HOPE FARM NOTES
HERBERT W. COLLINGWOOD
THE RURAL NEW YORKER
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC.
THE QUINN & BODEN COMPANY
RAHWAY, N. J.
L. D. C. and A. F. C.
“The Hen with one Chicken”
Most of these notes were originally printed in the Rural New-Yorker from week to week and covering a period of about 20 years. Many readers of that magazine have expressed the desire to have a collection of them in permanent form. It has been no easy task to make a selection, and I wish to acknowledge here the great help which I have received from my daughter, Ava F. Collingwood, in arranging this matter. It has been thought best to arrange the notes in chronological order. “A Hope Farm Sermon,” and “Grandmother” were originally printed in 1902. The others follow in the order of their original publication. The reader must understand that the children alluded to represent two distinct broods,—the second brood appearing just after the sketch entitled “Transplanting the Young Idea.” From the very first the object of these notes has been to picture simply and truthfully the brighter, cheerful side of Farm Life.
HOPE FARM NOTES
THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE BARN
As a boy on a little Yankee farm I had a “stent” set out for me every day. During the Winter it was sawing and splitting wood. Our barn stood so that somehow on a Winter’s day one side of it faced the road, and it always seemed to be warm and sunny. The other was turned so it was always cold and frosty, with little if any sun. The hens, the cow and the sheep always made for the sunny side of the barn, which represented the comfortable and the bright side of life. The old gentleman who brought me up always put the woodpile on the frosty side of the barn. He argued that if the boy worked too much on the sunny side, he would stop to look at the passers-by, feel something of the joy of living, and stop his work to absorb a little of it. We were brought up to believe that labor was a curse, put upon us for our sins, a serious matter, a discipline and never a joy. When the boy worked on the frosty side, he must move fast in order to keep warm. He would not stop to loaf in the sun, he could not throw stones or practise baseball so long as he had to keep his mittens on to keep his fingers warm. Thus the argument was that the boy would accomplish more on the frosty side, and realize that labor represented the primal curse which somehow seemed to rest particularly hard upon the farmer. And so as a child I did my work and passed much of my life on the frosty side of the barn, silent and thoughtful, while the hens cackled and sang on the sunny side. It seemed strange to me that people could not see that the thing which made the hens lay would surely make the boy work.
There will always be a dispute as to whether a boy or a man does his best work under the spur of necessity, or out of a full bag of the oats of life. And they do it with greater or less cruelty as more or less of their life has been spent on the frosty side. I never yet saw a self-made man who did anything like a perfect job on himself. They usually spoil their own sons by giving them too easy a time, while work is a necessity in building character. Work without play of some sort is labor without soul, and that is one of the most cruel and dangerous things in the world. I have noticed that most men who pass their childhood on the frosty side of the barn have what I call a squint-eyed view of youth. They spend a large part of their time telling how they had to work as a boy, and how much inferior their own sons are since they do not have chores to do. That man’s boys will pay no attention except when his eye is upon them, and rightly so, I think. The man looks across the table at mother, with a shake of his head, for is not the Smith family responsible for the fact that these boys do not equal their wonderful sire? I have learned better than to expect much sympathy from my boys for what happened 50 years ago.
The old gentleman would come now and then and look around the corner of the barn to see if I was at work. The frosty side of the barn in youth has one advantage. It forces the boy to think and reason out the justice of life. Uncle Daniel had not read enough of history to know that Guizot, the great French historian, says that the only thing which those who represent tyranny, injustice or evil are afraid of is the human mind. What he means is that whenever you can get the plain, common people to think clearly and with their own brains, they will sooner or later wipe off the slate of history and write freedom in big letters. On the sunny side I think I should have talked and so rid myself of my thought before it could print itself upon my little brain, but there on the frosty side of the barn I know that I said little, but reasoned it out with the clear wisdom of childhood. If Uncle Daniel had been a student of Shakespeare, he would have gone straight to that famous passage in Julius Cæsar which probably expresses the thought of 90 per cent of the humans capable of thinking, who have ever lived to maturity:
“Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights;
Yond’ Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”
I was thinking out my problem, and I want to tell you younger men that the questions which started at the teeth of my saw on the frosty side of that old barn have cut their way through the years, and chased and haunted me all through life. The injustice of labor and social conditions—that is the foundation of the trouble in the world. Upon it all helpful education should be based. Youth’s ideals will always chase you like that, if you give them half a chance, and you never can have better mental companions. I was trying to reason out one of two resolutions. Off in that dim future of manhood when I should grow up, my time would come, and I might have power over some other boy, or maybe a man. I could put him on the frosty or on the sunny side of the barn, as I saw fit. What would I do to him to pay for my session on the frosty side? Somehow I think it is natural for human beings to seek reparation and promise themselves to take their misfortunes out of someone else when their power comes. I think I should have grown up with something of that determination in mind had it not been for the poet Longfellow.
Now you will smile, you successful farmers, you dry old analyzers and solemn teachers and you budding young hopes. What has poetry to do with farming or agricultural education? What did the poet Longfellow ever do for farming? Did he ever have a hen in an egg-laying contest that laid 300 eggs in a year? Did he ever raise a prize pumpkin, or a prize crop of potatoes? Did he even originate the Longfellow variety of flint corn? Do not men need solid pith rather than flabby poetry in their thought? It is true that Longfellow would have starved to death on a good farm. Yet his poetry and the thought that went with it were one of the things that made New England dominate this country in thought. My childhood was passed at a time when we had no science to study. Bacteria were swimming all about us in the air, the food and the water. I had, no doubt, swallowed millions of them at every mouthful, and we grew fat on them. We had no books on science or bulletins, but every farmhouse had its copy of Bryant, Whittier, Longfellow, Emerson and Holmes. The best duck-raiser in our town was a man who could recite Bryant’s poem, “To a Water Fowl,” with his eyes shut. I think I could safely challenge many famous poultrymen to recite even one verse of that poem, yet who would say that he would not be a better poultryman and a better man if he could carry in his heart a few verses of that poem?
“There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast.”
“He who from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way which I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.”
I had recited Longfellow’s “Resignation” in school. I gave it about as a parrot would, but on the frosty side of the old barn one verse shoved itself into my little brain:
“Let us be patient;
These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise;
But oftentimes celestial benedictions
Assume this dark disguise.”
Just think of that, a “celestial benediction”—it was a great thing for a boy to think about. I looked both words up in the dictionary and got, perhaps, half of their meaning. In all our town there seemed to be no one except our old minister to come around on the frosty side of the barn with comfort or promise, but this celestial benediction which the poet told about got right to you. It might even live under that awful pile of wood which I was to saw, and it would be worth the job of sawing it if I could find such a thing under the pile. I heard people speak of a “nigger in the woodpile” in terms of reproach, but a celestial benediction down under the wood was certainly entitled to all respect. I did not fully understand it, or what it meant, but it got into me and stayed there, where the multiplication table or the rule of square root never would remain. My belief is that if I had committed to memory in place of that poem some excellent classroom lecture at college I should have become a little anarchist, and gone through life pushing such people as I could reach toward the frosty side of the barn. As it was, that poem, repeated over and over, made me vow as a child that if I ever could influence or direct the lives of farmers I would do my best to see that they lived and did their work on the sunny side of the barn.
In my day children were brought up on “the Scriptures and a stick,” both well applied, and yet all these “lectures and lickings” never stuck in my life as did the noble poetry we read in school, and the few pictures which hung on the walls of the home. There is a curious thing about some of these pictures. I am told of a case where two boys in the Tennessee mountains volunteered for the navy. Their mountain home was as far removed from the ocean as it well could be. They had never seen even a large pond. For three generations not one of their ancestors had ever seen the salt water. Yet these boys would not listen to any call for the army, but they demanded a place in the navy. The story came to an officer in a nearby camp, and he became interested and visited that home. Both father and mother were puzzled over the action of their boys, and they could not understand why Henry and William had demanded the ocean. As the officer turned away he noticed hanging on the wall in the living-room of that house the crude picture of a ship under full sail and on an impossible blue ocean. It had come into that family years before, wrapped around a package of goods, and mother had hung it on the wall. From their youth those boys had grown up with that picture before them, and it had decided their lives. It was stronger than the influence of father and mother—they could not overcome it. I speak of that in order that you men and women with children of your own may understand how the dreams, the poetry, the visions of youth may prove stronger influences than any of the science, the wisdom, or the fine examples you may put before your little ones.
On the wall of our old living-room at home was a chromo entitled “Joseph and His Brethren.” It was an awful work of art. It showed a group of men putting a boy down into a hole in the ground. It would have made the head of an art department weep in misery, and yet it affected me deeply. I used to stand and study it, with the result that at least one chapter of the Bible gave me great joy, and that was the story of Joseph and his brothers. That story helped to keep me sweet and hopeful on the frosty side of the barn, for I reasoned it all out as I worked. Here, I thought, was a farm boy. He did rather more than his share of living on the frosty side, and see what he came to. I used to picture Joseph in mind as he came walking over the desert carrying his father’s instructions about the sheep and the management of the farm. His brothers saw him coming, and they said among themselves, “Behold, this dreamer cometh.” You see, even in those days, practical men could not understand the value of a dreamer, a poet or a thinker as the first aid to practical agriculture. I have no doubt that Joseph the dreamer often forgot to water the sheep. I have no doubt but that they got away from him when he was herding them, and so his brothers quickly got rid of him, and they sent him off to the place where they thought dreams never came true. And that is where they made their mistake, and the same mistake is often made in these days by other practical farmers, for dreams that are based on faith and pure ambition always come true. If Joseph had not been a dreamer, carrying the ideals of his childhood into Egypt, we can readily understand which side of the barn his brothers would have gone to when they appeared before him later. But Joseph was a man who remembered the dreams and the hopes of his childhood kindly; he gave those brothers the sunniest side of the barn, and by doing so he made himself one of the great men in history.
You may surely take it from me that at some time in your life, if you prove worth the salt you have eaten, your State or your country will call you up before the judgment seat, and will say to you:
“I demand your life. In your youth you had ideals of manhood and of service. I have trained you and given you knowledge. I now demand your life as proof that your old ideals were true.”
That comes to all men not only on the battlefield, but in all the humble walks of life—the farm, the factory, the shop, wherever men are put at labor, and it means a life given to service, the use of power and knowledge, in order that men less fortunate may live on the sunny side of the barn.
We had something of an illustration of this when America entered the great war. Many of us felt honestly that our boys were not quite up to the standard. We thought they were a little lazy, inefficient or spoiled, because they did not think as we did about labor and the necessity for work. We did not realize what the trouble was, and so we generally charged it to the influence of mother’s side of the family. We could not understand that by education, training and example, we had simply taught those boys only the material and selfish side of life. They demanded unconsciously more of its poetry and romance and thus the war swept them away in a blaze of glory. We suddenly woke up to find that under the inspiration of an unselfish desire, our lazy and careless boys had become the finest soldiers this world has ever seen. They were made so through the power of poetry and imagination, for “making the world safe for democracy” is only another name for making the great life offering in order that helpless men and women may know the comfort and glory of living on the “sunny side of the barn.”
I think I have lived long enough and under conditions which fit me to know human nature better than most men know books. Our present improved man came from a savage. Originally man was a confirmed dweller on the frosty side of the barn. As human life has developed, the tendency has been for this man to run for a warm place on the sunny side. In order to get there, his natural tendency has been to crowd some weaker brother back into the frost. We may not like to admit it, but as we have crowded poetry and imagination and love out of agricultural education, we have lost track of the thought that there is one great duty we owe to society for the great educational machine she has given us. That one great life duty is to try to carry some more unfortunate brother out of the frost into the comfort of the sunny side of the barn. We are too much in the habit of trying to leave this practical betterment to the Legislature or to the Federal Government, when it never can be done unless we do it ourselves, as a part of human sacrifice. You must remember that in spite of all our scientific work, the world is still largely fed and clothed by the plain farmers, whose stock in trade is largely human nature and instinct. The shadow which undoubtedly lies over farming today is due to the fact that too many of these men and women feel that they are booked hopelessly to spend their lives on the frosty side of the barn.
It is in large part a mental trouble, a feeling of deep resentment, such as in a very much smaller way came to me as a little boy, for you will see how real and true are the ideals of childhood. The great aim of all education should be to find some way of putting poetry and imagination into the hearts of the men and women who are now on the frosty side of the barn. There is more in this than any mere increase of food production, or increase of land values. A great industrial revolution is facing this nation. Such things have come before again and again. They were always threatening, and every time they appeared strong men and women feared for the future of their country. Yet in times past these dark storms have always broken themselves against a solid wall of contented and prosperous freeholders. They always disappear and turn into a gentle, reviving rain when they strike the sunny side of the barn. That is where the errors and mistakes of society are taken apart and remade, better than ever before, by skilled and happy workmen. It is on the frosty side of the barn, in the unhappy shadows, where men tear down and destroy without attempting to rebuild, for there can be no human progress except that which is finally built upon contentment and faith. Men and women must be brought to the sunny side of the barn if this nation is to remain the land of opportunity, and such men and women as we have here must do the work.
If you ask me how this is to be done, I can only go back to childhood once more for an illustration. I know all the characters of the following little drama. We will call the children John, Mary and Bert. John and Mary were relatives of the old gentleman who owned the farm, and they came for a long visit. Bert was the farm boy, put out to work on that farm for his board and clothes, one of the thousands of war orphans who represented a great legacy which the Civil War had left to this country. John and Mary were bright and petted and pampered. You know how such smart city children can usually outshine and outbluff a farm boy. The woman of the house, a thrifty New England soul, decided that this was her chance to get the woodshed filled with dry wood, and so she put the three children at it. Before Bert knew what was going on, those city children had it all “organized.” Bert was to work on the frosty side of the barn where the woodpile was, and he was to saw and split all the wood. John played until Bert had split an armful, then John carried it about two rods to the shed, where Mary took it out of his arms and piled it inside. I have lived some years since that time, and I have seen many enterprises come and go, and if that arrangement is not typical of thousands of cases which show the relation between the farmer and middleman and handler, I have simply lived and observed in vain, and Bert represented the farmer.
And the distribution of the rewards received in exchange for that combination was still more typical. Now and then the woman would think the woodshed was not filling very fast, so that some form of bribery to labor was necessary. She would then come out with half a pie, or a few cookies, to stimulate the work. Strange to say, the distribution of this prize was always given to the girl. She was doing that absolutely useless work of piling the wood, and yet the pie and the cookies were handed to her for distribution. For a great many centuries, it must be said that the farmer never had much of a chance with the town man when it came to receiving favors from the ladies, and in the distribution of that pie John and Mary usually ate about seven-eighths of it, and handed the balance to Bert, for even then those city children had formed the idea that a silent, unresisting farm boy was made to be the beast of burden, fit for the frosty side of the barn.
And just as happens in other and larger forms of business, there were, in that toy performance of a great drama, forms of legislative bribery for middlemen and farmers. Those children were told that if they would hurry and get the woodshed filled up, they would receive pleasure and a present. John and Mary, as middlemen, might go to the circus, while the boy on the saw would receive a fine present. This would be a book which told how a splendid little boy sawed 15 cords of wood in two weeks, and then asked his mother if he couldn’t please go down the road and saw five cords more for a poor widow woman during his play time. Ever since the world began, that seems to have been the idea of agricultural legislation. The real direct pleasure and profit have gone to John and Mary, while to Bert has gone the promise of an education which will teach him how to work a little harder. Looking back over the world’s history, the most astonishing thing to me is that society has failed to see that the best investment of public money and power is that made closest up to the ground, the great mother of us all. Other interests have received it, largely because they have been able to organize and make a stronger appeal to the imagination.
Of course in every drama of human life there has to be a crisis where the actors come to blows, and it happened so in this case. There came one day particularly cold, and with a special run of hard and knotty wood to be sawed. That gave John and Mary more time for play, and put an extra job on Bert. I cannot tell just how the battle started; it may have been caused by Mary, for a thousand times in the history of the world the relations between two boys and a girl have upset all calculations and changed the course of history. Or it may be that the spirit of injustice boiled up in the heart of that boy on the saw, and swept away his peaceful disposition. At any rate, when John found fault because he did not work faster, Bert dropped his saw and tackled the tormentor. If I am to tell the truth, I am forced to admit that there was no science at all about the battle which that boy put up for the rights of farm labor. He should, I suppose, have imitated some of the old heroes described by Homer and Virgil, but as the rage of battle came over him, the most effective fighter he could think of was the old ram, and I regret to say that he lowered his head, and, without regard for science, butted John in the stomach and knocked him down. Then he sat on his enemy, took hold of his hair with both hands, and proceeded to pound his head on the frosty ground, while Mary danced about, not caring to interfere, but evidently waiting to bestow her favors upon the victor. And just as John was getting ready to call “enough” the kitchen door opened and out came the woman of the house with the old minister.
She certainly looked like a very stern picture of justice as she peered over her spectacles at the boys on the ground, and the three children were arraigned before her. “What shall I do with these children? I shall never get this job done. I have spent nearly five pies on these children already, and see how little they have piled, and here they are fighting over it. I think the best thing I can do is to whip that lazy boy at the saw.”
I wish you could have seen the face of the old minister as he rolled up his wrinkles and prepared to answer. It was worth a good deal to see how he looked out of the corner of his eye at the boy on the saw.
“My good friend,” said he, “this is not a case for prayer or for punishment, or for investigation, or for education. It is a case for an adjustment of labor and pie. That boy on the saw has been doing practically all of the work, and getting almost nothing of the reward. He is discouraged, and I don’t blame him. You cannot crowd more work out of him with a stick. Move him out into the sun, give him the pie, and let him eat his share and distribute the rest. Make the other boy split and carry and pile all that wood, and put that girl at washing windows. The closer you put the pie up to the sawbuck, the more wood you will have cut.”
Now tell me, you scientists and you wise men, if that does not tell the whole story. It is the pie of life, or the fair distribution of that pie, which leads men and women to the sunny side of the barn. What we need most of all in this country is some power like that of the old minister, who can drive that thought home to human society, and it will not be driven home until our leaders and our teachers have in their hearts more of the poetry and the imagination which lead men and women to attempt the impossible and work it out. You will not agree with me when I say that in a majority of the farm homes today there is greater need of the gentle, humanizing influence of poetry and vision than of the harder and sterner influence of science and sharp business practice. As the years go on you will come to see that I am right.
I know that is one of the hardest things on earth for some of us to understand, for modern education has led us away from the thought. In our grasp for knowledge we have tried to substitute science entirely for sentiment, forgetting that the really essential things of life cannot stand close analysis, because they are held together by faith. In reaching out after power we have tried too hard to imitate the shrewd scheming of the politician and the big interests. We have failed thus far because we have neglected too many of our natural weapons. Over 200 years ago Andrew Fletcher wrote:
“I knew a very wise man who believed that if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”
Andrew Fletcher’s wise man knew what he was talking about. Very likely some of you older people can remember the famous Hutchinson family in the days before the Civil War. I have seen the New Hampshire farmhouse where they were raised. It was just a group of plain farmers who traveled about the country singing simple little songs about freedom. That plain farm family did more to make the American people see the sin of slavery than all the statesmen New England could muster or all the laws she could make. There was little science and less art about their singing, but it was in the language of the common people and they understood it.
