Illness or the lack of shoes probably caused the absence. When I returned, and was unable to solve any fractions problems, Miss Oxie put me in the baby class. Day by day, I, an overgrown farmer, had to sit on a bench with little tots who were just entering school and answer such questions as "How many apples are two apples and one apple?" A major scandal resulted from a bit of Oxie discipline as her lastterm was closing. On the very last school day of her final term (not counting Last Day of School, a public festival on which no classes were held) we boys went to a pasture, an eighth of a mile from the schoolhouse, at noon. Violets were at their best, and, strange as it may seem to city folk, healthy country boys like to pick violets. There is something of promise and a scent of another world in the little blossom that peeks out of the prairie soil with the early spring sunshine.
One tap of the bell warned that only five minutes were left of the noontime hour.
We all started running for the public road, and then down the road for the schoolhouse. Only one failed to make the front door when the final bell was rung, at one o'clock exactly. He was Pete Wirey, a frail boy, who had gone far afield for his violets and had not the stamina to carry him back on time. He trailed us by about two minutes.
That evening, Pete had to stay after school. He took a terrific beating from Miss Oxie, as her farewell contribution to our little community. He fainted under the punishment. He managed to walk the half mile to his home, but he did not appear at the Last Day of School exercises. He was bed-ridden for months. One heard only rumors about his condition. It seemed that his heart had gone bad, and that Pete was headed for an early demise. I never saw the boy again.
Miss Billicks was a better teacher than Miss Oxie in a scholastic sense. Also, she was not quite so heavy. But she was able to swing a club on the shoulders and behinds of little boys in a murderous fashion. She wore herself out doing it, but seemed to enjoy the wearing-out process. She was the daughter of a German plumber, and had trouble with under-arm sweating before the polite b. o. was invented by New York advertising geniuses.
We older pupils used to open the windows on our own responsibility, even during blizzards, to relieve the situation after Miss Billicks had been exercising violently. The exercise sometimes wasduring calisthenics, but more often it was incident to the beating of some supposedly recalcitrant pupil.
Miss Billicks gave me the only "whipping" I ever experienced in school. It was no worse than many of the other boys had been subjected to many times, but it was a shame to call it a whipping. She slugged and beat me with a heavy green hedge club until she could not swing her arms any more. I had nothing but a thin cotton waist between my skin and the club. I tried to get away, jumped over the recitation bench, screaming and roaring with pain. She followed me, puffing, flailing. She climbed over the bench after me, followed me down the aisle, hitting me above and below the belt, terrific blows.
When she finished, she was so exhausted that she had to sprawl out in one of the seats, puffing tremendously. The hedge club was reduced to a stump, and I was almost dead. I have been through three automobile wrecks and one airplane crash, to say nothing of minor matters, and never have I been so severely punished as I was by Miss Billicks.
Is it any wonder that I have fought for anti-beating school laws in three states and in the nation at large, and have succeeded in putting six child-beaters in prison?
Oh, yes, what was I beaten for? Bide Kossal and I, while settling down after noon recess, had tossed a couple of pieces of dried mud at each other, playfully and in good spirits.
During the reign of Miss Billicks we had the most spectacular of our " trials. "I do not know how much law had to do with it and I am not sure how much of the procedure was purely rural custom, but this trial was far more impressive to me than any ceremony I was afterward privileged to witness in the monumental temple of the Supreme Court of the United States, when the fate of peoples and principles was supposed to be at stake.
Hallie Kirby and Elmina Rickerts were accused by Miss Billicks of the heinous crime of "passing notes. "Hallie was a voluptuous young lady from Back East. She was a little older than the other "big girls" of the school, and wore stylish clothes. She was under suspicion among the godly, because it wassaid that she used face powder almost daily. She was the unquestioned queen of beauty in Riverside School, but the church members warned their susceptible sons against her wiles. After all, who could trust a painted girl who came from a Back East town with the unholy name of Terre Haute, which nobody could even pronounce?
After having lived with relatives on a farm, only a mile from the school, for a few months, Hallie sensed the advantage of the prestige she had been able to establish by reason of her Eastern sophistication, her face powder, and her grand manner. She didn't give a damn for anybody. She attended this hick school only as a diversion, and she acted that way.
Elmina, perhaps a year or two younger than Hallie, was of humbler origins. She was the daughter of a poor renter from Arkansas or some such place, and her clothes were not in the same class as Hallie's. She wore no perfume, such as Hallie used to stun the native youths. She was devoted to Hallie, in whom she recognized a quality of leadership that might lead on to victory over circumstance.
Miss Billicks caught the pair in the capital crime of passing notes. She imposed certain severe sanctions and punishments. Hallie brazenly refused to accept the sentence, and Elmina followed suit. Hallie said, "Yes, I passed a note to Elmina, and what of it?" The angry teacher, in a fireside chat before the assembled school, issued a decree nisi, expelling the two big girls from the school, and forever depriving them of the motherhood of Riverside School and the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining.
There was little work done in school that day. We were all violently upset by the teacher's emotional address, and by the ringing rebuttal of Miss Kirby, the burden of whose direct address was, "You can't jump down my throat, Miss Billicksl" The expelled pupils refused to take their books and other belongings out of their desks, as ordered by their Commander-in-Chief. They said that they chose to appeal unto Caesar. In this case, Caesar was the School Board.
The Board was composed of Steve Balch, our intelligent Yankeeneighbor, noted for his agnosticism; Newt Leonard, a hard-praying, hard-shelled, tobacco-chewing, non-reading-and-writing farmer; and Louis Stuckey, who wrote a neat Spencerian hand, drank enormous quantities of good bourbon, and raised more sons and sweet potatoes than any other farmer in the Valley.
The Board convened for a hearing of the case at the schoolhouse, with Miss Billicks in the capacity of prosecuting attorney, the two girls as defendants, and the entire student body as innocent onlookers.
For three days the trial went on. We pupils sat in our seats, jittery with the fright that such solemn scenes engender in the populace. No recitations were held. Forty pupils sat all day in their seats, listening, shaking, crying, or whispering rumors of doom. Miss Billicks wept. The two defendants wept. The three farmers, called from their fields and hogpens to adjudicate this cause celebre, listened to the evidence, twitched in their uncomfortable chairs, scratched their sweaty persons, and appealed to the three females to compose their difference in an amicable manner.
It appeared to the juvenile public that the order of expulsion was of no force and effect until and unless it should be validated by the Board. Here sat the Board, thinking of its thirsty hogs and cattle, of the unfinished chicken coops, and of the money that must be raised to buy seed potatoes in the spring. Here stood the sweaty, angry teacher, thirty years old, determined to have her revenge upon the comely Hallie, the Eastern belle. And here sat the two girls, wondering what it was all about, but each determined, in her own way and for her own purposes, never to give an inch.
Mr. Balch had little to say at any time. He asked a question or two to determine whether the note had been passed, and whether the girls had actually defied the teacher's authority. He seemed mildly interested. He was better dressed than the others. He wore a clean shirt each day, a gray Sunday suit, and a necktie. He was freshly shaven, and his smart mustache was neatly in order.
Mr. Stuckey wore his working clothes, no coat, no tie, had not bothered to comb his hair, and was obviously sweaty. He chewedtobacco as the deliberations continued, and asked the teacher to produce the spittoon that was kept in the schoolhouse for meetings of the Anti-Horsethief Association.
The spittoon was a great comfort to Brother Leonard. He was the oldest of the trio. He was small, slightly hunched, with white, sparse hair, and wore a scraggly chin whisker which was indelibly stained with tobacco. He chewed and driveled as he considered the evidence and called upon God for guidance. We understood that Mr. Leonard did not read or write, but had frequent inspirations from on high, and thus was able to contribute an unbelievable quantity of wisdom to the building up of our rural community. His vest was streaked with brown, from the tobacco, and his general appearance was hardly to be estimated as genteel, but he was a pillar of the United Brethren church, and, as such, entitled to respect in our simple educational system.
While Mr. Stuckey, his judicial faculties obviously somewhat obfuscated by the alcoholic stimulants he had absorbed against the mental strain of the trial, listened respectfully to the hysterical statement of the two female students and the excited, red-faced virgin who accused them of what seemed a terrible crime, Mr. Leonard bent his waggling white head in prayer. He did not speak clearly, due to some sort of dental mal-occlusion, but he made the schoolroom understand that he was resting the entire responsibility of judgment upon Jesus.
Elmina seldom spoke a word. When asked a question, she referred the questioner to Hallie. This worldly-wise youngster was never at a loss for an answer. She was not abashed before the august tribunal. She had no respect for the teacher, whose costume she declared to be at least three seasons out of date. She did not hesitate when she was permitted to speak for herself. In this attitude she had the strong approval of Brother Leonard, who likened her address to the court to that of Paul before King Agrippa. I had been reading Paul's speech, touching all things whereof he was accused of the Jews, but, in my juvenile innocence, I was unable to trace the relationship between it and the defense of Hallie before the School Board.
On the third day, Steve Balch apologized to the pupils, four of whom were his own children, for keeping them from their studies and disrupting their lives on account of a minor matter of discipline. He then moved the Board that a decision be had at once, on a vive voce vote. The accused pupils should be expelled or reinstated, and now.
Thereupon, Brother Leonard moved as a substitute that the principal parties retire to the stoop to pray. Because the culture of the community was a distinctly praying culture, there seemed nothing to do about this except pray.
The stoop was generally called the doorstep. It was a platform of oak planks, about four feet wide by six feet long, uncertainly anchored in front of the front door.
To this haven above the mud puddle of the schoolyard, the honorable judges, the accuser and the two defendants retired. We who remained within kept a solemn silence, while we tried to overhear what was going on without.
The voice we heard most often was that of Brother Leonard. From his ejaculations and exhortations we gathered that he was the only member of the company who was willing to kneel on the muddy oak planks. Steve Balch said he would have no part in such nonsense. Mr. Stuckey said he had a matter to talk over with Steve, concerning a trading of boars. He would like to take advantage of this recess, he said, to convince Steve that his Poland China boar could throw the colors as well as Steve's Chester White, and he would be God-damned if he couldn't prove every statement he had made in the premises.
Brother Leonard asked all who expected or hoped to escape from the eternal fires of hell to fall upon their knees and beg God to set right the state of affairs which the devil and tobacco had brought upon this great educational institution. Why he mentioned tobacco, I never learned. Perhaps he had a certain self-conscious conviction of sin, due to his constant chewing of the weed and his unrebuked driveling of the juice over the front of his person.
The ladies asked to be excused from kneeling. Miss Billicks wasvague about it, but intimated that it had to do with certain matters of costume. Hallie was more explicit. "I'll be damned, "she said, "if I'll get my stockings all bitched up in that horse manure. "So Brother Leonard prayed, kneeling in the mud and manure atop the oak platform. He wept. He called upon Jesus to adjudicate this matter of the alleged passing of notes between the servants of Jesus, Hallie and Elmina. He roared, he screamed, he sang snatches of hymns. He demanded that God take a moment from the admittedly important business of running the universe, and send the Holy Ghost right down to this muddy stoop to deliver judgment in this important cause.
While he was on the subject of the Holy Ghost, Mr. Leonard took advantage of the opportunity to ask God to rescue the soul of the heretic, Steve Balch, from the clutches of the Evil One. If the Lord would deign to cure Brother Stuckey of the awful habit of drinking liquor, Brother Leonard added, the glory would be freely given to Jesus, and the petitioner would claim no part of it.
The stoop service ended with the hymn "Blest Be the Tie That Binds, "sung solo by Brother Leonard.
The door opened, and in marched the cast of the three-day drama. Miss Billicks walked ahead, the two defendants some distance behind her, and the Board, led by Brother Leonard, weeping and praying aloud, following.
As Miss Billicks neared her desk, Hallie rushed at her, threw her arms around her, and began to weep. Miss Billicks wept. Elmina wept. Brother Leonard roared with pious sobbing. Turning to the schoolroom and its nervous, fidgety, frightened pupils, he cried aloud, "See what the Lord has done! The Holy Ghost come smashin', crashin', divin' down outen the sky an' turned their hard hearts to soft dough! That's what he done, praise the Lord! He come near gittin' old Steve Balch! He'll git the infidel an' the drunkard yit, so he will! Pearl, come forward an' play the organ, an' we'll sing a hymn of praise unto the Lord!" Pearl Balch, a girl of my own age, most competent performer on the school organ, obediently stepped to her station and began to playthe first hymn that came to her mind. Brother Leonard was in ecstasy. He bawled, jumped up and down, spat tobacco all over the room and over the heads of the younger children, who occupied the front seats, as he led the singing.
Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry! While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by!
Steve Balch and Louis Stuckey stood to one side, holding their hats in their hands, during this scene. When the hymn was finished, Steve spoke to Miss Billicks and the school at once, with an embarrassed grin.
"Well, "he said, "I guess I'd better be gettin' back to my hogs. "The three Board members departed. The two culprits already had taken their regular seats. Miss Billicks looked at her hunting-case gold watch and announced, while blowing her nose, "You will resume your studies. Chart class! One, two, three!" S. Ed Less taught our school one term, while waiting for the lightning to strike him. He was a paperhanger by trade, but, like other paperhangers known to history, he had great political ambitions. He was candidate for county sheriff on the Prohibition ticket. The Prohibition party was powerful in Kansas in that time. Mr. Less felt that he had better than an even chance of election. But the election did not come until November, and the paperhanging business was slack throughout the early autumn season, so our Mr. Less consented to take on a country school to fill in the time. If elected, he would resign the school; if not, he would continue to eat.
Mr. Less was short and squat, hardly to be called fat, yet more plump than the average man of his age, which was perhaps forty years. He had a round head, upon which the sandy hair was receding rapidly, and a flowing handlebar mustache which was tinged with red. His appearance was not belied by his speech. He spoke good paperhanger English, without too much attention to dictionary correctness. He drove to and from his little brick cottage on the southernoutskirts of Wichita in a two-wheeled cart. As a special favor to the pupils, he sometimes brought his red-haired, well-worn wife, Viola, and his handsome Newfoundland dog, on Friday afternoons, when there were recitations and singing by the pupils.
Mr. Less paid as little attention to his teaching as possible. He gave pupils and parents to understand that he was not really a teacher, but a statesman. He was willing to serve as sheriff while waiting for Prohibition to take over the world, and he would consent to teach the children of the farmers while awaiting the sheriff's baton.
Mr. Less had one immutable doctrine in regard to education of the young. All poetry must be committed to memory. As to multiplication, grammar and spelling, he was vague. The test of scholarship lay in the memorizing of verse.
This schema studiorum pleased me immensely, since I memorized verse with no effort at all, and had great pleasure in doing it. But I could never learn the multiplication tables, and the rules of scientific grammar made no sense in my infantile mind. I became at once the intellectual prodigy of the school, spouting verse in advance of assignments, and even penning additional stanzas and reciting them for good measure. My inability to add and subtract was overlooked by our genial instructor, and, in appreciation of his indulgence, I recited endless come-all-ye ballads in condemnation of Demon Rum.
Earl Kirby was otherwise gifted. Just what his compensatory talents were, I have forgotten. But he could not learn verse. One line was his limit.
The first poem in the Fourth Reader was something about Poor Little Harry, Out in the Snow. All members of the class, except Earl, made some sort of a fist of it. Earl got the first line: Poor little Harry, out in the snow . . .
There he stalled. He was given a day of grace. He must have the poem by heart at this time tomorrow, or . . .
Mr. Less pointed to a great hedge stick, six feet long, which he had cut with his own hands and trimmed with loving care. It was draped across the west wall, behind the teacher's desk.
"It'll be Poor Little Harry or Poor Little Earl, "said the Master, grinning significantly into his mustache.
Next day, Earl came to class, pale and shaking. I had heard him studying his poem all morning.
"Now, Earl, "said the pedagogue, "before we start the day's reading, let us hear about Poor Little Harry. "Earl rose, looked at the floor, and began: "Poor little Harry, out in the . . . out in the . . . out in the SNOW!" He felt the thrill of victory, for he had remembered the whole line. He paused, glanced at the stern visage of the master, and went white. Mr. Less walked to the wall, took down the great stick, and returned to his position. Earl went on: "Poor little Harry . . . Poor little Harry . . . Poor little Harry . . ." "Step out here in front of the class, Earl. Face the class, and maybe you can remember some more about Poor Little Harry. "Earl stepped out. Mr. Less took up position immediately at his rear, swinging the stick gently through the air, getting the range, fixing his grip on the heavy butt of the stick with both hands.
"Poor little Harry . . . "said Earl.
"Poor little Earl!" shouted the master, as he swung the hedge stick with all his might upon the youngster's back.
Thrice the great weapon carne down, and thrice the boy staggered under the impact of it. He did not cry, though several girls in the class did.
"Now Earl, "said the wise man, "let's have Poor Little Harry. All of it, Earl!" The student wiped his nose upon his coat sleeve, but made no sound. Mr. Less was upon him in full fury, crying in a loud voice, as blow after blow descended upon shoulders, back and legs, "Poor little Harry, out in the snow . . . out in the snow . . . let's hear the rest of it, Earl!" The youngster went down as he stumbled toward the aisle in an effort to escape the punishment. Mr. Less followed, raining blow after blow upon the prostrate body. When he had finished he said to two older boys, "Take him out to the pump and wash him up. He can go home then. "Just before election, a great entertainment was given at the school-house. We had been in training and rehearsal for it since school began, the day after Labor Day. Indeed, Mr. Less had avoided taking up any serious course of studies, on the presumption that he would be elected sheriff and would thereupon resign the headmastership.
The older girls had done most of the drilling and rehearsing of the performers. But Mr. Less himself had trained the student body in the singing of the great song, around which was built the day's program. It opened and closed the entertainment. Mr. Less led the chorus, facing the audience, using a two-foot ruler as a baton. The song went something like this, sung somewhat in the style of a Negro spiritual: Oh, neighbors, have you seen old Rummy, With a scowl upon his face?
Yes, I saw him on the street this morning, And he's going to leave the place!
Oh, yes they are tweedles, Yum-yum-yum; Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum!
My favorite number was sung by a chorus of girls, dressed in red-white-and-blue costumes. To a lively air it began: Oh, here we are, as thus you see, Each one a farmer's daughter; We know just when to legislate, And when we hadn't oughter!
And we don't want any saloon men To kneel to us and bow, sir, For we can do without a manIf he can't follow the plow, sir!
During the long weeks of rehearsal, I sat spellbound before the flashing beauty and noble virtue of this rural chorus, standing in two lines upon the rostrum and singing forth defiance to Demon Rum and his retinue of bums and saloonkeepers. I was enamored of at least three of the girls in the front row, but dared not speak of my passion, lest I be rebuked as an idolator. My experience with the business ofcourtship had been baffling. No matter what I said or did, in an effort to please the girls, the best I could get in return was; "Yeah, an' you an' your kinfolks worship idols!" Sometimes it was worse than that.
The Balch girls, however, were not that way. They were so nice and gentle that I never dared tell them how pretty I thought they were. On the occasion of the Prohibition entertainment, I decided to capture the hearts of practically all the girls in school, by reciting a poem that would melt them. But it would be addressed directly to Pearl Balch, whose pale blue eyes had me captive. I learned and practised "The Wreck of the Hesperus. "During the daily rehearsals I gloated over the solemn effect this recitation had upon the audience. I almost wept as I poured forth the lugubrious, superfatted lines.
I could not help looking directly at Pearl when I swept into the description of the skipper's daughter: Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax, Her cheeks like the dawn of day, And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds That ope in the month of May.
I thought that described this particular member of the Prohibition Chorus to perfection. I had never seen a hawthorn bud, but neither had I seen her bosom. I rather guessed that the comparison might be about right.
No matter how often I recited the twenty-two stanzas of treacle, the school audience paid me the compliment of quietness and attention. I began to think I was going to be an actor, and might some day play the part of Ben Hur.
Van never took any part in the entertainments, because he stuttered. He teased me about "The Wreck of the Hesperus, "imitating my delivery, and especially emphasizing the fact that I had a tendency to blush at the line, Like the horns of an angry bull.
During the weeks of rehearsal, I blushed more and more deeply at that line. If Van hadn't teased me about it, I probably would have got over the blushing after two or three rehearsals. But each time, after school, Van would say to the other boys, "Did you see him turn red when he said bull'? He turned redder today than he did yesterday. "As the date for the Prohibition entertainment came closer, I worried about that "bull" line. Van talked to me when we were hunting for the milch cows in the pasture, after school.
"Why, you fair-freckled turkey egg, you turned as red as a beet today when you said bull'! And how are you going to say a word like that right before Mother and the girls, in the entertainment? You know we're not allowed to say bull' at home. It's all right to say bull' out here in the pasture, maybe, with nobody listening but me. Oh, look, what's that coming toward us?" "That's the animal, of course." "There! What did I tell you? The animal. You don't dare even call him a bull, clear out here in the pasture. But you say it in school, right before all the girls. And you think you're going to say it in front of Mother and Mrs. Stough and all the neighbors at the entertainment. But you won't dare to. It would be like saying swear words, and you know it. "I bluffed Van, repeated the line again and again, in the pasture. But I grew more and more self-conscious about it as the day of the entertainment approached. I got the idea that the nicer girls in school didn't like the word any better than Mother did.
I had never before been nervous about recitations. I had loved to spout the heroic passages before a pop-eyed audience. I craved applause as if I were a Broadway ham. But now I found myself trembling as the moment for my number on the great program approached.
I took my stance before the crowded schoolroom, and recited the maudlin lines about the skipper and his lovely daughter with a bosom as white as hawthorn buds. I relished that line. I was thinking that it was a sort of secret compliment to Pearl, whose bosom probably was as white as that of the daughter of the skipper, though I could not be sure.
As I approached the stanza about the bull, I felt my knees shaking.
I could not keep my eyes off Mother, who was sitting in about the center of the room, obviously proud of her poetical, oratorical son. There was a smile of maternal satisfaction upon her face.
Could I betray her now, in the moment of her pride in me? Could I shame my family before the world by mentioning an unmentionable animal in public?
I rushed on with the lines, louder and louder, my face flushing and my breath coming in shorter and shorter takes. I reached the stanza, and, loudly and excitedly, declaimed: She struck where the white and fleecy waves Looked soft as carded wool, But the cruel rocks, they gored her side Like the horns of an angry. . . ANIMAL!
"Whoo ooI Ha-ha! Uh!" The boys were laughing. The girls looked puzzled. Van was doubling up in convulsions of merriment.
I stumbled off stage without finishing the next stanza. I was in a terrific sweat, gasping for breath, sobbing, hysterical. I never again recited a poem in that school, and far into my adult years the plague of stage-fright dogged me.
S. Ed Less was extremely anti-Catholic, but not as deeply learned in the history of the world as he should have been. There came a day in the history class when our master was impelled to expose the entire picture of the Whore of Babylon for the edification of the Protestants and the humiliation of the Catholic minority.
"Why did the Pilgrims come to Plymouth Rock?" he asked of the history class.
My sister Margaret, who was one of the big girls, replied, "In search of religious liberty." "Correct, "said Mr. Less, and continued: "You see, the Catholics were running England, and they persecuted all Protestants. These poor people wanted to worship God without any idols, but the Catholics hunted them out and killed them.
"All Catholics carried swords. When they met some poor fellow136 COUNTRY JXKEon the road, they said to him, `Are you a Catholic?' If he said `Yes, ' they let him go. But if he said `No, ' they chopped his head off with the sword. They would do that same thing right here if they got strong enough. They're against Prohibition. All saloonkeepers are Catholics. "I was seated far back in the schoolroom, but everybody could see how red I was getting. They all stared at me and at Van. Margaret, in the class, tried to correct Mr. Less on his history, but he shut her up.