“The ox bit his master;
How came that to pass?
The ox heard his master say
‘All flesh is grass!’”
There came a crisis in the Civil War when soldier and statesman stood still wondering what to do next, for they were powerless without the spirit of the people. Then William Cullen Bryant wrote the great song in which he poured out the burning thought of the people:
“We’re coming, Father Abraham,
Three hundred thousand more,
From Mississippi’s winding stream
And from New England’s shore.
We leave our plows and workshops,
Our wives and children dear,
With hearts too full for utterance,
But with a silent tear.
“We’re coming, we’re coming, the Union to restore;
We’re coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!”
Had it not been for such songs and the spirit they aroused the Civil War never could have been won. We now understand that during the great war the French army was at the point of mutiny, and was saved not by stern discipline but by a renewal of its spiritual power. I think it will be as hard as for a man to try and lift himself by his boot straps to try to put farming into its proper place through science and material prosperity alone. We need poets to give us songs and playwrights to put our story in such pictures that the world must listen to it and understand. The one great thing which impels us to work on and fight is the hope that the property which we may leave behind us will be safe and put to reasonable use. Some of us may leave cash and lands; others can give the world only a family of children, but at heart our struggle is to see that this heritage may be made safe.
For most of us make a great mistake in locating a storage place for the heritage which we hope to leave to the future. We work and we toil; we struggle to improve conditions; we strive to capitalize our worry and our work into money and into land in order that our children may carry on our work. Have you ever stopped to think who holds the future of all this? Many of you no doubt will say that the future of this great nation lies in the banks and vaults of the cities where money is piled up mountains high. We have all acted upon that principle too long, digging wealth from the soil and then sending it into the town for investment, until we have come to think that our future lies there. We are wrong; it is a mistake. The future of this land, and all it means to us, lies in the hands of little children, who are playing on the city streets or in the open fields of the country, and it is not so much in their hands as in the pictures which are being printed on their little minds and souls. And this future will be safer with poetry and imagination than with the multiplication table alone.
I know about this from my own start in life. I was expected to be satisfied with work until I was 21, and then have a suit of clothes and a yoke of oxen. One trouble with the farmers of New England was that they thought this a sufficient outfit for their boys. I think I might have fallen in with that plan and contented my life with it had it not been for a crude picture which hung in the shop where we pegged shoes. It was a poor color scheme, a perfect daub of art, in which some amateur artist had tried to express a thought which was too large for his soul. A bare oak tree, with most of its branches gone, was framed against the Winter sky. It was evening; a few stars had appeared, and the sky was full of color. The artist had tried to arrange the stars and the sky colors so that they represented a crude American flag, with the oak tree serving as the staff. His great unexpressed thought was that at the close of the Civil War God had painted His promise of freedom on the sky in the coloring of that flag. As a child, that crude picture became a part of my life. I have never been able to forget the glory of it, as I have forgotten the meanness, the poverty, the narrow blindness of our daily lives, so that all through the long and stormy years, wherever I have walked, I have seen that flag upon the sky, and I have waited hopefully for the coming of the sunrise of that day when, through the work of real education, when with the help of such men and such women as are here today, every hopeless man, every lonely woman, every melancholy child upon a sad and desolate hill farm, may feel the thrill of opportunity, and the joy and the glory of living upon the sunny side of the barn.
A HOPE FARM SERMON
No use talking, the best part of a vacation is getting home. We were all sorry to leave Cape Cod. To tell you the truth duty seemed to be stuck full of thorns a foot long as we looked back at it from the easy bed of a loafer on his vacation. No wonder the poor little Bud cried when our good host kissed her good-bye. We looked at her with much the same expression as that on the face of the woman who missed an important train by half a minute and listened to the forcible remark of a man who was also left! We got over that, however. The harness was put on our shoulders so gently that we hardly felt it, and here we are again with a soft pad of gentle and happy memories to put where the rub comes hardest. Everything was all O. K. at home. Grandmother was in good spirits, the Chunk reported good sales, and the weather had been fair for farm work. The boys had the corn all cleaned up and the weeds mostly cut. The strawberries have been transplanted; the alfalfa clipped off; the squashes have grown into a perfect tangle of vines, the sweet potatoes look well, and there is no blight in the late white ones! The children found nine new little pigs and 30 new chickens waiting them. Yes! Yes! It was a happy homecoming. I climbed the hill on Sunday and looked off over the old familiar valley. There were the same glorious old hills with the shadows chasing along them, the little streams stealing down through their fringes of grass and bushes, the cultivated fields, and the homes of neighbors peeping out through the orchards! Surely home is a goodly place after all. Other places are good to come away from, but home is the place to go to!
Now, I know that many of my readers are in trouble. I am, and every mail brings news from people who are carrying crosses and facing hard duties with more or less bravery. There are women left alone on the farm, striving to drag a heavy heart through life. Men have seen wife and child pass away. Others have seen hopes and ambitions crushed out. This season has been hard for many. I will quote from a letter just at hand from central New York, where flood and storm have scarred the hillsides and ruined crops:
“One neighbor hung himself; one says he shall have an auction and go to the old ladies’ home; another had the blues until he cried.”
Now, in spite of all the talk we have of the Nation’s great prosperity, I know that there are thousands of sad hearts in country homes, sad because they have seen the cherished things of life and the work of self-denying years swept out of their grasp by a power which they could neither master nor comprehend. The picture of a strong man dropping his head upon the table and crying like a child is the saddest vision that can rise before our eyes. Farm life has its tragic side, and the sadness of it would crush us down at times if we would permit it to do so. No wonder men and women grow despondent when with each year comes a little more of the living blight which slowly destroys hope and faith in one’s physical ability to master the secret of happiness. I do not blame men and women who give way to despondency under pressure of griefs which have staggered me. I only regret that they cannot realize that for most of the afflicted of middle years the only true help is a moral one.
I feel like repeating that last sentence, though it may come like the application of a liniment I knew as a boy. The old man who brought me up invented a certain “lotion.” Whenever I cut or burned my flesh that lotion bottle was hauled out, a hen’s feather inserted and a liberal allowance smeared over the wound. It was like rubbing liquid fire on the flesh, but it did pull the smart out and carry it far away. I used to imagine that the “lotion” gathered the pain all into a lump and pulled it out by the roots with one quick twitch. One of the most helpful books I have ever read is a little volume entitled “Deafness and Cheerfulness.” I read it over and over, and I wish that every deaf man or friend of a deaf man could have it. I find in this little book the following message which I commend to all who feel their courage giving way:
“The noblest dealing with misfortune is in manly silence to bear it; the next to the meanest is in feebleness to weep over it; the wholly unpardonable is to ask others to weep also.”
With the first and third of these propositions I fully agree. It is not always a sign of weakness for a man to get off into solitude somewhere and find relief in tears. When the tear glands are completely dried up the man loses an element of character which all the iron in his will cannot replace. But “manly silence” is the “noblest dealing with misfortune”—and also the hardest. It is human to cry out and complain at the pain of what we call injustice, but if the child is human should not the grown man be something more? What are years and the burning balm of experience given us for if not to enable us to rise up nearer to divine strength? As I look about me it occurs that most of us who have reached middle life or beyond have grown unconsciously away from childhood and youthful strength. We somehow feel that people ought to regard us as others did 25 years ago. The fat man of 45 is no longer the young sprout of 20, though he may think so. If I am not mistaken, one great trouble with many of us is the fact that we crave and beg for the things that go with youth when in reality we are grown-up men and women! It is our duty now to face life and its problems, not with the careless hope of youth, but with the sober and abiding faith that should come with mature years. Run over a child’s ambitions and, after his short grief, his spirits rise again for the next opportunity. The man’s hopes are shaken by repeated defeat, and hope of physical victory finds itself caged at every turn by former defeat. We may grieve or despond over this and play the child; or we may act the man, raise our hopes and ideals above the range of former defeat, and find comfort and courage in doing the things which shame infirmity and affliction. I know some of you will say that this complacent man may moralize—but give him a touch of trouble, and how he would whine! I hope not! Trouble has taken many a mouthful out of us but, if I thought any honest friend really meant that, it would be the greatest trouble of all. I repeat that the greatest comfort to the despondent must be a moral one, yet the riding of some harmless hobby helps one to walk with fortitude. Let a man say to himself that he will study and work to breed the finest pigs or raise the finest strawberries or master some science or public question, and he will find strength and comfort in his work! I’ll promise not to attempt any more preaching for a good while if you will let me end this little sermon with a quotation from Whittier:
“Soon or late to all our dwellings come the specters of the mind;
Doubts and fears and dread forebodings, in the darkness undefined.
Round us throng the grim projections of the heart and of the brain,
And our pride of strength is weakness, and the cunning hand is vain.
In the dark we cry like children; and no answer from on high
Breaks the crystal spheres of silence, and no white wings downward fly.
But the heavenly help we pray for, comes to faith and not to sight,
And our prayers themselves drive backward all the spirits of the night.”
The last celebration of Thanksgiving was about the most startling that any of the Hope Farmers remember. I have passed this holiday under quite varied conditions. “Boy” on a New England farm and in a boarding-house, cattle herder on a Colorado ranch, sawyer in a lumber camp, teacher in a country school district, hired man and book agent on a Michigan farm, “elocutionist” in a dramatic company, “professor of modern languages” (with a slim grip on English alone) in a young ladies’ seminary, printer’s devil in a Southern newspaper office, ditcher in a swamp, and other capacities too numerous to mention. A man may perhaps lay claim to a bit of helpful philosophy if he can find some fun in all such days and carry along in his mental pocket “much to be thankful for.” He is sure to come to a time in life when these “treasures of memory” will be very useful. I would not refer to family matters that might well be marked “private” and locked away with the skeleton in the closet if I did not know that the plain, simple matters of family record are things that all the world have in common.
A pirate or a man trying to hide himself might have seen virtues in the dull, misty fog that settled upon the city the night before Thanksgiving. Grandmother had been slowly failing through the day. The night brought her greater pain than ever. All through these long months we had been able to keep from her the real nature of her disease. I took it upon myself to keep the children happy. If we grown-ups found it hard to be thankful we would see that the little folks put out enough thanks for the whole family. I took them down to the market to pick out a turkey! We had a great time, and finally found a turkey fat enough. The market man gave each of the children a handful of nuts—and they now want Mother to give him all her trade. They went home fairly radiant with happiness. Was it not better for them to go to sleep with the pleasant side of the day in their hearts rather than the shadow which the rest of us could feel near us?
The morning came dark and dismal. It didn’t seem like Thanksgiving as the Bud and I went after the doctor. The clerks and professional people seemed to be taking a holiday, but the drivers, the diggers and heavy workmen were at their jobs as usual. The streets were filled with children dressed up in ridiculous costumes, wearing masks or with faces blackened. These urchins went about begging money from passers-by. Our little folks were rather shocked at this way of celebrating Thanksgiving. Where this ridiculous mummery came from or how it crept into a Thanksgiving celebration is more than I can say. It may be as close as a city child can come to thanking Nature for a bountiful harvest! Charlie and his family came in from the farm, and Jack came from his school. Grandmother made a desperate struggle and was finally able to sit up so that her children and grandchildren might be about her. As the children grew restless in the house I took them out and we walked along the river. My mind was busy with other matters relating to other days, but the little folks, happily, saw only the great bright side of the future. Their past was too small to cast any shadow. We went as far as Grant’s Tomb and passed through the room where the great general’s remains are lying. As we passed in, the Graft and Scion saw the men take off their hats and they did the same.
“Why do they make you take off your hat?” asked the Graft, when we came out.
I tried to explain to him that this was one of the things that people should not be made to do. They should do it because they wanted to show their respect or reverence. I doubt if I made him understand it, for when a boy is hungry and other boys are playing football in a nearby vacant lot even the gentlest sermon loses its point. Our dinner was such a success that we did not have chairs enough to go around. The children had to sit on boxes and baskets. A taste of everything from turkey down went in to Grandmother, but she could eat little. The plates came back again and again until the Hope Farm man was obliged to say:
“Well, Mother, I shall have to turn this turkey over after all.”
He had not only to turn it over but scrape many of the bones clean. The farm folks finally went home and Jack too was obliged to go. Happily the little folks were tired out and they were asleep early. About two o’clock Mother woke me. She did not do it before, because it might have alarmed Grandmother, who did not, I think, clearly understand her true condition. There was apparently no pain or struggle at the end. We noticed that her face lighted up with a strange, puzzled look, of surprise and wonder—and well it might when one is called upon to lay down the troubles and toil of such a life as hers in the dim, mysterious country which one must die to enter.
Perhaps the hardest part of it all was to tell the children about it. They must have known that some strange thing was happening. They woke up early and saw the undertaker passing through the room. Then Mother got them together and told them that poor Grandmother had suffered so long that God pitied her and had taken her to Him. The little folks sat with thoughtful faces for a while and then one of them said with wide-open eyes:
“Is Grandmother dead then?”
And so the body of poor Grandmother passed away from us while her spirit and memory passed deeper than ever into the lives of the Hope Farm folks. Life with her had ceased to be comfortable. It was merely a steady, hopeless struggle against pain and depression. Mother was able to go through these long months calmly and hopefully because she knows that her mother had every service that love could render. It is with that thought in mind that I feel like saying a solemn word to those whom I have never met, yet who seem to be as close as personal friends can be. Do not for an instant begrudge the money, the time or toil which you may spend upon those of your loved ones who need your help. That is a part of the cross which you must carry cheerfully or reject. Do not let those whom you serve see that it is a cross, but glorify it from day to day. It is not merely a part of hard, cold duty, but the vital force in the development of character. It may be that I am now talking to someone who is putting personal comfort above the self-denial which goes with the sacred trust which God has put into our lives. Where will the flag of “comfort” lead them when the discomforting days come? A conscience is a troublesome thing at best, but one that has been gently and truly developed through self-sacrifice is a better companion than the barbed finger of trouble thrust into the very soul at last by the relentless hand of fate!
A novelist could weave a startling romance out of the plain life record of this typical American woman. She was born in Massachusetts—coming from the best stock this country has ever produced. This is not the narrow-eyed, cent-shaving Yankee, but the children from the hillside farms who went to the valleys and at the little water-powers laid the foundations of New England’s manufacturing. These sturdy people saw clearly into the future, and as they harnessed and trained the power of the valley streams they cultivated and restrained their own powers until the man as well as the machine became a tremendous force. Honorable misfortune befell this manufacturing family, but could not crush it. In those days the boys, under such circumstances, dropped all their own ambitions and took the first job that presented itself, without a murmur and with joy that they could do it. The girls did the same, though there were few openings for women then outside of housework and the schoolroom. Grandmother had a taste for music, and became a music teacher. She finally secured a position as teacher in a little town in Mississippi, and in about the year that the Hope Farm man was born she went into what was then a strange country for the daughter of a Massachusetts Abolitionist! What a journey that must have been, before the Civil War, for a young woman such as Grandmother was then. The South was in a blaze of excitement, yet this quiet, gentle Northern girl won the love and respect of all. There she met the man who was to be her husband—a young lawyer, able and ambitious, but weighted down by family cares, political convictions and ill health. He was a Union man whose family had made their slaves free and who opposed secession to the last. Grandmother was married and went to the South just before the storm broke. What a life that was in the dreary little town during those years of fighting! Her husband was at one time drafted into the Confederate service and sent to the front only to have a surgeon declare him too feeble and sick for even that desperate service. He cobbled shoes, leached the soil in old smokehouses for salt, and “lived” as best he could. Once he took Grandmother through the lines with a bale of cotton which he sold to pay passage money to the North. After the war he was State Senator and Judge under the patched-up government which followed. Carpetbaggers and rascals from the North lined their pockets with gold and brought shame upon their party and torture and death to the ignorant black men who followed them. In the midst of this carnival of shame and thieving Grandmother’s husband never touched a dishonest dollar and did his best to give character to a despised and degraded race. Of course he failed, for the race did not have strength enough to see that what he tried to offer them was better than the hatred of their old masters and the dollars which the carpet-baggers held out. It was not all lost, for when he was buried I am told that around his grave there was a thick fringe of white people and back—at a respectful distance—acres of black, shining faces which betrayed the crude, awkward stirring of manhood in hearts untrained yet appreciating true service to country.
I speak of these things to make my point clear that Grandmother was a woman capable of supporting her husband through these trials and still capable of holding the love of those who opposed him. In the face of an opposition so frightful that few of us can realize it this quiet, unflinching woman kept steadily on, respected and trusted by all. She took up her burdens without complaint, hid her troubles in her heart, and walked bravely on in her quiet, humble way, until at last she found a safe haven with her children. A true and sincere Christian woman she lived and acted out her faith and did her life’s duty with dignity and cheerfulness. The little folks as they sit beneath the tree at Hope Farm and talk of Grandmother will have only blessed memories of her.
LAUGHTER AND RELIGION
I have learned to have deep sympathy for the man who cannot laugh. He may have great learning or power or skill or wealth, but if fate has denied him a keen sense of humor he is like a McIntosh apple with the glorious flavor left out. Most of the deaf are denied what we may call “the healing balm of tears.” Unless there chance to be some volcanic eruption of the heart they must go in dry-eyed sorrow through their years. Yet, if they are able to laugh it is probable that the deaf see more of the ludicrous side of life than do those who have full hearing. It comes to be amusing to notice how men and women strive and worry over the poor non-essential things of conversation, and waste time and strength trying to make others understand simple things which the deaf man comes to know at a glance. Those who are so unfortunate that they are forced to hear all the litter and waste-basket stuff of conversation may wonder why the inability to hear may act as a torture to the tender heart. They do not know how closely sound is related to the emotions. They cannot understand without losing many of the finer things of life. Yet, as between the tearless man and the unfortunate soul who is denied the joy of laughter, the latter is more deserving of sympathy. One may be nearer insanity but the other is nearer the gallows.
One great reason why the negro race has come through its troubles with reasonable success is because fate has given the black man the blessed privilege of laughter. Many a time when other races would have gone out to rob and kill the black man has been able to sing or laugh his troubles away. So, as between the man who cannot weep or lash himself into a rage and he who cannot laugh, the latter is a far more dangerous citizen and far more to be pitied.
I suppose I ought to be an authority on this subject, as some years ago I was in the business of trying to inoculate some very serious and sad-minded people with the germ of laughter. We had some specimens so tough and so hard-boiled that it was a difficult matter to start them. I was stranded in a farm neighborhood in a Western State working as hired man through a very dull winter. Back among the hills, off the main roads when prices are low and crops are poor, you strike a gloom and social stagnation which the modern town man can hardly realize. I did my work by day and at night went about to churches and schoolhouses “speaking pieces.” We called those gloomy and discouraged people together and tried to make them laugh.
I remember one such entertainment held in a country schoolhouse far back in the mud of a January thaw. The dimly lighted room was crowded with sad-faced, discouraged men and women to whom life had become a tragedy through dwelling constantly upon their own troubles. At intervals during my entertainment two sad-faced women and a couple of men who would have made a success as undertakers at any funeral sang doleful songs about beautiful women who died young or children who proved early in life that they were too good for this world. During one of these intervals a farmer led me outdoors for a conference. Your modern artist can command a salary which enables him to ignore criticism, but in that neighborhood the financial manager was the boss.
“See here now,” said the farmer, “we hired you to come here and make us laugh. Why don’t you do it? I’ve got my hired man in there. He’s all ready to go on a spree and he will do it if you don’t make him laugh. We have paid you $2.50 to come here and speak. That means $1.25 an hour or $12.50 for a 10-hour day. No other man in this neighborhood gets such wages. It’s big money, now go back and earn it. Make that man laugh! It’s a moral obligation for you to do it.”
There was the hired man, a great hulk of humanity feeling that he would be a hero, the champion of the neighborhood, if he could hold humor at bay. When I went back into the schoolroom the teacher stood up by the stove and said it was the unanimous request of the audience that I should read or recite the “Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe. That was not exactly in my line, but who is large enough to resist such an appeal? Years before I had heard a great actor in Boston recite the poem, and with the noble courage of youth I started the best imitation I could muster. No one, not even the author, ever considered the “Raven” as a humorous poem, but it struck the hired man that way. I had cracked jokes in and out of dialect. I had “made faces” and played the clown generally without affecting the hired man. Yet, at the third repetition of “Quoth the Raven—Nevermore!” the hired man exploded with a roar that shook the building, and the rest of the entertainment was one long laugh for him. The rest of the audience joined with him, and long after the meeting closed and the lanterns twinkled down the dark and muddy roads, you could hear roars of laughter from the farmers, as they journeyed home. Just what there was about the “Raven” to explode that man I have never known. It changed his life. It broke a spring somewhere inside of him and his jokes and roars of laughter changed the whole social life of that neighborhood. The minister told me in the Spring that his people had received a great spiritual uplifting during the Winter. He gave no credit whatever to Poe and the hired man.
That same Winter I went to a church for another entertainment. I sat in the pulpit beside the minister and every time I stopped for breath he would lean over and whisper:
“Make them laugh! Give them something humorous! Make them laugh!”
He saw that laughter was religion at such a time. It was a gloomy night. The people were sad and discouraged. Their religion was a torment to them at the time. Nothing but laughter could cure them, and I did my best with discouraging results. I will confess that I lost faith for once in my life and quit trying. There was one intelligent and prosperous farmer in the front pew. He seemed to be a leader and I directed my efforts straight to him. It came to be the one desire of my life to make that solemn-faced man laugh, and he would not do it. It seemed to me as if he sat there with his solemn face a little bent forward, like some wise old horse listening to the chatter of a young colt. I could not stir him and I confess that I quit ingloriously and “took up the collection.”
But, when we all went out on the church steps while lanterns were being lighted and the boys brought up the horses I saw my solemn-faced friend talking with another farmer.
“John,” said the farmer as he snapped down the globe of his lantern, “how did you like the show?”
“Well, Henry, it was good all the way through. I am so sore around my ribs that I’m going home to rub liniment on my sides.”
“Why, Henry, that young feller was so funny that I never come so nigh to laughing in the House of God as I done tonight. When I get home out of sight of the elder, I am going to stand right up on my hind-legs and holler.”
A DAY IN FLORIDA
A man told me last week that Florida was too dull for him. He would rust out. There was “more life and human nature on Broadway, New York, in 15 minutes than in a week of Florida.” So I thought I would see how much “real human nature” the sun could observe as Putnam County revolved beneath his eye.
As I came outdoors the sun was bright with hardly a cloud in the sky. The mercury stood at about 65 degrees. Most of the bloom had fallen from the orange trees and the young fruit had begun to form, while the new leaves showed their light green against the darker old leaves. On the tree by the gate, there were peaches as large as walnuts. A drove of half-wild hogs from the woods went slowly along the village street, with one eye open for food and the other watching for a possible hole in a fence through which they might crawl into a grove or garden. For while no one seems to think it worth while to bolt or even shut a house door at night except for warmth, there must be barbed wire around every growing thing that a hog could fancy. Two red hens with their broods of chickens ran about under the orange trees. In front of the house I found a group of “redheads and towheads” gathered around a fisherman who carried a fertilizer sack. He had caught three young alligators and the children were buying them. They finally got the three for a dollar, and they intend taking the hideous things back to New Jersey to “raise” them. You may yet see an improved breed of Hope Farm alligator. Finally the school bell rang and the older children scattered while the little ones played on. I have said that the child crop is a vanishing product in this locality. I understand there are but four white children of school age—not enough to maintain a school! There is a broken and abandoned schoolhouse here, but it has not been occupied for some years. There is a school for colored children. Our people opened a school here, but in this locality the State actually does more for educating colored children than for whites. Think over what that means and see if Broadway can match the “human nature” which comes out of such a situation. Our own children are rosy as flowers. They ought to be, for they have played out in the sun every day since December 1. They would have gone barefoot nine days out of ten, but for sand burrs and hookworms—for that dread disease gets into the system through the feet. Florida is surely a Winter paradise for children and elderly people. As these children pen up their alligators and separate for school and play, an old man walks with firm and active steps down the shaded street to the store. He is 89 years old and is still planting a garden—very likely for the seventieth time! On the platform of the store he will meet a group of men who will sit for hours discussing the weather or looking off through the pines toward the blue lake. On Broadway, people are rushing to and fro with set, anxious faces, tearing their hearts out in the fierce struggle for food, clothing, amusement and shelter. There is quite as much “human nature” about these slow and gentle dreamers, basking in the Florida sun. In this little place where our folks have wintered there are nine different men who live alone. There are perhaps 30 voters in this district, and strange as it may seem they are about evenly divided between the two great parties. That is because a number of old soldiers have moved in here. They draw their pensions, work their gardens or groves and live in peace in this carefree land. “Human nature?” Ask these old soldiers with “warfare over,” as the sun goes down and they look out over the lake, why they ever came to Florida, and if they are disappointed. If you started a contest with a prize for the man who can take the longest time to travel a mile, I could enter several citizens. Yet it was in Florida that the world’s record for speed with a motor car was recently made. While some of our neighbors might consume two hours in going a mile, it was in Florida that Oldfield drove a car one mile in 27⅓ seconds. This contest in speed is a very good illustration of the contrary character of Florida climate and conditions. Many people fail here because they try to fit Broadway “human nature” to this balmy gentle land. You cannot use the same brand!
The forenoon wore off lazily. Across the road a man was working a mule on a cultivator—tearing up the surface of an old orange grove. The only auto in the town went by over the pine-paved road, the very cough of the exhaust pipe sounding like a lung rapidly healing in the soft air. Charlie went by followed by a big colored man. They carry spades and axes for Charlie is sexton, and this is one of the rare occasions when a grave is to be dug, for some old resident is being brought home to be buried.
Mother and I had planned to take the train at noon and go south for a few miles to do some shopping and look up a “colony” or land boom scheme. So we got ready and went to the station in ample time. And there we waited, as everyone else does in this land of tomorrow. An hour crawled by, and still there was nothing in sight up the track except the distant pines and the heat rising from the sands. No one quarrels with fate in Florida—what is the use? Under similar circumstances in New Jersey I should have been held in some way responsible for the delay, but here it did not matter—if the train did not come, another day would do. We waited about 100 long minutes and then the good lady announced that she was going home, as there would not be time to get around, and home she went, good-natured and smiling as the Florida sun.
Let me add that the next day we waited nearly two hours again and then went home once more, but who cares whether he goes today or some future “tomorrow”?
Having been cut out of our trip I became interested in the funeral. A little group of wagons was drawn up under the pines waiting for the train. I have said that an old resident was coming “home”—to be buried by the side of husband and relatives—in the rough little cemetery behind the pines. At last, a puff of thick smoke up the track showed where the dawdling train was showing the true speed of a hearse. Down the grade it came, halting with many a wheeze and groan in front of the little station where the fated box was taken off. Our little funeral procession was quickly made up. Uncle Ed drove old Frank ahead with the minister and the Hope Farm Man as passengers. Then came the dead in a farm wagon, and half a dozen one-horse teams straggling on behind. Your funeral on Broadway with its gilded hearse, black horses and nodding plumes might be far more inspiring. Who can say, however, that there was less of “human nature” in this little weatherbeaten string crawling over the Florida sand? I was thinking as we went how this dead woman had seen what seemed like the death of hope in this land. For right where we were passing, on these dead fields, she had seen orange groves in full fruitage, and had seen them all wiped out in a day of frost!
You would have said that Charlie stood leaning on his spade beside two great heaps of snow. The soil was pure white sand, and as they threw it from the grave it had drifted in over the sides until no dark color showed. On Broadway there would have been an imposing procession, the organ pouring out tones that seemed to carry a message far beyond the comprehension of the living. Here in this lonely little clearing, my friend the minister led the way, the little group of mourners followed, and Charlie and Uncle Ed with a few neighbors carried the dead. I wish I could have had you there with me—you who say that life and human nature crowd into the “lively” places. I wish I could paint the picture as I saw it.
The minister and the station agent’s wife began to sing. One of the men who helped carry the coffin laid down his load and joined the singers. They wanted me to make a quartette, but I am no musician and I could not have made a sound. It was better for me to stand in the background against a tree, by the side of the colored man who leaned on his shining spade and bowed his gray head. For does not the color line fade out at the grave? I wish you could have seen it, the trio of singers, the sad group under the pines, the earth piled up like snowdrifts, the pine tops quivering and moaning, and the Florida sun streaming over all. I felt the pine tree against which I leaned tremble as the wind blew through it. In a tree over us a gray squirrel turned his ear as if to listen. For gathered around those piles of glistening sand were men and women who carried all the world holds of “human nature”—tragedy, despair, hope, sorrow and peace. Not 100 feet from where I stood was a row of six little white stones where six old army comrades were buried. I studied their names, six men of the army and navy from New York, Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Vermont and Ohio. There they lie in the sand, sleeping “the sleep that knows no waking.” And this woman wanted to be brought back to this lonely place that she might rest with her people. “Human nature?” I made a dull companion as old Frank toiled back with us to the village.
Our folks had left the house and I followed them along the shady path to the lake. The younger people had been in bathing. They were sitting on the lake shore, the children were shouting and playing as they ran about the beach. I am glad they were not at the funeral. As Mother and I walked slowly back, the little ones came trailing on, waving branches of palm and singing. And there over the fence was our famous gallon-and-a-half cow—easily the most energetic citizen in the place.
Night comes quickly in Florida and brings a chill with it. The sun seems to tumble directly into the west and to leave little warmth behind. Before we ended our slow walk home, darkness had fallen and Uncle Ed had started a grateful fire of logs. As if to demonstrate the Florida axiom that there are only two absolutely sure things—death and taxes—we found the county assessor before the fire. He had reached us on his rounds and was ready to tell us how much we owed the State. You will see therefore that the human life in Florida is much the same as anywhere else only “more so” for here there is no artifice or straining after effect. Men and women are naturally human—as they were meant to be.
THE BASEBALL GAME
“Two strikes, three balls!”
A silence so intense that you could feel it fell upon 60,000 people who saw the umpire put up his hand to announce the second strike. It was the crisis of the first baseball game for the world’s championship between New York and Philadelphia. The great stands were black with people, and thousands more were perched upon the rocks which rose above the level in which the ball grounds are laid out. The boy and I sat on the bleachers. It was the only place we could get; we sat there three hours before the game began—and we were among the last to get in. Of course you will say we should have been at home picking apples—but without discussing that I will admit that we were packed away in that “bleacher” crowd.
There were some 25,000 of us crowded on those wooden benches with our feet hanging down. Here and there in this black mass of hats a spot of lighter color showed where a woman had crowded in with the rest. There may have been 100 women in this crowd. The “stands” where the reserved seats are placed were bright with women’s gay colors. Our seats were not reserved, but well “deserved” after our struggle for them.
I enjoyed the crowd as much as the game. Many of you have no doubt read that description in “Ben Hur” of the motley crowd which surged out to the Crucifixion. Gibbon describes the masses of humans who attended the Roman games. The world as known at that time gathered at these spectacles, yet I doubt if those old-time hordes could produce the variety of blood or color which showed within 1,000 feet of where we sat. Within four feet sat two colored men showing traces of two distinct African races. The young man on my right was certainly an Irishman. The fat man, who was wide enough to fill two seats, was a German. In front an Italian, behind a Swede, off there a Frenchman, a Spaniard and even a Chinaman. There was an Arab whose father ate dates in the desert. The son looked forward to this date as an oasis in the desert of hard work. Here were Indians, Japanese, Mexicans, Russians, Turks—the entire world had poured the blood of its races into that vast crowd. I do not believe the great Coliseum at Rome ever held a larger company. Yet this crowd was different. In the savage hordes of centuries ago the air was filled with a babel of sound—each race shrieking in its own language. This vast army of “fans” thought and spoke in the common languages of English and baseball. For there is a true language of baseball. Nothing can be popular unless it acquires a language of its own. It was an orderly crowd too. Somehow these waiting men seemed to feel that they had come to the hush and dignity of a great occasion. You may laugh at us—you poor unfortunate people who do not know a home run from a fly catch, but you have missed a lot of the thrill and joy of life. We feel sorry for you. To the true baseball crank this game represented the climax of the year, for here were the best 18 players in the world ready for the supreme struggle. So these thousands sat silent and watchful. As you know, when stirred by passion 60,000 people can give vent to the most hideous and awesome sound. Yet when stilled by the thought of what is to come the silence of this great army is most profound. Now, of course, you and I may say—what a pity that all these people and all the energy and money they represent could not be used for some more useful purpose. I could name half a dozen things which this country needs. If it were possible to gather 60,000 people in behalf of any of these things with the claws of elemental savagery barely covered with thin cotton gloves no Legislature in the land would dare refuse the demanded law. That is true, but it is also true that human nature has not yet evolved from the point where at the last analysis the physical power and what it stands for appeals first to the young and strong. You cannot get away from that, and it must be considered in all our regrets about the “younger generation.” We can have anything we want in legislation and reform whenever we can work up a spirit and a demand for it which is akin to this baseball feeling! For in this silent, orderly crowd there was nothing but cotton over the claws. There was a dignified-looking citizen not far from us who looked like a fair representative of the “City of Brotherly Love.” You would choose him as one of a thousand to take charge of a Sunday school. Yet when a Philadelphia player raced home with the first run there came a hoarse cry that might have startled even a listless Cæsar 2,000 years ago. There was our Philadelphia friend on one foot waving his hat and shrieking defiance and taunts at the crowd of New York “fans.” Why, the germ of that man’s mind was back in the centuries, clad in hairy flesh and skins shouting a war cry at what were then its enemies! And when New York tied the score the entire bleachers seemed to rise like a great black wave of humanity with shrieks and cries and waving hats. For the moment these were hardly human beings—as we like to consider the race. They were crazy barbarians lapsed for the moment back to elemental motives. And as I came back to find myself standing up with the rest I was not sure but that the brief trip back to barbarism had after all been a profitable one!
But we left the umpire standing with his hand up calling two strikes! It was the fifth inning, with the score one to one. There were two out and New York had worked a man around to third base. One more pitched ball would tell the story. Consider the mix-up of the races in this “American game.” The man on third base straining like a greyhound to get home was an Indian. The man at bat was of French blood, while the next batter was an Irishman with a Jew close behind him. The catcher was an Englishman and the pitcher a pure Indian. This Indian stood there like a silent representative of fate with the ball in his hand, eyeing that Frenchman, who shook his bat defiantly. I presume neither of them thought for the instant how 200 years ago it would have been tomahawk against musket in place of ball and bat. Yet the race traits were evident—the light and airy nerve of the Gaul and the crafty silence of the red man! Oh, how that ball did go in! “Ball!” shouted the umpire and the batter took his base. Then it seemed as if bedlam had broken loose. Men and women shouted and cheered and laughed and cried, for they thought that the Indian was “rattled” at last. But his ancestors went through too much fire for that. He stood in the center as cool as a cake of ice. The play for the man on first was to run to second when the ball was pitched, and run he did. I noticed that the catcher jumped six feet to the right as that Indian threw the ball. It went like lightning right into the catcher’s hands. The second baseman had run up behind the pitcher and took the throw from the catcher. Of course the runner on third tried to run in on this throw, but back came the ball ahead of him and he was out! Then in an instant the mighty crowd saw that New York had been ambushed. It was a great trick, and played so accurately and quickly and with such daring that even the Philadelphia “fans” were mind-paralyzed and forgot to cheer. The silence which followed the Indian to the players’ bench was the most eloquent tribute of the day. And it happened, as every “sport” already knows, that New York finally won two to one. The needed runs were made on mighty hits by an Indian and an Irishman, and the great crowd filed out and home to talk it over. I wish I could tell my children how some Cape Cod Yankee had a hand in it, but too many of these are occupied in telling what they or their ancestors used to do. I think the game was invented and developed by Yankees, and that they have made the most money out of it. Probably Cape Cod is willing to rest content with this and let the others handle the ball. I am ready to admit we ought to have been home picking apples, but we saw the game, and the apple harvest will go better to pay for it.
TRANSPLANTING THE YOUNG IDEA
Of all the planting that a farmer finds it necessary to do there is nothing quite equal to transplanting home-grown plants in the garden of education. Some homes might be called hotbeds, others are very cold frames, and there are grades running all between. Children grow up away from childhood and show that they are ready for transplanting—with evidences around the head to be compared with those on a tomato plant. You cut off their roots, and try to trim their heads and plant them in the hard field of practical life or in the sheltered garden of education. It is a large undertaking, for here is the best crop of your farm put out at a hazard. You may not have grown or trimmed it right, and the soil in which you plant it may not prove congenial, or some wild old strain from a remote ancestor may “come back” when it should “stay out.” You cannot tell about these things except by experiment, therefore there is nothing quite equal to this sort of transplanting. That is the way Mother and I felt as we took the two older children off to college. My experience has taught me both the power and the weakness of an education. He who can grasp the true spirit of it acquires a trained mind, and that means mastery. He who simply “goes to college” and drifts along with the crowd without real mental training is worse off than if he never had entered. He cannot live up to his reputation as a college man, and when a man must go through life always dragging behind his reputation he is only a tin can tied to the tail of what was once his ambition. I can imagine an intelligent parrot going through college, and perhaps passing the examinations, but all his life he would be a parrot, unable to apply what he had learned to practical things. I made up my mind long ago to give each one of the children opportunity. That means a chance to study through a good college. Each and every one must pay back to me later the money which this costs. My backing continues just as long as they show desire, through their labor, to think and work out the real worth of education. Should they become mentally and morally lazy and assume that “going to college” is like having the measles or raising a beard—out they come at once, for if I know anything at all it is the fact that the so-called student who goes through college just because his parents think it is the thing to do makes about as poor a drone as the human hive can produce.