"So the Puritans came to America to get away from the Catholic persecution, "said Mr. Less, "and some day they will succeed in banishing popery and the saloon from our midst. "We were hooted off the school ground that evening. We told the story at home. John said, "The man is unworthy of his position. He does not know whereof he speaks. I will go over there tomorrow and make him eat the blasphemous words he has spoken against the Holy Roman Catholic Church. "So John took Margaret to school next morning in the cart. We boys walked, but got there early enough to witness the contemplated humiliation of S. Ed Less.
Margaret went into the schoolhouse and asked Mr. Less to go out and speak with her brother. John sat in the cart and delivered the much-needed history lecture. He explained to the paperhanger that the Pilgrims were persecuted, along with the Catholics, but by the jolly Protestants who were in power at the time, and not at all by the Catholics, who were mostly in hiding.
John respectfully requested that the master publicly correct the error he had been teaching, and acknowledge before the school that he was altogether wrong, as a simple act of fairness to the one Catholic family in the school. He then went into his Lord Macaulay act, quoting at length from the "History of the Papacy" and other thundering wordage of the great apostle of sound and fury, Thomas Babington Macaulay.
Mr. Less was impressed. He was discomfited. He admitted that he might be wrong, but he did not promise to recant. He said, "I'll haveto refer. "Meaning, presumably, that he would have to do a little research on the history of the Mayflower and her people. He never recanted, corrected his grotesque historical lecture, or made any apology. I suppose some of those seekers after knowledge, if alive today, tell their children how the idolatrous Romanists chased the Pilgrim Fathers out of England.
There was an old custom of "teacher's treat, "in connection with the Christmas season. There was also a custom of "locking the teacher out" if the treat were not forthcoming. These traditions had been honored in the breach at our school under the term of S. Ed Less.
One December morning we arrived at the school ground to find that the big boys had taken possession of the schoolhouse and had locked the teacher out, pending his promise to treat the whole school with candy. Within were Newt Leonard, son of the non-writing member of the school board; Wick Stuckey, son of the clerk of the board; George Cooper, ward of Steve Balch, and two or three other boys who were old enough to be bachelors of arts but had decided to be merely bachelors.
Mr. Less accepted the challenge of the big boys and refused to promise anything. He borrowed a ladder and a pocketful of black gunpowder from the farmer living across the road from the school. He set the ladder against the eaves, scrambled up to the chimney, and tossed in the gunpowder. It blew the stove door open and clouds of smoke emerged.
The boys opened two windows and had the smoke blown out by the time Less had descended and was ready to climb in. Abandoning the frontal explosive attack, Less, with his pocket knife, began removing the putty from one of the small panes of glass in a window near the rear of the schoolhouse. These windows did not run on cords with counterbalancing sash weights. They were lifted by main strength, after you had pulled out brass stops that worked on springs. You shoved the window up until the springs popped the stops into holes in the casing, thereby keeping the window sash up.
Less purposed to take out a pane of glass, reach in, pull out a stop, and shove the window up. Then he would crawl in through the open window and take charge of his school.
When he removed the pane and reached inside, he found that the big boys would not let him reach the stop. They struck his knuckles with erasers. He had the pocket knife open in his hand. He slashed right and left with it. One good slash caught Newt Leonard on the right wrist, severing an artery.
Blood spurted against the window, over the floor and seats, upon the wall. One of the boys opened the front door. Less entered in triumph. Margaret slapped a tourniquet upon the slashed arm and stopped the bleeding just as the embarrassed farmer boy toppled over from loss of blood.
When Newt was strong enough, he walked the mile home, but not before announcing that his father would fire Less and then sue for damages.
But nothing happened. Less went on with his learned lecturing, and when a new pupil started to school we proudly showed him the bloodstains that marked the teacher's triumph over tradition.
. . . . thunder and lightning . . . .
We were accustomed to crises in family life.
Irish people are forever making solemn declarations that this is the very last time, that all will now be changed, that So-and-So is out of our lives forever, or that This One or That One shall never again darken our doors.
These violent crises are hard on children's nerves.
Take the time that Dad drove Van "away from home. "We had often been threatened with permanent exile. One morning I awoke to sudden realization that the dread thunderbolt had fallen upon Van.
It was almost dawn, and Van was getting corn from the granary to feed the horses. When I heard screaming and cursing, I looked out the window. Dad was knocking Van about, kicking him, and shouting, "Lave here now" Van was screaming, trying to get out of the Old Man's reach, and attempting to explain.
Big Flurry had caught this prodigal son in a fearful crime, or at least he thought he had done so. Van was letting the ear corn run into the bushel basket without sorting out the small and smutty ears. He explained afterward, as he was trying to explain now, that it was his custom to let the corn run into the basket out of the pile, and toss out the bad ears after two or three dozen ears were in the basket.
The Old Man thought Van was intending to feed the horses smutty corn, which might kill them. So he appeared to be about to kill Van.
The beaten youth hid in the woods that day, and returned to the house at night.
VAN AND I were still speculating upon our chances of going to school, and I was still a part-time invalid on account of the injury that had damaged my heart, when the world turned upside down. After forty years of married life, our parents decided they could not take it any longer, and Dad drove his load of wood to town, with directions for reaching Lawyer Sam Amidon's office in the Zimmerly Building, on Douglas Avenue.
There a financial settlement was reached easily enough. The Old Man was to get two thousand dollars, to be raised by a mortgage on the farm. He was to take this money and go, never to return.
When Mother balked at the supposed disgrace of a divorce in open court, a way was found to take care of the property problem. The parents deeded the property to John, to be held in informal trust, not as legal trustee, for the rest of the family. The lawyers shook their heads and the priest advised against it. But so it was done.
"Poor John will do right by his brothers and sisters, "said Mother. She was well satisfied with the arrangement.
John was teaching at the Wichita Commercial College. It was planned that he would continue on to the end of the term, which would just about coincide with late spring planting. Then he would come home and take charge of the farm. We younger boys were told that we were now to look to John as the paternal head of the house, and were to obey and respect him as we would a kind and just father. We would have to postpone plans for higher schooling until the mortgage should be paid off. This, we were sure, would be almost immediately, since big plans were in the making for farming on a modern scale.
While negotiations for the mortgage and final settlement wereunder way, Dad returned to the farm, as a sort of guest. He ceased to operate the farm, however, from the moment he made his mark on the deed, transferring ownership to John. He did such chores as pumping water for the livestock, chopping firewood, and feeding the hogs. But mostly he smoked his pipe, drank a little of his wine, and, in his town clothes, watched the family prepare to run the farm.
John came home on week-ends, and the family council laid plans for the new farming. While the mortgage ran for five years, it was confidently believed that the sum of $2, 500 could be paid off in a year or two, at most. John added $5oo to the amount necessary to pay off the Old Man, "for things that we need. "First on the list was a set of carriage harness, so that we need no longer be disgraced by work harness when driving to church, or in Riverside Park on the Fourth of July. Next, a riding plow and a riding cultivator.
Dad had always held that riding implements were "vannyties, "and that anybody who couldn't follow a plow on foot should become a lawyer or a schoolteacher. However, some of our most progressive neighbors, including Steve Balch, were using riding plows and cultivators. John explained that unnecessary slavery in the fields was not only foolish, but bordered upon the sinful. A person who walked behind a plow or corn cultivator all day was often too tired to say his prayers properly at night. The slavish labor that had bent Big Flurry's back and toughened his skin were old-fashioned.
Van agreed with all of this new agricultural theory, and contributed this bit of wisdom: "There's no hard work on the farm if it's managed right. "Van lived to regret that aphorism. In the years that followed, Van, neurotic and none too well physically, used to take a good amount of time out to sit in the shade of a tree and discuss affairs in general with John, on hot summer days. I would be digging potatoes in the heat of the day, and had no taste for these gab-fests, which, I judged, were merely devices for killing time.
So, when Van, sweating and dirty from the current labor in the sun, repaired to the shade of the tree, I would sing a foolish ditty I had composed without much thought or consideration: No hard work, no hard work, Oho, ho-ho, ho!
Sit on your rump, sit on your rump, Sit down on your rump and blow!
"Blow" was the current expression for foolish talking, or for what the soldiers call shooting the breeze.
In the days of waiting for the final settlement, Big Flurry watched with sarcastic interest the preparations of the family to reform agriculture and make a fortune quickly. He sat one day on the south porch, smoking his pipe, while Van and I, with axes, hatchets and corn knives, chopped down and grubbed out a thicket of low brush, a few yards south of the house, in an old peach orchard known as "The Shady Trees. "When we came to the pump for a drink of cool water, the Old Man burst forth.
"Oh, by gol, ye knows it alll" he thundered. "I planted them bushes there for cover for the chickens, that the hawks don't get them. Ye'll have a fine clane bit of ground, and no chickens, but the hawks will thank ye kindyl" We went on destroying the thicket, partly because John had told us to do it, and partly to show the Old Man that we were not taking orders from him any more. But as I worked I remembered how the roosters led the flocks of hens into this clump of brush, talking wildly, on many occasions, and how, upon looking up, we saw a chicken hawk, diving for his prey, but frustrated because he could not penetrate the cover.
Yes, in the years that followed, the hawks had reason to thank us kindly.
Almost every day the Old Man, solemn now and usually sober, on the eve of a new life at the age of 65, drove to town in the cart. He made the rounds of his old cronies, Fred Ross, Pat Gould, Gus Sauer and John McGowan. He talked to them about the breakup, about which it seemed hopeless now to do anything. His story was that the family, directed by "The Lawyer, "John, was driving him away from the home he had built with so much toil and hardship. This, ofcourse, was not strictly true, since Big Flurry had been demanding that the family get him some money so that he might "lave here" and go back to Ireland to spend his remaining days.
Friends, neighbors and acquaintances of the family divided on the issue. The cronies, of course, took Big Flurry's side, and talked of the terrible injustice that was being done to him by an ungrateful family. Mother's close friends took her side, though she did not welcome any outside discussion of the painful situation. Among the immediate farm neighbors, most of the men were sympathetic toward Big Flurry, for they knew him as a hard worker and an honest and helpful neighbor, whose Irishry, at first resented, they had learned to like.
Sitting by the kitchen stove one night, in February, as the negotiations were drawing to a close, Big Flurry, silent for days, uttered a few words.
"Pat Gould said a thrue thing today. Says he, `The family will miss the Old Man. ' Thruth for him. Surely to God, the family will miss the Old Man. "No one replied to this, or made any remark about it, and Dad rose, some tears starting dawn his weathered face, and walked out into the moonlight. He did not comeback that night, so I suppose he slept in a haystack or strawstack, as he often did when he was lonely.
When John came home for his week ends he commended Van for the work he had been doing. Because of my bad heart, I was not contributing very important labor, though I kept busy every day, doing chores, such as milking the cows, feeding livestock, pumping water, and pulling weeds. There was much planning for the new deal in farming in the Valley. We were going to raise hogs on a big scale. This meant planting some twenty acres of alfalfa, and putting most of the rest of the farm into corn. Also, it mean that we must buy some hundreds of young shoats, to supplement the pigs our own sows might produce.
One day, when the money had been paid over, Dad loaded his sea chest into the cart. It was all he could lift, partly loaded, as it was, with his most precious possessions, accumulation of a lifetime. Thechest was a well-made wooden box, about the size of a large trunk, painted red, with a hinged lid, two rope handles at the ends, and "F. Driscoll" in stenciled white letters on one end. Big Flurry had brought all his worldly goods from Ireland in that box.
He chose carefully from the tools that had been familiar to him for a lifetime. The marlinspike and the belaying pins he had brought from the sea; these went first into the sea chest. The cold chisel he had picked up on the Erie & Pittsburgh dock, when he was a coal shoveler, had been the only cold chisel we had ever seen on the farm. It had seen rugged duty, but was still in good condition. Along one side were the letters: "E. & P. R. R. "The business of loading the chest went on for days. The wedding boots, which had been kept under the bed for forty years and never worn except on ceremonial occasions, and the long-tailed wedding suit, were packed along with the mementos from sailoring days.
One evening, while this last work was in progress, Old Bill Booher, who lived directly west of us, a mile and a quarter away, drove up, presented himself at the back door, and took a seat in the kitchen. When he had the attention of both Mother and Dad, he cleared his throat and, in his good-humored back-country twang, he spoke around his enormous quid of tobacco: "I jest come down to talk it over. The way I see it, there ain't no call to break up a home full of sick nice people, an' I reckon I might he'p to clear things up, with jes some friendly advice. "Dad smoked his pipe in silence.
Mother said, "Our affairs are settled, and we do not welcome any meddling by neighbors. We try to keep our private affairs to ourselves. You're welcome to a glass of wine, Mr. Booher, but please do not mention our private family affairs to us again. "That pretty well took care of the old fellow. After a strained attempt to make conversation about the weather and crop prospects, he drove away, and never came back.
So there came a sunny spring day, after a light noon dinner, when the Old Man put on his wide-brimmed black hat, took a bundle ofclothes under his arm, and climbed into the one-horse cart, beside his sea chest.
"Ye'll find the harse and cart in Butler's stable, "he said to Van and me, as he took up the reins. We stood awkwardly, watching this bitter scene, and wondering what it portended for all of us.
"Goodbye to ye, byes, "he said, and we said goodbye timidly. Old Roan jogged down the hill to the highway, and the Old Man was gone. Van and I went in to try to talk Mother out of the black mood of despair and gloom which had been settling over her as the final separation neared.
We found her going about her household work, her eyes red with weeping. Our timid approaches to conversation were met with wild and whirling words.
Van and I went out to the apple orchard, glorious with fragrant bloom, and sat under a tree. We talked of the future, how we were now free from the tyranny of the Old Man, and how we would surely have money and opportunity for education.
Van was not so optimistic as I. Also, he was a bit more cynical about the whole business. He had lived three years longer than I. "We may make a go of it, "he said, "but then again, we may not. John is no good, all dressed up in city clothes. He can't be a professor and a farmer at the same time, but that's what he wants to be. You are not much good as a farm hand. Who's going to do the work?" I was silent, miserable within, grinning mockingly to hide the hurt. My heart was pounding, irregularly.
. . . . thunder still . . . .
God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and certain saints were much in our minds, and played important roles in our goings and comings, our rising up and retiring.
Dad had held less and less with God and His saints, as his unhappiness in family life had increased. He still used the Holy Name, however, in many ways common to many men. He had called upon God to damn the horses and cattle, the cockleburs, the Johnson grass, the politicians and the boas that annoyed the horses. He was dramatic in asking God to serve as witness to the most trivial statements, and freely gave God permission to strike him or some other person or animal dead, presently.
I have observed, as life has flowed on and on, that it is not uncommon for modern men, like the ancient Romans, to identify God with happiness in the home. When happiness fades, God often is shoved aside. One might assume, from current evidence, that what man requires of God is domestic felicity.
Mother leaned more and more upon divine guidance, spent more time in church, and particularly confided in the Holy Mother of God. I accepted Mother's gracious attitude toward the Queen of Heaven, and joined with her in supplication for aid: . . . that we Thy servants may rejoice in continual health of mind and body; and through the glorious intercession of Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, be freed from present sorrow and enjoy eternal gladness. Through Christ our Lord.
If someone tore his pants, carelessly left a gate ajar, chopped his instep with an ax, or broke a window, the exclamation of the superior was not, as one hears in New York, "Well, for Christ's sake!" More likely: "Glory and honor be to the Almighty and Merciful God!"
THE FAMILY policy was that which was outlined succinctly to Old Man Booher by Mother. We did not discuss our troubles with strangers. Some of the closest friends of Mother never heard her side of the case. When I was questioned about the situation in school, I said, "Dad has gone to Ireland on a visit. "The questioners knew better. But I was getting to be a big boy, mixed very little with the other pupils, and was considered somewhat unapproachable.
Van had quit school. He had to give all his time to the farm work, and often recommended to Mother that I be made to do more work, or else be shipped off to some foreign place, where I would not be in the way.
That first spring we had a hired man named John Zimmerman. He was a neat, clean, hard-working fellow of forty or more. His hair was graying, and he wore a stubby mustache. He shaved more often than most hired men, and Mother came to depend upon him for mature advice about farming matters.
With a commercial college son in charge, and two mere schoolboys to carry out orders, Mother needed the advice of a managerial hired hand, and Zimmerman seemed to be the man for the job. He advised when to plant, when to castrate the pigs, which cows should be milked. He ate at the table with the family, and we all became quite fond of him, despite a mysterious quality that seemed to cause him to draw up within a shell occasionally, like a turtle.
At some meals Zimmerman would talk in friendly manner, and at others he would not say a word. At such times he wore a gloomy, almost frightened look. He would not answer when spoken to. Next day he might be normal again.
We knew that Zimmerman had been ill, and that he was taking weekly treatments from a doctor in Wichita. He usually walked the five miles to town on Saturday afternoons, and saw his doctor.
He had been with us several months, drawing the customary pay of sixty cents a day in winter and seventy-five in summer, with a dollar a day for extra heavy work, when he began to show signs of a decided mental unbalance.
He fell into a silent brooding at the dinner table. He did not eat. He stared at his coffee cup.
Suddenly he looked up and, smilingly and apologetically, said, "Sometimes I think you folks are trying to poison me. "He paused, snickered, and added, "But then, I know that you would not want to poison me. "That evening, Mother paid Zimmerman off, and he went away. He seemed happy enough, and sorry only that he had to leave such good friends.
Next day we read in the paper how he had been waiting in the anteroom of his doctor's office, and had suddenly gone berserk. He tore the telephone off the wall, knocked the doctor out with it, and chased everybody out of the quarters. He was smashing up the furniture and making a bonfire of it when the police came. We never heard any more of poor John Zimmerman.
A hired man and Van threw up the lister ridges the first spring, but handling the heavy lister, even with the corn-planting machinery detached, was almost too much for Van, who was thin, nervous, impatient with the horses, and had no reserve strength. The listing was done as soon as the frost was out of the ground. Then, when planting time came, Van, with one horse drawing the light planting machine, worked early and late, getting in the crop.
The corn was slow about coming up. Steve Balch, experienced neighbor, came over one day, looking about the fields, as neighbors do. Van asked him why our corn was not coming up. Steve dug with his fingers in the row, and laughed quietly.
"You've planted it awful Jesuschristly deep!" he said. "Maybe it'llcome up, but I think I'd just go to work and plant it all overagain. "Eventually, after loss of precious sunny days, the corn poked its pale way through the ground. But there were long gaps in every row! It turned out that Van had not set the dropping plates correctly, and they had missed a certain number of drops on every round.
John undertook to fill in the gaps with a hand planter, but after a week of back-breaking labor with this primitive instrument, he gave it up. Fifty acres had to be replanted with the one-horse planter. By the time it got started, the weeds were away out in front.
About all this, John was patient, never offering a word of criticism of Van or his work. "Everybody makes mistakes, "he said, and silently went about the job of trying to make a crop. He bought a disk cultivator, especially designed for listed corn in its early stages. It was a sled, fitting exactly into the trench, with three adjustable disks on each side. Drawn by two horses, with the driver seated in a springless seat, it competently tore down the ridges and destroyed the weeds. It was a great success.
Drought struck a little earlier than usual that summer. Because our corn had a late start, it was badly hit. Day after day we saw the results of many long hours of hard work withering in the hot winds. The summer Rogation Days of the Church's calendar were always devoted to prayers for rain, with special Masses and litanies.
We were too busy trying to keep the livestock from starving or famishing for water to go to church. But we had the Litany of the Saints, Litany of the Blessed Virgin, and Litany of the Infant Jesus every evening, after the cicadas had finished their infernal heat songs in the trees around the house. John led the prayers, each member of the family kneeling beside a chair and making the responses.
Despite the prayers, the corn made sorry ears and began to wither while those ears were attempting to make a tassel.
The McCormick Harvester Company was putting out a corn harvester that year, said to be even more marvelous than the wheat harvester that had been a standard farm machine for years. It seemed improbable that any machine could do the job that had been donewith a corn knife, wielded by hand, since the beginning of the corn crops of the plains. But John dressed up, went to town, talked with Billy Holloway, implement salesman who had sold Dad his farm implements for many years. Billy said yes, the corn harvester was a success. He referred John to the McCormick warehouse, where the machine was being demonstrated.
John made a certain impression on the management of the McCormick agency, because he seemed more intelligent than the average farmer, though not skilled in machine operation. He came home with a corn harvester, obtained for a small rental fee. It was a model that had been used experimentally, but was merely well broken in. We started harvesting our sad-looking stand of corn, to be used as fodder for cattle and horses during the coming winter.
The machine broke down mysteriously from time to time, but while it worked it was a wonder of swift efficiency. It operated like a mowing machine, with but two cutting blades.
The binding apparatus was approximately the same as that used in the wheat harvester. So the fodder was turned out in neat bundles, tied with twine. Some of it we shocked, and some was put into great stacks, protected against the weather and situated close to the cattle corrals. Well, the corn crop was lost, but there was plenty of fodder, thank God.
About this time, John had one of his infrequent romantic interludes. He fell hard for a hefty maiden lady who was a relative of old friends and lived with them in the city. She was a good Catholic, came from Back East, and was from a good Irish family which we shall call Conley. This was the first affair of the heart John had had since, as a professor at a Lutheran college in Winfield, he had courted, awkwardly enough, another robust maiden lady.
It was difficult to fit regular courtship into such a heavy work schedule as the farm situation seemed to call for.
John went to Billy Holloway and bought a beautiful buggy, and a buggy harness was purchased from the Gibson shop, on West Douglas Avenue. John polished the buggy and oiled the new harnesslovingly, while making speeches to the empty air, on Sunday afternoons and on rainy days.
We had no driving horse at this time, and the fine harness fitted ill upon the powerful frames of the plow horses. But John took a horse that had not been working that day, told Van and me to clean up and curry the animal, and, having quit the corn harvest in late afternoon, announced, "I must go to town to see the McCormick people. "This became such an open jest among us that we always referred to the healthy charmer as "The McCormick People. "John always was mysterious about his affairs of the heart. I suppose this was due to the circumstance that love and courting were subjects seldom referred to in our home except in terms of derision. It never would have occurred to any member of the family to say, "I rather like Joe Simms, and he likes me. He wants me to marry him, but I don't know. "During the corn harvest, in extremely hot, dry weather, I chanced to visit the far south end of the farm, in the course of a search for "Huntzbarger cow. "She had no other name. We had bought her for sixteen dollars from the estate of the lately deceased Captain Billy Huntzbarger, long-time friend of the family. She produced a calf each spring, and gave a commendable portion of milk each evening and morning. But she had been absent from duty for two days, and could not be seen with the rest of the scrubby herd.
In the center of the Old Green Pond stood Huntzbarger cow, stuck fast in the quicksand that underlay the slimy bottom of the pond. The pond varied in depth with the seasons and with river conditions. The Arkansas River was a half mile to the east, but all of the bottom land was supplied with more or less moisture by an underground river, which raised and lowered the water table as the river itself swelled or shrunk.
The Old Green Pond was deep enough to tap the underground stream, which flowed through it so sluggishly that you could observe no current, and the surface was covered with a thick skin of algae.
Huntzbarger cow didn't seem to be perturbed about her predicament. She was very stupid, but more gentle and tame than the wild cows that constituted most of our herd.
She looked lazily at me through the reeds of the bank, and chewed her cud thoughtfully.
John had knocked off for the day, and was shaving, when I reached the house and reported the plight of Huntzbarger cow. He and Van accompanied me to the pond. John stood on the bank and surveyed the situation.