Where should the children go? The case of the girl was quickly settled by her mother. Years ago this good lady had her own dreams of a college education and knew just where she wanted to go. Denied the privilege of going herself, she nominated her daughter as her substitute. That settled it—there was no primary or referendum or special election. There seemed to me something of poetic realization in this setting of the only bud into the long-desired and long impossible tree of knowledge. As for the boy—the case was different. I would like to send at least one child back to my old college, and I think a couple of the smaller ones will go later. I know better than to try to crowd boys into associations which are not congenial. If your boy has intelligence enough to justify his going to college let him use his intelligence to decide something of what he wants. I advised the boy to select one of the smaller colleges of high reputation and keep away from the great universities. He made what I call a good choice—an institution of high character, lonely location and with one great statesman graduate who stands up in history like a great lighthouse, to show the glory of public life and the dangerous rock of his own private habits.
Well, Mother and I traveled close to 900 miles up and down through New England on this trip of planning in the garden of education. I could write a book on the memories and anticipations which filled the minds of this Hope Farm quartette. As the train rushed up the country, winding through villages and climbing hills, we took on groups of bright-faced boys on their way to college. Before we reached the end of our journey the train was crowded with them. There was one sour-faced old fellow on the train who viewed those boys with no benevolent eye.
“A lazy, careless lot. I’d put them all at work!”
The old man was wrong—he was sour. Even the evidence of hope and faith in the future which those bright-eyed boys brought could not sweeten him. Here were the thinkers and dreamers and workers of the future. Underneath their fun and careless hope they carried the prayers of their mothers and the poorly expressed dreams of fathers who saw in those boys the one chance to carry on a life work. While the old man scowled on I found myself quoting from “Snow Bound,” Whittier’s picture of the college boy who taught the winter school:
“Large-brained, clear-eyed, of such as he
Shall Freedom’s young apostles be.”
The responsibility of acting as “young apostles” would have wearied these boys, but unconsciously they were absorbing part of the spirit which will fit them for the work. Finally the train stopped and poured us out into a dusty road. There were not teams enough to carry 10 per cent of the crowd, and the rest of us cheerfully took up our burdens, crossed the river and mounted a steep and dusty hill. It took me back 30 years and more, to my first three-mile dusty walk to college. At the hilltop, as the glory of the college campus stood revealed in the shimmering light of the setting sun, it must have seemed to the freshmen that they had surely been “walking up Zion’s hill.” To me it was like old times patched up and painted with perhaps a few ornaments added. Two boys went by bending under the weight of mattresses. When I first hit college I bought a bedtick, carried it to the barn and stuffed it with straw. It was all the same, only there was the difference which the years naturally bring in comfort and convenience. But finally the darkness came and the moon seemed to climb up over the college buildings, flooding the campus with long bright splinters of light. As we walked back under the trees there came back to me the one, unchangeable, holy thing of college life—the undying, gentle, kindly spirit of the college which a man must carry as long as he lives.
We got up before five o’clock and traveled far down the Connecticut Valley to plant the family flower. Those of you who have read “The Princess” and have fairly active imaginations may realize how the Hope Farm man felt at this institution. Here men did not even reach a back seat. There was absolutely nothing for me to do except stand about, hat in hand, and pay the bills. At the railroad station three good-looking girls of the Y. W. C. A. met us and told us just where to go. At the college another girl took a suitcase and walked off with it to show my daughter’s room. The express business and the trunks were all handled by a fine-looking woman who gave points on good-nature to any express agent I ever saw. The sale of furniture, the bureau of information, the handling of money—the complete organization was conducted by women and girls. It was all well done, in a thoroughly business-like manner and with rare courtesy. True, the girls who conducted the information bureau stopped now and then to eat popcorn or candy. College boys of equal rank would probably have smoked cigarettes. There was just one other man in the hall, who, like me, had brought his daughter there to plant her in the garden of education. I caught his eye, and knew that our thoughts were twins. I fully expected at any time to see “two stalwart daughters of the plow” approaching to do their duty.
The spirit of this college seemed excellent. It may be a debatable question with some as to whether a school taught, organized and conducted entirely by women is more desirable than one taught by men or where co-education is permitted. There is no debate in our family, since the ruling spirit, whose instincts are usually right, has decided the question. It seemed to me that the training at this school is sure to give these girls responsibility and dignity. My two girls went into a store to buy furniture for the room, and I stayed outside until the time came for my part of the deal—paying for it. Across the campus and up the street came a beautiful woman walking slowly and thoughtfully on. Tall and shapely, but for her years she might have represented Tennyson’s Princess. Every movement of her body gave the impression of power. Her face seemed like a mask of patient suffering with an electric light of knowledge and faith behind it. I remember years ago to have seen another such woman walking across the village green in a country town. A rough man a stranger to me, took off his hat and said:
Yes, indeed—“some woman!” It is possible that some of these “daughters of the plow” had an eye on the Hope Farm man for watching ladies walking across the campus, but had they arrested me I should have told them the story of Billy Hendricks. Billy was apprentice in a printer’s shop in England. The boss offered a prize and a raise in wages to the apprentice who could set up a certain advertisement in the best form. Billy needed the money. He went to the foreman and asked:
“How can I make this ‘ad’ so it will show true proportions?”
“Look at me!” said the foreman.
There he stood, big and broad-shouldered, a true figure of a man, and as Billy studied him he found the words of that “ad” shaping themselves in his mind. The others were mechanical. Billy had vision and won. Some of us who must admit that we have neither beauty nor shape are glad to have before our children an example of what the coming woman ought to be.
THE SLEEPLESS MAN
Some of our people are telling us about the best or the most satisfying meal they ever ate. This question of food seems to depend on habit, hunger and personal taste. I saw a man once in a lumber camp eat plate after plate of a stew made of meat, potatoes and carrots—cooked in a big iron kettle over an open fire. At home, this man would have growled at turkey or terrapin, but here he was pushing back his plate again and again asking the cook to put more carrots in. “Why,” he said, “I thought carrots were made for horses to eat. I didn’t know human beings ate them!” He never had been a real human before—not until hunger caught him and pulled him right up to that iron pot. At his club in the city he could not have eaten three mouthfuls of that stew.
It is different with sleep. The man with no appetite can get on after a fashion, but if he cannot sleep he is a pitiable object. I met one once—a rich man who had worked too hard—starved himself for sleep in order to get hold of rather more than his share of money and power. He had passed the limit of nerves and was denied the power of sleeping. A few snatches of rest were all he could get, but through the long still nights he lay awake, thinking, thinking with the constant terror that this would end in a disordered mind.
We sat before this man’s fire late at night, and he told me all about it. To you sleep seems like a very common and simple thing. The night finds you tired and you shut your eyes and before you know it you are sailing off into a peaceful, unknown country. Here was a man who could not sleep. He must remain chained to the cares and terrors of his daily life, and the bitterness of it was that all the money he had slaved so hard to obtain could not buy him what comes to you and me with the mere closing of the eyes. It seemed to me the most despairing mockery for this man to repeat Sir Philip Sidney’s “Ode to Sleep”:
“Come sleep; O Sleep! the certain hour of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,
The indifferent judge between the high and low;
With shield of proof, shield me from out the prease
Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw;
O make in me these civil wars to cease
I will good tribute pay, if thou do so.
Make thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light,
A rosy garland and a weary head.”
“That’s it,” said my friend, “A weary head, a weary head. Mine is weary, but sleep will not come.” He sat looking at the fire for a long time, and then he turned suddenly with a sort of haunted look in his eyes.
“I wish you would tell me about the best sleep you ever had. Men may tell of their best meal, but I want to know about rest—the best sleep.”
It was a strange request, but as I sat there, my mind went back to a hillside near the New England coast where the valley slopes away to a salt marsh with a sluggish stream running through it. A low, weatherbeaten farmhouse crouches at the foot of the wind-swept hill. It is a lonely place. Few come that way in daylight, and at night there are no household lights to be seen.
It had rained through the night, and the morning brought a thick heavy fog. It was too wet to hoe corn, and Uncle Charles said we could all go gunning. He was an old soldier, a sharpshooter, and a famous shot. So we tramped off along the marsh following the creek until it reached the ocean. What a glorious day that was for a boy! I carried an old army musket that kicked my shoulder black and blue. We tramped along the shore and through the wet marsh, hunting for sandpipers and other sea fowl. Now and then a flock of birds would seem to be lost in the fog, and Uncle Charles would whistle them to where we lay in ambush. It all comes back,—clear and distinct,—the cries of the sea fowl and dull roar of the ocean as it pounded upon the beach. Late in the afternoon we tramped home wet and tired, but with a long string of birds. The ocean roared on behind us louder than ever as the wind arose.
It was not good New England thrift to eat those birds—the guests at the Parker House in Boston would pay good money for them. While we had been hunting, Aunt Eleanor and the girls in the lonely farmhouse had been busy with a “New England Dinner.” There was a big plate of salt codfish, first boiled and then fried crisp with little cubes of browned salt pork mixed with it. There were boiled potatoes which split open in a rich dry flour, boiled onions and carrots and great slices of brown bread and butter. Then the odor from the oven betrayed the crowning act of all—a monstrous pan-dowdy, or apple grunt! Ever eat a genuine pan-dowdy in a New England kitchen as a wet dreary night is coming on after a tiresome day? No? I am both sorry and glad for you. You have missed one of the greatest joys of life, but you have much to look forward to. When Uncle Charles began to cut that pan-dowdy, we boys realized that we could not do it full justice, so we went out and ran around the house half a dozen times to make more room for the top of the feast.
After supper the dishes were washed, the house cleaned up, and we washed out our guns. The old musket had kicked my shoulder so that I could hardly raise the arm, but no human being could have made me admit it. We got Uncle Charles to tell us about the time he shot at the officer at Port Hudson during the war, and about the humpbacked man who carried the powder from Plymouth to Boston during the Revolution. Then through the gloom and fog came two young men to call on the girls. In those days it seemed to me very poor taste for one to listen to the conversation of girls rather than war stories. True, the war stories were time-worn, but the girl conversation was older yet. Soon the little melodeon was talking up and a quartette was singing the old songs of half a century ago. It may have been the day’s tramping, the old musket, the last plate of pan-dowdy or the tap of the rain on the windows, but sitting there by the warm kitchen stove, I felt a delicious drowsiness stealing over me.
Bed is the place for sleep, and we boys climbed the stairs past the great center chimney, and quickly tumbled into bed. In the room below that quartette had started an old favorite:
“Along the aisles of the dim old forest
I strayed in the dewy dawn
And heard far away in their silent branches
The echoes of the morn.
“They stirred my heart with their low, sweet voices,
Like chimes from a holier land,
As though far away in those haunted arches
Were happy—an angel band.”
There was one great booming bass voice which had unconsciously fallen into the key of the dull roar which the distant ocean was making. The rain was gently tapping on the roof, and all the joys and pleasant memories of youth were whispering happy things in our ears as we sailed off on the most beautiful voyage to dreamland.
I told this as best I could before the fire while my weary friend listened, leaning back in his easy-chair with his hand shading his face. And when I stopped sleep had come to him at last—sweet and blessed sleep. There are very few of us who would stand for a photograph taken while we were asleep, but this man’s face was free from care. An orator might not think it a high tribute to his powers that he sent his audience to sleep, but I am not an orator, and I would like to be able to give my friends what they consider the blessed things of life! And Peace, blissful Peace, had put her healing hand upon my poor friend’s head.
It brought the worst storm we have had this Winter. This season will pass on into history as about the roughest we have had in 20 years. There came a whirl of snow which filled the air and sifted in through every crack and hole. We let the storm alone, and got away from it. Merrill sorted out seed corn at the barn. Philip had some inside painting to do, the women folks kept at their household work, and the children got out into the storm. They came in now and then to stand by the fire—with faces the color of their hair. As for me, I cannot say that I hurt myself with hard labor. We piled the logs in the open fireplace and started a roaring fire. With a pile of books on one side and a pen and paper at the other, my big chair gave a very good foundation for a Lincoln celebration. I presume we all have our personal habits of reading. Some people read only one kind of books, and stick to the one in hand until it is finished. My plan is different. Right now I am reading Dante, “Rural Credits,” “Manufacture of Chemical Manure,” Whittier’s Poems and Lowell’s essay on Abraham Lincoln. A poor jumble of stuff for a human head you will say, but I turn from one to another, so that instead of a mixed-up jumble I try to have these different thoughts in layers through the mind. In this way one may get a blend which is better than a hash. It may seem absurd to think of putting poetry into rural credits or fertilizers, but unless you can do something of the sort you can never get very far with them.
That was the great secret of Lincoln’s power. As judged by knowledge or training or what we call “education,” there were many abler men in the country at his time, but Lincoln knew how to appeal to the imagination of the plain, common people. Read his speeches and papers and see how he framed a fact with a mental picture which the common people could understand. There were some wonderful pictures at the World’s Fair in Chicago. Some were called masterpieces of fabulous value. People stood before them and went on with something of awe in their heart—not quite grasping the artist’s meaning. One less pretentious picture was named “The Breaking of Home Ties,” and day by day a great throng stood before it, silent and wet-eyed. It was a very simple home scene, picturing a boy leaving his country home. Men studied it, walked away and then turned and slowly came back that they might see it once more. As long as they live people will remember that picture, because the poetry of it appealed to them as the higher art could not do. I think Lincoln held the imagination of the plain people much as that picture did. He was one who had suffered and had been brought up with plain and simple family habits which were fixed.
The children have come running in to warm their hands. They are lined up in front of the big fire, rosy-faced and covered with snow. They stand looking at me as I write. Dinner is nearly ready, and there is no question about their readiness for it. Here comes Mother to look out at the storm, and she forgets to remember that this group of snowbirds by my fire have forgotten to stamp the snow off their feet. There will be a puddle of water when they move off—but it will soon dry up. As I watch them all it seems a good time to pick up Lowell’s essay on Lincoln:
“He is so eminently our representative man, that, when he speaks, it seems as if the people were listening to their own thinking aloud…. He has always addressed the intelligence of men. Never their prejudices, their passion or their ignorance.”
Now I think that intelligence and power to speak as people think can only come out of good family relations. Do I mean to say that the family group is superior to the college, the school or the other great institutions for training human thought? I do, wherever the family group is bound together as it should be by love, good will, ambition and something of sacrifice!
This nation and every other is ruled by the family spirit. All public government is based on self-government, and the family is the training school for all. What could the college or the school do with a great crowd or mob of students who have never known the restraints of good family life? Ask any teacher to tell you the difference between children reared in a clean, careful family and those reared where the family relations are much like a cross-cut saw. Line up the adults you know, make a fair estimate of their character and see whether you can select those who in their childhood had a fair chance in family life. There are, of course, exceptions to all rules, but generally the boy or girl will carry through life the habits and the human policies which are given him in the family. As a rule these will be carried into the new family which the boy or girl may start, and thus be handed on like those qualities which are transmitted through blood lines. No use talking—the family unit is the most important element in human society. A nation’s fame rests upon the nation’s family.
I think a man may fairly be judged by the way he treats his parents, his children and his wife. I do not care how he gets out and shows himself off as a great man and a good citizen. He might get an overwhelming vote for Congress or Governor, but God will judge him more by the votes of father, mother, son, daughter, wife! To me there can be nothing more beautiful than the best relation between a man of middle years and his aged parents. Perhaps the latter are feeble and not well-to-do. When they can sit in their son’s home happy and comfortable, knowing that the entire family has been taught to put them first of all in family regard, you have struck about the finest test of a man’s character that good citizenship can offer. When the children chase their father about and, out of their own thought, run to anticipate his wants, you can make up your mind that in that family are being trained men and women who can go out and absorb education and financial power which will be used for the true benefit of humanity. Most of us can never hope to be great men or to handle large public affairs, but we can make our family a training school for good citizenship. I have no thought that in this group of bright-eyed youngsters lined up by my fire we are to have any great statesmen or authors or merchant princes or big folk generally. On the whole I hope not, as it would seem to me that the great man has a rather lonely life. I do expect, however, that these children will always remember Hope Farm, and that in future years when the world may turn a very cold side to them they will remember this stormy day and will feel the warmth of this kindly fire.
I have wandered away from what I wanted to say about Lincoln and his power over the people. It was this family feeling which made him strong, and if you want your boy or girl to be really worth while you must give them and their mother the best family surroundings you can possibly secure. The man who taps the spring or the well and sends the water running through his house does far more for his country than he who runs for Congress and taps the public pocket-book.
But here comes Mother again, with “Come now, dinner’s ready. Don’t let it get cold!” Get cold? The children are already at the table! I wish you could come right along with me. I would put two sausage cakes on your plate and fill it up with mealy potatoes and yellow turnips. Then you would have rice in another dish. There is a dish of thick, brown gravy and nothing would suit me better than to have you call for an egg—fried or boiled. The Reds are laying well now. There are two kinds of bread and plenty of butter, and we will take a family vote as to whether we shall take peaches, strawberries, Kieffer pears, cherries or raspberries off the pantry shelves. I vote for Crosby peaches, but you will have a free choice and all you can eat. Surely the table makes a very strong family tie. Come on!
UNCLE ED’S PHILOSOPHY
Uncle Ed had his home in Florida, but spent the Summer working at Hope Farm. At the time I speak of we were hoeing corn at the top of our hill. We had just planted the apple orchard, and we both realized the long and weary years of toilsome waiting before there could be any fruit. It was a hot day, and at the end of the row we stopped to rest under the big cherry tree where the stone wall is broad and thick. It was a clear day, and far off across the rolling country to the East we could see the sparkle of the sun on some gilded-top building in New York. It gave one a curious feeling to stand in that shady retreat on $50 land in a lonely neighborhood, practically untouched by modern development, and glance across to the millions and the might crowded at the mouth of the Hudson. Most of us feel a sort of pride on viewing the evidence of wealth and power, even though we have no share in it, or even when we know it means blood money taken from our own lives. I felt something of this as I pointed it out to Uncle Ed, and told him how probably the overflow of that great city would some day make an acre of our orchard worth more than a farm in Florida.
This did not seem to impress him greatly. He ran his eye over the glowing prospect and then slowly filled his pipe for a smoke. I am no friend of tobacco, but I confess that sometimes I enjoy seeing a man like Uncle Ed slowly fill his pipe. I feel that some sort of homely philosophy is sure to be smoked out.
“The trouble with you folks up in this country,” said Uncle Ed, “is that you work too hard. You get so that there is nothing in you but work and save. And for what? How many of you ever get the benefit of your own work? Down where I live we don’t exist for the mere sake of working. I have known the time when I got up determined to do a good day’s work cultivating. I got the horse all harnessed, only to find that my neighbor on the south had borrowed the cultivator, and I couldn’t do that. Then I thought I’d hoe, but the boys lost the hoe in the brush and couldn’t find it. Then there was the woodpile to be cut up, but my neighbor on the north had borrowed the ax.