"She is an old fool, "he said, "and shall be permitted to pay for her folly. She is in the quicksand, but only up to her ankles. If she would make an honest effort, she could save herself, but, like many human beings, she is content to stick in the mud the rest of her life. You will observe that the water is only up to her belly. I must go to see the McCormick people, and the nature of our business brooks no delay. Tomorrow we will pull her out, if God wills that she be not too far sunk by that time. "John took his girl for a ride that night. It was quite dark. The well groomed lover was not one to pay too much attention to his driving under any circumstances, and he may have had other things on his mind besides horsemanship anyway. Lines dangling on the dashboard, he drove off the edge of a wooden culvert. The buggy fell on its side into a muddy gulch below, the bulky, tightly corseted beauty landing atop the hapless swain and jamming his new five-dollar Dunlap hat into the mud.
The young lady was angry about the incident, charging it to obvious lack of a skill which any farmer should possess. The courtship waned from that moment, and eventually vanished in cool formality.
Next morning John arose late, and was not in the best of humor. We harnessed a team of horses, and drove to the Old Green Pond. There was Huntzbarger cow, still chewing her cud, but having to hold her head high to avoid shipping green water over the bows. She was sinking on an even keel, and did not seem to mind.
John deftly dropped a lasso over and around the wide-branching horns, drew the loop tight, and fastened the other end of the line tothe clevis on the heavy double-trees. The team was started slowly up the bank. With a grunt and a moan, Huntzbarger cow began to move, like a lost submarine rising to the lift of pontoons.
She was hauled ashore, and immediately began grazing ravenously upon the tough slough grass that bordered the pond. We put her back into the pasture and went to our corn harvesting.
In the Book that I had been reading, lying on my belly on the parlor floor, it said: For in this is the saying true: That it is one man that soweth, and it is another that reapeth.
I copied it out in my brown-covered copybook, in which I had copied " Mazeppa's Ride, ""Marching Through Georgia, "and a beautiful poem about "The finest town you ever saw; The Gem of Kansas, Wichita. "Van said I probably was blaspheming when I quoted this verse from the Gospel of St. John, because I could not possibly know what it meant. Hell, with fire hotter and flames higher than we had seen when the Stewart Iron Works on South Washington Street burned, was waiting for blasphemers.
Nevertheless, I said, we were sowing for somebody else to reap, as long as we stayed on the farm and missed school.
Van said it would be skimpy reaping that anyone would ever do out of my sowing, since I was no good anyway. But he added that he, for one, was going to go to school and become a lawyer, just as soon as the hogs were sold.
I said that he would be the first stuttering lawyer in the world, and that the judge would not be so kind to him as Father Tihen had been, hearing his catechism all by himself, so that he would not disgrace the family with his stuttering.
We fought, and I threw a piece of watermelon in Van's face.
THE PRICE of hogs on the Wichita market was scheduled to go sky-high as a result of the crop failure in that dry summer. Nobody had enough corn to feed hogs. There was always a nice balance between the price of corn and the price of hogs, and few farmers ever figured out the problem of the advisability of feeding the corn or selling it to people who would take the risk of feeding, in a dry year.
In a series of consultations, mostly inspired by Van's enthusiasm for making money right away and paying off the mortgage, it was decided that we would go into the hog business while it was possible to get big prices. Next winter we would feed what grain we had and buy the rest of the feed. The forty or fifty head of hogs, including brood sows, that we had on hand, would be small business.
John took a mortgage on the horses, the first chattel mortgage experience of our lives, and started buying pigs and alfalfa seed. We sowed one field of sixteen acres, on a hill, to alfalfa, and got a fine stand. Here the pigs should range on green, succulent pasture until ready for feeding.
Hundreds of dollars were spent on fencing, a commodity that Dad knew little about and was exceptionally careless with. Dad had used cottonwood posts and three strands of barbed wire to fence the pasture and woods. Cottonwood posts rotted off at the ground in two years. Hungry cattle, in dry August, would lean against the barbed wire, reaching for green grass outside, break off the rotted posts, and go storming through the cornfields, ruining crops, and, in many cases, killing themselves by overeating corn in the milk.
We would have no such incompetence on our farm.
While John spent the midwinter months teaching in the CommercialCollege, Van hewed out hardwood posts by hundreds. He induced Mother to hire a couple of choppers, and the posts came in by thousands. Loads were sold to railroads for fencing right-of-way, and thus the grocery bill was sometimes kept within bounds. Hundreds of posts were piled, to season, as fencing for the farm.
Van was a good fence-builder. Alone, he dug the post holes with a new-fangled steel tool that required a good deal of arm-and-back labor. Alone or with one helper, he stretched the barbed wire with a ratchet stretcher. Alone, or with John on week ends, he stapled the wires and braced the corner posts.
When it came time to fence for hogs on a big scale, Van and John made a pilgrimage to the ranch of Carl Critzer, a German farmer of fabulous reputation, many miles to the west of Wichita, who farmed thousands of acres of upland. He had the agency for Page Woven-Wire Spring-Steel Fence. It was the best in fencing if you knew how to put it up. At regular intervals in the woven-wire fabric there were amazingly strong steel springs that allowed for changes in temperature and kept the fence taut and strong.
It took strong posts, especially at the corners, to hold fast against the perpetual pull of this fencing. Van studied the technique of Critzer, who had his ranches fenced with hog-high and horse-high Page wire. He came home and started cutting corner posts of enormous size from hard woods. Also braces and brace posts of unusual strength. When John came home and started to work, Van already had most of the post holes dug. Those for corner installations were bigger than a standard grave.
Each corner post was not only long and large, but it had two sets of crosspieces, as anchors, below the surface. It was braced in skilled manner against an anchored brace post. In those days the idea of anchoring posts with concrete had not been introduced, but these fences, so marked with integrity of design and construction, served out their time, and never did a hag get through one of them.
This must be recorded in Big Flurry's defense, in the matter of bad fencing versus permanent fencing. There was little or no hard wood to be had when the big Irishman settled on the Valley farmand started to hew a living out of it. There was one line of Osage hedge, a hard, gnarled wood, good for fencing, on the south border of the farm. Who planted it, we never knew. It was less than a quarter of a mile long. Dad permitted it to grow, because it served as a windbreak to prevent soil erosion.
The Old Man was a believer in trees. He planted and transplanted thousands of them on the Valley farm. He soon observed that unprotected land blew away in the heavy windstorms, and planted many rows and groves to protect the soil.
The only native wild hardwood on the farm was a clump of a hundred or more coffeebean trees, near the south border, in the depths of the woods, covering low sand hills. It may have been years before Dad discovered that these were of hard wood. Again, he may have spared them because of unwillingness to denude the sand hills and let them blow away.
There were, to be sure, black walnut trees. These grew slowly, produced hundreds of bushels of walnuts every autumn, and were too noble to cut down for posts. Big Flurry never cut one down. He planted thousands of them.
When Big Flurry heard of the black locust, and how it would grow in Kansas sand and weather, he bought thousands of saplings and planted three groves of them in strategic locations.
There was a sandy spot, probably ten acres, in the northeast corner of the cultivated part of the farm. It should not have been broken out for cultivation, since it was almost barren, but sometimes produced a crop of sorghum.
To hold this sand from blowing, and to use soil that was otherwise almost useless, Dad planted a couple of rows of black locusts on the north boundary.
A grove of twenty rows, nearly a quarter of a mile long, was planted in similar sand, a short distance southwest of the house, to hold the sand and furnish, eventually, hardwood posts.
Another grove was planted at the southern edge of the cultivated fields.
In the course of the story of the Valley farm, I will refer to theremarkable broadcasting fertility of these trees. It had something to do with the eventual fate of farm and family.
When Van began his energetic campaign for proper fencing, the locust groves were just coming into production. They were good for posts then, but would not have been good three or four years earlier. They are fast-growing hardwoods.
Dad had planted miles of Osage hedge, mostly, with the false hope, shared by thousands of Kansas farmers, that this thorny shrub-or-tree would make a cheap, permanent, impenetrable fence for all kinds of animals. The thorns are much more wicked than the barbs on barbed wire. The catch is that the hardy tree sometimes dies, leaving a hole in the fence. Barbed wire and woven wire do not act that way.
Some of the hedge had been permitted to grow into trees, instead of being laid, cut and trimmed into supposedly ornate and safe fences. Here were additional carloads of hardwood posts for Van's program.
The coffeebean trees went down. But the council voted against harming even one of the hundreds of black walnut trees.
Critzer came to supervise the building of the miles of fence. He approved Van's posts. Tons of woven wire were unreeled and stretched until the wires were so taut that you could play tunes on them. A two-acre tract that had been a potato patch for many years, and was still as rich as any spot on the farm, was separately fenced for feeding pens.
One of the weaknesses of the over-all scheme was lack of water supply for the coming hog population. The windmill, wrecked years ago in a windstorm, stood as it had stood since the misshapen steel wheel had draped itself over the top of the sturdy wooden tower. All day and all night it kept up its monotonous and foreboding "bong-bong, long-long, "as the wind moved it to and fro, and the tower of stout oak swayed slightly with the motion.
Dad's failure with windmill power discouraged John from attempting another experiment. Mother warned everybody to keepclear of the windmill area in high winds, as the tower, she said, was rotting at the surface of the ground. Nobody paid any attention to her.
While I was not considered strong enough to do field work with horses, such as plowing and operating a disk harrow, at this time, I was permitted to pump water, often through most of a torrid day, despite the circumstance that my injury was contracted while doing this simple chore.
In the fall, John looked about for young pigs. They were not hard to find. All the hog farmers, particularly those in the uplands, who had been hit hard by the drought, wanted to get rid of the autumn crop of pigs. From two upland farmers in Butler County we purchased, at a song, four hundred pigs, just beginning to know what eating meant.
For three years we were in the hog business. The first crop flourished through an unusually cold winter. We had built a cozy shed, about a block long, for their protection against the weather. It had the familiar design of crotch-poles and cross-poles, supporting a roof of brush, weeds, and straw. The one wall was of boards.
All through the first half of winter, we hauled wagonloads of corn, bran and other fattening feed, from mills and warehouses in town. The mortgage on the horses was about used up when the hogs, now fat and beautiful to the eye of the farmer, were pronounced ready to sell.
Van urged selling at once. John, always for delay, read the market reports and said he would wait for a rise which would mean a fortune. Not only would the chattel mortgage be paid off, but the mortgage on the farm as well. Also, there were projects afoot.
"We shall want plenty of money in the bank for things that we need, "John explained to Mother, as we sat by the dining room fire of cottonwood in the evenings, before prayers.
Then there was that matter always referred to as "raising the roof. "This was a plan to add one full story to the Kitchen Part, making it the main part of the house, with large modern bedrooms, highceilings, and nice furnishings. It was agreed that Dad had been stingy in building the Kitchen Part only one story high.
Other improvements in the house were discussed. A pump already had been installed on the edge of the back porch, only a few steps from the kitchen door. It was an iron pitcher pump, and worked easily, with plentiful flow of water. This was a great improvement over the routine of going to the so-called windmill and pumping the water, then carrying it to the house and up the steps of the porch. It had cost practically nothing, since there were pitcher pumps to spare in the storehouses on the farm, and lots of lead pipe. The only cash outlay was for a new copper screen on the pump point, which was driven into a clear flow of the underground river, only six or eight feet below the surface. This made life much easier for Mother, who was not geting any stronger as the years passed and worries mounted.
Now, when the hogs were sold, Mother might look forward to a pump right in the kitchen, and the spot was picked. It should have been here ever since the place was built, but the Old Man had been inconsiderate, so far as anybody's being overworked was concerned. This was changed now. We boys, recognizing advancing age in Mother, pumped and carried the water, chopped and carried the wood, much more faithfully than we had ever done heretofore.
The subject of education for the boys was skirted in the family councils, but it was agreed in principle that education is desirable, especially sound Catholic education. Van tried to get definite commitments, and angrily called attention to the progress being made by the boys of our ages, the Healys, Courtneys and many others who were away out in front of us, and especially of Van, who had a three-year handicap in addition to mine.
It was tacitly agreed that the education would come, along with raising the roof and installing the pump.
. . . . alarum still . . . .
About this time I found a passage in the Book of Psalms which I was constrained to copy in ink in my brown book. Van said, when he saw it, that I would never be able to do anything but copy what other people had written, and that I would be mocked in the streets when I attempted to peddle my stuff. However, this seemed appropriate: O Lord God of Hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy servant?
How long wilt thou feed us with the bread of tears, and give us for our drink tears in measure?
Thou past made us to be a contradiction to our neighbors, and our enemies have scoffed at us.
I read this aloud to Mother, and she said that I should go ahead with my reading of the Bible, but that I must guard against a sinful greed of knowledge. Inordinate desire for knowledge, it was called, and it often led to the sin of pride, which, as all men know, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I hunted up a Prayer Against Pride in the big prayer book, read it carefully, and went back to the Book, wondering whether it might be a sin to desire to know everything in it.
Then, too, there was the History of England, about which I had a desire that sometimes seemed a bit inordinate.
JOHN WAS a late riser. This was a certain indication that he was not a good farmer. Van often pointed this out, and not in a gentle manner.
John's answer was, "It is not how early you get up that counts, but how much you get done after you get up. "Van, driven by a nervous urge and unflagging ambition, usually was first out of bed in these amateur farming years. He was watering the horses, feeding the hogs, preparing for the work in the fields or woods. He appeared at breakfast, red-faced with excitement and resentment against John's calm laziness.
Van and John slept in the same bed, in the room known as John's Room, on the northwest corner of the second floor. It was not a very good bed, as I had occasion to know. I had shared it with Van when John was working in town.
It creaked. There was a second-hand spring that was no good when it was new. There was a straw mattress, or tick. Van and I fought over the insufficient covers every cold winter night. As Van was much taller than I, and latterly much stronger, he usually won the covers. Sometimes we tore sheets and blankets right down the middle, when fighting over their poor protection from the north wind that whistled cruelly through the ill-fitting window frames.
One incident passed into family tradition. Van, tired of my hogging the covers, began beating me with his fists, while he tore the covers off me. After crying for a while and loudly complaining, I gave up the struggle sleepily, saying, "Well, I guess I'll sleep on till morning. "Thereafter, when any suggestion of the desirability of resignationwas involved, somebody quoted the line, "Well, I guess I'll sleep on till morning. "There was no question of contesting with John for possession of the bedclothes. When Van slept with him, the situation was well in hand. John was a sound sleeper, and he liked lots of sleep. When the family sat about the dining room stove on winter nights, reading Farm & Fireside, The Chicago Household Guest, The Orange Judd Farmer, The Weekly Kansas City Star, or Farm & Home, after the current issue of Comfort, The Key to a Million Homes, had been devoured, John might become sleepy early. His eyes were never as good as they should be, and they tired easily.
In such a case, John, after prayers, would step to the foot of the stairs and, turning to the company, would say portentously, "There's no use for one to go to bed. "At a silent gesture from Mother, we all trailed off to bed.
One morning, following an evening's discussion of raising the roof and possibly purchasing a team of trotters for the carriage, the voice of Van was heard, before sunup, shouting from the back yard as his father had learned to shout in an Atlantic hurricane: "Get up! Get up! The hogs are dying like flies! It's all over! See what you can do about it! See what Charlie Carey will say about raising the roof!" Charlie Carey was the president of the National Bank of Commerce, old friend of the family, who had given the chattel mortgage. We all got up, and, in morning numbness, proceeded to the hog pens. The hogs were not dying like flies.
Two fat hogs lay dead in the feeding pen. Others were obviously ailing, unable to rise, breaking down in the hindquarters, or lying on their sides, breathing heavily.
John did not reply to Van's railings. He said, quietly, "Pneumonia. You can tell by the breathing. We should have banked that backwall with earth, to keep the draft out. Fatting hogs are quite susceptible to pneumonia, as are fatting people. God, I am sure, will give us the answer." "You don't have to wait for God, "answered Van, his face livid with angry excitement. "I told you three weeks ago, and ever since, to get out of your coma and market the hogs. It's pneumonia like my eye. Cholera! We'll lose every hog. We're ruined! Go and tell Charlie Carey your plans for raising the roof. "John did not answer, but raised his eyebrows manner, as if to say, "The boy in the third row whispering. "Mother suggested that, since we had all been aroused early, and had not had time to say our morning prayers, we say them in common before breakfast, so that God might turn away his wrath, and the hogs might be saved for legitimate slaughter. We said quite a lot of prayers, but Van told me privately that a bit of common sense and a lot of sweat were useful concomitants to religion. The hogs, he said, were beyond the aid of prayer.
So it proved. Of the more than four hundred hogs, twelve skinny old sows were left, after five weeks of heartbreak. Every day we spent burying the dead hogs. They were fat and fine, well bred, handsome. But they were dead, and had to be buried.
As Van and I stood at the fence one cold morning, counting the newly dead hogs, he said sadly, in a voice and tone exactly like Big Flurry's, "We've a long, hard struggle before us yet. ". . . . intermezzo: hearts and flowers . . . Love was not mentioned among us, except as it might chance to be the love of God, or something equally respectable. One sister was married, to be sure, and I had seen her strolling through the blossom laden apple orchard with her new husband, when they had come back from their honeymoon in Colorado.
They had their arms around each other.
I was rather ashamed of the sight, and could not imagine what had come over my sensible sister, to make her act thus.
Don Fordyce, who beheld the spectacle with me, said, "That's the way they all do when they're first married. It won't last long. They'll be fighting inside of a year. "I marveled at the wisdom of Don, who was only three years older than I. But I determined to be like John, never making a fool of myself over a woman--or hardly ever.
Poetry, I discovered, was mostly about love. This was as difficult to understand as the undeniable fact that most of the famous works of art had nude women in them, or women who might just as well be nude, so far as their modesty was concerned.
Love and nude women were filed away in a dark corner of the mind, for possible investigation after education should be taken care of.
MARGARET WAS absorbed in her teaching. She seemed little affected by successive tragedies. One day came Fate, in the ridiculous little form of Aunt Fannie, from Erie, to pay us a visit.
When Mother and Auntie entered the house, on a cold night when spring was trying to push winter out the door, I could hear Auntie's strange, semi-hysterical laughing and chattering; "Yes, El, I have a message for Margaret! A message, I'll tell you! It's a message from Tom Kennedy! She'll be my next wife, ' says he! Yes, El, as God is my judge, Tom Kennedy said that himself! Says he, he says, She'll be my next wife!' Mark my words, El, Tom Kennedy always gets what he wants. I have that message for Margaret!" It sounded pretty silly. Nobody answered the chortlings and gasps of great news, and soon the group was settled around the fire, talking of who had been taken and who had married whom, back in Erie.
Next day, Aunt Fannie went visiting at Marie's house, a few miles away. Margaret was teaching school in that neighborhood and was boarding with Marie and her husband, Ed Blood. They had one or two babies at the time.
That day, Mother sat in a thoughtful mood, looking calmly out the kitchen window. After long silence she said to me, in a far-off, detached tone which I had learned to recognize as something mysterious, "Fannie will take Margaret back to Erie with her when she goes, and will marry her to Tom Kennedy. "As always on these occasions, when Mother spoke prophetically, I laughed immoderately and jovially taunted her for predicting the impossible, and so far ahead.
As always, too, Mother seemed not to hear my laughing and talk.
Looking into space, eyes unfocussed, she merely said, "Yes, Margaret will marry Tom Kennedy. "None of us, except Marie, had ever seen Tom. Years before, when Aunt Fannie and Cousin Fannie Lynch (called Little Fan) had visited us, Little Fan had shown us photographs of two young men who wanted to marry her. We all picked Tom Kennedy as the better looking and as having the more character in his face. Fan had said that she already had made up her mind to choose him, and she was glad we agreed.
A year or so later, Marie had gone back to Erie to be a bridesmaid at Fan's wedding. She reported that Fan had got herself a nice husband, a mild, good-natured, church-going Irishman who worked as a tool designer in some of the big machine shops, such as the Erie Forge.
Letters from Erie brought news from time to time. The Kennedys had had a little boy, named Milton. Little Fan's health failed rapidly after his birth, and in a few months she was dead. Some one of the relatives sent us a stenographic transcription of the funeral sermon, which, even in my elementary stage of English appreciation, I recognized as a tiresome piece of tripe. I could not get over the fact that the priest, who was necessarily educated, or at least had gone to school, had said, in telling an illustrative story, "Often and frequently they went to the grave. "I pointed this tautology out to my family, and the criticism was received in silence.
Aunt Fannie had taken over responsibility for the care of the motherless baby. Tom had gone to live at the Union Depot Hotel, in Erie.
Now. Auntie had come again, with her perpetual giggle and talk, bringing three-year-old Milton, all dressed up in a red suit, with long, yellow curls reaching to his shoulders. Auntie had spoiled him to the extent that he was a holy terror to all beholders. He kicked her shins and pounded her knobby little behind while she worked about the kitchen, and she took it all in the spirit of a martyr. She never would punish him for his wild tantrums, or for his deliberate wetting of his nice clothes.
Soon after her arrival, Auntie went to visit the Bloods and their teacher-boarder, Margaret. Whether she delivered Tom's message, I do not know. But, after several visits, back and forth, between the two farms, it was arranged that as soon as school was out, Auntie and the boy would be going back to Erie, and Margaret would go along, on her own money, of course. It would be her first chance to see Niagara Falls.
Margaret sent us some beautiful snapshots of the Falls. She explained that the fellow in some of the foregrounds was Tom Kennedy, who had gone with her on the excursion. He was a nice man, she said.
When she returned to the farm, late in the summer, Margaret announced that she was engaged to Tom. She had hated him at first, she said, because of Aunt Fannie's constant advertising of his virtues, but had come to know him on the Falls trip, and had fallen in love.
Preparations for the wedding began. Margaret explained that she was not planning a blow-out, but that it should be a proper formal wedding. There should be a wedding breakfast in the dining room of the farmhouse for a small company.
The dining room table would have to go. It was a solid walnut drop-leaf table, ordinarily seating six, but extensible to accommodate ten or a dozen. It was old-fashioned, said the bride-elect, and would, never do for a wedding breakfast. I have seen a few similar tables in New York antique shops, priced up to two hundred dollars, in recent years.
Margaret made a deal with Philip Schott, a second-hand dealer on East Douglas Avenue, whereby he gave two dollars of imaginary credit for the table, and sold her a pedestal golden oak pine table, in the borax tradition, for something like twenty dollars. It was a hideous piece of junk, any way you looked at it, but it made Margaret happy, and Mother was in a mood to accede to her wishes.
Tom arrived at the Missouri Pacific station, and was met by his fiancée and a family delegation. Mother's first impression was unfavorable, but the rest of us liked the suave, soft-spoken, smiling gentleman, obviously somewhat older than his wife-to-be, but stillyoung enough to be handsome in his well fitting clothes and a snappy fedora hat.
They were married at Mass the next morning by Father Henry Tihen, old friend of the family, in the Pro-Cathedral. We boys were permitted to witness the ceremony, but were directed to make ourselves scarce during the wedding breakfast.
Several carriages carried the guests to the farm, where a professional caterer, Mrs. Casad, was arranging the meal. Father Tihen was a guest, as was Agnes Holloway, bridesmaid, daughter of the Billy Holloway who sold implements for the farm. Marie was there with her two little girls, one of whom embarrassed the company by showing Father Tihen her new pants.
Marie's husband, Ed Blood, attended, dressed in his long-tailed black wedding suit, now conspicuously out of date. Van and I sneaked glances at the festive breakfast through a window on the south porch. We were permitted to enter the parlor for the singing. Agnes Holloway sang "Jerusalem" toward the end of the day, and Tom Kennedy remarked in appreciation, "That's the best song that's been sang here today. "The bridal couple departed for Erie, where Tom had a good job in a big machine shop.
They lived happily ever after, reared a family of six, plus Milton, and grew old gracefully.
. . . . shouts and murmurs . . . . I heard the Baptists singing, and wondered.
We praise Thee, 0 God, for the Son of Thy love, For Jesus who died, and is now gone above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Hallelujah! Amen! Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Revive us again!
Revive us again; fill each heart with Thy love; May each soul be rekindled with fire from above!
What kind of religion was this? These people shouted, yelled, cried, wept, groaned and suffered. They called it "gettin' happy. "There was talk in school about who got happy last night at the revival, and who shouted the most sins the loudest, when confessing at the mourners' bench.
In our church, the choir did the singing, in Latin. You confessed your sins to the priest, quietly, instead of shouting about them to the congregation. It seemed more dignified.
Yet I thrilled to the lilt of that unbridled, runaway emotion: In sorrow He's my comfort, in trouble he's my stay, He tells me every care on Him to roll.
He's the Lily of the Valley, the bright and morning star, He's the fairest of ten thousand to my soul!
I wondered whether I would go to hell for enjoying this robust form of religious expression.
THROUGH FRIENDS in town we learned that Big Flurry had taken passage on a freighter for Ireland, that he had left most of his cash with Pat Whaley, the slicker, to invest for him, and had loaned some money to Jim Driscoll, a farmer east of Wichita, not related to our family. Anyway, we were spared the embarrassment of having to meet Dad on the street in town. I had worried a lot about how I should behave if I should meet him.
About this time Mrs. Leonard yelled herself to death, and the Valley had something to talk about besides Big Flurry and his family smashup.
Mrs. Leonard was the faithful, husky, rotund, emotional wife of the elder Newt Leonard, and mother of a numerous brood of sons and daughters of all ages. She was a shapeless person, not tall, but possessed of remarkable dexterity when under control of what she believed to be the Holy Ghost.
Her husband, who farmed a sandy plot a mile west of Riverside School, was the educator, already mentioned, who wore a white chin whisker, chewed tobacco, and talked interminably of the sins of his neighbors and the intensity of the fires of hell, in which, according to his steadfast belief, they were all destined to burn indefinitely. He made frequent speeches to the school children, on winter days, when he came in a sleigh to take home as many of his offspring as could be accommodated. The burden of his talk was that we had too many modern conveniences, such as the pot-bellied iron stove, glass windowpanes, and white chalk crayons. Where he went to school they used oiled paper for windowpanes and turned out sturdy pioneers.
Mr. Leonard, so far as I was able to learn, did not read or write, but was respected as an educator, a propagator of the human race, a mighty chewer of Horseshoe Cut Plug tobacco, and a religious citizen, always willing to make a speech for Jesus, during which he cried and shouted.
But for holiness in public, Mrs. Leonard easily took the Valley championship.
The Leonards had donated a little corner of their small land holding as a site for a place of worship, and there the United Brethren (shouting branch) had erected a wooden house of worship, ample for the needs of the community. It was furnished with crude pews, in the usual manner of country churches of that time and place.
Since the church was only a hop-skip from her front door, Mrs. Leonard, who kept a key, often went over there when work was slack on weekday afternoons, and practiced shouting for Jesus and doing strenuous athletic stunts in His Name. In time she perfected the act that made her famous. She could run over the tops of the pews, even when they were fully occupied, without watching her feet at all.
Farmers from far and near came to the Big Meetings, sometimes called Protracted Meetings, and, by the unsaved, Distracted Meetings, to see Mrs. Leonard glorify God with her circus stunt and hear her yell. She became the loudest and best yeller in the whole countryside.
When the sinners started stumbling up the aisles to the mourners' bench, as the choir sang, "Just As I Am, "Mrs. Leonard would start shouting, in the rear of the church. Others were shouting "Come Jesus!" --" O Jesus God!" --" I'm saved, Jesus!" --" Come right through the roof, Holy Ghost, and save Marge Wickliff! She's been carryin' on with that wicked hired man of her Pa's, but you can save her, Holy Ghost!" The really artistic shouters were the ones who thought up original things to yell at Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Mrs. Leonard not only uttered the best imprecations and supplications, personalizing them for the benefit of the sinners and the Valley gossips, but she also spoke in tongues. This is a well recognized sign of holiness in revivals and camp meetings in the shouting religion communities in the South and West.
Speaking in tongues comes when the possessed one works himself into a state of frothing hysteria, rolls on the floor, screams like a victim of delirium tremens, and mutters or shouts meaningless parts of words and such babble as babies are apt to indulge in while learning the fundamentals of speech.
Mrs. Leonard could speak in tongues, along with the best of them. But she electrified her audiences with her miraculous flight over the pews. At the rear, where she started her shouting, she removed her shoes and let her hair down, so that it streamed behind her as she ran. Hoisting herself to the back of the rearmost pew, she let out a tremendous whoop, and started running over the pews, all the way to the chancel, and back again. The audience was inspired to shout, "She's got the Holy Ghost! Glory to God! Chase the devil out of us, Sister Leonard!" Meantime the zealous sister was screaming unintelligible orders to the Throne of Grace, while running, sweating, and unavoidably exposing to view some length of red flannel drawers.
The masters of ceremonies at these outpourings of the spirit at the United Baptist Church were earnest men, mostly a bit on the undereducated side. Chief among them, for holy fame, was an old man with a wooden leg, known only as Uncle Andy. He was said to have lost his natural leg in the War Between the States, but as to that I do not know. He was a hillbilly from somewhere in Arkansas, Tennessee or Kentucky. Whether he could read or write was a subject of respectful speculation among the customers. He could preach; no doubt about that.
It was customary in those parts to speak of a minister as Preacher Soandso, rather than as Reverend Mister Soandso. Most of the evangelists who saved the Valley farm souls for a meager stipend were called "Preacher, "as their only title of distinction. Uncle Andy was called "Uncle Andy, "and the people loved him. He was credited with driving the devil out of an idiot in the neighborhood of the church, and with bringing about a perpetual indwelling of the Spirit in the ample bosom of Sister Leonard.
When Sister Leonard developed her pew-hopping routine so wellthat she required no rehearsal before the night meeting, Uncle Andy took charge of the service just before the invitation was extended to sinners to come up to the mourners' bench and be saved. Sister and Uncle did a sister act, as they used to say in Broadway, and they worked together en rapport throughout the rest of the show.
While Sister Leonard ran up and down the wide reaches of the, transept, red drawers holding the fascinated gaze of the worshippers, never missing a step, shouting that she was saved, that Jesus was her best friend, and that all the nasty sinners, mentioned by name, should proceed forthwith to the bench and get right with God, Uncle Andy pounded his wooden leg upon the floor of the dais, wept profusely, and called upon God to witness that great things were to be done tonight in cheating the devil out of toasting material for his obviously overheated furnaces.
Two other preachers, usually participating in management of the Big Meetings, were Preacher Poor and Preacher Cain. The latter was a modest man, addicted to playing the organ when he could get at it, and not at all addicted to hortatory gymnastics as a means of glorifying God. He became the father of one of the most important composers of a later generation.
Preacher Poor, probably so called because he was poor, wore a mustache with a dividing line at least an eighth of an inch wide down the center. He was pot physically strong, and easily gave out when required to shout and yell and cry and sing for hours on end.
One night, when high jinks for God's glory were fairly under way at the U. B. church, Preacher Poor challenged Uncle Andy on a matter of faith and morals. It had something to do with baptism and the way to do it, plus a corollary relating to infant damnation. Andy stuck to his theses and threatened to nail them to the front door. Poor appealed to the customers to throw this heretic out. Andy unstrapped his wooden leg and threw it across the sanctuary at his reverend opponent, creating a tremendous sensation. Of course, the doctrinal victory went to Uncle Andy, who supported himself by leaning upon the pulpit until one of the faithful recovered his leg for him.
At one time the most notorious sinner marked for salvation was Old Man Yaw. He was but a foolish, fond old man, with white whiskers of fantastic design, who drove the only team of donkeys in the Valley. Donkeys were considered a little too trivial for farmers of this lush region. Still Frank Yaw, who raised peaches on a sandy tract, cater-cornered from the U. B. church, went about his lawful occasions in what was called a cracky wagon, drawn by two little donkeys, obviously well kept and cherished.
Old Man Yaw and his chunky, good-natured wife had produced three offspring. May, the eldest, was in my classes in school. She had swallowed a sand bur in babyhood, and therefore spoke in a harsh whisper. Good in arithmetic, she was devoid of further capacity to learn. When twelve years old she looked like a haggard old lady, and received the gibes of her playmates with tolerant charity. She was atoning by longsuffering Christian fortitude for a misfortune in her childhood. Given her baby brother, Clyde, to watch while Mama Yaw gave birth to a little sister, May permitted the baby to fall out of a swing and break his back. So Clyde, also good-natured and patient, grew up a hunchback, which seemed to give no end of jolly sport to the cruel playmates with whom Clyde associated at Riverside. Myrtle, the youngest, was pretty and well-behaved, and grew up to a job in a dime store in the city.
Old Man Yaw took no part in the revivals of Christian religion that swayed the very life of the community, right across the road from his humble home. He minded his business, raised excellent peaches, and made war upon the codling moth, which, as a present enemy of his crop, he considered far more important than the devil, who was catching hell in the white establishment across the road.
When Old Man Yaw drove his team of donkeys to his cracky wagon into the school grounds, on a bitter afternoon of blizzard, to collect his youngsters, the boys usually met him at the entrance, chanting, "Old Man Yaw; haw, haw, haw!" The white-whiskered Santa Claus, covered with snow, whiskers solid with rime, laughed good-naturedly, tied his donkeys to the hitching posts, and enteredthe schoolroom for the last classes of the day. He came early on blizzard days, because he loved to hear the children recite.
As a matter of courtesy to a taxpayer, the teacher always offered a textbook, from which the lesson was being recited, to such a visitor, and Mr. Yaw appreciated this distinction. He enjoyed the cultural advantage of literacy, and carefully followed the lessons in the text. He usually expressed approval of the method of instruction by nodding his head, knocking chunks of ice off his whiskers, and blowing his nose noisily. Once, in the midst of a spelling class recitation, he rose from his seat near the red-hot stove, which had thawed out one side of his whiskers, and said, in an ingratiating tone, "Now, Miss North, "addressing the teacher, "wouldn't it be well to define those words ?" The teacher blushed. The student body snickered. Mr. Yaw stood upon his rights as a taxpayer, part of whose peach money went to pay this girl thirty-five dollars a month for teaching his children and the other children of the Valley. He stood, book in hand, looking now more like a prophet out of Numbers than a little peach man who owned two donkeys. The teacher explained that definitions frequently were required of the pupils, and Mr. Yaw sat down, satisfied. He paid no attention to the sotto voce chorus from the rear seats: "Old Man Yaw, haw haw haw!" The soul-savers were always after Old Man Yaw and Steve Balch, the two most notorious heretics in the Valley at this time. Steve paid no attention to them, permitted his family to attend church, and believe what it wanted to accept, but stayed at home and made wine when there was wine to be made.
Yaw, in a moment of clowning repartee, said he would go to Jesus if Preacher Poor would carry him piggy-back to the altar. Poor, though frail, agreed, and Yaw attended an evening of revival. He sat in a rear pew.
When the invitation to repent and accept Jesus as a personal Savior came, and the choir was singing, "Jesus, I Am Coming Home, "Preacher Poor, accompanied by two stout personal workers, walked down the aisle from the platform, announcing to the audience, amid groaning and praises, that he was going to bring Brother Yaw to salvation.
Old Man Yaw permitted himself to be hoisted to the preacher's back, where he sat astride, laughing and shouting, not holily, but after this manner, "Giddy-ap, Preacher! You ain't got the stuff my donkeys has got! Git along to Jesus now, er I'll put the spurs intuh you!" The audience went wild. Customers stood on the pews, on chairs, and ran out of their seats into the aisle to accompany the sinner to the table of salvation. A lady and an imbecile had fits, and several of the expert speakers in tongues rolled in the aisles and made weird noises. Uncle Andy pounded the floor with his wooden leg and shouted, "Looka-here, Jesus! Here comes the ornriest old sinner, 'cept only Steve Balch, a-ridin high for the Holy Ghost! Look at 'im, Jesus! He's goin' to be saved from hell, ain't he?" There were a few scoffers, such as tall Ed Blood, who was reported to have stood on a chair and cracked two chairs to pieces against each other, over his head, while he chanted, "Old Man Yaw, haw, haw haw! Gone to Jesus, by God!" The two personal workers had to lift the rider from the tired back of the Lord's humble servant three times on the way to salvation, so great was the minister's exhaustion. After a short rest, punctuated by wild cries of encouragement and forthwith demands upon the Holy Ghost to come right down and take charge of this situation, the ridiculous procession moved on. Yaw waved to his friends and neighbors, crying, "Jesus Christ, whaddya think of this? Better'n a merry-go-round at the Fair, ain't it?" Arrived at the mourners' bench, which was a low bar at the end of the center aisle, Yaw was taken off the back of the minister. He sat on the mourners' bench, facing the audience, enjoying the act tremendously, while the roar of the savage salvationists filled the house. He laughed, shouted ribald remarks that were drowned by the uproar, and, looking a little foolish, made his way to the rear of the church. He sneaked out and went home.
The conversion of Old Man Yaw was advertised as the greatestfeat of this series of Big Meetings. Of course the old fellow never went to church again.
Inspired by this saving of so tough a soul, the community went into the annual camp meeting at Linwood Park in a fervent spirit, knowing that anything was possible, even, perhaps, the conversion of Steve Balch.
Linwood was a beautiful spot, along both banks of winding Chisholm Creek, perhaps twenty acres in extent at this time. It was rather wild country, at the southern edge of town. Ancient elms, which for some strange reason had escaped the annual prairie fires, overhung the creek banks, and maple trees that had been planted by the city helped to shade the open spaces, largely matted with buffalo grass.
The park had been given to the city by A. A. Hyde, a benevolent medicine man who had sold his own brand of toilet soap and a mentholated salve under street-corner gaslights for years. He was so religious that he enclosed missionary tracts with directions for using his remedies. He was building a fortune out of Mentholatum, and felt that he could afford to give this land to the city, provided it were made available for summer religious meetings.
So in this sylvan spot the customers gathered from many miles about, and spoke, according as the Holy Ghost had given them to speak, of the wonderful works of God. Tents were erected, both for the big show and for kitchens, mess halls, supplies and residences. There were acres of white tents, and temporary roads, lined with hitching posts, made access easy for the farmers.
Professional spellbinders and purveyors of hell fire were imparted from " Back East" for these impressive rites, but local good will was maintained by giving all the noted local exhorters their opportunities to be portly and appear, to exorcise foul spirits, and to cleanse the sinful of their sins. There was music by a brass band, very heavy on the brass. A rising young manufacturer of powerful lamps fed by gasoline gas under air pressure was happy to contribute enough of his products to light the way to salvation. He was W. C. Coleman, almost as zealous in his religious efforts as Mr. Hyde, and well on his way to an immense fortune too.
It was neither possible nor desirable to light up the whole park. Most of the farmers brought coal-oil lanterns in their buggies or wagons, and were competent, from long experience, to find their way about in the dark. In the sizzling August nights the cicadas sang their monotonous razzle-dazzle, while salvation showered down upon the multitude in the big tent.
Sweat poured from the faithful, crowded closely in the long rows of wooden benches. All the men were coatless, and, while the older women still wore a few petticoats and high-busted whalebone corsets, the younger women tried to keep cool. Only the members of the Christian Endeavor and similar organizations, of the younger element, who were engaged in personal work among the sinners, wore heavy, well starched shirtwaists, with high collars and long sleeves.
Body odor had not, at that time, become objectionable. It would take another generation of high-pressure medicine men to sell the nation the conviction that everybody smells bad unless he uses a concoction to change the natural and pungent perfumes to something heavenly, compounded at a price. Even the use of musk, a heady scent distilled, in most cases, from the glands of skunks and other rapacious animals, was frowned upon by the ministers as possibly a work of Satan and other evil spirits.
The atmosphere of the big tent, consequently, was heavy with the natural blending of human scents, given freely on torrid nights as thousands mingled their praises of the Most High with divers emotions befitting the occasion. Many young couples found it almost necessary to absent themselves from the divine services for varying periods, to imbibe a glass or two of iced lemonade (ice supplied by Steffen & Bretch) in a Coleman-lighted tent a few yards away. It was but natural to wander thence toward the banks of the creek, and to ponder upon the wonders of Nature under the spreading elms. A steady increase in population, constantly cheered by the local press, owed no small part of its primary causation to the fervor ofthe Linwood camp meetings and the natural charm of Linwood park.
Our own Mrs. Leonard was past middle age and had several grandchildren when she took over the yelling at one of the most prosperous of the Linwood shows. No longer could she run over the backs of the pews with grace and skill, and besides, these benches were irregularly placed on sod, and not suitable for this rite of worship. So Mrs. Leonard ran up and down the center aisle, yelling, crying, and speaking in tongues.
At the psychological climax, as the well-directed choir was singing "We Shall Gather at the River" to accompaniment muted and sweet, Mrs. Leonard came racing down the center aisle, to lead the goats into the sheep pen, where all should be washed in the Blood of the Lamb.
She was shouting, "I want to go to Jesus! I want to go to Jesus! I want to go to Jesus this day, this hour, this minute!" And, sure enough, she did.
Consecrated hands lifted her from the sod floor and carried her outside, as red blood washed away the foam on her lips. In two minutes she was dead of a hemorrhage of the throat.
Many souls were saved that night, and the ancient elms along the creek bank sighed in the morning breeze from the plains, as the young couples sought their solace in the gray light of dawn.
Uncle Andy conducted the funeral service for Sister Leonard, in the white church that had known her vigorous ministrations so long. He was assisted by half a dozen evangelists from the camp meeting traveling company, and so brilliant a funeral service had never been known in the Valley.
The mourning family, of truly impressive proportions, occupied front seats, of course. Uncle Andy stressed the Christian life of this saver of souls, and testified to the skeptical audience that her passing was in no way connected with her yelling.
"The doctor said, "repeated the holy man again and again and again, "that it might have happened at home. "Uncle Andy pounded his wooden leg upon the platform as, through his childlike bawling, he shouted at the bereaved, pointing a gnarled forefinger at each in turn, "John, did you appreciate her? Harve, did you appreciate her? George, did you appreciate her? Daisy, did you appreciate her? Lizzie, did you appreciate her?" The congregation, which filled the sacred edifice and spilled out into the dusty track of Lawrence Avenue road, bawled, groaned, and cried "Amen, Brother!" Passing of the chief yeller of the Valley in no wise dampened the ardor of the believers who flocked to the revivals and Big Meetings. Indoor revivals usually were held in winter. In summer, which can be so sultry and dusty in Kansas as to smother all but the most hungry seekers after blessed diversion, there were such camp meetings as I have described, and many lesser events, more humbly housed but redolent of sweat and the Holy Spirit.
Bush Meetings were so called because they were held in sheds, somewhat like those we built for our cattle, framed with crotch poles and horizontal members, and roofed with brush, cut from the surrounding thickets. These houses of God were temporary, open to the breezes of heaven, and possessed of an informality that aided in bringing out the best in the worshippers. The chief exhorter at one of the most successful of the bush meetings pointed out that the Holy Ghost had but slight difficulty in shooting right through the bush roof, through which one might glimpse the stars, while he might easily be embarrassed by the grand ceilings and thick roofs of such heretical structures as St. Peter's in Rome.
Over in the highlands east of the river, near the village of Rose Hill, there were some large sheep ranches. To protect the sheep in winter, long sheds, backs to the north, were built of stout lumber. These sheds were not used in summer, so the soul-savers saw opportunity beckoning. They got together a crew of organizers, cleaned up the sheds, obtained Coleman lights and rural evangelists who knew how to punish the devil and other enemies of God, and advertised a series of Shed Meetings. These were well attended, and theyoung people found them attractive enough to be worth driving many miles to attend. There was no bosky dell for meditation, as at Linwood, but darkness on the high prairie, under a moon, may serve as well, when blood is young and hearts are high. There was no diminution of population among the dry hills of the sheep country.
So we learned that Big Flurry had not found in Ireland the surcease he had sought. His landing on the sandy shore of Long Island, in the Bay of Roaring Water, where he had grown up, was the most notable event in the lives of most of the two hundred and fifty persons who inhabited the island in three villages of thatched houses.
"Big Flurry, the son of Con, that went to America and got rich, has come back !" The word flashed the length of the island, and the population quickly gathered to drink the barrel of ale the returned native had brought over from Schull in a rowboat.
It was wonderful to be back, and to speak once more in the native Gaelic that everybody understood. To go out in the fishing boats and help with the nets, with salt water blowing into one's face, renewed the Old Man's youth.
Eighteen months passed in this paradise, and the atmosphere palled upon the native son who had spent a lifetime in the active, surging, prosperous land beyond the water.
Big Flurry once more packed his sea chest, and bade the island folk farewell. Thirty years later, when I visited my father's birthplace in search of story material, the natives were still talking about the dramatic scene at the beach when Big Flurry took a boat for the mainland, amid the weeping farewells of his own people.
Sixty-seven now, and a little more stooped, Big Flurry returned to Wichita, bought a small farm west of town, built a little house for himself, and raised garden truck for the local market. He prospered and worked prodigiously.
. . . . fire bells; sirens in distance . . . .
There was a lack of relaxation, of the sort of entertainment and emotional relief that even the children of the slums enjoy today.
I had been to a birthday surprise party once in my life.
That was back in the days of Big Flurry. I had been invited to a party for Fred Stuckey, a youngster who lived, with many brothers and sisters, a mile south of us. I had talked to Mother about it, and said I would like to go. She said she thought Dad would let me off for at least part of the afternoon, but that I must do the asking.
We were digging potatoes. I got up courage about two o'clock, and, for the first time in my life, asked Big Flurry for time off to go to a party. He asked a few questions, and consented.
It was a grand experience. Everybody was so agreeable, so happy. The girls were particularly attractive, in clean dresses and white pants that showed when they played active games.
Later, Van and I were invited to pie socials, and actually attended two o f them. The girls brought pies, and I believe the boys drew lots for the partners whose pie and company they were to enjoy. A dime was paid, for club expenses, or something similar.
We were in a peculiar position, since we could not have a pie social at our house. Mother and John decided, in solemn consultation, that such goings-on might result in our marrying Protestants.
John opened the next invitation that came to us, and hid it. Van found out about the mail theft, and raised hell. John said, "You fellows are not going to be permitted to run around nights with all kinds of people. "
MOTHER'S HEALTH was deteriorating under the accumulating worries, responsibilities, and apprehensions. I must admit that she was a natural worrier anyway, and often worried needlessly about things and events so far in the future that nobody could do anything about them. Now she was worried because of a premonition that Marie could not continue to live with her husband, Ed Blood.
"I know that she will have to leave him, "she said to me, in one of her prophetic moods. "He is a brute, and she is too independent to stand for brutality. I must try to keep well, so that I can live to offer her a home here, with her children, when she leaves him. "As usual, I tried to laugh this foreboding away, saying that there was not a scintilla of evidence to back it up. Mother remained silent until I had finished. Then she said, "All the same, she'll leave him. Just wait and see. "During the first summers after Dad's departure, Mother continued to pick blackberries. John and Nigger Knight outlined a plan for modernizing the blackberry patch, which now occupied about two acres of sand on the side of a hill, only a short walk from the house. Dad had given no attention to the berry patch after planting, because he considered such an item rather piddling and beneath the notice of a real farmer. To him it was something for the women to bother about.