“Now up in this country if fate challenged a man like that he would start picking up stones and making a stone wall. Here is one now that we are resting against. I’ll bet some old owner of this farm piled up this heap of stones because he was determined that the boys never should play or go fishing. It is now the most useless thing you have on your farm. If, instead of picking up stones and building this useless wall, that old-timer had quit when fate gave him the sign, taken a day off and let the boys go fishing or play ball, this farm would be worth far more than it is today. Down in my country when the cultivator and the hoe and the ax all get away from us we accept it as a voice from some higher authority, and we drop everything and go fishing. After that I notice things straighten out and work goes right. You fellows work too hard, and don’t know it. But this won’t buy the woman a dress—we must hoe this corn out.”
The rows ran to the south, and as we hoed on I could see, far away, that bright sparkle on the gilding of the big city. And I answered with the old familiar argument:
“You have just told in a few words why there are more savings of the poor and middle-class people in that big city yonder than there are in the entire State of Florida.” That was 16 years ago and the statement was probably true at the time. Florida has gained since then.
“Up in this country we believe that the Lord gives every man of decent mind and reasonable body a chance to provide for himself and family before he is 45. If he doesn’t do it by that time, he isn’t likely to do it at all. We think that there are three ways of getting money. You can earn it through labor, steal it, or have it given to you. For most of us there is only one way—that is to dig it out by the hardest work, and then practice self-denial in order to hold it. Up in this country the men who quit and go fishing when conditions turn against them, spend their declining years without any bait. That money off there where you see that sparkle was produced by men who did not go fishing when conditions turned against them.”
As I look back upon it now that seems pretty cheap talk, but it was the way we looked at it in those days.
“I know,” said Uncle Ed, “but how much better off are they when you sum it all up? I claim that the man who goes fishing gets something that the man who built that stone wall never knew. Who piled up all that money in the big city? Some of mine is there. The interest I have paid on my mortgage has come into one of these big buildings for investment. The profit on many a box of oranges I shipped before the freeze never got away from New York. It stuck there and you can’t get it out. And that’s just what I mean. You fellows work your fingers stiff and make a little money, and then you put it into some bank or big company or into stocks or bonds. In the end it all gets away from you and runs down hill to that big city. The hired man took $25 to the county fair. Ten dollars of it went for beer and rum. The local saloonkeeper passed the $10 on to the wholesaler, he to the brewer and he sent part of it to Germany and the rest to Wall Street. The other $15 mostly went in chance games or petty gambling. He lost $5 betting that he could find the little red ball under the hat. The man who won his $5 lost it that night playing poker. The gambler who won it lost it a few nights later in a gambling house. The gambling house man bought bogus oil and mining stocks and lost it that way. The oil stock man had sense enough to salt it down in respectable securities, and there it is now under that bright sparkle in the big city. You and the rest of you do pretty much the same. This man who built your stone wall did it. The money he made was not invested here. If it had been you never could have bought this farm. It is off there under that bright sparkle—and the boys and girls run after it. You fellows work too hard!”
I undertook to come back with that text about the man who provideth not for his family—but I never was good at remembering texts. That is probably because I do not study them as I ought to. But at any rate I undertook to argue that it is a man’s first duty to provide for his family and also for his own “rainy day.” “The night cometh, when no man can work.”
“Down where I live,” said Uncle Ed, “we don’t have such rainy days as you do up here. Life is simple and straight and old people are cared for. We want them to live with us—we are not waiting for them to pass off and leave their money. Off in that big city where your money is turning over and over, thousands of human lives get under it and are crushed out of all shape. Down there under that sparkle only the poor know what neighbors are. Many a man lives his life in some tenement or apartment house never knowing or caring what goes on in the room on the other side of the wall. There may be joy or sorrow, death or life, virtue or crime. He doesn’t know and he doesn’t care, because this never-ending grind of work has changed sympathy into selfishness. And in the end that is what all those dollars which you folks dump into the big city come to. If the habit is so strong that you’ve got to work and try to catch up with the man who has a little more than you have, why not invest your money at home and in the farm? Those fellows off under that sparkle will come chasing after your money if you invest it here, and you would be boss instead of servant! Am I right?”
That was 16 years ago, and many things have happened since then. Uncle Ed has passed away—after many troubles and misfortunes. The world has been shaken up by the war and by great discoveries, so that we hardly know it. Yet there is a brighter sparkle than ever on the gilded roofs of the big city—greater wealth and more blinding poverty crouching beneath it. The hill where we hoed corn is now covered with big apple trees. Where then Bob and Jerry toiled slowly along with half a ton of fruit the truck now flashes down the hard, smooth road with two tons. But sitting on the old stone wall of a Sunday afternoon in late August I look across the valley and wonder how much there really is in Uncle Ed’s philosophy after all. What do you think?
A GOD-FORSAKEN PLACE
James and William Hardy were twins—born and bred on a New Hampshire farm. The family dated far back to pioneer times, when John Hardy and Henry Graham, with their young wives, went into the wilderness as the advance guard of civilization. It came to be a common understanding that a Hardy should always marry a Graham, and through four generations at least this family law had been observed until there had been developed one of those fine, purebred New England families which represent just about the highest type of the American. As the father of these twins married a Graham girl you had a right to expect them to be as much alike as two peas in the family pod—both in appearance and in character. Here you surely might expect one of those cases where the twins are always being mixed up, when not even their mother could be sure which was Jim and which was Bill. In truth, however, the boys were distinctly different from the day they were born—different in size, in appearance and in character.
These twins innocently brought to the surface a sad spot of family history which both the Grahams and the Hardys hoped had been buried too far down ever to show itself. Far back in the French and Indian war a band of raiders from Canada burst out of the forest and carried off a dozen prisoners. Among them was the pride of the Graham family—a beautiful girl of 16. The settlers, hiding in their blockhouse, could only look on and see their relatives start on the long march to Canada. The next year some of these prisoners were ransomed, and came back to say that the girl had married a young Frenchman. She was happy, and sent word to her parents that she preferred to stay with her husband. Years went by, until one night there came to Henry Graham’s house a Canadian ranger and a young girl. It was their granddaughter and her father. The mother had died and had begged her husband to take her daughter back to the old folks as her offering of love. The father delivered his message, bade his daughter farewell and silently vanished into the forest. They never saw him again, but they realized that he had given full measure of devotion to his dead wife. The girl grew up to be a beautiful creature much like her mother, only darker, and at times there was a bright glitter in her eyes. She married a Hardy and settled down as a farmer’s wife. She was dutiful and kind, but sometimes her husband would see her standing at the door—looking off into the Northern forests with a look which made him shake his head. Years went by, and this spot on the family history had been forgotten until these twins uncovered it! Their mother knew in her heart that the spirit of the restless Frenchman was watching her from the cradle through the black shiny eyes of her strange baby. James, the light-haired, steady, purebred infant, slept calmly or acted just as a good Hardy should, but the wild spirit of the forest had jumped three generations right into the cradle, where this black-haired little changeling stared at her!
There never were two children more unlike than these twins. Jim was solid, sound, a little slow, but absolutely trustworthy—“a born Hardy” as they said. Bill was bright, quick, restless, full of plans and visions. He did not like to work, and had no respect for the family skeleton. This was a mortgage, which for many years had sunk its claws into the rocky little farm. The truth was that this farm never should have been cleared and settled. It was rocky and sandy; farther out of date than the old mill rotting unused by the old mill pond. The mortgage hung like a wolf at the back door, demanding its due, which came out of the little farm like blood money. Jim Hardy, like his father and grandfather, grew up to regard that mortgage as a fixed and sacred institution. It was a family heirloom or tradition—something like the old musket which an older Hardy carried at Bunker Hill, or like grandmother’s old spinning-wheel. As for the poor, rocky farm, Jim and his father would stay and grind themselves away in a hopeless struggle just because the Hardys who went before them had done so. It was different with Bill. He had no use for the mortgage or for the rocky pastures, for the dash of French blood had put rubber, or yeast, into the covering of the stern New England thought. His father never could understand him and one day, when Bill was 17, the blood of the “changeling” burst into open mutiny. The father knew of only one way to act. He ordered the boy around behind the barn and took the horsewhip to him. As a Hardy, Bill was expected to stand and take his punishment without a murmur. As the descendant of a wild forest ranger he could only resent the blows. What he did was to catch his father’s arms and hold them like a vice. Neither spoke a word. They just looked at each other. The older man struggled, but he was powerless—he knew that his son was the master. He dropped the whip from his hand and bowed his head. The boy released him, broke the whip in two, and threw it away. The father walked to the house, a dazed and broken man. Bill watched him and then walked out to the back lot where Jim, the steady and faithful, was building a fence.
“Good-bye, Jim,” he said. “I’m off. It had to come. I’m different, and yet the same, as you will see. You stay here and look after father and mother. I will help some day.” It was the Hardy in both the boys which made it impossible for them to come any closer in feeling. Bill walked on over the pasture hill; at the top he paused to wave his hand. Then he was gone.
Bill was clean and sound at heart, and the French blood had given him a quick active brain. Instead of striking for the wilderness he headed for New York and he prospered. The old French ancestor drove him on with tireless energy, and the long line of clean farm breeding kept him true to his purpose to go back some day and show the old folks that he was still a Hardy. Years passed, until one day there came to Bill an uncontrollable longing to go home. Just a few brief, unresponsive letters had passed between him and Jim, but the time came when Bill longed with a great longing to see the old farm once more. And so, the next day, a well-dressed, prosperous man walked into the old yard and looked about him. There was Jim, the same old Jim, walking in from the barn with the night’s milk. Father was cutting wood at the wood pile and mother stood at the kitchen door—just the same home picture which Bill knew so well. Bill did great things during his short stay. He paid that mortgage, ordered a new barn built and left capital for Jim to improve the farm. He did everything that a Hardy ought to do—and more—and yet he could not satisfy himself. It all seemed so small and narrow. He had hoped to find great music in the wind among the pines, but it filled him with a great loneliness, which he could not overcome. He had hoped to find peace and rest, but these were for the untried farm boy—not for the restless and worried business man. It broke out of him at night on the second day, when he and Jim were on the pasture hill looking for the sheep. The loneliness of the early Fall day fairly entered his heart.
“Jim,” he said, “old fellow, I don’t see how you live in such a God-forsaken place!”
“Why, Bill,” said Jim, “New York must be like Paradise to beat the old homestead.”
“Better a week on Broadway than a lifetime on these lonely hills.”
“I’d like to try it and see!” said Jim.
So Jim Hardy, the plain farmer, went to New York to visit Brother Bill. He had everything he could call for. Bill lived in a beautiful apartment, and he gave Jim a white card to see and do what he wanted. Bill was too busy to go around much, but Jim made his way. For a couple of days it was fine—then somehow Jim, just like Bill at the old farm, began to grow lonesome and oppressed. Right through the wall of Bill’s apartment house was a family with one child. The janitor told him the child was sick, so Jim knocked at the door to sympathize with the neighbors. They froze him with a few words and got rid of him. He saw a man on the street and stopped to converse with him. “Get out!” said the stranger. “You can’t bunco me.” Day after day Jim Hardy, the farmer, saw the fierce, selfish struggle for life in the big city. The great buildings, the theaters, Broadway at night—they were all splendid, but behind and under them lay the meanness, the selfish spirit, the lack of neighborly feeling, which galled the farmer to the heart. On the third night Bill took his brother to a great reception. Just as they walked into the brilliant room Jim glanced from the window and saw a policeman throw a weak and sickly man out of a public room where he was trying to get warm.
“What did I tell you, Jim?” said Bill. “Isn’t this worth a year on your old hills?” And Jim could only think of one thing to say:
“Bill, old fellow, I don’t see how you can live in such a God-forsaken place!”
What do you make of it? One brother thinks God has forsaken the country, while the other says He has forsaken the city! To me they prove that God is everywhere. Some may not find Him, since they look for Him only in things which are agreeable to them, and those are rarely the places in which to look. I think, too, that, like Jim and Bill, all children come into the world with natural tendencies and inclinations which, if worthy, should be encouraged rather than repressed. Both Jim and Bill are needed in American life.
“How is Louise now?”
“She seems a little better!”
That message came over the ’phone on Friday evening, just as the members of the Hope Farm family were separating for the night. Early in the year we had a letter from a woman in the West who came back to the paper after 15 years’ absence. As a girl she lived in New York State. Father took the paper and she remembered the talks about the Bud, Scion and Graft. “What has become of those children?” she asked. “Since I left home I have lost track of them. Now that I have a home and children of my own I would like to know what they came to.”
These were the names given to the four children of our first brood. We had one little girl of our own whom I called the Bud. Her mother did not want her brought up alone, so we took in a small boy—a little fellow of an uncertain age. We did not adopt him, but he was treated just like our own child, and “grew up” in our home. I called him the Seedling! A noted botanist argued with me to prove that these names should have been transposed—but I let them go, for we tried to graft good things upon the Seedling. Then came two other little ones—Mother’s niece and nephew, needing home and protection. We took them in, and I called them Graft and Scion. These names may not have betrayed any great knowledge of botany, but they seemed to fit the children, although as the little ones grew up we were glad to let those names drop.
This quartette of little ones grew and thrived. It was at times rather hard sledding for the Hope Farmers in those early years, but youth greases the runners with hope, and kids never know the true taste of tough mutton. They grew on through sickness, the wilfulness of childhood, powers of heredity and all the things which confront common children. For they always seemed to me just kids of very common clay, though Mother would at times come back from places where other children “behaved” and say: “You must understand that we have some very superior youngsters!” Of course I realized that the “Bud” would most likely be pretty much what her parents were, and it was a long-time hope that she would throw out our many undesirable qualities and concentrate upon the few good ones. Now comes our friend asking what has become of them—and I will try to answer for all! The Bud is a senior at one of the great Women’s Colleges; the Graft is with an engineering party running a new railroad through the Arizona wilderness; the Seedling is a captain in the Salvation Army—the Scion! ah! That is why I am writing this!
Louise grew up a small, rather delicate young woman, ambitious, clear-brained and with a quick, active mind. There came a time when greater family responsibilities came upon us all. Her father died, and her mother became hopelessly ill, and four younger brothers and sisters came to us to form what we call our second brood. Even as a young girl Louise began to realize the stern responsibilities of life for those little ones. When she finished high school her ambition to be of service to this family group became fixed. She wanted to become self-supporting and to have a hand in helping with these younger children. Teaching is the great resource of educated women who are naturally fitted for the work, and Louise saw in the schoolroom her best chance for useful service. I think this was one of the rare cases where women are willing to work and prepare themselves for true unselfish service. Louise was timid and naturally nervous—not strong or with great dominating power. I do not think any of us understood how much it really meant to her to face direct responsibility and force her way through.
Mother and I have always felt that if any of our children show real, self-sacrificing desire for an education we will practise any form of needed self-denial that the child may be college-trained. For an education worked out in that way will become a glory and an honor to all who have to do with it. So we felt it no burden, but rather a privilege, to send Louise to the Normal School. How well and faithfully she worked no one can ever realize. I often think that most reputations for bravery in this world are not fairly earned. Some strong, well-bred, naturally optimistic character, with health and heritage from a long line of dominating ancestors pushes and smashes his way through obstacles and acquires a great reputation for courage. I think such are far less deserving than women like Louise, small and delicate and nervous, who conquer natural timidity and force themselves to endure the battle. It is even harder to win confidence in yourself—to conquer the inside forces—than to fight the outside ones.
Louise did this. She did it well, without boasting or great complaint and without flinching. At times she was depressed, for the task seemed too much for her, but she rose above it and won. She won honors at her school, and long before she expected it, on her own little, honest record in the schoolroom, she was employed to teach at a good salary. It was to be only four miles from home—amid the best surroundings—and there was no happier woman on earth than was Louise when she wrote us the first news about it. It came just before Christmas. There are many women who could not see any cause for Christmas joy in the thought of long years of monotonous and wearying service, but Louise saw in this something of the joy of achievement, for through honest, trained labor, the outcome of her own patience and determination, she was to become self-supporting and a genuine help to the children. I presume no one but a conscientious and ambitious woman can realize what that means. I know women who would look upon such power of self-support simply as selfish freedom. Louise saw in it the power of greater service. We have tried our best to train our children for that view of a life work.
You may therefore imagine that the holidays at Hope Farm seemed like holy days indeed. They were all there except the Seedling and the Graft, and they sent messages which left no regret, no sadness to creep in out of the past. Somehow I hope all you older people may know before you pass on something of what Mother and I did about our two broods as the old year passed on.
Yet there it comes again—the old question. I came home a little later than usual on Friday night. The night was wet and foggy, and Mother met me at the train. One of the little boys who usually comes for me had gone to meet Louise. Her first week of school was over, and she was coming home—a teacher! As we drove into the yard the family ran out to meet us—“Something has happened—they want you on the ’phone at once!” Ah! but these country tragedies may flash upon us without warning. Halfway home Louise had been stricken desperately ill, and she now lay at the parsonage—three miles away—helpless. Just as quickly as fingers could put the harness on our fastest horse, Mother and “Cherry-top” were driving off into the fog and rain. We waited until they reached the parsonage and then we kept the ’phone busy. The poor girl, riding home after her first fine week in the schoolroom, had been stricken with an internal hemorrhage—and it was doubtful if she could rally! At nine o’clock came the message: “She seems to be better.” The little boys were coming home—and they soon appeared, white and troubled. Mother was to stay all night and she sent a hopeful message about coming in the morning with Louise. We went to bed to get strength and nerve for any emergency. In the early morning Mother walked into my room and turned up the light. We looked at each other for a moment. Then there were six words:
“How is Louise?”
“She is gone!”
We said nothing more, but we were both thinking the same thing!
“The first break in our big family has come. How is Louise now?”
There was no way of saving her. Human skill and human love had failed. She was dead!
It was a beautiful service. There were only our own family and perhaps a dozen friends. We all wanted it so. We do not like the wild grief and public curiosity so often displayed at large funerals. There was just a great bank of flowers, a white casket and a simple service over this brave and loyal girl. I do not say “poor” girl, nor do I dwell upon the sadness of it. I thought that all out as Mother and I sat at the head of the casket. She died gloriously—like a soldier at his duty. She died when life was young. She had just won her little battle in the great world of affairs. She died in the joy of victory and in the faith that all things are possible. The wine of life was full. She never knew the sting of defeat, the shame and meanness of false friendships and ambitions, which has come to those of us who linger on the way. And so at the end of it all I ask the old question once more:
“How is Louise now?”
“She is better! Thank God! She is better!”
CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY
It is well enough to keep the Christmas tree standing until Spring cleaning at least. There may be those who open the closet door once a year and let the Christmas spirit out—somewhat like the family skeleton, to food and water—and then lock it up again. That does not suit me, for I would like to keep the door open so that Christmas may be with us every day in the year. The celebration just closed is about the best our family and community ever had, and it will do us permanent good.