In consequence, the patch had grown into a hopeless bramble wilderness. Blackberry bushes die out, as new shoots come up and take their places. The dead bushes are the thickest and thorniest of all. The new bushes spring up all around, obliterating all row arrangement, and making it almost impossible to get through for berry picking.
John very sensibly directed, at Knight's suggestion, the plowing under of strips, the length of the field, leaving alternate strips of live bushes, just about wide enough so that a picker could reach half way across. Thus, by walking up one side and down the other side, a picker could get all the ripe berries.
This done, Knight went in and pulled out all the dead bushes, piled them, and burned them. He also trimmed where trimming was indicated.
The locust trees that Dad had planted west of the berry patch and next to the Balch property line had grown up and were scattering seeds and seedlings, as is the habit of the black locust. It flowers magnificently, early in the spring, sending its wonderful scent miles and miles upon the breeze. Our locust groves, in bloom, were the most beautiful demonstration of blooming beauty I have ever seen or smelled, including the famous Charleston gardens.
But such prodigal blooming means equally extravagant seed-bearing. By the time Van began cutting fence posts out of the locust grove, seedlings had sprung up, shoulder high or higher, between the rows of the grove, and out into the blackberry acres. Knight had to grub these out. He was a slow worker, and it took him a whole early spring season to clear the berry land. But, when the job was done, annual clearing was not difficult, production was twice as great on half as many vines, and the picking was not nearly so hard on Mother and the other pickers as it had formerly been.
My heart ailment and increasing arthritic condition had ruled me out of much farm activity. But I developed enterprises of my own. By way of paying for my board and keep, I fought the weeds without any direction or command. Although the doctors said that I must rest all the time, and should be in a hospital bed, wholly immobilized, I went out with a sharp hoe, a sickle, or a scythe, and killed weeds. There was no lack of weeds to kill.
I sharpened a corn knife and trimmed the hedges. There were three or four stretches of laid hedge that required trimming every ten days or two weeks during the summer, and I took on the responsibility for the job. It was hard on the heart. Every stroke of the knife, held at about the level of my head, set the heart pounding. On many hot afternoons, the pounding became so bad that I had to lie down among the thorny cuttings I had just lopped off, to regain enough breath to enable me to go on for a few more yards.
For this kind of job, and the mowing of weeds in vacant spaces with sickle and scythe, I received the tolerant smiles of the family. There was more important work to be done, and I was out of it.
For reasons then mysterious, but now easily recognized by any physician, I was anaemic, pale, and falling apart in the joints and seams. No dietary arrangements had been made for me, my circulation was faulty, and I could not digest a great deal of the food that was good for the hired hands.
On days when the heart seemed just about to give up its tremendous task of supplying blood to an active body despite a continuous leakage at the mitral valve, I sometimes found it impossible to keep up the work. I would take interludes of despairing rest in the shade of the locust grove. Lying on the cool sand there, isolated from all sounds except the distant hum of mowing machines or harvesters, I would pray to God to take me now, despite my consciousness of sin and worthlessness, rather than let me grow up a hopeless cripple and dependent, without even any schooling.
After an hour or two of rest in prone position, the heart would quiet down a little, and I would go back to work. In the evening, when John and Van and the hired hands came in, I was ashamed to go among them at the horse trough to wash up for supper, since I had contributed so little to the production of the food. I carried my corn knife, hoe or other tool with me, to indicate that I was not altogether a sorry idler.
I was deeply conscious of my non-participation in the family councils, crop planning conferences, and talks about finances. What was the use of asking the opinion of a good-for-nothing semi-invalid who would be dead in a matter of weeks or months anyway?
So I made my own plans. I did my own farming in my own way. This experience, extended over a period of years, gave my life a definite trend. I became a lone worker, individualistic, independent, abhorring councils and conferences, and unwilling to take orders.
In later life, I found this background experience both good and bad. It compelled me to learn my own work well, so that I need not be beholden to anybody for favors. It caused me to originate ideas, instead of taking them ready-made from some superior. It saved me from becoming the most despised of all, creatures in the world of men, one whom Mr. Shakespeare described elegantly as one who will "bend the pregnant hinges of the knee, that thrift may follow fawning. "But this background of individual and rather lonely endeavor also made me a balky team-worker, a difficult organization man. It made it impossible for me to accept directions, orders or advice from someone who knew nothing at all about that in which I had specialized. There are advantages and disadvantages about the business of growing up in semi-invalidism.
About this time, Van set fire to the woods.
While John was teaching a short term in the Commercial College, Van went about making up for some of the hog loss by chopping wood. There was a fine stand of cottonwood trees, all about twenty years old, in a swale near the river. It was easy to get at, not plagued by thick underbrush; altogether an inviting grove for the woodsman's ax.
Van was growing strong now, and skilled in the use of the ax. On his own initiative he arose early every morning and walked the half mile to the cottonwood grove. He came back after sundown, to do his share of the chores. He talked about the job to Mother. If he could get out a hundred cords of wood this winter, maybe with a little help from the Slades, and could haul the wood to market in the spring, after it had dried out a little, there would be, at $2.75 a cord, exactly $275. That surely would help buy the seed potatoes in the spring and pay something on the grocery bill, wouldn't it?
Day by day, the cottonwoods fell, and the neatly stacked cords ofwood, each exactly four by four by eight feet, piled between stakes, well braced, grew in numbers.
John came home before oats-planting time, and, with rather citified farm clothes, began to survey the situation. Van had been telling him about the nice crop of cordwood he had been producing, but John had not visited the scene.
One Saturday, Van drove to the grove with a team and a flat rack, to prepare the scene for poor John, so that the winter's work might be properly viewed and appreciated. The brush cut from the trees littered an area of ten acres. Van judged that it was now dry enough to burn, and began piling and burning it.
For some strange reason, Van was quite unskilled with fire. He had often let brush fires and grass fires get away from him. He appeared to be too impatient to do a good job of safeguarding before he lit the match.
The first thing I knew of the disaster was when I saw Van, standing on the flat platform of the woodrack, driving the team at a furious gallop, up the lane that led from the woods. He was bareheaded and was shouting and gesticulating.
"The woods is on fire! Burning down! Get John! For God's sake, hurry!" I was pumping water into the tank from which the cattle drank, and had been doing so for hours. That proved a lucky circumstance. When I got John out of the house, Van had driven through the gates and up to the tank. He was tremendously excited, red in the face, quivering and awkward. John was at his best in such emergencies, at this stage of his career. He gave orders calmly and acted quickly. We loaded all the water buckets we had upon the rack, and rolled out three barrels with heads knocked out. The barrels we filled from the water tank. Then we turned, John driving, and went at a gallop to the scene, now plainly marked by billowing clouds of smoke, towering far above the tree-tops.
"Yes, you'd better come along, "John had said, looking me over appraisingly. "You might be some good, carrying water. "I was intensely excited, and happy to be able to share in such important duty.
Brush and cords of wood were burning over a considerable area, and a quick consideration of possibilities seemed to indicate that the fire might eat up the greater part of our woodland and spread south, aided by the brisk north wind. The wagon was driven as close to the north end of the blazing region as the horses could stand, and I dipped out bucketfuls of water to the two fire-fighters until the barrels were more than half empty. Then the barrels were unloaded and carried closer to the fire. John had loaded upon the wagon armfuls of gunnysacks. These were now soaked in the water barrels. Van and John, fighting the creeping blaze with the wet gunnysacks, made headway along the edges of the fire.
I was given a bucket and told to start replenishing the barrels with water dipped from the river. The distance to the nearest river water was about equal to half a city block. It was brushy, and partly strewn with half-burned cordwood.
In my excitement, I started running through the brush to the river, and running back again with water. John met me, probably noticed my panting and paleness, and admonished me not to run. But he ran as though he were pursued by the devil. He scooped up two buckets of water at a time, and ran back to the fire, losing probably a third of the precious water along the way.
I was proud of my heart, because it did not quit, but permitted me to take almost a man's part in what seemed to me to be the most important battle of modern times.
I carried one bucket at a time, emptying it into one of the barrels in which the gunnysacks were soaking, or handing it to one of the fire-fighters. Many of the buckets were dashed against the blazing cords of wood, and, to my astonishment, were quite effective. To see the fire lessen after one dash was so encouraging that I hurried back and forth, bringing more water. My contribution probably amounted to half of John's, in gallons of water, but it helped. As for Van, he was out in front, hair and face seared and singed, trying to block off the advance of the fire. Part of the time he worked with a shoveldigging a trench in the path of the advancing enemy and throwing the moist earth into the blaze, with good effect. He was taking the worst punishment of any of us, and visibly praying the while.
By midafternoon, the advance of the fire had been stopped where Van had picked the terminus. It was at the southern edge of the cut-over acreage. There Van had dug a wide trench, and from its edges had cleared the brush, tossing it toward the advancing fire. John had been busy with the water in the rear areas, trying to save the cordwood and prevent lateral extension of the fire area.
When the advance of the fire had been checked, John advised me to go home and rest. He and Van continued, until late in the evening, to save as much of the cordwood as possible. As I started to walk back to the house, in obedience to orders, John said, "Don't tell Mother how bad it is. She has worries enough now. Just say it was a little brush fire, and that it's out now. "But the tragic fact was that the grove of cottonwoods was gone, Van's winter of hard labor had vanished in smoke, and there was no cordwood left with which to buy seed and pay the grocer.
Never did John utter a word of reproof or criticism of Van's ineptness in starting a fire in the midst of uncleared ground. He undoubtedly was sorry for the overwrought, nervous, hard-working brother, and believed that he needed sympathetic understanding, rather than criticism.
John was a peculiar combination of intolerant dictator and patient, understanding friend. As for me, I never understood him.
Mother did not learn about the extent of the damage in the woods fire until the middle of the summer, when there were other things to worry about.
Meantime, Margaret and Tom Kennedy had had a baby, which died immediately. Then they had had another baby, which lived. When this baby was still very young, Mother was stricken with pneumonia. At the verge of death, she was, upon advice of our incompetent doctors, moved to St. Francis hospital, in Wichita, in Old Man Howard's horse-drawn ambulance, and unnecessarily operatedupon for empyema, which she did not have. She was prepared for death before going upon the table, and talked as calmly about it as if it were a visit to a neighbor's house.
She recovered from the operation, but was weak. We figured ways and means to send her back to Erie to visit Margaret and her family. She went, stayed two months, saw Niagara Falls for the first time, and returned, full of happiness and joy of life. She said we must save money to send John, poor John, to see the Falls.
"It's a wonderful sight, "she said to me one day when we were alone. "John must see it. The rest of you will see it anyway. Marie and Margaret have seen it. Van will manage. You will see it." "How do you suppose I'll manage to see it?" I asked. "I've never been out of this county, and I don't see any prospect of ever getting out.
Again, the enigmatic smile; the gaze into the far distance.
"You will see the whole world, almost, "she said, quietly. "You will travel everywhere. You will go to foreign countries, and know great people. I am not worried about you. "I walked long in the dusk, praying that my mother was not losing her mind.
197. . . . Pipes, and wailing wind . . . .
Possibly there is an element of self-pity in the behavior patterns of all persecuted peoples.
I realize that this is approaching dangerously close to professional do-good lingo. But it is as accurate a summary of a situation as I can fashion into phrase.
There came to the beach a poor exile of Erin, The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill; For his country he sighed, when at twilight repairing To wander alone by the wind-beaten hill.
Sad is my fatel said the heart-broken stranger; The wild deer and wolf to a covert can flee, But I have no refuge from famine and danger, A home and a country remain not to me.
This is the clamor of a beaten, persecuted, homeless, sentimental, home-loving people, adrift in a foreign land.
The Jews utter their heart-rending wails in every country. When they were driven underground in Russia, and forbidden to wail, they went to their cellars and carried out the mourning rites of their fathers.
But such complaints, just and inevitable as they are, do no people any practical service in this practical Western world. Your neighbors seldom know what you are crying about, and they wouldn't care if they did know.
. . . . .
Across the plague-swept years of my childhood came the ancestral chant of melancholy deprivation: Thy sorrow and the sorrow of the seaAre sisters; the sad winds are of thy race: The heart of melancholy beats in thee, And the lamenting spirit haunts thy face.
AFTER THE big cholera disaster, we undertook a cleanup and germicide campaign. The few hogs that had survived would be immune to cholera henceforth, the big hog men told us, but we should clean up the pens and sheds, so that future litters might not find the germ anywhere.
Vaccination or inoculation against cholera still was considered experimental, and farmers who had had such treatment for herds reported many losses. We decided to stay away from the expensive experiment, and to depend upon sanitation.
The dead hogs had been buried deeply or burned. Now we burned the thatch off the roof and sides of the sheds, painted the poles and posts with whitewash, scattered a ton of lime about the pens, and painted all the fence posts with creosote. After all hogs had been removed to another location, the large pen was plowed, and the fresh earth sprinkled with lime. The live hogs then were dipped in a tank of creosote mixture, and we started afresh in the hog business, on a smaller scale than before.
The fenced alfalfa field was kept, though there were not enough hogs to keep it cropped. We would mow it for hay three times this summer. A new field, occupying most of the rest of the higher ground on the farm, would yield four crops during the summer, averaging a ton per acre per crop. Alfalfa was a good crop for us. Our land was capable of producing fine yields, and there was a demand for all the hay we did not need for our own livestock. We had fully half of our tillable land in luxuriant alfalfa now.
The lower fields were planted to corn, with a few acres of potatoes and watermelons where room could be found for them.
A blooded boar was bought for cash from a breeder of purePoland Chinas, east of the river. He proved to be a good sire, and the quality of our herd was unquestionably high. One of our criticisms of Dad's farming was that he never spent time or money in efforts to grade up his flocks and herds.
All crops were flourishing, and the prospect looked bright for overcoming, in another season or two, the cholera disaster. Van and I again began to talk of going to school. On this subject, we were co-conspirators.
The Holy Name Society was being organized by Father Tihen, at St. Aloysius Pro-Cathedral. An announcement was made at Mass, inviting all men and boys of the congregation to meet, at a certain hour, in the parochial school hall, across Second Street from the church. The school building was a long, two-story brick building. The second floor was designed to be used as a meeting hall and entertainment place. But, in recent years, the Sisters had started a feeble high school there, and desks had been installed.
John and Van and I took seats some time before the meeting began. I found that I was in a seat occupied, on week days, by a high school student. While we waited, I read a History of England that was used as a text.
I was fascinated, enraptured. Here, before my eyes, in charming print, divided conveniently into paragraphs and sections, with boldface captions and many pictures, passed the pageant of History. The names of the great and mighty of all time, the "sad story of the death of kings, "and all the panoply of learning, held me spellbound. I must somehow get possession of a book like this. I must go to a school, such as these fortunate townies attended as a matter of course. Nothing should stop me. Cholera, floods and high winds might strike. As for me, I would go to school and learn everything. Everything.
I did not hear the sermon against blasphemy. Father Tihen was talking earnestly, urging all of his men and boys to avoid at all times taking the Holy Name in vain. I was crouched behind the dark-clad back of a fat parishioner, reading, as fast as I could, about the reign of Elizabeth, and the doings of the great pirate, FrancisDrake. Oh, Lord, keep him talking, please! I want to finish this chapter.
So we joined the Holy Name Society, which was easy enough, because we had been restricted to "darn" as a cussword, to be used only under extreme provocation, as when a shoe lace broke.
Then the river overflowed.
There had been warning that the Arkansas River was on a rampage, as it was always expressed in our local papers. It was reported that the Little River, which flows into the Arkansas or Big River within the Wichita city limits, was "running bank full. "Our papers never described a river as full. It was always bank full, though nobody seemed to know what was the precise difference between full and bank full.
The farmers in our low-lying Valley had been at work for several days and nights upon makeshift dikes along the low spots in the southerly bank of the river. The Hydraulic Avenue bridge had gone out again. This was the second serious flood the countryside had known in our time in the Valley. Everybody hoped we would be able to hold the water back.
I was stronger now. I was able to work with the men, with a shovel, on the quarter-mile stretch of earth dike the farmers were putting up, on the Simpson farm, about a mile from our place.
There is a powerful spiritual uplift in any kind of community work. But here were all the men of a farm community, working shoulder to shoulder against a natural force that threatened to destroy all of them. And I, who had been excluded from real men's work by a physical disability, was there with the best of them, treated as an equal, a comrade in the face of the enemy. I was proud and happy, and worked like a horse.
Days and nights, with little sleep, we piled on the earth and the weeds and cornstalks that were necessary for binding the mud into a semi-solid wall. Sometimes there were sixty or seventy men on the job. Again, in the middle of the night, perhaps only five or six kept vigil, walking up and down along the poor, weak wall, examiningwith a coal-oil lantern the condition of the top inch or two. When the water started to spill over, a call went out for help, and men came rushing with shovels, building the dike a few inches higher.
So much water had seeped under the dike into the low fields that we worked in water up to our knees most of the time. Higher than our heads rushed the yellow, swirling flood. We were playing against time. We knew that our amateurish levee could not hold out many days, and could not stand another three inches of water, at the most. And reports from those who were able to get to town by some circuitous route did not indicate that there was much hope for subsidence. We worked on.
After we came home for lunch one day, John and Van started back to the levee, but John ordered me to stay and do a specific job: "The river will be backing up into the Old Ditch by this time, backwater that might flood the east cornfield if there should be a lot of it. Take an ax. Go down to the edge of the woods, where the Old Ditch passes between two sand hills and is only a narrow neck. Chop down a tree, so that it falls across the narrow part of the ditch. There are lots of trees that will fall just the right way.
"After you've got your tree across the ditch, you can cut brush and throw it in, and then shovel in earth. That will make a dam that will stop the backwater easily. "It seemed simple, and I looked forward to a pleasant afternoon, alone, doing what would have to be a superb job of engineeering [sic]. I would make believe that I was one of the great engineers of the age, and would give orders to imaginary gangs of workers. We would hold back the Arkansas River in flood.
I took ax and shovel. I walked the half mile or more to the designated spot.
Sure enough, the river was backing up through the Old Ditch. But not as quiet backwater. At tremendous speed, the yellow water, in a stream that spread out for a quarter of a mile in some places, was tearing down the sand hills and making a violent river, flowing in the wrong direction, out of the Old Ditch. The tree that I should have felled across the ditch had been uprooted by the current, andwas floating lazily inland, toward our low fields. These fields were rapidly being covered by the rising flood.
I was young and foolish enough to be frightened. Not for my personal safety, but frightened of the prospect of what John might say if I did not carry out his orders.
I dropped ax and shovel, and quickly decided that adult brains must be brought into play to take care of this unforeseen situation. I started running toward Steve Balch's house, half a mile away, over sandy fields, now soggy and rapidly being inundated. I thought that if Steve should be at home, he might come to my aid and stop the rushing river. And then John and Mother would commend me for saving the crops.
It was difficult going for a frightened, hysterical boy with a bad heart. Half way, in the middle of our sandy watermelon field, I collapsed. I fell on my face, and the yellow water revived me enough to make me turn over, with my nose above the shallow but rising sheet of flood.
It was years later that I learned that the heart attack of this crucial moment was not dangerous. It was tachycardia, a racing of the heart which puts all pulse-counting out of business. It disables the victim, but does not kill him. It comes to many persons with muscularly sound hearts, as well as to those suffering from real organic heart diseases.
All I knew now was that my mission had failed, that I would not be able to get to Balch's house, and that John probably would be mad at me for not stopping the backwash.
When the furious racing of the heart had subsided, stopping suddenly with a sharp jerk, and pulse went into low, I rose from the mud and slowly plodded homeward.
I was prepared with explanations. I desired to picture to John the unbelievable drama of the river that was charging uphill with force beyond my power to stay.
When I started to talk, John made a sign indicating that he did not want to listen. He and Van had shovels over their shoulders, and walked with tired, discouraged gait.
Looking eastward from the barnyard, I saw the river, madly racing over our fields. There were timbers, trees, bridges, barns and houses riding upon its angry crest.
"Oh! "I said. After all, my adventure was really not worth relating. Nobody wanted to listen. So I am telling it now for the first time. John and Van had been at work on the levee when the break came. Steve Balch, in charge of operations by virtue of his natural leadership, had cried in a tremendous voice, "Here she comes! Run for your lives, boys, and don't stop to save anything!" Fifteen minutes later, the spot where Steve had stood while delivering the warning was twenty feet deep in a rushing current. The frail dike collapsed like a wall under impact of an atomic bomb. The flood went racing across the Valley, ten miles wide and deep enough, in many places, to float a steamship of considerable size.
John and Van had run from the flood, with the others, and, upon reaching the highway, had waded home, sometimes up to their armpits in swift water.
No wonder they were not interested in my excuses about the backwater.
Fortunately, our house was built upon the highest spot on our farm, which was several feet higher than most of the neighboring farms. Big Flurry had done well when he had hacked out a clearing here, rather than in the lower fields, as a site for his future home.
Stretching southward for a quarter of a mile, this hill was, at the time of the flood, occupied by pens, out-buildings, orchards, and the alfalfa fields. During the only other flood we had witnessed, the water had not come near the house, and had, in fact, left some of the back fields untouched. This time it was evident, an hour after the break in the levee, that the river was really creeping up on us.
The lower part of the front yard, an acre in extent, planted to red clover, was flooded almost immediately. Next morning we floated a boat in this area, and had fun.
Most of our cattle and horses had made port by swimming against a strong crosscurrent, up the lane, to high ground. Their pasture was gone. We opened the gates and allowed them to roam at will over thehigh ground, eating what they could find. They ate the foliage and stems off all the fruit trees, the grass that grew among the trees, and then attacked the alfalfa fields.
The hogs were shifted from the lower pens to the ample higher spaces, which had so recently been sanitized according to the best of our knowledge and skill.
We gazed with awe upon the seemingly limitless torrent, which was sweeping away our fences, our beautiful crops, and the very soil that made the crops possible.
After a silent supper, we recited the Stations of the Cross in company, and went to bed.
It was not possible to sleep, in the hot summer night. That odor of destruction permeated every room, and the strange fruity smell of flood water was dampened into the bedding, curtains and carpets.
Members of the household arose at various times during the night, walked to the edge of the terraced hill in front of the house, and put new pegs in the ground to mark the height of the water. It was rising steadily.
We walked about the hill. Cattle and horses came to us, seeking friendship in disaster. Cows that had been wild walked up to the back porch and mooed pitifully.
Next day and the next, the water rose slowly, then began to recede more slowly. Neighbors braved the currents to visit and hear the news. Some came in boats, others waded and swam.
Van decided to go to town for news. He went afoot, walking the extra mile, through deep water, to cross on the Lawrence Avenue bridge, since our bridge was out. He came home in the evening with a newspaper and tales of unprecedented flood conditions in the town. Thousands homeless. Drummers were being taken from the Santa Fe Station to the Manhattan Hotel, and right up to the registration desk, in rowboats. Hacks were not operating. The room clerk in the Manhattan was sitting on the counter, water rapidly rising around him. The Carey Hotel lobby, half a story above street level, was dry, but the basement furniture was floating away.
Well, there went our crops. There went a summer's hard toil. Butwe were not depressed. We thanked God that our livestock could live for a few days, anyway, upon what had been spared. And our house and lives were secure. How many had fared worse, from the Colorado line to the Gulf of Mexico!
We got out of the cellar the flat-bottomed milk trough that Big Flurry had had a boat-builder's pleasure in constructing, a few years earlier. We plugged the hole through which a pipe had delivered cold water, in one side, and launched the vessel in the front yard. She proved seaworthy, and why should she not, having been fashioned and built and calked by a real Irishman of the salt water?
We had no oars, but poled the boat about in the deep water. Our noble Newfoundland dog, Nero, who took guardianship of every member of the family and all our possessions seriously, swam about behind the boat, keeping his nose within a few inches of the stern. He did not trust us as seamen. He was not sure of that boat.
Nero weighed well over a hundred pounds, and swam as easily as he walked. To tease him and add to the fun of this dismal picture, I would fling myself out of the boat, many yards from shore, and pretend to be drowning. Nero would swim to my aid, catch me by the collar of my shirt, and pull me to shore with ease and grace of motion. Then I would get for him a suitable reward, such as a beef bone or the remains of a roast chicken.
We were a bit on the chicken side in our diet, these days. It was impossible to get supplies from town. However, though sugar and flour and baking soda might run out, we would not be hungry for a long time yet. We dug up potatoes from the flooded fields during the first two days of the flood, and these were cooked and eaten as rapidly as possible. We knew from experience that potatoes that have been under water will keep for only a few days.
There was plenty of canned fruit and jelly in the cellar, which was not flooded. We rescued as much sweet corn as we could use. The kitchen garden, which I had raised with much care, only a few steps behind the house, gave us peas, beans, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, parsnips, salsify, lettuce, cabbage, and summer squash.
To balance this vegetable diet, we ate as many chickens as possible.
We had hundreds of them, never counted. Since Dad's exit, Mother had graded up the chickens, buying pure-bred Plymouth Rock eggs for hatching. It takes only a short time to change a nondescript poultry flock into one that looks fit for showing at the Fair, if none but pure-bred stock is mixed with what is already on hand. We did not show, nor did we sell eggs for hatching. But our chickens produced much finer meat, and more of it, than they did in the days of our mongrel chicken flock.
Two or three chickens were enough for a family supper now. Mother told me what kind of chickens she wanted, depending upon whether she were going to fry, roast or stew them, and I went out into the orchards, where the flocks were picking up their living, and with the aid of two smart dogs, brought them in. The stewed chickens were roosters, and were used for chicken dumpling soup, which Mother made deliciously. We were not asked to eat the chicken meat, out of which all the juice had been stewed. That was the dogs' portion.
A complication of flood time developed during the weeks following the breaking of the dike. Our cattle and horses were permitted to roam at large. Eventually, they went after the green alfalfa, which had a more lush growth than any other green thing, but which the livestock didn't particularly like.
One after another, the cattle bloated and died in agony, after grazing on the alfalfa. We tried to find out what mistake we were making, since many of our neighbors grazed their cattle on alfalfa without losses. Testimony differed. Some said there was no danger at any time. Some said that your cattle could graze on alfalfa all the time, except when the grass was wet, as with morning dew. A few said that first growth alfalfa was harmless, but other growths were dangerous. A very few said that alfalfa was poison to cattle only when it was immature.
During the weeks of receding flood and scant pasturage, we lost some of the best units of our herd of cattle. Milch cows, heifers, steers, alike called attention by moaning loudly and lying on their bloated sides.
We knew that most farmers had a trick of sticking a knife into the bloated animal's side and letting out the gas, but none of us knew how to do it. I went running to neighbors several times, and in a few cases Steve Balch got the knife into the animal in time to save its life. Generally, the remedy came too late. When John tried to do the trick, he merely stabbed the cow to death. The weather was too hot to permit butchering the stricken beef for food. We dragged the carcasses as far away as possible, and counted fewer living animals in our herd.
. . . . tocsin; martial music . . . . Said the Book: Withhold not correction from a child, for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die.
Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.
So, in late adolescence, I was rather confident that I had been delivered from hell, in so far as parental action could insure that condition.
As for the neighbors, it was a family tradition that we always had lived in peace and friendship with all of them.
There was little formal visiting, back and forth. There was not time for such amenities. It was an event worth noting in the calendar if a "neighbor lady" came to pay a call, all in black satin, with black beaded trimmings. We boys talked for months about the visit made by Mrs. Maddy, who, by reason of a strange compulsive mania, ended every sentence with a sigh and the meaningless expression, "There is!" Pioneers are nearly always good neighbors. The families understand one another's problems, are sympathetic in disaster and trouble, and forbearing in all circumstances. When we butchered a beef, some neighbor always came in to help, early in the morning. He exacted no pay, but did not refuse the quarter of beef assigned in appreciation.
So it was with the pioneers, from the beginning.
WE KNEW little about the family directly across the road. Ted Smart, a Tennessee hillbilly, had bought the farm the previous winter, and his first crop had been totally taken by the flood. He had no high ground, as we had, and even his house was in danger during the height of the flood. Water was almost up to the high-placed kitchen floor when Mother sent word, which I relayed from the boat, that the family was welcome to come and live with us and to share whatever we had on hand.
The family consisted of undersized, thin, stooped, bulging-eyed Ted, who wore an enormous mustache and seldom shaved any part of his face, his long, awkward, gangling hillbilly wife, and two sons, perhaps ten and twelve years old.
Our only meeting, before the flood, was when Ted and his wife had stopped our carriage and inquired, on the highway, whether we were prayin' people. Upon receiving assurances that prayer was a regular part of our household routine, Mr. Smart had said, "Well, that's all. We jist don't savor livin' near folks that's not prayin' people. We're all saved, washed in the Blood, at our house. "Mrs. Smart politely declined our invitation to take refuge with us, "saying they had to stick it out in order to care for the animals. Their horses were standing in the barn, knee-deep in water.
As the flood slowly receded it left in its wake millions of dead fish that stranded in the corn rows and smelled up the countryside. The Driscoll-Smart feud did much the same.
The flood water gradually drained off our land because of slight slope of the fields from north to south, ending at the Old Ditch. By means of some mucky labors, little ditches had been dug here andthere to drain off small ponds and backwater. With hot sunshine to aid, the farm was drying out nicely.
Not so the Smart farm. A great central lake, perhaps twenty acres in extent and ranging to four or five feet deep, had settled down as stagnant water.
To our dismay we learned that Smart was draining his lake and all of the water behind it on to our land, by means of hand-dug ditches, all leading to a focus at the property line.
There ran between the two farms, at this point, the unused and unopened public highway, a neutral strip. Smart cut a ditch across the highway, so as to pour his backwater into a low-lying field that we sometimes used as a hog pasture and at other times as an alfalfa patch.
John and Van and I, upon discovery of the drainage project, went to our border, along the low field, with spades and shovels, and threw up a low dike by piling mud into the Osage hedge fence for a distance of about ten yards. That held back the artificially directed stream of invading water.
Next night, after we had gone to bed, we were vaguely conscious of noise and loud talk down the road, and one member of the family reported seeing lanterns moving about. Then there was the report of a shotgun, and some confused shouting.
In the morning we found that Smart, with some help, had come over on our land and, with axes and spades, had cut a three-foot hole through our hedge, and had made, on our land, a trench to drain off the water. A stout stream was pouring through.
At the foot of our driveway a stake had been driven into the ground, and on it was tacked a crude scrawl, in pencil. There was a device representing two axes, crossed and driven into a stump. This note: "Never dam water on this neighbor again, or you will be severely dealt with. W. 0. W. "We remembered that Smart had boasted of his membership in a fraternal lodge, then flourishing in the plains country, called Wood men of the World. We assumed that no fraternal organization wouldhave anything to do with this kind of skulduggery, and that Smart had misused its name and insigne in the belief that he could terrify us by threat of gang action.
After breakfast we went immediately to the property line, carried stones, bricks and straw to mix with mud, and, in an hour, had the hole stopped.
Smart came by on his side of the road, while we were working. His black-and-gray hair was flying in the wind, and reached to his shoulders. His goiter eyes were bulging and blazing. He cursed and swore, made dramatic speeches that made no sense, and ended by shaking his fist at the sky and crying, "God-damn, God-damn, God-damn, and this water, water, water!" We laughed heartily, as this exhausting exhibition of hysteria seemed supremely funny. Van stood by with a loaded shotgun, which he carried conspicuously over his shoulder, while John and I worked.
That afternoon, John drove to town, the roads being now open, to consult a lawyer. He went directly to the county attorney, Jim Conley, who was an old friend of the family. On the basis of John's story and his statement that there was no such thing as a recognized watercourse involved, Conley said, "You have a right to guard your land against trespassers. Get a gun and shoot any trespasser who fails to heed your order to depart. "While John was in town, Smart went to the dike and cut it again. We boys went down to the edge of the field and ordered him of our land. He made threatening gestures with a spade, cursed, cried, bellowed, and sang a hymn. He was not afraid of mere boys.
Meantime, the word had gone to Ed Blood that we were in trouble. He came in his buggy, with a repeating shotgun and a hunting rifle. We repaired the dike during the afternoon, against the shouted threats of Smart. After supper, John, Ed, Van and I, each with a gun, took up a position under a line of mulberry trees, about fifty yards from the dike. The moon was shining, but we were in shadow.
Ed was a good shot. He sat with his rifle across his knees. "I can bring him down with the first shot at this distance, "he said. "Youboys be ready to take care of any confederates he may have with him.
Smart, like a crow, seemed to be able to smell gunpowder. We waited nearly all night, talking in low tones. No enemy appeared. All was safe on the waterfront so long as there was a man on our premises. Smart continued to shout imprecations at us from his side of the road, and several times put on a show of heebie-jeebies, yelling, gesticulating, and shouting.
Whenever he saw one of us passing upon our lawful occasions, he would shout, "Hoy-up!" in a high soprano. We did not know the meaning of this, but supposed it to mean "Hurry up!" Some sort of infantile gibe.
John made another trip to town to see the lawyer. Jim Conley had been thinking it over. He said he was glad no shooting had occurred, because it might have caused much trouble. He advised, instead of this summary action, the swearing out of a warrant charging criminal trespass or the suing out of an injunction. John swore out the warrant. A deputy sheriff served it next day.
While John was off the premises, however, Smart had cut the dike again. We repaired the damage, and, knowing that Smart was now under bail, felt safe in going about our work on other parts of the farm. Much time and energy had been wasted. Smart made one visit to our premises. He found John in a field, and we boys joined the company, while Smart screamed, wept, quoted the Scriptures, and sang "Marching Through Georgia. "John said nothing, but kept a heavy monkey wrench poised in his right hand, to guard against a surprise attack.
Among Smart's rantings that made Van and me laugh aloud were these disconected word combinations: "All this water, water, water! For humanity's sake, for decency's sake, and for God Almighty's sake, don't tell my little innocent children, Your poppy is a mean man; he spoiled our pertaters!' You think you're educated, with all your diplomeys! I've heard about your diplomeys! I ain't got no diplomeys, and I don't need none! I was born educated! My children was born educated, and they don't never have to go to no school!
You've got friends in town, lawyers that thinks they're educated because they have diplomeys! I'll show 'em! Wait till I get my brothers with the axes after youse! Your diplomeys won't do you no good then!" The poor, weak, crazy little man went screaming down the lane that bordered the field, waving his hat, stumbling occasionally and falling upon his face, and turning to shake his fist at us.
We were sobered by the conviction that this creature could not be held responsible before the law for any crime of violence he might commit or attempt.
The lawyer advised an insanity warrant, but our family council decided to let well enough alone. There had been no further tampering with the dike since the warrant was served, and our fields were now dry enough for late planting of fodder crops.
Trial of the charge against Ted Smart was postponed until the fall session of the District Court, and we had our witnesses lined up. The county attorney said there was no question of the result. Whether tried before judge or by judge and jury, Smart would be convicted out of hand. Maps of the terrain were prepared by the county surveyor. They showed that Smart could drain his land by running a ditch along the dividing road, to the river, or near it, and that he was not forced by Nature to seek relief at a neighbor's expense.
Van and I, never oversupplied with exciting entertainment, were getting a tremendous amount of fun out of the feud. When we were out of hearing of Mother and John, we would shout "Hoy-up!" at our crazy neighbor, imitating his scratchy soprano. He never failed to respond with curses, prayers, and gaudy threats. We would laugh immoderately.
One hot Sunday afternoon I was sitting alone on the lawn, under the maple trees, in our front yard. Smart was outside of his house, gazing intently in my direction. The distance separating us was less than half a city block, and no obstacles intervened. I watched Ted over the edge of the book I was reading. Stimulated by some perverse demon, I stood up and uttered, through cupped hands, the war-cry, "Hoy-up!" I was sure Mother, who was in the back yard, wouldn't hear me thus violating her regulations about keeping the peace. Smart started screaming. He ran into his kitchen and got his hillbilly wife. She came out, carrying a shotgun. He stood beside her while she took careful aim at me. I saw the whole play, but had no fear of a shotgun at such a distance. Smart helped her aim, and cried "Far!" She fired, and I waved my book. Mother came around the house and asked what was going on. "Just target practice on the old range, "I explained. "Mrs. Smart is shooting at a rooster. "We had apples to sell now, and a few watermelons, also some other produce that had been saved from the flood water. I had long been chief salesman for the farm produce. Indeed, when I was scarcely tall enough or strong enough to throw the harness over the horses' backs, I had driven to early market, and bargained and sold with the men. It made me feel important to do this.
I would be on my way to town at two o'clock in the morning, with a light load, or earlier if it were a load of watermelons. Turning left out of our driveway, it was only a few yards to a point directly in front of the Smart house, which was set back from the road sufficiently to make a front yard of modest proportions.
As I passed, I gave the war-cry, not too loud, lest my own people hear, but loud enough for it to penetrate the boudoir windows of the Smarts.
Instantly there was excited stirring. A kerosene lamp was lighted. I whipped up my horses. Looking back, I could see, if the moon were shining, the wild man, his nightshirt flapping in the summer breeze, his shotgun in his hands.
"Hoy-up!" I would cry, in high falsetto, the while I judiciously increased the range by flicking the horses' rumps with the whip. Sometimes Ted would fire, sometimes not. But his howling sounded above the yipping of the coyotes that had been disturbed in their lonely vigils.
The Smart case never came to trial. Ted sold his ruined acres thatfall, moved away, and the prosecution was dropped. We never heard of him again.
The new neighbors proved friendly and capable farmers. The first thing they did was to dig a deep drainage ditch along the unused public right-of-way, leading backwater down to the river.
. . . . chimes, softly. . . . There was so much to mourn, to regret, and so little to rejoice about, that one seldom emphasized his realization of the situation by resorting to the vesper psalm: De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domini exaudi vocem meam.
Quietly, however, and alone, l liked to recite the solemn measures: Out o f the depths have I cried unto Thee, 0 Lord; Lord, hear my voice!
The birth of a calf, a colt, a litter of pigs, or the emergence of green crops from the ground, gave me keen pleasure, but I did not know how to give expression to these primitive joys.
There was exultant satisfaction in seeing the potato vines, despite winds and hail and drought, turning a rich, dark green, with indications of an abundant yield.
After a day in the lush fields of green promise, when the prospect was heartening, I sometimes forgot all set prayers, and fell asleep saying, "Thanks, God; please make me worthy of my great blessings. "
RURAL MAIL delivery was spreading over the map now, and our time came with the establishment of Route Six, out of Wichita. Old Man Bell, the carrier, was a blessing to the Valley folk in many ways. He did not cease his ministrations with mere delivery of the mail to the metal letter box on the corner nearest your house. He assiduously picked up gossip and news, all along the line, and redistributed it judiciously. Each farm wife who was told that the young Balches were about to have a whopper of a baby felt that she had been especially selected as the depositary of this esoteric knowledge, and each passed on the word, whisperingly.
Bell, a white-whiskered, Santa Claus-shaped veteran of the War Between the States, drove a team of small bay horses to the customary rural mail wagon of those days. The mud was so bad, in wet weather, that the horses often got stuck with their load, and Bell had to call upon the nearest farmer for aid, which was always gladly extended. While the horses rested, the jolly old gossip recited crop conditions along the way, how the Stuckey sweet potatoes were standing the wet spell, and what the Government thought about this and that. When he spoke of the Government, he spoke as an important member of it, rather as if he were speaking ex cathedra.
"Some of them boys down around the schoolhouse throwed clods at me and my horses the other day, "he once reported, his fat face glowing with indignation. "I told 'em if they done it again I'd have 'em hauled up before the Commissioner for exturbing and mislesting the United States Mail. The Government considers it no small matter to exturb and mislest the United States Mail, and some of these lads will find themselves behind bars, and their parents with 'em. "He would usually add, by way of contrasting compliment, "Now, Mr. Soandso, why can't people raise fine, law-abiding sons like your fine, upstanding boys and your handsome-nice daughters?" We took a daily paper now, though it cost four dollars a year, and we stuck to the Weekly Kansas City Star, at twenty-five cents a year. The Starbeams column of paragraphs and verse, conducted in those days by a Kansan named C. L. Edson, was my favorite spot in the paper. I learned many of his nonsense rhymes by heart, and they still pop their grotesque and amusing drollery into my mind at odd moments. Edson later became a columnist on the New York Evening Mail, worked on many newspapers in the East and South, and wrote an autobigraphical book, "The Great American Ass. "I followed his career with interest, because of the pleasure I had from his writings on the farm. Eventually, I met him in Charleston, S. C. , and introduced myself by repeating one of his silliest nonsense rhymes.
We also took the Ladies' Home Journal and Farm & Fireside, besides the numerous throw-away publications that came without invitation in those times before strict tightening of the postal rules against them.
Another long step toward civilization came with the rural telephone. We formed a company, at the invitation of one of the competing telephone companies then operating in Wichita, and those who applied for service also purchased stock in the rural company, which, however, was controlled by the parent city company. We bought the shortest, cheapest poles, and put them as far apart as possible. One wire served very nicely for all of us.
In almost every rural home this miracle was vastly appreciated, and the neighbors from far up and down and across the Valley became acquainted, often without even speaking to each other. In almost every household was at least one hanger-on who reported all the news and gossip worth mentioning to all the rest of the family.
Mother was a little bit ashamed of the fact that she was a chronic hanger-on. She was often lonesome, alone in the house during the working day. The phone, bringing the whole community right into our kitchen, was a great consolation and entertainer for her.
She now had a mechanical washer, a help to her failing body. Shehad owned a back-breaking, second-hand mechanical washer many years before. It was worked by a wooden lever that had to be thrown back and forth across the top of the tub by main strength. By means of gears it operated a circular set of heavy pegs within the tub, and these long pegs swished the clothes about.
The new washer was about the last refinement before power came to rural parts. It was a tub, on ball bearings, mounted on a pedestal, worked by a handle attached to the perimeter of the tub. You pulled the handle toward you a short arm's length, and a kindly spring caught the weight and helped you shove it back.
Though this was a great improvement over the washboard, Mother was usually not strong enough to work it. John liked to help her, especially on hot days, when work in the field was disagreeable.
Since the big flood there had been talk of the formation of a drainage district, authorized under recently passed legislation. This district would have authority to construct or deepen ditches, to straighten the courses of crooked waterways, and otherwise do what seemed to be best for the greatest number of productive acres.
This talk, stimulated occasionally by meetings attended mostly by farmers from a large area west of Wichita, who would be most benefited by the plan, gave Mother a new and lifelong cause for worry.
"They are going to put the water over on us, "was her favorite expression.
The Big Slough, a shallow natural waterway, dry in droughts but a holy terror in floods, did not come within several miles of our farm, though it wandered over most of the county. The Little Slough, dry most of the time, had small branches, one of which crossed Hydraulic Avenue under a low culvert, and petered out on a flat pasture of the farm adjoining ours on the south.
The Old Ditch, which cut a crescent around the foot of a hill at the south end of our farm, had been built before Dad bought the place. J. R. Mead, Indian fighter and buffalo slaughterer, then owned the farm to the south, and tradition said that he and Steve Balch built the ditch through our land without a by-your-leave, to drain Mead'spasture. It served that purpose imperfectly, but served no purpose for us. Since Dad bought the farm, no clearing or maintenance of the Old Ditch had been permitted. Dad believed that it would fill up with the years, and would be forgotten. Indeed, it had filled up sufficiently to render it non-functioning.
Mysterious strangers were sometimes seen strolling along the course of the Old Ditch, especially on Sundays. Maybe they were hunters, for quail were plentiful in the grass there. But when Mother heard of them she was convinced that they were engineers or surveyors in disguise, come to spy out the land for those selfish interests that were going to, put the water over on us. The possibility of using the Old Ditch route as the terminus for a small branch ditch that would pick up spill from the existing end of the little branch of the Little Slough was, indeed, mentioned in the councils of the planners for county-wide drainage, but it was considered so unimportant to all but two or three farms that consideration of its construction was postponed from year to year.
The summer following the flood, we had good crops, including a nice crop of hogs for feeding. There were not so many hogs as we had had when the big cholera plague struck, but there were enough to pay off the bank loans and provide what John vaguely referred to as "things that we need. "John already had hauled several wagonloads of fat hogs to the stockyards, and Mother was filling up a glass dish with the proceeds, when cholera struck again. In fact, a load of hogs had to be unloaded when John was just about to start off with it, because a fat hog turned over in the rack and died. In three dismal weeks we saw the herd go down to almost nothing, and our hog days were over.
"It would seem that the Curse of God is on us, "said Mother, sadly, as she watched the funeral pyres smoking day and night, consuming hogs and hopes.
"No, "said Van, bitterly, "it's the Curse of Procrastination. John can never do anything on time. I've been begging him to get these hogs to market before they ate their heads off. Same way the other time. John never likes to do anything, so he just sleeps late everymorning and lets everything go to hell. Every day these hogs lived after they were ready for market was a risk and a loss. We lost the feed we were pouring into them and we risked cholera. Now we've lost 'em all. John never gets a crop in on time, never cuts the alfalfa when it's ready, never gets the potatoes out before a lot of them are spoiled by frost or water." "Poor John, "said Mother, "does the best he can. "" Well, he doesn't do well enough, and I'm not going to be a fool and stick around here the rest of my life or until the mortgage company boots us out into the road. I'm going out and get a job with real farmers and earn money for school. "Van was a thorn in John's side. He wasn't afraid of him, as I was, and he did not share any of the family worship for him. John had bought a set of books, such as are used by business houses, and opened a complete system of bookkeeping, as his first act in taking over authority on the farm. Van openly accused him of keeping crooked books. He pointed to items debited to the farm and credited to John personally. These were bills marked, "Paid by John." "What did he pay them with?" asked Van, his lawyer's instinct already asserting itself. "Why, with money he earned teaching the young squirts how to make ovals when he should have been helping me get out the wood and putting up fences here on the farm. He didn't even make his expenses, at that. Mother did his laundry and mending, and we boys used up farm work time driving him back and forth to and from town. He came out here week ends and ate the food he hadn't earned, and lorded it over us. Mother gave him money that we earned all the time, and you don't see any of those items on the books. "When we boys objected to John's procrastinations or dawdling, "The Professor" made eloquent speeches, which had been prepared and rehearsed in the fields or outbuildings. The habit of " talking to himself" had grown upon John since the Ted Smart war. During those troubled days, John did a great deal of talking. He made up eloquent denunciations of Smart and Smartism, some of which weredelivered to the family and neighbors, and some of which were fired directly at Smart, during heated arguments. But the best of them were delivered to empty air, rehearsed diligently, but never communicated directly to anybody.
I was hoeing watermelons on one side of a locust grove, and John was shocking hay with a pitchfork in the prairie hay field, on the other side of the grove. This field, where grew a coarse slough grass that we called prairie grass, was within shouting distance of Steve Balch's house.