On Wednesday evening the children had their celebration at the church. It was a cold clear night, with good sleighing, so we hitched the two big grays to the bob sled and filled the box with straw, and the children cuddled down into this nest and pulled blankets over them. The Hope Farm man drove, with Mother on the seat beside him to direct the job and tell him when and where to turn out. Tom and Broker seemed to feel that they were, in their way, playing the part of reindeer, for they trotted off in great shape—a little clumsy on their feet, perhaps, but with strength enough to pull down a house. Broker is inclined to be lazy, and Tom did most of the pulling unless we stirred his partner up with the stick. Through the clear starlight we went crunching and jingling on over the hills and through the narrow level valleys, for our country has a badly wrinkled face.
Part of the way lies through the woods, and then a stretch along the banks of a little river. There was just enough wind to make a little humming in the trees. Now and then a rabbit jumped out of the shadow and went hopping off across the snow. There was no danger—it was Christmas, and we do not carry firearms. I think I can tell you much about a person’s character and circumstances if you will tell me what comes into mind on a lonely road, when the wind is playing its wild tunes among the trees.
“Over the chimney the night wind sang,
Chanting a melody no one knew.”
To some this melody brings sad memories or fear of trouble, but the happy group in our big sled heard nothing of these in the sound. As Tom and Broker pulled their load on beneath the trees I think each one of us heard in the wind’s singing something of the song which the angels sang when the shepherds listened long years ago. This may be but a fancy of mine, yet I think our little group came nearer to understanding what Christmas means—on that lonely road—than we had before.
You know how pleasant it is to come trotting along a country road on a cold starry night and see the lights of the church burst into view far ahead. Our church is an old stone structure, full of years and honorable history. It was here, at least part of it, during the Revolution, and at one time Hessian prisoners were confined in it. There were no prisoners except those of hope inside the church that night. The boys and I made Tom and Broker comfortable and then we went inside to find a big Christmas tree and a crowd of happy children. Surely Christmas is children’s day, and they owned the church that night. Mother marshaled her big primary class for one chorus, and it seemed as if the entire end of the church was made of children. A couple of our Cherry-tops lent a little color to it. The Hope Farm man was escorted up to a front seat, where he was expected to look the part of prominent citizen. They ran him into the programme too for a Christmas story, so he got up and told the company about “Pete Shivershee’s Miracle”—a little Christmas memory of life in a lumber camp many years ago. Finally the simple presents were distributed, the sleepy little ones aroused, good wishes spoken and we all piled in once more for the home trip. Broker takes life as it comes, but Tom was chilly and disposed to be a trifle gay over the prospect of barn and cornstalks once more. He proceeded to pull the entire load, Broker trotting on with dangling traces! It was a sleepy and happy crowd that finally turned off the road into Hope Farm. “We had a big time!”
In two of the villages near us the people organized community Christmas trees. These trees were placed in the public square or some prominent spot, the electric wires were connected, and colored bulbs hung all over to take the place of candles. These were lighted on Christmas Eve and kept going all through the holiday week. It was a great success, for it brought people together, made a better community spirit, and helped us all. In addition to this community tree arrangements were made to have singers go about the town singing the old Christmas carols. This revival of the old English custom was a beautiful thing and a great success.
Shortly after three on Christmas morning our folks were awakened by music. I think the Cherry-tops thought it was Santa Claus, as it probably was. Out in front of our house a motor car carrying six young men had turned in from the road. There in the frosty morning they were singing:
“O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye! O come ye
Come and behold Him
Born the King of angels,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”
They were beautiful singers and our folks will never forget that Christmas morning.
“Silent night! Holy night,
All is calm. All is light.
’Round young Virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.”
Finally the car started off, moving slowly down the road with the music creeping back to us through the clear air:
“Hark, the Herald angels sing.”
Our folks heard them at the next neighbor’s, far down the road. I have no doubt many a weary and troubled soul waking in the night at the sound went back to happier dreams of a better tomorrow. It was a beautiful thing to do, and never before did Christmas morning come to us so happily as this year.
I thought of these things all day, and the conviction has grown upon me that what we people who live in the country need more than anything else is something of this spirit which binds people together and holds them. We need it in our work, our play and in our battles. It is another name for patriotism, which means the unselfish love of country. The Duke of Wellington said the battle of Waterloo was won on the playgrounds of England, where boys were trained in manly sports. He told only half of it, for the spirit which turned that play into war came from the singers who in English villages sang Christmas carols or English folk songs. In like manner the wonderful national spirit which the German nation has shown has been developed largely through the singing societies which have expressed German feeling in song. In 1792 a band of Frenchmen marched from the south of France to Paris dragging cannon through a cloud of dust and singing the Marseillaise hymn, and even to this day the loyal spirit of France traces down from those dusty singers. Do I mean to say that farmers can come together and sing their troubles away? No, for some of the troubles have grown so strong and penetrated so deep that they must be pulled out by the roots. What I do say is that before we can hope to remove these troubles and make our conditions what they should be we must feel toward our friends and neighbors the sentiments which are expressed in these beautiful old songs. The time has gone by when we can hope to obtain what we should have from society as individuals playing a cold, selfish game of personal interest. We have tried that for many years and steadily lost out on it. The only hope for us now is in a true community spirit of loyalty and sacrifice, instead of the effort to get all we can for ourselves. That is why I say that there should be something of Christmas in every day of the year, and why I give these holiday memories.
“THE FINEST LESSON”
It is the privilege of youth and old age to make comparisons. One has little or nothing of experience to use as a yardstick—the other has everything life can offer him. One compares with imagination, the other with fact, and youth, having a wider pasture for thought, usually finds pleasanter places for feeding. My children have spent nearly every Christmas thus far before this open fire, while I have ranged far and wide, from Florida to the Great Lakes, and from Cape Cod to Colorado. As we sit in silence before our fire the boys can imagine themselves in some hunter’s camp, or with the soldiers in France, while the girls can drop themselves down from the wings of fancy in Cuba or Brazil. I might try that, but stern fact drags me down to other days, and old-time companions come creeping out of the past to say “Merry Christmas” and stand here, a little sorrowful that they cannot give the children something of their story. So I must be their spokesman, it seems, and the children give me a chance when after dreaming a while they come and ask me to tell about the real Christmas. “What was the finest Christmas lesson you ever had?” They do not put it in quite these words, but that is the sense of it. So there comes to me a great desire to live up to the highest test of story-telling—that is, so to interest your audience that they will forget to eat their apples.
The room seems full of the shadowy forms of men and women who have stepped out of the past to bring back a Christmas memory. Which of these old life teachers ever gave me the best lesson? They were all good—even that big fellow who tried to kick me out of a lumber camp—and failed—or that slimy little fraud who beat me out of a week’s wages! I think, however, that those two women over by the window lead all the rest. One is an old woman—evidently a cripple; the other younger—you cannot see her face in the dim light, but she stands by the older woman’s chair. Yes, they represent the best Christmas lesson I have had. So come up to the fire, forget the wind roaring outside, and listen to it. I was a hired man that Winter in a Western State. Some of the farmers who read this will remember me—not for any great skill I showed at farm work, but because I spent my spare time (that meant nights) going around “speaking pieces.” I am greatly afraid that as an agriculturist I did better work at keeping air hot than I ever did at heating plowshares through labor.
You see, it was this way. I was a freshman at an agricultural college, at a time when these institutions were struggling hard to live. The average freshman thinks he is the salt of the earth, forgetting that he is salt which has not gained its savor through losing its freshness. A man gets very little salt in his character until he goes out and assaults the world! At any rate, I had no money salted down and no fresh supplies coming in. I had to get out during the Winter and earn the price of another term at college. I tried canvassing for a book. We will draw the curtain down over that act. Some men tell me of making small fortunes as book agents. From my experience I judge these men to be supermen or superior prevaricators, to put it mildly. I worked the job for all I was worth in spite of all obstacles, such as the wrath of farmers who had been cheated through signing papers, the laughter of pretty girls and the teeth of dogs, and sold four books in two weeks! At last I struck a farmer who offered me a job digging a ditch. I made him a present of my “sample copy” and went to work.
A dollar makes an interrogation point with a barb on it. About all a farm produced in Winter, those days, was enough to eat and drink and something to sell for the taxes. The farmer I worked for had a red colt that was to settle with the tax man, but just before the taxes were due the colt ran away and broke his neck. I cannot say that my labor was worth much, but education is not one of the few things which come to us without money or price. Then I suddenly made the discovery that I was “a talented young elocutionist.” At least that is what the local paper stated, and do we not know that all we see in print must be true? I suppose I could tell you of one Christmas long ago that I spent as “supe” in a big theater and what befell us behind the scenes. At any rate, I could “speak pieces,” and I had a long string of them in mind. So what was a rather poor mimic in a city became a “talented elocutionist” far back over muddy roads. You want to remember that this was a long time before the bicycle had grown away from the clumsy “velocipede.” There were few, if any “good roads.” No one dreamed of gasoline engines or automobiles. During an open Winter the mud was 10 to 20 inches deep, and every mile of travel was to be multiplied by the number of inches of mud. Amid such surroundings it is not so hard to be known as a “talented elocutionist” when your voice is strong, your tongue limber, your memory good, and you have had a chance to see and hear some of the great actors from behind the scenes.
I made what they called “a big hit” at night, with audiences all the way from four or five up to 200. When life was dull and blue a neighbor would come with his family to our farmhouse and I would sit by the kitchen fire and entertain them. Once a farmer had a little trouble with his mother-in-law, who seemed to hold the mortgage. On his invitation I dropped in one night and a few of my “funny pieces” made this good lady laugh so that she forgave her son-in-law. Then I was called into the chamber of a very sick man to recite several “religious pieces.” I shall not soon forget that scene. The poor sick man lying there with eyes closed, the entire family and some of the neighbors grouped around like a company of mourners, and the “talented elocutionist” standing by the head of the bed in the gray light of the dying day. Yes, sir, the man recovered! They have a famous saying here in New York. “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken!” I found it so that Winter, and as life was young and full ambition had not been severely wounded, I did not weaken.
But all this, of course, was mere practice for larger occasions. Whenever I could work up a crowd I would go about to schoolhouses and churches, entertain as best I could and then “pass the hat”! What evenings they were! They were usually in old-fashioned schoolhouses with the big iron stove in the center of the room. Such houses were rarely used at night, and there would be no light except as some of the audience brought lamps or candles. The room was usually crowded and the stove red-hot. In most cases the meeting would be opened with prayer and some local politician might make a speech. Then the “talented elocutionist” would stand up near the stove. He never was an “impressive figure” at his best. In those old days the best he could afford was a pair of thick cowhide boots, a second-hand coat which came from a long, thin man, and trousers evidently made originally for a fat man. Still, the light was dim and the speaker remembered hearing James E. Murdock say that if you could only put yourself into the spirit of your talk the audience would follow you there and forget how you looked. I had seen a great actor play the part of Fagin in “Oliver Twist,” and at these entertainments I tried giving an imitation of him, until a big husky farmer tried to whip me. I had a job to explain to my friends that he was trying to punch Fagin—not me. The audiences knew no middle ground. They wanted some burlesque or some tragedy of their own lives which would tear at their heartstrings. Now and then as I recited in those hot, dim schoolhouses the keen humor of the thing would come to me, or like a flash the poverty and pathos of my own struggle would sweep over me with overwhelming force. Then I could feel that audience moving with me and for a brief moment I got out of the ditch of life and knew the supreme joy of the complete mastery of one who can separate the human imagination from the flesh and compel it to walk with him where he wills.
These moments were all too brief. Back we came finally to the dim, stifling room, and the rather ignoble and commonplace job of trying to measure the value of a thrill by a voluntary contribution. I have had many a high hope and many a dream of a new suit of clothes blackballed on “passing the hat.” At first, when a man got up and said: “Gents, this show is worth a dollar, and I will pass the hat,” I took him at his word and expected a hat full of bills. Yet even when I shook out the lining I could find nothing larger than a dime. During that Winter I made a fine collection of buttons. It may be that most men want to keep the left hand from knowing what the right hand is up to, but evidently you must have one hand or the other under public observation if you expect much out of the owner. I have learned to have no quarrel with human nature, and I imagine after all that the hire fitted the value of the laborer’s efforts fairly well.
Christmas came to us in that valley with the same beautiful message which was carried to all. It was a cold Christmas, and as we went about our chores before day and at night the stars were brilliant. The crinkle of the ice and snow and the hum of the wind over the fences and through the trees came to me like the murmur of a faraway song. It touched us all. We saw each other in something of a new light of glory. The woman of the house, I think, regarded me as a sort of awkward hired man. Now she seemed to see a boy, far from home, struggling with rather feeble hands against the flood which swept him away from the ambition to earn an education. I am sure that it came to her that the Christmas spirit must be capitalized to help me on my way. So she organized a big gathering for Christmas Eve at which I was to “speak” and accept a donation. It was to be over in the next district, and that good woman took the sleigh and drove all over that county drumming up an “audience.” I am sure that there never was a “star” before or since who had such an advance or advertising agent as I did on that occasion. She was a good trainer, too. The day before Christmas I husked corn in the cold barn, and this delicate woman ran through the snow with two hot biscuits and a piece of meat. There I worked through the day husking corn with my hands while I “rehearsed” a few new ones with my brain and sent my heart way back to New England, where I knew the folks were thinking of me.
In these times there would have been a fleet of automobiles moored near the farmhouse, but in those days no engine had yet coughed out the gasoline in its throat. We came in sleighs and big farm “pungs.” Standing by the barn in the clear moonlight you could see the lanterns gleaming along the road, and hear the tinkle of the sleighbells and the songs which the young people were singing. Far down the road came a big farm sled loaded with young people who were singing “Seeing Nellie Home.” Sweet and clear came their fresh young voices through the crisp, frosty air:—
“Her little hand was resting
On my arm as light as foam
When from Aunt Dinah’s quilting party,
I was seeing Nellie home.
“I was seeing Nellie. I was seeing Nellie.
I was seeing Nellie home,
’Twas from Aunt Dinah’s quilting party,
I was seeing Nellie home.”
The old farmer on the front seat sat nodding his head to the music, and his wife beside him took her hand out of the muff and slid it under his arm. These were the fine old days of simple pleasures, when the country entertained itself and was satisfied. The other night my young folks took me off to a moving picture theater where we saw a great actress portraying human emotion in a way to make you shudder. My mind went back to my own feeble efforts as a star performer, and I was forced to admit that the usual Sunday school entertainment could have but a small chance in competition with this powerful exhibition. The thing to do is to carry this strong attraction to the country and not force our young people to travel to the city after it.
Each sleigh brought not only its load of human freight, but a big basket of food, for there was to be a feast of the body with food as well as of the spirit with oratory. As the guest of honor I rode over with one of the school trustees, and he proved a good local historian.
“This farm we visit tonight is owned by the Widder Fairchild. A nice woman, but homely enough to stop a clock. Her father left her the farm, and she got to be quite an old maid. We all thought she had settled down for such when she up and married the hired man, a nice man, but no farmer, and no property except a cough and an old aunt mighty nigh bed-ridden. Then the husband died and left the old lady on her hands. She might have sent the old thing to the poorhouse—ain’t no kin of hers—but just because her husband promised to keep her, Mrs. Fairchild has kept the old lady on. There the two women live on one of the best farms in the county.”
“It’s the best because the Lord has blessed it.” That came from the wife on the back seat. She had tried to get in a word before.
“No, no! Farms are made good by hard work and judgment. The minister went and talked to her about it, but all he got out of her was ‘And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go.’”
“But, Henry, ain’t you ’shamed to call her homely?”
“No, because it’s the truth. It wouldn’t be about you, now, but I told the minister that once. He has to be diplomatic and he hemmed and hawed and finally said, ‘She has a strong face.’ He’s right! Mighty strong!”
If you ever acted in the capacity of donatee at such a party you know the feeling. The big house was filled. Out in the kitchen the women sorted out the food and arranged it for supper. In the front room, beside a little table, sat “the hired man’s old aunt,” a beautiful old lady with white hair and a sweet, patient face. On the table stood a few house plants in pots. One geranium had opened a flower.
“The only one in the neighborhood for Christmas,” said the old lady. “You don’t know how proud I am of it. It has been such a joy to me to see it slowly grow, and, oh, think of what it means to have it come at Christmas!”
But the donatee has little time for small talk. He always earns his donation, and whatever happened to it later, I earned it that night. They finally stopped me for supper. The minister alluded to it as “the bounteous repast which we are now asked to enjoy.” My friend the trustee stood by the door and shouted:
“Hoe in—help yourself!”
It was getting on toward Christmas Day when I stood up in the corner to end the entertainment. I had intended to end with Irwin Russell’s “Christmas Night in the Quarters,” with negro dialect, but as I was about to start my eye fell upon a group by that little table. The “old aunt” sat looking at me, and by her side stood the “homely” woman, her hand resting upon the older woman’s shoulder. I wonder if you have ever had a vision come to you at Christmas—or any other time! A great, mysterious, beautiful vision, in which you look forward into the years and are given to see some great thing which is hidden from most men until too late. It came to me as I watched those women that the finest test of character, the noblest part of the Christmas spirit, was not the glory of caring for helpless childhood, but the higher sacrifice of love and duty for the aged.
And so, almost before I knew it, I found myself reciting Will Carleton’s poem, “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse!” What a sentiment to bring into a happy Christmas party—by the donatee at that—one who had been hired “to make them laugh”!
I knew it all, yet my mind jumped across the long miles and I thought of my own mother growing old and waiting in silence that I might have opportunity!
“Over the hill to the poorhouse
I’m trudging my weary way.
I a woman of sixty,
Only a trifle gray,
I who am smart and chipper.
For all the years I’ve told,
As many another woman
Only one-half as old.
“Over the hill to the poorhouse!
I can’t quite make it clear;
Over the hill to the poorhouse,
It seems so horrid queer!
Many’s the journey I’ve taken,
Traveling to and fro,
But over the hill to the poorhouse
I never once thought I’d go!”
It was a great 10 minutes. It is worth a good many years to have 600 ticks of the clock pass by like that. Could all of us have lived, for 10 years with that 10-minute feeling—what a neighborhood that would have been. I was looking at those two women by the table. I saw their hands come together. It is true that the trustee had not done great injustice to her appearance, but as she stood there by “the hired man’s old aunt” there came upon her face a beauty such as God alone can bring upon the face of those who are beloved by Him. A light from within illuminated her life story, and I could read it on her face. A love that endures after death—until life! And when I stopped I was done. The power had all gone from me. Not so with my manager, the trustee. He could sense a psychological moment even if he could not spell it, and he got his hat into action before the rich spirit of that crowd could get to the poorhouse. I saw him coming with the hat full—there were surely several bills there. Say, did you ever spend money before you got your fingers on it? I never have since that night. I know better. As I saw that money I figured on several Christmas presents, a new coat and at least one term at college. The trustee cleared his throat for a few remarks and I stood there pleasantly expectant, anticipating a few compliments—and the money.
“Now, friends, we thank you one and all for your generous gift, and we thank our talented young friend here for the great assistance he has given us. He will rejoice when he learns the full amount, for, my dear friends, this money belongs to the Sunday school!”