I stopped hoeing to listen when I heard this speech gradually building up. A sentence, a phrase, a word would be repeated again and again, in varying cadence and with changing inflection, as a commercial announcer tries his voice and inflection before going on the air.
"Mr. Smart, "the discourse began, first low, then high, low, then loud.
When the masterpiece was complete, after an hour or more, during which period very little hay was moved, the orator seized the pitchfork in the position known as "Charge against cavalry!" Crouching for the kill, the orator delivered his entire speech, thus: "Mr. Smart, I'll fertilize these premises with the contents of your bowels . . . (pause) . . . and I'll kick the guts out of you!" Mother was always afraid that the neighbors would hear John talking to himself. This time, her fears were realized. Steve Balch was working in a neighboring field. After the oratory had gone on to the completion of the peroration, Steve strolled over, hoe in hand.
John didn't see him coming, and was making another lunge for the unhappy Smart when Steve sang out, "You're sure knockin' the be-Jesus out of that poor son-of-a-bitch, Johnnie! Where is he, so I can give him a couple of raps too?" John laughed in an embarrassed way, gave the hay a couple of pitches, and said, "How's your corn doing, Steve?" There was a short crop conversation, and Steve asked how the Smart matter was getting on. John then had a chance to fire off some of the fine phrases he had polished up during the last few days.
In making speeches about the ingratitude of Van and me, it was an iron-clad rule that John must always mention his "sacrifices, "which he mispronounced "sacrifusses. "Van claimed the sacrifusses were imaginary, because John never could make a living anyway.
"I wish I had never left the Commercial College, "said John, in the best Edwin Booth manner. Then straightening up for a real memory gem, he cried, "There I was a man among men, and here I am an ass among fools. "But, while Van did not hesitate to berate his elder brother, active resentment soon wore off, and he and John would work together again; V" One good crop, "said John, and of course you will go to school. I'm sure some of those monks or Jesuits would make reasonable terms.
So Van bent his back once more to the load and the toil, looking always for better days.
. . . . music up, and continues . . . . Often I heard: Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.
I dwelt much upon the Gospel wherein we are urged to give no thought to the morrow, to food, or to raiment. It was obviously true, all of it. The lilies of the field and the birds of the air were taken care of, apparently by God Himself. They did not toil. They did no spinning. They gathered no harvest into the barns. And it must be true that the Heavenly Father valued us more highly than he valued these lilies and turtle doves.
Yet I could not dismiss the ants and bees from my mind. They, too, were creatures of the Most High.
Had ants and bees somehow offended, as had man?
Was there an Eve in their backgrounds, who had tempted, or an Adam who had fallen under the curse?
They were always working, supporting intolerable burdens, saving, hoarding, stinging, biting, fighting, being crushed, robbed and sorely tried.
How much, after all, did we inherit from the lilies of the field, and how much was our lot confused with that of the ants and the bees? They toiled, and gathered into barns. And they were not attired as was Solomon, in all his glory. Neither was I, for that matter.
What dark clouds obscured the Light!
AT THE time when Dad went away the fruit situation was satisfactory for home canning, but not a great deal of money was made out of the acres taken by orchards. The rows of peach trees directly south of the house, planted early in the Driscoll era, or perhaps earlier, had ceased to bear, and were good for nothing but shade, hence the name of the spot, "The Shady Trees. "They were very tall trees, such as peach trees should not be. I do not think they had ever been trimmed.
A newer peach orchard was in bearing, and supplied freestone and cling peaches in abundance for home use, and an occasional wagonload for the market. There were experimental ventures on a small scale with sour cherries, plums, apricots and pears. All of these gave fruit for home use only.
The old grape vineyard, which was producing Concords at the time of my earliest recollection, separated the peach orchard from the old apple orchard, which never was a profitable venture. In about four acres there must have been twelve varieties of apples. The orchard had been planted when nobody knew much about what kind of apples could be grown profitably in this soil and climate. Dad tried them all, and selected for his real orchard venture a variety which was not in the old orchard at all. It was the Stayman Winesap, just then coming into production in Kansas.
A tract of about twenty-two acres was planted, in proper fashion, to these trees. Crops were grown between the rows as the trees grew up, year by year. This big orchard was known as the Little Orchard, by a perverseness of nomenclature which is not confined to farmers. The Indians were so called, despite their never having seen India, and why the Pacific Ocean was given its name is a mystery to those who have navigated it.
The Little Orchard bore its first few apples, not more than three or four to a tree, the last summer that Dad spent on the farm.
In my search for sources of small change with which to buy books, pencils and an occasional luxury, such as a pack of clean white writing paper, I discovered apples in the Old Orchard, while Big Flurry was still ruling the realm. I found that some of the apples that we had always permitted to rot on the ground were salable. I gathered a few half-bushel baskets of them, took them to town in the cart, and found a customer in a young greengrocer on Douglas Avenue. His name was Billy Dye, and he had a brother in business with him. He took a fancy to me, probably because I was such a green country jake that he feared for my safety in the city streets.
He bought my apples, told me the names of the different varieties, advised me how to pick and sort them for market, and asked me to come again. Thus began a friendship that has lasted through life. Dye became a wealthy and successful operator in Mexican food specialties, and, as this is written, I still count him among my best friends.
My first sale of apples encouraged me tremendously. Not only did I gather more apples for the market, but also got away with a basket or two of peaches once in a while, and even sold a crate or two of cherries on my own. I picked wild plums, which sold at extremely low prices, wild grapes, and, in the fall, walnuts. Soon I was providing, out of what had always gone to waste on the farm, all of my books and nearly all of my clothes and other personal belongings.
Production in the Little Orchard sneaked up on the family. For two seasons I had it to myself, because John did not want to bother with it. One of these seasons turned out to be the first real apple crop. I found that the Winesap was a good apple for storage, and brought a better price late in the winter than in the fall. I tried an experiment.
With a spade, I made a round pit between two wide-spreading trees. It was only about three feet deep. I put a heavy layer of leaves and grass on the ground, and began putting away the sound, hard apples there, a double handful of dried leaves for every apple. (In mybig pits I stored a dozen or more bushels.) Then I covered the conical pile, which reached as high as my head, with many armfuls of dry leaves, grass, weeds, and finally, a little earth.
My busying myself with this labor was looked upon by the family as child's play, fit diversion for a fellow who wasn't any good physically. Next winter, it turned out that I was paying the grocery bill with my fresh, mellow, red apples. John became a great apple eater and said that we'd have to handle the next apple crop on a commercial basis, and not trust it to the kid, who might skimp the work and cause loss of many bushels. Not an apple was frozen in my pits.
Next apple season found John in chief command, with Van in a deputy capacity, managing a big-scale operation. Apple-pickers were employed, apple-picking devices were bought, and wagonloads of fine apples rumbled to the maple grove, east of the house, which had been picked as the site for storage.
Large pits were dug, twice or three times as big as my trifling pits, and rackloads of coarse hay were dumped as insulation. I ventured to suggest that the location was bad, since it was on the northern brow of a hill, exposed to the worst of the winter winds, while the orchard itself furnished a situation in which there was admirable windbreak protection. Also, I ventured the opinion that slough grass was a bad insulator compared with the very leaves that grew with the apples, plus the crab grass that grew around the trees.
John sucked air through his teeth and grinned tolerantly, lifting his eyebrows in characteristic manner. Van said, "He wants to keep on playing with the apple toys he had so much fun with. We're going to pay off a mortgage. "Several things happened that winter. Wandering cattle and horses ate a lot of the hay off the pits, and even nuzzled in and got at the apples. When the first severe night, with strong north wind, came on, the apples froze. Hundreds of bushels of them. They were carted to a cider mill and made into vinegar, or fed to the hogs.
Van got up a big wood campaign that winter. We had to get money from somewhere, he truthfully remarked, and God had given us a crop of wood that required only harvesting and marketing. Hehad been getting out cordwood and excelsior wood for years, while John was working in town, and had become a skilled and tough woodsman. He now went to two mattress factories and made a bargain with each of them to supply excelsior wood. He had standing arrangements with bakers and iron foundries for cordwood.
Van now outlined a project, Mother approved, and John could not say no. We would chop wood all winter, and in the spring bring in the sawyers and saw it up.
The cottonwood grove that Dad had planted as windbreak and soil-holder, in a tract called Hell's Half Acre, was now ripe for harvest. The trees were about twenty years old, tall and straight, just the right diameter for mattress wood. Chop down every tree, pile the stripped boles for sawing, and salvage cordwood and stovewood from the trimmings. There might be five hundred good trees there.
Then there was a much older and larger cottonwood grove on the south end of the farm, part of the woods. Nobody knew whether it had been planted by a former resident, or whether it grew there by some plan of Nature's. We might get twice as much salable wood out of that grove.
Another cottonwood grove, just coming to the right stage of maturity, grew on a sixteen-acre island that had attached itself to our farm as accretion. Cut them all down, handle the wood in one big production project. Keep a crew working at the usual cordwood job, too, in scattered sections of the woods. A line of tall cottonwoods that Dad had planted as windbreak grew south of the Little Orchard, probably a mile of closely planted trees, in two or three rows.
The project was nothing less than to clear off all the marketable cottonwood in one winter. We must hire as many men as needed. The project went into full swing. Van worked like a horse, all winter long. I was not asked to participate, because the doctor had said I must not lift, and this was mostly a lifting job.
Four great piles of logs were made, close to four centers of operation. The logs were sawed by two-man crosscut saws into eighteenfoot lengths, and piled, by an ingenious use of horsepower, cable and cant hook, in eight-foot-high ranks, for the convenience of the sawyers.
While this work was going on, we were notified that work would begin on the big levee along the river, and our labor would be required. There had been another flood the previous summer, and the Valley farmers had formed a small company or association, of which John was secretary or head bookkeeper. Each farmer contributed a fair amount, with which several wheel scrapers of the latest design were bought. Each farmer kept at least one team and one man busy on the levee job, in good weather, until it was finished.
A ramp was built, at county expense, from the Hydraulic Bridge to an island that had grown up in the river, obstructing the current at a vital spot. A steady stream of scrapers, carrying one cubic yard of earth from the island and returning empty, kept going from early until late, and in a few days of actual labor, the job was done. This might not be the last word in engineering, but it was a better safeguard than the little mud dikes we had been throwing up at the last moment, for years.
I did a full man's job on the levee, for I was good at handling horses and now quite strong in arms, shoulders and back. Lifting and running were about the only things I was forbidden to do.
The logging went on, the hired men taking over while we were on the levee job.
By spring, Van looked with pride upon great ranks of logs, which, if consolidated, would be at least as long as a city block and a half.
Wet Robins was engaged, many weeks in advance, for the sawing job. Wet (whose name was originally Wesley), was one of a large family of Robins farmers, most of whom took a great interest in machinery. He had long owned a steam thresher engine, which also furnished power for corn shellers, corn shredders, saws and other powered implements, all of which he owned and operated.
The saw used at these big sawings was essentially a simple machine. A round disk of the best steel, perhaps three and a half feet indiameter, with large, sharp cutting teeth. The disk was sunk in the center of a heavy table, and could be set for deep or shallow cutting, depending upon the size of logs to be handled.
A fly-wheel around which a belt was looped, and you had the essential mechanism of the saw. The engine stood at the other end of the long belt and exerted itself in spinning its large flywheel, thus passing the energy along the moving belt to spin the much smaller wheel that spun the saw.
The logs were rolled directly off the pile on to the saw table, when that was convenient. The table was set to cut each block exactly eighteen inches long. Thus, you will see, twelve blocks, precisely cut for the shaving machines of the mattress factories, came out of each log.
It might take three men to handle the log at the saw table and near by, one to toss the blocks out of the way as they dropped off the table, two or three on the log pile, one at the engine, one to drive the water wagon, and a crew of four or five for general work, such as handling the horses and helping with the daily moving of the machinery, as the log pile was eaten up. For a big job like this, fourteen to twenty men.
Wet Robins personally handled the engine, a picturesque and mysterious machine. He understood and loved steam engines. When I knew him he was a fat, slow-moving man of forty-five, badly disfigured by a steam engine accident. On a threshing job, his new and surpassingly powerful engine, all trimmed in red paint, had thrown itself into reverse when Wet moved the lever forward. The engine had backed into the separator, pinning Wet against the firebox and boiler. He was burned so badly that nobody thought he would live. The great layers of fat saved him. His vital organs were not damaged. Wet lived to old age, and went about the countryside as an honored hero. His face was a mass of great red patches, but his spirit was unbroken, and he was still the best steam engine man in the Valley.
Such neighbors as Steve Balch volunteered services for such a job as this, but would not accept pay, though they worked alongside paidworkers. You volunteered labor when Steve had a big project on, but it seemed to me that every neighbor was in Steve's debt, so generous was he with his help. When Old Man Brown, who owned the farm on our north after the departure of Ted Smart, was ill, I took a team, wagon and mowing machine, drove nine miles early in the morning, and mowed his alfalfa on a plot he owned within the city limits. We never thought of offering or accepting pay for such services. If a neighbor needed help, you were happy to offer help.
So, on a special job like a big sawing, there might be three or four volunteer neighbors. The others were paid wages, and the owner of the outfit was well paid, according to the number of cords handled.
More than a thousand cords of cottonwood, averaging more than three dollars a cord, since the mattress wood sold for three and a half, came out of that winter campaign of Van's. "Now, "said Van to me, "let's see whether we go to school or not!" My special farm activity, after the apple monopoly had been confiscated, was the watermelon department. In fact, I was producing and selling watermelons long before the apple cartel was formed. I loved watermelons, from seed to fruit. They respond to intelligent and loving care so abundantly that the farmer who knows them feels a strong affection toward them in every stage of their development.
John plowed the ground with his riding plow, in long, crooked furrows.
He sat in a position comparable to that of the makeup editor on a large newspaper. Everybody wants all the space there is, and it's up to the makeup editor, at the last minute, to say what shall go where and how much.
I put in for large acreage each spring, and was assigned four to eight acres, which is a lot of watermelon ground for one boy and a horse. After John's crooked plowing job (he was noted for plowing the crookedest rows in the Valley), I used a team and harrow to smooth the surface. I harrowed the field both ways, up and down and across, at intervals of a week or so, to combine early weed-killing with smoothing the surface.
I learned, to avoid the error Dad had made in planting the Old Orchard: too many varieties. There was need for pleasing two kinds of customers: the shipper, who wanted a thicker-rind melon that would stand long hauls, and the immediate consumer, with the discriminating taste of the watermelon lover, who demanded a sweet melon with lots of red meat, few seeds, and a thin rind.
For the first category I chose Black Diamond, and later its son, the Black Boulder, much larger. Not good eating melons, though I still see them in the New York market each summer, shipped from such distant places as Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For the local connoisseur, I planted the Sweetheart, a long, white, sweet melon, nearly all edible meat, but not tough enough for shipping.
Needless to say, all this wisdom about varieties and the market was not evolved out of the experience of a mere schoolboy. My counselor was the sympathetic Billy Dye, who had bought my first basket of apples.
For the sake of variety when selling retail, I planted a few of the standard striped, round Kolb's Gem, and experimented mildly with new varieties. My success in this early melon venture depended upon being let alone, as has relative success in everything I have ever undertaken. To their credit be it recorded, the family, including the dictatorial John, gave me my head, and disclaimed either responsibility or credit. The effort, of course, was for the common treasury, not for any special personal fund.
Even the seeds of watermelons are satisfactory to handle. You have saved them yourself, from some of the good specimens of last year's crop, and have dried and sorted them so that only perfect seeds are stored in a dry place, away from frost, through the winter. When your field is prepared and carefully marked off in twelve-foot checkerboard squares, you go afield with a sharp hoe and a canvas bag of seeds, which have been soaked all night in water that has been warmed. The bag is so slung that you can use the hoe with both hands.
You make a soft, shallow bed, called, for some reason, a hill, with the hoe, just the right depth. You reach into the bag, take up five or six seeds, and drop them in the bed, nicely scattered. Then you cover with the right amount of earth, and tamp it down gently with the flat of the hoe. This whole operation takes no more than a minute.
My melon fields were always in straight rows, perfectly checkered. This not only for appearance, but for purposes of most efficient cultivation.
As soon as the two delicate green leaves from each seed were above ground, I started hoeing around the hills, softening the earth and destroying the tiniest weeds.
Within a week, weeds began to show between the rows. With a full-sized two-horse cultivator I covered the field, up and down and crosswise, just once. After that, the vines began to creep. After one more hoeing, I cultivated with the one-horse double-shovel, crisscrossing as long as the creeping vines would permit.
Watermelon vines are beautiful at all stages of growth. When they were three feet long, I was still hoeing around and under them, straightening them with loving care after a windstorm tossed them about, and using the double-shovel in the center of the alleys, not yet reached by the creepers.
When the creeping vines reached across the open space, and their strong tendrils grasped their mates across the way, the cultivation was over. My field was as clean as a kitchen floor. But between that time and the ripening of the luscious melons, a crop of weeds, mostly crab grass, would spring up. This was as it should be, so long as the weeds were not too thick or too high. The vines clung to the grass, and thus were held from blowing. The grass might help to shade the melons from the hot sun and keep the rinds from blistering or turning brown.
I walked among the vines every day, pulling the tall weeds, putting out poison for gophers, dusting with London Purple or Paris Green where bugs appeared, and noting the blooming, the formation of the tiny melons, and their day-by-day growth. I talked about my melonsand reported in detail every circumstance that concerned them. Meantime, of course, I was doing the usual farm chores and lending a hand against weeds everywhere.
Market time was the fruition of hope. It broke my heart to have to drive the wagon down the alleys, in gathering the fruit, for the wagon crushed many unripe melons and fatally cut the vines. For the earliest loads, I drove along the outside of the field, and carried the ripe melons a maximum distance of a city block, in order to avoid ruining a small percentage of the melons. This was inefficient loading, and later, I had to select certain lanes, as far apart as possible, as wagon roads for loading.
If the first loads were delivered early in the season, before melons had started to pour into the market, the best of them, guaranteed ripe, might bring as much as three and a half dollars a dozen at the grocery stores. The ripe guarantee was important during the first week or so, because of the temptation to pick a big melon without making sure of its ripeness. You always took the grocer's word for it if he said you had sold him a green melon, returned by his customer. You gave him another. I'm sure I never was cheated in this way by any grocer.
From the first half dozen trips to market, I came home each day about noon (having started on the road at one A. M.) with pockets bulging with money. As a matter of course and of routine, it was all given to Mother, together with an accounting from memory as to how much was sold to whom for how much money. Ten or fifteen cents had been spent for breakfast, usually. Sometimes, when competition was keen and sales slow, one did not stop for breakfast.
At the Herman Puls restaurant, where the well fixed farmers ate breakfast, meals were fifteen cents. I found them little better than the bounteous breakfasts served at Hayford Brothers, up one flight of stairs, for ten cents. At this price you got tremendous plates of wheat cakes, bacon, eggs, and fried potatoes, with oversized cups of steaming coffee, and re-orders as often as it might please your palate.
The customers were nearly all farmers who had been working for hours before dawn, and the appetites were amazing.
There were three of the Hayfords, all red-whiskered and speaking with a back-country twang. They worked hard and employed help that did no loafing. One of the brothers sat on a stool in the rear of the dining room, pulling a rope that operated an ingenious system of light wooden paddles, swaying back and forth over the customers' heads. The chief purpose of this home-made machine was to keep the flies moving, so that they would not bother the bald customers too much. Tanglefoot fly paper was tacked on the paddles, each of which was about eight by three feet, and thus a fair proportion of the fly population was entrapped at every meal. The hand-worked overhead fans were arranged in pairs and extended from front windows to kitchen.
A young man who was obviously physically unfit for heavy duty was employed to go about among the tables, shooing flies off the food and diners with a great variety of shoo-fly devices, including a palm-leaf fan, a feather duster, a home-made fly-swatter, and a whisk broom, also home-made. All of this solicitude for the customers' comparative immunity from fly annoyance was fully justified. The breakfaster still had to exercise eternal vigilance and arm muscles to keep his food and head reasonably free of the pesky brutes that swarmed through the doors from the streets.
Mother was always pleased when I exercised a frugal instinct by breakfasting at Hayford's, instead of spending the extra nickel at the more refined Puls restaurant. But it wasn't really frugality. I liked the heartier Hayford food, the picturesque scene, the loud-talking farmers, and the quiet, friendly proprietors.
As the season wore on and the watermelon market was glutted, the standard price to grocers and wholesale produce dealers was sixty cents a dozen. You sold many melons for less than that, even half that, but you also sold a few choice specimens for more, up to a dollar a dozen.
There was an abundance of melons in the field; far more thancould be marketed. At least a wagonload of the less desirable specimens, plus those broken by wagon wheels, was gathered daily and tossed to the hogs. Hogs and cattle love ripe watermelons and thrive upon them.
Work was harder, hours longer, days hotter and dustier, as the season progressed. Sometimes, after making the rounds of all the groceries and produce houses, I had half my load left and only a few dollars in my pocket. In order to save time, I had breakfasted off half a raisin pie, for which I paid a nickel. I ate it as I drove along the street, and found its cloying sweetness an excellent stimulus.
Having exhausted the wholesale market, I took to the residence streets about noon, crying my wares in a loud, half-wailing chant. The horses proceeded at a slow walk, and prospective customers came from their houses from time to time to buy a good melon for a nickel. The prospect usually would ask me to plug the melon, which I would do upon his giving his word that he would buy if ripe. Once in a while the customer changed his mind and refused to keep his bargain. I gave the melon to the first colored boy I met.
Mother was none too pleased when the take was small, and she was inclined to agree with John that I was not getting as good prices as Old Man Blood, George Blood, or Art Kirby. Sometimes I did not get home until late afternoon, having had only a half pie all day, and had just time to take care of the horses and eat something, before going to the field to load tomorrow's cargo by moonlight. Van and John usually helped with such loadings.
We heard that Big Flurry was ill in St. Francis Hospital. I went up there, after peddling my melons, to see him. He had had an operation for double hernia, but, being only a little past seventy, he was making a good recovery. He was worried about his livestock, on his farm west of town, now in the friendly care of a neighbor. He wanted to get up and get back to work, but the doctor kept him under lock until he was able to walk.
. . . . finale, with windmill obbligato . . . .
Van and I shared a sense of finality in the situation which had been so long and so painfully developing.
We knew that the farm without Big Flurry was a failure.
We accepted the verdict, whether it be from Fate, Circumstance, or God.
But we must cut loose. Not a prosperous venture thus far, but the horizon was still blue, and distant.
We were ashore in the wrong port.
A voyage done, Set sail and steer once moreTo further landfall on some nobler shore.
We talked little now about our projects, our future. We two boys had made up our minds. The elders had but to accept the inevitable. He and I faced each other with some mutual respect now. Struggle lay ahead; storms, doubtless. We were not afraid of struggle and storm. From infancy, we had been familiar with them. Cast off, then, son of a sailor.
Weather clearing; seas heavy. Course: dead ahead.
VAN AND I came to the spring of the year 1905 as partners and allies in the crucial project of our lives. We agreed that we were going to enter school the following autumn.
I was twenty years old, Van twenty-three, and we would be respectively twenty-one and twenty-four a few weeks after the opening of school. While we fought the fruitless and unrewarding battle against circumstances, year after year, we were told by our elders that there was plenty of time. We knew that time for entering preparatory school had about run out.
Five years had passed since Dad drove away, saying, "Ye'll find the harse at Butler's stable. "They had been years of discouragement and disaster. We were further from financial well-being now than we had been on the day when Van had said, "There's no hard work on the farm if it's managed right. "There had been plenty of hard work, but little reward.