And he proceeded forthwith to gather up the money and stuff it into his pockets, leaving me with my mouth half open, and my hand half extended.
What could you do? There was a roar of protest from several farmers who demanded their money back, though they never got it. Happily the humor of it struck me. The first thing that came into my mind was an old song I had often heard:
“Thou art so near and yet so far!”
There is nothing like being a good sport, and so I bowed and smiled and took my medicine, although I am sure the party would have ended in a fight if I had said the word. But the “old aunt” looked at me for a moment and then cut off that geranium bloom, tied two leaves on it and handed it to me without a word. And the woman with the shining face took my hand in both hers and said: “Do not get discouraged. I know you will win out.”
I rode home with a farmer who, with his two big sons, roared profanely at what they called the “injustice of that miser.” They vowed to get up another donation, which they did later. They offered to go and “lick the trustee” and take the money from him. I think they were a little disappointed when I told them that he needed it more than I did.
“Why, from the way you talk, anybody’d think you had fallen heir to a big thing!”
I had. That little flower in my pocket carried a Christmas spirit and a Christmas lesson that the whole world could not buy. The thing paying the largest dividend, the finest companion that ever walked with one along the roadway of life—unselfish love, and sacrifice.
I would like to know where you are tonight, and what you have been doing all through this “Liberty Day.” With us the day has been cloudy and wet, and just as the sun went down Nature took the liberty of sending a cold, penetrating rain. So here I am before my big fire with a copy of Washington Irving’s “Life of Christopher Columbus.” That seems the proper way to end Columbus Day, for in trying to tell the children about him I found that I did not really know much more than they do about the great discoverer. So here I am back some 400 years in history wondering if any of these pompous and bigoted ways of seeking for new worlds or new methods can be applied to modern life in New Jersey.
My back aches, for I have been digging potatoes all day—and I thought I had graduated from that job some years ago. Perhaps you will say that we should have been out selling Liberty bonds or parading. Personally, I am a poor salesman, and we all subscribed for our bonds some days ago. There are eight bondholders in this family. The influenza has left us without labor except for the children while the school is closed. There are still over 100 barrels of apples to pick, potatoes to dig, plowing and seeding to be done, and a dozen other jobs all pressing. So I decided to celebrate Liberty Day by digging those Bible School potatoes. We planted a patch of potatoes between rows of young peach trees and promised the crop to the Bible Teachers’ Training School. Last year we tried this, and I put in a few of the latest scientific touches which the experts told us about. The plant lice came in a swarm and ruined the patch. We had a few potatoes about the size of marbles. This year we avoided scientific advice, and just planted potatoes in the old-fashioned way. They were not cultivated in the best possible manner, but they made a good crop. So when Liberty Day dawned with a thick, gray mist over the land I decided to get those potatoes out instead of going on the march or singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” From what I read of Columbus I imagine he would have chosen the parade and left the digging to others. The world has taken on new ideas about labor since then.
So, after breakfast, Cherry-top and I took our forks and started digging. The soil was damp and the air full of mist and meanness which made me sneeze and cough as we worked on. Happily, out on our hills we are not fined $20 for sneezing outside of a handkerchief, as is the case in New York. If anyone has discovered any poetry or philosophy in the job of digging potatoes he may have the floor. I call it about the most menial job on the farm, and therefore fine discipline for “Liberty Day.” While we were working Philip and the larger boy went by with the team to seed rye. They have thrashed out enough grain by hand, and this is not only ideal weather, but about the last limit for seeding. The land was plowed some two weeks ago, a big crop of ragweed and grass being turned under. If we only had the labor this ground would have been disked twice and then harrowed. As it is, we can only work it once with the spring-tooth. Then Philip goes ahead seeding in the rye by hand, while the boy follows with the Acme harrow to cover the grain. It is rough seeding and would not answer for wheat, but rye is tough and enduring, and it will imitate Columbus and discover a new world in that decaying mass of ragweed. So I watch the seed sowers travel slowly along the hillside as I dig, and wonder what was doing on this farm 427 years ago, and what will be doing here 100 years hence! Such reflections were the most cheerful mental accompaniment I could find for digging potatoes. They are impractical, while digging is the most practical thing on earth!
As we dug on a man and woman came up the lane. They came after apples, having engaged them before. The boy went down to attend to them, while I kept on digging. Then the boy came back with two more apple customers. The trouble with us is that we have more customers than apples this year, but these were old patrons, and they were served. The boy finally came back with $41.80 as a result of his trading, and we went at our job with new vigor. As we dug along we noticed a curious thing about those potatoes. Here and there was a vine large and strong, and still perfectly green. The great majority of the hills were dead, but those green ones were as vigorous as they were in June. The variety was Green Mountain, and we soon found that on the average these big green vines were producing twice as much as the dead hills. Some of these living vines carried three or four big potatoes. Others had a dozen, with seven or eight of market size, while others had about 16 tubers, mostly small. Just why these vines should act in this way I do not know. There are so many possible reasons that I should have to guess at it, as Columbus did when, as his ship sailed on and on into the west, the compass began to vary. The boy and I decided that here was where we might discover a good strain of Green Mountain on Columbus Day. So we have selected 15 of the best hills. They will be planted, hill by hill, next year and still further selection made. We discarded the hills with only a few big potatoes and also those with many small ones, and selected those with a good number of medium-sized tubers. It may come to nothing, but we will try it. Experience and careful figures show that an ordinary crop of potatoes in this country does not pay. The same is true of a flock of ordinary poultry, or a drove of scrub pigs. There is no profit except in well-bred, selected stock. That’s what we think we have in pigs and poultry—perhaps we may get something of the same thing in potatoes.
But there is one sure thing about digging potatoes—you work up a great appetite. At noon there came a most welcome parade up the lane. It was not a woman suffrage procession, but Mother, Aunt Eleanor, Rose and the little girls bringing the picnic dinner in baskets and pails. The boy had built a fire up above the Spring and piled stones up around it. By the time I had washed my hands and face in the brook Mother had a frying pan over this fire with slices of bacon sizzling and giving up their fat. When this bacon was brown the slices were taken out and the fat kept on bubbling and dancing. Then Aunt Eleanor cut up slices of Baldwin apples and dropped them into this fat. They tell me Ben Davis is best for this fried-apple performance, but I found no fault with Baldwin as it jumped out of that fat. The chemist will no doubt explain how the bacon fat combined with the acid of the apple, etc., etc., etc. Let him talk; it does him good—but have another fried apple! Men may come and men may go, but they will seldom find more appetizing food or a more perfect balanced ration than the Hope Farmers discovered around that fire. There were bread and butter, fried bacon, fried apple, pot cheese and several of our choice Red hen’s eggs boiled hard and chopped fine with a little onion. Of course, eggs are worth good and great money just now, but nothing is too good for an occasion like this. And so, on that cheerless day, sitting around our fire, we all concluded that Columbus did a great thing when he discovered America.
But our job was not to be ended by eating fried apples and bacon, pleasant as that occupation is, and when I put out my hand I was obliged to admit that the first faint evidence of rain was beginning. The larger boy went back to his rye seeding, and very soon Tom and Broker could be seen on the lower farm pounding back and forth over the field like gray giants hauling up the guns. All hands went to picking up potatoes. Mother picked two bushels and then had to go back to her housework. Little Rose claimed that she picked up 20 potatoes. Her chief job was to hold on to her throat and ask if it was not time to eat one more of those sweet throat tablets I had in my pocket. The rain slowly developed from mist to good-sized drops. I know what it means to get wet, and in any other cause I would have left the job, but we were there to finish those potatoes, and we stayed by it until they were all picked up. The last barrel or two came up out of the mud, and our hands and feet were surely plastered with common clay—but we finished our job. Then came the boys with Broker and the fruit wagon to carry the crop to the barn. One of these boys had on a rubber coat—the other a sack over his shoulders. They went on up the hill to get a load of apples and on their way back brought down the Bible potatoes, where they will dry out and be ready for delivery. When we got to the barn there was another party after apples.
We finished it all at last, dried off before the fire and found ourselves none the worse for the day. In the present condition of my back I would not from choice go to a dance tonight, but that will limber out in time. The fire roars away, the rain taps at the window, and we are safe and warm. We have had our supper, and I suppose I could tell where Aunt Eleanor has hidden a pan of those famous ginger cookies. I will make it a one to five chance that I can also find a pan of baked apples. I think I will not reveal the secret publicly at this time. The Food Administrator might accuse her of using too much ginger or sweetening! School has been closed on account of the influenza, but the children are still working their “examples,” and I give them a few original sums to work out. Little Rose listens to all this, and finally proposes this one of her own:
“If a woman paid three cents at a hospital for a baby, how much would a horse cost?”
Personally, I will give that up, and go back to the “Life of Columbus.” The most interesting thing to me is the account of the council of wise men to whom Columbus tried to explain his theories. They told him that since the old philosophers and wise men had not discovered any new world, it was great presumption for an ordinary man to claim that there remained any great discovery for him to make. Seems to me I have heard that same argument ever since I was able to read and understand. Perhaps it is well that all who come, like Columbus, with a theory and vision of new worlds must fight and endure and suffer before the slow and prejudiced public will give them a chance. But here comes a message for me to come upstairs and see a strange thing. Little Rose cannot have her own way, and she has gone into a passion altogether too big for her little frame. She will not even let me come near her, and back I come a little sadly to my book and my fire. They are not quite so satisfying as before. But who comes here? It is Mother carrying a very pink and repentant morsel of humanity—little Rose. She hunts up my electric hearing device and with the ear piece at my ear I hear a trembly little voice saying:
“I’s awful sorry!”
And that is a fine ending for Liberty Day. Perhaps, like Columbus on that fateful night at the end of his voyage, this little one sees the first faint light of a new world! Who knows?
You could hardly have crowded another human into the great hall. From the gowned and decorated dignitaries on the stage to the great orchestra in the upper gallery every square foot of floor space was packed, as the president of the great woman’s college arose to open the commencement exercises. This followed one of the most impressive scenes I have ever witnessed. The great audience had been waiting long beyond the appointed time for starting, when suddenly the orchestra started a slow and stately march and we all rose. A dignified woman in cap and gown, with soft gray hair, marched slowly up the aisle, and following her came long lines of “sweet girl graduates,” as Tennyson puts it. The woman walked to the steps which led to the stage, and standing there reviewed the long lines of girls as they filed silently in and occupied the seats reserved for them. In their black gowns and white bands they seemed, as they were, a trained and steadfast army. As they seated themselves and rose again it seemed like the swelling of a great ocean tide. And following them came men and women who had gained distinction in education or public life. They, too, were in cap and gown, with bands of red, purple, white, green or brown, to designate their college or their studies. The bright sunshine flooded in at the open windows. Outside, the beautiful green college campus stretched away in gently rolling mounds and little valleys. I noticed a robin perched on a tree with his head on one side, calmly viewing the great professor who with the bright red band across his breast was delivering the address. Very likely this wise bird was saying, “You should not be too proud of that dash of red on your gown. There are others! Your red badge is man made. It will not appear on your children, and it may even be taken from you. The red on my breast is a finger-print of Nature, and cannot be removed.”
I know that there are those who would call this impressive service mere pomp and vain parade, yet, to the plain man and woman sitting in the front row of the balcony, it all seemed a noble part of a great proceeding, and a great pride for them. Just where the balcony curved around like a horseshoe this gray-haired couple sat—just like hundreds of other men and women who, in other places, with strange thought in mind, were watching their boys and girls pass out of training into the race of life. The Hope Farm man is supposed to be a farmer, and “as the husband so the wife is.” He worked out as hired man for some years and otherwise qualified for the position, while Mother probably never saw a working farm before she was married. But at any rate there they were—like the hundreds of other plain men and women, while down below them the best work of their lives was coming to fruition. For the daughter was part of that army in cap and gown and was about to receive her certificate of education!
To me one of the most interesting characters in the universe is “the hen with one chicken”! These women with one child of their own! Having added just one volume to the book of life it is their duty and privilege to regard it as a masterpiece. When you come to think of it, what a day, what a moment, that must have been for a woman like Mother. Here was her only child, a girl who, from the cradle, had never given her a moment’s uneasiness or a single lapse of confidence, now standing up big and straight and fine to take her college degree. It had been the dream of Mother’s girlhood to go through this same great college, but that had been denied her. Yet the years had swung around in their relentless march and here was her daughter, big, trained, fine and unspoiled, making noble use of the opportunity which failed to knock at her mother’s door! Many of you women who read this will know that there can be no prouder moment in a woman’s life. Is it any wonder that there was a very suspicious moisture on Mother’s glasses as the minister read the 25th chapter of St. Matthew?
“And I was afraid and went and hid thy talent in the earth.”
Would you not, as she did, have sung with all your power when that great audience rose like a mighty wave to sing “The Star Spangled Banner”? The members of the orchestra stood up to play the tune. As you know, a group of musicians will usually show a large proportion of European faces, but all these markings of foreign blood faded away as they played, and there came upon each countenance the light of what we call Americanism.
But what about “father” at such a time and place? Where does he come in? At a woman’s college he stays out—he is a mere incident, and properly so. If he is wise he will accept the situation. For this big girl marching in line has his shoulders and head; she walks as he does, and people are kind enough to remark, “How much your daughter looks like you!” Now this is no fly in the ointment of Mother’s pride and joy, unless you refer to it too much. Far better take a back seat and let the good lady take full pride in her daughter. I confess that when those 200 girls sat together at the front of the room, all in cap and gown, and most of them with their hair arranged alike, I could not be sure of my own girl until her name was called! My mind was back in the years busy with many memories. More than a full generation ago at an agricultural college I walked up to receive my “certificate.” I remember that I had on some clothes which had been discarded by two other men. I played the part of tailor to clean and press them into service. There were no be-gowned and decorated dignitaries on the platform—just a few farmers, several of them right out of the harvest field. I remember how two of these tired men fell asleep through our class “orations.” I had in my pocket just enough money to get me to a farm where I had agreed to cut corn. And this proud and happy lady beside me! At just about the same time she was graduating from a normal college at the South. She was then a mere slip of a pretty girl, not out of her ’teens, with a plain white dress and a bright ribbon, and no “graduation present” but the bare price of a ticket home. And within a few weeks she was off, giving the acid test to her certificate of education by teaching school in Texas! What a world it all is anyway! The years had ironed out the rather poor scientific farmer and the smart girl teacher into the parents of this young woman who, as we fondly hope, has adopted the good qualities of both sides of the house and cast out the poor ones. A great world, certainly a good world, and probably a wise one!
The orator of the day made an impressive speech. He made a powerful comparison between Crœsus, the rich Persian king, and Leonidas, the Greek hero. Then he compared the life of the Emperor Tiberius with that of Jesus. It was a powerful plea for a life of service—for making full use of training and culture. I saw my old friend the robin on his perch outside regarding the orator critically. I take him to be one of these exponents of a “practical” education. Very likely he was saying:
“Very fine! Very fine! ‘Words, my lord, words.’ But if I had a daughter I would want more of housekeeping and practical homemaking in her education. With all your culture and literature you cannot build a house as my daughter can. You cannot tell when it is time to go South, as we can, nor can you defend yourself against enemies as we are able to do. All very fine, no doubt, for human beings, but if birds were educated with any such ideas the race would be extinct in three generations. Reading, writing and housekeeping are the only things that women need to know.”
I have heard human robins talk in just exactly that way, and for many years the world listened to them and believed what they said. Their talk was about like the song of the robin, only not 10 per cent as musical. They were opposed to the “educated” woman, and most of all to the woman’s college. There are still some of these pessimists left. I thought of one in particular as one by one those girls stood up to receive their diplomas—and the robin flew away in disgust. Woman can never again be set aside as a slave or underling or inferior partner of man. She has a right to the best there is in life. Some of those who read this will say, “What will become of farming if our country women get the idea that they are entitled to education and culture, as others are?” Farming will be better off than ever before, because when our women get this idea firmly in mind we shall all proceed to demand the things which will enable us to give opportunity to every country girl.
Of all the wonderful changes in the past 25 years, few have been so remarkable as the growth of opportunity for women. The full ballot is now to be given them, and the war opened many a door of industry. Those doors cannot be shut. They have lost their hinges. A new element is coming into business and political life. I do not think we need new development of science or mechanical skill half as much as we need vision, poetry and the finer imagination. It must be said that while man alone has done wonders in developing material power he has failed to combine it with spiritual power. That is what we need today more than anything else, and I think the finely educated women are to bring it. I was thinking about this all through that great day. Suppose my daughter and the 200 other graduates had all been trained as lawyers, doctors, business women, etc.; would they really benefit the world more than they will now do with broad, strong culture and with minds stored with the best that literature can give them? I doubt it. No matter what they may do hereafter, their lives and their influence will be strong for this sort of training. I can hardly think of any better missionary to go into a country neighborhood to live than one of these hopeful, trained and useful young women. Mother selected the college for her daughter before that young person was out of her cradle. I thought some more practical training would be better, but I never had a chance to argue. I now conclude that Mother was right. She knew what she was doing, and evidently sized up the spirit of her own flesh and blood. If you ask me what I think is the finest thing about a college education I can quickly tell you. It is having a son or daughter go through a great college with credit and come out wholly unspoiled by the process. It seems to me that most people use the college as a trading place in life. They bring away from it knowledge and culture, but they leave behind too much of youth, too much of the plain home life, too much of the simple, homely, kindly things which the world needs and longs for. So that we may all pardon Mother her pride and satisfaction as she looks down upon this big girl in cap and gown and knows that her daughter has mastered the course at a great college and still remains her daughter, with a sane and fine understanding of her relations to the home and to society.
Ideals are what count. One of the most beautiful ceremonies of this commencement was the placing of the laurel chain. The senior class, dressed in white, marched to the grave where lies the founder of the college, carrying a great chain or wreath of laurel. While the students sang, these seniors draped the laurel around the little fence which enclosed the grave. It was as if the youngest daughter of the college had come to pay reverence to the founder. A beautiful ceremony, and after it was over I went back and copied the inscription on one side of the little monument. I have seen nothing finer as a message to educated youth.
“There is nothing in the universe that I fear but that I shall not know all my duty or shall fail to do it.”
The other day a city man came to the farm after apples. He loaded up his car and, rendered good-natured by eating three mellow Baldwins, he proceeded to tell us where farmers were behind the times. It is a pleasure for many city men to do this and the average farmer good-naturedly listens, always glad to have his customers enjoy themselves. This man said he wondered why farmers have never organized properly so as to defend and control their business. It is quite easy for a man of large affairs to see what could be done if all the farmers could get together in a great business organization.
“The trouble with you folks is that you don’t know how to do team work,” said my city friend. “Suppose there are twelve million farmers in the country. Suppose they all joined and organized and pledged by all they hold sacred to each put up $5.00 every month as a working fund. Suppose they hired the greatest organizing brain in the country and instructed its owner and carrier to go to it. It would simply mean world control by the most patient and deserving class on earth. Why don’t you do it?”