Mother was fifty-five, not in the best of health. Marie and Margaret had their own families. Margaret had moved her husband and children to Wichita, because the Erie climate did not agree with her. Tom Kennedy had a small machine shop of his own.
John was thirty-five, had never been ill, and was physically strong since he had been toughened by farm work.
Van was six feet and two inches tall, thin, bony, slightly stooped, extremely nervous and unstable, seldom in repose, suffering from an inferiority complex which had originated in babyhood. He had all but overcome his stuttering, by determination, force of will, and a system he had worked out for himself.
Van and I had come to the inescapable conclusion that John and Mother were only theoretically in sympathy with our desire forhigher education. They wished we might have it, but there was not the slightest chance that they would ever do anything about it. Thefarm could sink or swim without us, we agreed. Van could not help but feel that he had earned the first chance at schooling, since he was three years older and had worked steadily while I was disabled, as well as while I was attending the country school. This seemed reasonable to me, but my answer was, "You shouldn't have done it. If I were as strong as you, I would have struck out on my own several years ago. I'm going to school next fall, anyway; just you wait and see. "Let me check up on the status of one country jake at age twenty.
I had recovered from the worst phases of the rheumatism and rheumatic heart. I was learning to stand straight and walk straight, after years of a sharp list to starboard. I had considerable bodily strength for such work as operating a wheel scraper, a go-devil, or any farm implement, and could catch the biggest watermelons, tossed at me from any angle. I was reconciled to the idea that I would have to work my way through school, and was not in the least frightened by the prospect. I had been investigating, quietly, the opportunities for this kind of thing, in town.
As to worldly culture. I had never been outside of Sedgwick County, nor indeed had I traveled more than ten miles in any direction from the house in which I was born.
I had never been on a railroad train, except once, for two minutes, to tell Aunt Fannie goodbye as she left for Erie.
I had never been out with a girl. This is an understatement. I had never held a girl's hand, kissed a girl, or even sat alone with a girl in broad daylight.
I had never learned to dance, smoke, drink, play cards, play a musical instrument, sing, or play any game. Exceptions: drop-the-handkerchief, blackman or pullaway, and a kind of checkers, without rules, which I played with Van in adolescent years. These checker games were settled by fist-fights, because each of us made his own rules. A system which I recommend to New York gambling joints, since it makes for the kind of activity they like and is sure to get publicity.
The strongest drink I had ever tasted was a glass of my Dad's grape wine. Under Mother's eye I dared not take more than two or three sips of this concoction, though I really loved the taste of it.
I had witnessed one theatrical performance, a melodrama that deeply impressed me, and had heard two lectures. With apple money I had bought tickets for Van and me for a lecture by James Whitcomb Riley, at the Toler Auditorium. It consisted mostly of readings from Riley's poems and stories. I laughed so loud and long that the entire audience of three thousand turned to see whether somebody was having a fit. The other lecture was "The Yankee Volunteer, "by a handsome young Catholic priest, Father Francis C. Kelley, pastor of a church at Lapeer, Michigan. He was a magnetic orator, with all the oratorical tricks, plus a personality. He is now, at age seventy-five, Bishop of Oklahoma City, and I still recall one phrase from his lecture: "The crack of a rifle out there in the bush . . . "It was an exciting hour.
I had once been on a merry-go-round, but never on a streetcar. I had seen a horseless carriage, but never had ridden in one. There may have been some items on the other side of the ledger, and if so, we may come to them presently.
Mike Courtney was the most pious Catholic in the world. He had great handlebar mustaches, the largest and most prosperous high-grade grocery store in Wichita, fourteen children, and a patient, pious wife. He was a short, dark, squat, fat man, but quick on his feet, full of energy, and, while a good businessman, as honest as an ant-eater that owns his anthill.
The Courtneys occupied only one pew in church, but they occupied all of it at every Mass on Sunday and most weekday services.
I doubt that Mike had ever been to school, but he saw to it that all his children got all the education they could absorb. He may have been just the least bit prejudiced in favor of the Roman Catholicreligion and everything pertaining thereto, but he never sold a spoiled potato to a customer. I sold watermelons and apples to him at his big store on North Main Street, but he preferred to buy of old Gilman Blood; who had no religion at all, came from the State of Maine, and always put the best apples and peaches at the bottom of the basket. When Old Man Blood, his white chin whisker blowing in the morning breeze, drove up in front of the Courtney store, Mike Courtney would rush to the curb and shout to the half-deaf old gentleman, "I'll take the whole batch. I'll have two men out here to unload. Then give me your bill. "Courtney knew he would have no trouble with this purchase. His cashier would phone the high-grade customers (for Courtney had one of the first store telephones in town) to say, "We have Gil Blood apples and peaches today. "Orders were automatic, and price did not matter.
The oldest Courtney boy, Ed, was younger than I. He visited our farm a few times, along with some of the Healey boys, sons of Ed Healey, livestock commission man and old friend of the family.
Ed Courtney was just starting to school at a place called St. Benedict's College, a misnomer at that time, since it was merely a prep school. Like so many Western schools, it was named in hope and cradled in ambition, and, many years later, it did become a college. Ed was what modern collegians call marks-happy. He boasted about his marks, his phenomenal progress in school, his tender age in the light of such accomplishments, and his stand-in with the school authorities. He marveled that Van and I were not in school.
While Van could scarcely endure Ed and his boasting, he was anxious to talk to him about the school, and in these conversations made up his mind that he would go to St. Benedict's if possible. He liked the idea of monastic seclusion, as an atmosphere for study. He had so much time to make up that he would need to study hard and continuously. St. Benedict's played no extra-mural games of any kind and did not stress athletics.
Van talked to Mother and John about St. Benedict's, got the Courtneys to talk to them. Soon, on Courtney suggestion, thereappeared at the farm a bearded monk of modest mien, Father Andrew. He was a scout for the school.
He brought a catalog, an extensive outline of the course of studies, and Van and I ate up these words from the monastic house of learning. My reaction at once was unfavorable. Too much Latin, at the sacrifice of subjects I thought I would be more interested in. Too much mathematics. Too rigid a course.
Van and I argued and talked about schools and courses, together and in the presence of other members of the family. When Marie visited the old home, as she did frequently, we hauled out the catalogs, asked her advice, and talked of books and studies at length. We knew that we had an ally in Marie. She wanted to see us achieve our educational ambitions, and she was sympathetic with us because of the tyranny under which we lived from day to day.
Sometimes Ed Blood drove his family over for a Sunday afternoon. He went over the farm with John, Van and me. He was confounded and amazed by the absurdly wriggling rows of corn that John had planted. "Must have been chasin' a drunken rattlesnake when you made that row, John, "he said.
"Corn grows no better in straight rows than in crooked ones, "replied The Professor. "Look at that corn!" "I can't look too long; it makes me crosseyed, "said Ed.
Back home, Ed was telling Marie of some of John's farming methods, if such they might be called. He told of a misshapen, swaybacked, idiotic colt, now nearly grown, that was running wild in the woods, a true woods colt. This colt was at once the full brother and son of his father. John had postponed castration of a male colt so long that the colt had sired this woods colt by his own mother. The result was a weird deformity which John had not made up his mind to kill, castrate or break to harness.
"Well, "said Marie, defensively, "John is a GOOD man." "Yes, "replied her outspoken husband, "good-for nothing. "John listened to our discussions of higher learning with charity and tolerance, occasionally sucking air through his teeth to express nonchalant disinterest. Mother kept silent most of the time, but occa-sionally came in with a warning: "Of course you know that we haven't a cent to send anybody to school with. Not a cent. The Courtneys can buy watermelons from us for a nickel and sell them to the city people for a quarter or half a dollar. No wonder they can send their sons to college. They have nobody trying to put the water over on them, and they don't have to worry about the cholera." "Maybe we ought to go into the grocery business, "said Van. "John could keep the books, as Alex Burke said, and he could make all the ovals, too." "That's enough for you! Go and fill up the woodbox!" Mother issued commands to us, grown men, and indeed to John also, just as she did when we were infants. She did not hesitate to whack us with her hand to emphasize a command, though the whacks did not hurt any more. She was the genuine matriarch, with eldest son as regent with limited powers. She imposed drastic penalties for "talking back, "and any sort of independent self-expression was back talk. For me, the penalty was, "All right, you'll stay out of school, "rural school, "until you have husked all the corn in the east field, out of the shock. "That was not bad matriarchal jurisprudence. It saved a hired man for a month. If there were no corn to husk, there would be cattle to herd on cornstalks or a certain amount of stovewood to chop.
Ed Blood heard Mother ordering John about one Sunday, and saw John meekly obeying. In a few minutes she was giving an order to Ed. It was a trivial matter, such as changing his position on the back porch, or tying the horse to a different post. Ed did not move, but continued smoking his cigar. When the order was repeated, he said, "No, no, Grandma, I won't do it. See, you can't boss me around the way you do John. I've grown up. "Mother didn't like it, but she never gave another order to Ed. She did not forget.
I had been going to school at Riverside at irregular intervals, for a total of a few weeks each winter, since Dad left, hoping to make up for more than two years that had been lost because of my accident, rheumatism and heart trouble. Each year I had planned to stay inschool until the county examinations took place in the spring, but had been ordered out to the fields before I could get fairly started on the examination preparation.
Toward the end of this period a miracle happened. Two good teachers in succession were hired by the School Board for Riverside School.
Miss Bee Baker, a pretty blonde, perhaps two or three years older than I, was the first college graduate ever to teach the school. She had taken her A. B. at Fairmount College (now the University of Wichita), in the spring, and, in all innocence, had launched upon a teaching career in this place that was accustomed to bruisers, beaters, rough-neck wrestlers and ignorant bigots, as teachers. There had been one recent exception to the general rule of incompetence, an Indian girl from a Normal School, intelligent, trained in method, but too inhibited to reach out for friendship and understanding.
Miss Baker liked me. She became acquainted with my sister Margaret, visited our home, and boiled over to Mother about the supposed talents of her son. She said that of course Mother was planning to send me on to prep school and college, and that she hoped she might have the privilege of graduating me from the elementary school this spring. Mother was non-committal.
Seeing that I eagerly read every book I could find, Miss Baker, by a simple and graceful act, transformed the world for me. She walked down the aisle to my desk one morning and placed before me a thin volume that she had used in college. It was Shakespeare's "Macbeth. "It was the first Shakespeare I had ever read. I did not leave my seat until dismissal at four o'clock. I read the immortal lines over and over and over. I committed them to memory. There were tears in my eyes, and in hers, too, when I handed back the precious volume after the pupils had filed out. I appreciated the fact that the teacher had not required me to attend any classes that day. I felt foolish when she reminded me that I had eaten no lunch, and that my lunch pail was there by the door.
"You may take the book home with you if you like, Charles, "she said.
"Thanks, but I won't have any time to read tonight. I have lots of chores to do when I get home. "Next day she gave me "Julius Caesar. "The others followed, until I had read all of Shakespeare and had committed hundreds of lines and scenes to memory. I was becoming used to the rarefied atmosphere of noble phrases and majestic thought now, and spent noon hours discussing the plays with Miss Baker.
When I had finished Shakespeare, she loaned me books of essays, and practically all the literature she had studied in college. She said it was a waste of time for me to recite with the regular classes, so I need not consider myself subject to any discipline, but merely a member of an English Literature seminar.
I had done little, I thought, toward preparing for the county examination that winter. But I had entered a world from which only Death could remove me. I had walked with the great and mighty, the saints and patriarchs and learned doctors of the ages. At home I was quiet and no longer quarrelsome or argumentative. I knew so many of the answers in advance of the contention that I did not need to argue it out. For the first time in my life, a calmness of spirit took hold of me. My determination to go to school was established as a rock in a weary land.
The other good and capable teacher was my last at Riverside. She was Miss Edith Smith, a devoted, intelligent, hard-working teacher. She was above routine. She spotted me at once as a frustrated yearner after learning. Although I did not get into the school until after Christmas, and stayed only eight weeks, she determined to get me through the county examinations in the spring and see that I got to prep school at the earliest possible date.
I told her that there was no use in my trying to take the examinations. I would surely fail in arithmetic, about which I knew nothing. She said " Nonsense, "and put me on a cramming course in arithmetic. She gave me the county examinations that had been given during the last five years, and made me answer all of them and work out every problem.
Almost by main strength, she steered me to the courthouse in Wichita, where, in a great basement room or unwalled area, a thousand pupils of country schools were taking uniform examinations.
The County Superintendent of Public Instruction was spectacled, smiling Professor A. D. Taylor, who walked lightly about the aisles as the work proceeded, through two long days, in perfect silence.
To my amazement, I found the questions easy. I wrote on the history paper long and fast, using up the pile of copy paper on my table and calling for more. All day I wrote and wrote, without looking up. As the piles of written sheets were carried to him by attendants, the Superintendent must have wondered whether there were something crooked going on, for I saw him, several times, standing behind me and watching closely. When I caught his eye he smiled and nodded encouragement.
Arithmetic gave me trouble, but I was confident that I had passed it.
When the results of the examinations were sent to the teachers, Miss Smith personally delivered mine to Mother and me, making the side trip in her buggy, on her way to the city. She congratulated us. I had passed with the highest grade ever made by a candidate for graduation in the county, exactly 96. I had made one hundred percent in physiology, Kansas history, United States history, and, God be praised, arithmetic. Ninety-nine in United States Constitution, and a dismaying low of 85 in penmanship. A disgraceful thing for a brother of a champion penman.
Miss Smith reminded us that Lewis Academy, the best prep school in the state, offered a scholarship annually to the person making highest average grade in the county, as a means of keeping up its reputation for high scholarship standards. She said that of course she assumed I would be entering there in the fall, that she knew many of the professors and instructors there, and would take pleasure in introducing me and helping me plan my course. I said that I already had made up my mind to go to Lewis, although I had no idea of winning a scholarship, that I had a catalog in the house, and had selected a freshman course with some extrastudies that I would like to submit for her approval and criticism. She would be glad to help, and would come to our house any evening in the near future to do that and to consult with me about the commencement exercises.
"Oh, can't we get along without commencement exercises?" I asked. "I'm the only one from Riverside, and I would feel like a fool, standing up there before an audience, just because I had passed some sleigh-ride examinations. "Miss Smith assured us that it was important to her that we have commencement exercises. She would get graduates from other schools, and hold a combined commencement of two or more Valley schools, so that I would not be embarrassed. But she wished to get as much publicity as possible out of having turned out the pupil with the average that broke the records of fifty years. It would help her in getting a better school to teach, higher wages, and good standing with the State Board of Education.
I said all right, provided I wouldn't have to deliver an oration. I hated graduation orations.
I saw that the teacher wanted to talk privately with Mother, who had interpolated a statement that she had not the slightest idea where I thought I was going to get the money for Lewis Academy, and had received the rest of the information in polite silence.
Later, I learned something of what passed between the teacher, seated in her buggy, and Mother, leaning upon the seat, after I left, with singing heart, to water the hogs in dreamy trance.
Miss Smith went overboard in predicting what education would do for the boy, and stated flatly that she thought it obligatory upon the family to send him on through school. Mother countered that we had no money. Teacher called attention to the free scholarship. Mother replied that we could not afford books, room rent, even decent clothes, to say nothing of board and other incidental expenses.
Miss Smith said that if it were really true that the Driscolls were that poor, she would undertake to fund a sponsor who would, upon her recommendation, underwrite the cost of four years at LewisAcademy. There were rich men in Wichita, devoted to the promotion of culture as well as business, who would not be averse to a loan of indefinite period on such a risk. Could anything be fairer than that?
Mother thought that this might have the flavor of charity, which we could in no wise stomach, and furthermore, it was doubtful that we could afford to dispense with the boy's services on the farm. On this note the conference adjourned. Miss Smith and I knew that I was going to Lewis Academy in the fall, but nobody else knew it.
Miss Smith picked the class motto, "Excelsior, "explaining to me that it meant "I will reach the top, "and then went out to get the rest of the graduating class. She was able to round up one school in the Valley, the Enterprise, whose teacher agreed to toss his lone graduate, one Clara Odell, into the picture. So we had our exercises, with Professor Marion D. Smith, of Lewis Academy, as speaker, in the Methodist church next to the schoolhouse, and Miss Smith had her hour of glory.
Now occurred an incident that turned the tide, changed the perspective, and was destined to influence lives that had long been nourishing a spiritual unquietness beneath the maples that shaded the old house on the hill.
I was up early that hot spring morning, as summer began to warm the rich earth to teeming life. I had finished milking the cows, and was headed toward the house with the brimming milk bucket, when I heard a horrendous sound of screaming, shouting, cursing, and the savage barking and roaring of a huge dog.
I set down the milk bucket and ran to the back yard, where was a scene that took more than a few seconds to comprehend, even in faintest outline. Nero was confusing everything with his savage and powerful rushes.
John had Van on his back, and was on top of him, beating his face and chest with his fists.
Nero, taking the part of the man on top, as dogs often do, wastearing at Van and frothing at the mouth as he made successive lunges.
Mother had just fallen in a faint, a few feet away, screaming. Van was shouting, "Get that God-damned dog off, and I'll fix this fellow!" Nero was my special friend. I caught him by the tail and pulled him off, slapping his face soundly. Then I rushed in and shouted in John's ear that he had killed Mother, meantime choking him sufficiently to bring him out of his murderous frenzy.
John got up, picked up Mother, and carried her into the house, while Van and I stood cursing him.
As John reached the kitchen door, Van heaved a half brick with tremendous strength, in his fury forgetting that he might hit Mother. The brick struck the door frame at John's head level, missing him by less than two inches. The indentation is there still.
When Van could talk, he told me the story thus: He had been up, doing chores, as I had been, since dawn. John was still abed, as was his custom. Van went into the house shouting derisive demands that John get up and get some work started, as the weeds would not await his pleasure. John came downstairs, silent, but under high tension.
In the back yard, Van continued to declaim against lazy, inefficient farm management, and John had made one reply, "This is my farm and I'll run it as I see fit. "This was a red rag to Van. As a matter of fact, the farm was John's only in trust (though not a legal trust), and he, was beginning to assert sole ownership at frequent intervals.
Van flung back a taunt, "Your farm, is it? That's a damned lie! It's mine as much as it's yours, but it belongs to the mortgage company!" Next thing Van knew, he was on his back, with John on top, and the dog tearing his shirt. He said that John struck him from behind, and that he could knock hell out of the little bully, as he expressed it, in fair fight.
He swore to kill John as soon as the adversary dared to leave the protection of his mother. He obtained a pile of bricks and a heavy iron bar, and laid siege to the back door. He barricaded the other exits with heavy timbers. I went in with my bucket of milk, and found John sitting, pale and breathing hard, on the bed beside Mother, in my small bedroom off the kitchen. Mother was moaning and crying hysterically.
I shouted at John, pointing to Mother, "This is your doing, you low-down bully!" John said nothing. I said, "Van is going to kill you as soon as you stick your head outdoors, and you're afraid to try it. You're a coward. "John looked at me with dull bloodshot eyes and said, "Oh, let us alone!!" After darkness fell that night, John crawled out of a window. The battle died down after Neighbor Elzy Brown, who had heard the noise, came over on a casual inspection trip.
A few days later Van loaded a cord of wood, hitched a team to it, and hauled it to town, without consulting anybody.
When he came home he showed the money to Mother, then put it back in his pocket.
"This is my money, "he said. "Two seventy-five, out of the thousands of dollars I have made out of sweat and wood, is mine. I'm leaving tomorrow. "That night Mother helped Van pack an old canvas telescope bag. Next morning, with an extra five dollars Mother had pressed into his hand, Van took his seat in the cart, with his telescope at his feet, behind Old Pansy. To me he said, "You'll find the horse in Butler's stable. "Slowly he jogged down the hill, not looking back.
A wind from the east was rising. The old windmill wheel, dangling like a ghost of frustrated hopes, stirred uneasily in its grotesque position, suspended in helpless wreckage over the top of the wooden tower.
"Bong-bong, long-long, "it chanted.
We were silent at breakfast, except for John's sucking air through his teeth with a weird whistling sound.
With Miss Smith, I visited Lewis Academy, where a summer teachers' institute was in session. I met tiny, white-haired, white-mustached, scholarly Dr. Naylor, principal of the Academy and instructor in the institute. Also, other members of the faculty.
I was impressed more by the scholastic atmosphere of the place than by the cordial and sympathetic words of the faculty members, who assured me that no county scholarship student had ever failed to make a top record in the Academy. A businesslike promotion man for the school, upon learning of my total lack of finances, took me under his care. He would get me a part-time job that would take care of whatever was necessary. If I had capacity for work, as my sponsor claimed, he would see that I got through school, regardless of home conditions. I was steeled with my own determination, backed by the friendly assurance of these selfless builders of Kansas civilization.
There was no longer any discussion at home as to whether I was going to use my scholarship at Lewis. But there was no formation of any plan to take care of the financial problem. I went ahead with preparations. I spent some time looking up rooms, jobs, and other details, with the help of the school authorities. I had alternative plans formulated, and did not talk about them.
Van returned to the farm, after the wheat harvest. He was a changed man, no longer an awkward boy. He had stood up to the work with the best of them, had made friends across the wide prairies, and had become interested in the daughter of a large wheat-grower at whose home he was no mere hired hand, but a co-worker and a welcome guest. His wit and erudition, native and acquired by hard and lonely work, had made him conspicuous among the vast armies of itinerant harvest workers. The father of the belle of the wheatfields had kept him on after the harvest, and had parted withhim reluctantly because Van said he had to go back and make arrangements for entering school.
Van seemed to retain no resentment against John. Rather, a slightly patronizing sympathy for a boy who had not quite grown up. He related his experiences and described his associates with humorous and tolerant clarity. He had found a new world, beyond the maples and the Shady Trees. He smiled often, and, picking his teeth with a cottonwood twig, he seemed to be looking into a future in which John had no part.
Father Andrew came again, and details were agreed upon. Tuition and expenses were shaved to the bare minimum, above the level of acknowledged charity. Father Andrew was not at all sure that this independent, Lincolnesque, rebellious individual would ever become a priest of God. In the Benedictine order, self must be obliterated. Van took orders from nobody. He might not learn to abide under the Rule, and observe the regulations of poverty, chastity, and obedience, with the added rigorous rule of the Benedictines. No, indeed. I think Father Andrew was right.
To St. Benedict's in Atchison, Kansas, went a wild alarm from Mike Courtney. The younger Driscoll boy, who had somehow managed to get first place in a hick contest for honors, was practically tied up with a heretical Protestant school, which offered him free tuition, and also arranged for sustenance, probably with the object of making a Methodist bishop out of him. What could be done? Father Andrew visited us again. I was impressed with his scholarly bearing and speech, with his selflessnes [sic], his unwillingness to show off, his soft speech and ability to understand. He said that the younger boy was much more likely to become a priest than the older one. His knowledge of the Bible, said the Father, and of religious doctrine, was not bad, considering his lack of opportunity for Catholic education.
In view of this situation, the younger boy would be accepted, out of hand, without any charge, as long as he should wish to remain in the Benedictine school. Further, means would be found to send himon to Seminary, and to complete his education for the priesthood, even outside the Benedictine order, if that should be his desire.
On her first spending expedition in town, in preparation for our departure for school, Mother bought several of Van's specified needs. For me she purchased the hair brush described in the specifications submitted by Father Andrew. I used that brush for many years.
On a September morning, Van and I set off for school; I for Lewis Academy, he for St. Benedict's. We shook hands at the station.
In my ears sounded the solemn notes that were being beaten out on the windmill tower, as we drove down the hill: Bong-bong, long-long, long-long.
But right in front of us was the world.
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