That’s the way your city business man talks, and he cannot understand why our farmers do not promptly carry out the plan. Of course that word “suppose” takes the bottom out of most facts, but it is hard for the business man to realize why farmers have not been able to do full team work. This man said that large business enterprises in the city were controlled by boards of directors. There might be men on the board who personally hated each other with all the intensity of business hatred. Yet when it came to a matter of business policy for the company they all got together and put the proposition through. He said it was different with a farmer, who if he had trouble with his neighbor over a line fence would not under any circumstances vote for him even if he stood for a sound business proposition.
That is the way many of these city men feel. It is largely a matter of ignorance through not understanding country conditions. Those of us who spend our lives among the hills can readily understand why it is hard for a farmer to surrender a large share of his individuality and put it into the contribution box of society. Many of us, I fear, would dodge or cheat the contribution box in church unless we felt we were under the watchful eye of our wives. Possibly we shall contribute more freely to society now that our wives and daughters have the privilege of voting. When a man has lived his life among brick and stone with ancestors who have been constantly warned to “keep off the grass” he comes to be incapable of understanding what is probably the greatest problem of American society. That is the effort to keep our country people contented and feeling that they are getting a fair share of life, so that they will continue cheerfully to feed and clothe the world. You cannot convince a man unless you can understand his language or read his thought. One of the worst misfortunes of the present day is the fact that city and country have grown apart, so that they have no common language.
Those of us who live close to Nature realize that in order to know the truth we must find
“Tongues in trees, Books in running Brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
The trouble with the city man is that he has been denied the blessed privilege of studying that way. Therefore, if you would make him know why in the past it has been so difficult for farmers to organize thoroughly you must go to the primary motives of life and not to the high school.
When our first brood of children were small, I thought it well to give them an early lesson in organization. There were four children, and as Spring came upon us there was a great desire to start a garden. So we proceeded in the most orderly manner to organize the Hope Farm Garden Association. We had a constitution and full set of rules and by-laws. These stated the full duties of all the officers, but somehow we forgot to provide for the plain laborers. The largest boy was President and the smaller boy was Vice-President. My little girl was Secretary, and the other girl Treasurer. It was an ideal arrangement, for each one held an important office, and all were directors. I had a piece of land plowed and harrowed. I bought seeds and tools and the Association voted to start the garden at once. They started under directions of the President and I went up the hill to work in the orchard. It proved to be a case where the controlling director should have remained on the job. Halfway up the hill I glanced back and saw the Hope Farm Garden Association headed for the rocks. The President and Vice-President were fighting and the Treasurer and Secretary were crying. No one was working except the black hen, and she was industriously eating up the seeds.
I came back to save the Association if possible and the Secretary ran to meet me with the minutes of the meeting on her cheeks. Her hands had been in the soil and she had succeeded in transferring a portion of it to her face. Through this deposit the tears had forced their way in a track as crooked as the course of the Delaware River, in its effort to carve the outline of a human face on the western coast of New Jersey. The poor little Secretary came up the lane with the old industrial cry which has come down to us out of the ages, tearing apart the efforts of men to combine and improve their condition.
“Oh! Father, don’t the President have to work?”
The minutes of the meeting clearly revealed the trouble. It seemed that the President of the Association made the broad claim that his duty consisted simply in being President. There was nothing in the constitution about his working. Of course, a dignified President could not perform manual labor. The Secretary followed with the claim that her duty was to write in a book; how could she do that if she worked? Then came the Treasurer proving by the by-laws that her duty was to hold the money; if she tried to work at the same time she might lose the cash. So naturally she could not work. Thus it happened that there was no laborer left except the Vice-President. He had resigned and the President was trying to accept his resignation in italics.
These were the same children who had settled a debate on the previous Sunday afternoon. The question was whether they would rather have the minister read his sermon or talk off-hand. The vote was 3 to 1 in favor of having him read it. The prevailing argument was that when the minister read his sermon he knew when he got through. The one negative vote was passed on the hope that when he talked off-hand he might be a little off-head, forget one or two pages and thus get through sooner. You may learn from that one reason why it has been so hard in the past for certain farmers to organize.
And one reason why there has grown up an industrial advantage in the town and city may perhaps be learned from another sermon in stones. Some years ago we had two boys on the farm. Largely in order to keep them busy their mother made a bargain with them to wash windows. They were to be paid so much for each window properly cleaned. Of course their mother supposed that the work would be done in the good old-fashioned way of scrubbing the glass by hand with a wet cloth. The object was more to keep them busy than to have any skilled work performed. One boy was a patient plodding character who did not object seriously to hand labor. He took a cloth and a pail of hot water and slowly and carefully rubbed off the glass in the old-fashioned way. The other boy never did like to work and after some thought he went to the neighbor’s and borrowed a small hand-pump with a hose and fine nozzle. He filled this with hot water with the soap dissolved in it and sprayed his windows with the hot mixture. He got them just as clean as the other boy did, but he did three windows while his companion was doing one. Then there arose an argument as to whether this boy with the pump should be paid the same price per window as the other boy who did the work by hand. These boys both went to the Sunday school and the boy with the pump was able to refer to the parable of the man who hired the workmen at different hours during the day. When they came to settle up the men who had worked all day grumbled because they got no more than the men who had worked half a day. The answer of the boss applied to this window washing. “Did I not agree with thee for a penny?”
Now in a way the city man with his advantage in labor is not unlike the boy with the pump. The city workman has been able to take advantage of many industrial developments of much machinery which has not yet reached the country. Some day there will be an adjustment and then the countryman will have his inning.
Some years ago I spent the night with a farmer far back in a country neighborhood. After supper he described in great detail a plan he had evolved for organizing all American farmers in one great and powerful body. His plan was complete and he had worked out every detail except one which he did not seem to think essential. I looked out of the window through the dark night and saw a light far down the road. Some neighbor was at home. I thought it a good time for action.
“There,” I said, “is a chance to start this big scheme of yours. Down the road I see the light from your neighbor’s window. Put on your hat, take the hired man and your boys and we will go right down there and organize the first chapter of this organization. No time like the present.”
The farmer’s face clouded. “Why, I haven’t spoken, to that man for three years. He would not keep up the line fence and I had to go to law and make him do it.”
I looked out of the window once more and saw another light to the north of us dimly visible in the darkness. “Well, then let us go to this other neighbor. I saw several men there as I came by.”
“That man! I wouldn’t trust him with fifty cents, and he would be sure to elect himself Treasurer.”
“Well, far across the pasture I see still another light. Shall we go there?”
“No, that man doesn’t know enough to go in the house when it rains.”
The farmer’s wife looked up from her sewing as if to speak, but the man answered for her.
“Oh, the women meet at the sewing circle and church, and while they talk about each other they keep together and do things for the neighborhood, but somehow the men folks don’t get on.”
Yet here was a man who planned to bring all the farmers of the country together and yet could not organize his own neighborhood, because men were kept apart by little prejudices and fancied wrongs. The women combined because they knew enough to realize that these petty things were non-essential, while the great community things could only be remembered by forgetting the meanness of every-day life.
Your city men will smile at this sermon in stones, and say that those farmers never can forget their differences and organize. Yet city life is worse yet. Many a man lives for years within a foot of his neighbor, yet never knows him. There may be only a brick wall between the two families, yet they might as well be 10 miles apart, so far as any community feeling is concerned. If dwellers on any block in the city could combine as a renting or buying association they would quickly settle the High Cost of Living burden, but while their interests are all in common they are unable to play the part of real neighbors. Farmers are coming to it largely through their women and children and the great National Farm Organization is by no means impossible for the future.
THE FACE OF LIBERTY
I suppose every person of middle age wears a mask. It is his face, and as the years go by it settles into an expression of the man’s chief aim in life, if he can be said to have one. That is why a shrewd observer can usually tell much of a man’s character by looking keenly in his face and observing him under excitement. One of the most observing dairymen I know of says he can tell the quality of a cow by looking at her face. I notice that the expert hen men who select birds for the poultry contest spend considerable time looking at the hen’s eye and face! There she seems to show whether she is a bad egg or a good one! Lady Macbeth put it well when she said to her terrified husband:
“Your face, my thane, is as a book
Where men may read strange matters.”
We all go about wearing a mask, and those who care how they look may well ask how the mask is made.
I once roomed with a young man who used to get before a mirror and practise a smile and a laugh. He was a commercial traveler, and thought it paid him to laugh at the jokes and smile as he talked. So he trained the muscles of his face and throat into a machine-made twist and noise which represented his stock in trade! He wore a mask. I have heard people say that the face powders and massage and tricks of rolling the eyes about gave them a mask of beauty. Not long ago I talked with a great business man who had simply given his life up to the accumulation of property. He had succeeded, but this success had stamped his face with a mask as hard and flinty as steel. This man sat and told me that a good share of his money had been made by his ability to read character in the face. When he found a man showing indecision or fear in his features this man knew he could handle him as he saw fit. He claimed that thought or sentiment had little to do with it; it was simply what a man did or did not do which made the mask of life. As for this theory that character or sentiment “light a candle behind the face and illuminate it,” he said that was simply “poetic nonsense.” “If a woman wanted to be thought beautiful after she got to be forty she must rub the beauty in from the outside.”
This seemed to me a mighty cynical theory, for the most beautiful women I know of are over fifty and never use anything but soap and water to “rub the beauty in.” They wear a mask which seems like concentrated sunshine, and it comes from within. Yet my friend sat there and spoke with all the conviction of a man who has only to write his name on a piece of paper to bring a million dollars to support his word. And he had come to think that is about the only support worth having. I asked him if he had ever read Hawthorne’s story of “The Old Stone Face.” No, he had never heard of it before—had no time for fiction or dreaming. So I told him the story briefly; of the boy who grew up among the hills, within sight of the “old stone face.” This was a great rock on the side of a high mountain. The wind and the storm had slowly eaten it away until, when viewed from a certain angle, it bore a rude resemblance to a human face. It was a stern, gloomy, thoughtful face, and it seemed to this boy to have been carved out of the rock by the very hand of God to show the world an ideal of power and majesty on the human countenance. To most of the neighbors it was merely “the old man of the mountain”—merely a common rock with an accidental shape. But this boy grew up to manhood believing in his heart that God had put on the lonely mountain his ideal of the mask of noble human character. And the boy went through life thinking that if he could only find a human being with a face like that on the mountain he would find a great man—one carrying in his life a great message to mankind. And so, whenever he heard of any great statesman or poet or preacher appearing anywhere within reach this man traveled to see him in the hope of finding the mask of the “stone face” upon the celebrity. He was always disappointed. These great men all showed on their faces the marks of dissipation or pride or some weakness of character, along with their power. He would come back and look up at the face on the mountain—always showing the same calm dignity and strength whether the happy June sunshine played over it, or whether the January storm bit at its rude features. So this man lived his simple life and died—disappointed because he had never been able to find God’s ideal character worked out in a human face! One by one men who were considered great came to the valley, only to disappoint him, but finally, after long years of waiting and searching, the neighbors suddenly found that their friend, who had carried the ideal so long in his heart, also carried on his face the nobility and grandeur of the figure on the mountain. Search for the ideal in others had brought it home to his own life.
To my surprise, the rich and strong man who, I supposed, had no poetry or sentiment in his heart, listened attentively and nodded his head.
“I have seen that stone face in the White Mountains. Your story of course is a mere fancy. There might have been some idle dreamer to whom that happened. I will not deny it, because I know of a case which is somewhat in the same line. I confess that I would not believe it had I not seen it myself.”
So he told his story, and I give it as nearly as possible in his own words:
“It must have been fifteen years ago that I was returning from a business trip to Europe. On the boat I met a college man from my city, an expert in modern languages. We were much together on the trip, and one day we went down into the steerage to look over the immigrants. My friend figured that this group of strange human beings talked with him in fifteen different languages or dialects. One family in particular interested me. They were from the south of Poland; a man and woman of perhaps thirty-five, with two little boys. They were of the dull, heavy, ox-like type—mere beasts of burden in their own country. The woman seemed to me just about the plainest, homeliest creature I had ever seen. Low forehead, flat features, small eyes and great mouth, with huge hands and feet, she seemed, beside the dainty women of our own party, like some inferior animal. I offered her a good-sized bill—they looked as if they needed it—but the woman just pulled her two black-eyed boys closer to her and refused to take it.
“They passed out of my mind, until one fine, sunny morning old Sandy Hook seemed to rise up out of the water, and we headed straight for New York Harbor. I stood with my college friend in front, looking down upon the steerage passengers as they crowded forward to get their first view of America. Strangely enough that little Polish family that had interested me stood right below us, and my friend could hear what they were saying. The ship crawled up the harbor, past Staten Island, and then came to the Statue of Liberty. Most of us have become so familiar with this bronze beauty that we do not even glance at it. I think her strong, fine face and uplifted torch mean little more than old-time habit to many Americans. Not so with that flat-faced, plain Polish woman. As we came even with the ‘bronze goddess’ this woman tore off the little shawl she had tied around her head, reached out her hand and talked excitedly to her husband. My college friend listened to the conversation and laughed.
“‘What is she saying?’ I asked.
“‘Why, the poor, homely thing is telling her husband that it would be the pride and joy of her life if she could only be as beautiful as that statue—if her face were only like that.’
“‘That is the limit. What is he saying?’
“‘Just like every other husband. He is telling her that to him she is handsomer than the old goddess, and for good measure he tells her that under freedom in America she will come to look like “Miss Liberty.”’
“In all my life I had never heard anything so ridiculous, and I laughed aloud. The little family below us looked up at the sound and saw we were laughing at them. A great shadow fell over their day dream and they were silent until we docked, though I noticed that they stood hand in hand all the way. The story seemed so good that I told it everywhere, and it was called the standard joke of the season.
“It faded out of mind and I never thought of it again until about ten years later one of the foremen in the factory died suddenly. I asked the manager who should be put in his place.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘there is a man out in the shop just fitted for it. I can’t pronounce his name, but I will bring him in.’
“He did; a great black-haired man who looked me right in the eye as I like to have people do.
“‘How long have you been in this country?’ I asked.
“‘Ten years. You may not remember, but I came in the ship with you; in the steerage, with my wife and two boys.’
“It flashed into my mind at once; this was what America had done for the man. I smiled as I thought of the flat-faced woman who wanted to look like the Goddess of Liberty, and the man whose faith in America was such that he told her this dream could come true.
“The man more than made good. It is wonderful how things happen in this country. Those two black-eyed boys were at school with my boy and played on the football team with him. They were all three to go to college together.
“Then you know how, before we entered the war, the women organized to do Red Cross work? One day my wife came home and told me how a Polish woman had made the most wonderful talk before her society. Before we knew it America had entered the war, and we were all at it. You couldn’t keep my boy here. He volunteered the first week after war was declared, and these two black-haired boys belonging to my foreman volunteered with him, and they all went over the sea to fight for America.
“I had not seen their mother, and I was curious to see what she looked like after American competence and success had been rubbed in. We had a big parade in our town during one of the Liberty Loan drives, and there was one division of women who carried service flags. I stood in the window of my club watching the parade, and as it happened within six feet of me on the sidewalk stood John, my foreman. I did not laugh this time, nor was he shamed into silence for what he thought of his wife.
“Oh, how that war did stir up and level the elements of American society! There passed before us in parade, side by side, my wife with a service flag of one star and John’s wife with two stars in her flag! And as they passed they turned and looked at us. My wife told me later that they had been talking as they marched. My wife had asked her comrade if she did not feel dreadfully to think of her two great boys far away in France. And the woman with the flat, homely face had answered:
“‘No, I feel glorified to think that I, the poor immigrant woman, can offer my boys in part payment for what America has done for me and my people.’
“And it was just then that I saw her face. I give you my word that at that moment it was the most beautiful face I ever saw. There was a calm beauty and dignity, a light of joy upon it which made me forget the flat nose, the narrow forehead and the great mouth. They passed on, and John, the foreman, looked up at me. We were both thinking the same thing, master and man though we were. I couldn’t reach him with my hand, but I did say:
“‘John, she has had her life wish. She has come to look like the Goddess of Liberty. It was a miracle.’
“And John answered in his slow, thoughtful way:
“‘No, not a miracle—always she has had that great spirit in her heart; always that great love in her soul. She has kept that love and spirit pure all through these hard years, and now at the great sacrifice it shone out through her face. Said I not right that my wife would come to be the most beautiful woman on earth?’”
My friend told the story in a matter-of-fact way, and then fell into a silence. I did not ask him how he reconciled this experience with his statement that beauty is rubbed in from the outside. It wasn’t worth while; we both knew better. The face of mature years is a mask. It is the candle behind it that gives it character and beauty.
CAPTAIN RANDALL’S HOUR
Uncle Isaac Randall was the last Grand Army man in our town. All the other old comrades had passed on. As a boy I used to try to imagine what “the last Grand Army man” would be like. Poets and artists have tried to picture him, but when he actually appears you know how far the real must travel to reach the ideal. For poet and artist would have us look upon some calm, dignified man, carried by the wings of great achievement far above the mean and petty things of life which surround us like a thick fog in a narrow valley. For that, I fear, is what most of us find life to be unless the memory of some great sacrifice or some great devotion can lift our heads up into the perpetual sunshine. Those who knew Uncle Isaac saw little of the hero about him. He was just a little, thin, nervous man, very deaf, irritable and disappointed. No one can play the part of a deaf man with any approach to success unless he be a genuine philosopher, and Uncle Isaac was unfitted by nature for that. Sometimes in Summer, when the sun went down, you would see the old man standing in the barn looking off to the crimson West, over the purpling hills where the shadows came creeping up from the valley. A man with some poetry and philosophy would have seen in the darkening notch where the hills gave way, to let the road pass through, an approach to the beautiful gate through which wife and children and old comrades had passed on, to wait for him beyond the hills. But Uncle Isaac was cursed with that curiosity which is the torture of the deaf—he saw the hired man up on the hill talking to the neighbor’s boy, and his burning desire was to know what they were talking about as they stood in the twilight.
The Great War came, and Uncle Isaac’s two grandsons volunteered. Before they shipped overseas they came back to the farm—very trim and natty in their brown uniforms. It irritated the old man to think that these boys—hardly more than babies—hardly to be trusted to milk a kicking cow—should be sent to fight America’s battles. And those little rifles! They were not much better than popguns, compared with his old army musket. The old man took the gun down from the nail where it had hung for years. He had kept it polished, and the lock with its percussion cap was still working. He would show these young sniffs what real warfare meant. So they went out in the pasture—the old soldier carrying his musket, carefully loaded with a round bullet—pushed in with the iron ramrod. In order to show these boy soldiers what real warfare might be, the old man sighted the musket over the fence and aimed at a board about 300 yards away. The bullet went at least five feet wide, while the old musket kicked back so hard that Uncle Isaac winced with the pain. Then one of the boys quietly raised his “popgun” and aimed at a bush at least half a mile away across the valley. In a fraction of a minute he fired half a dozen bullets which tore up the ground all around that bush. Then the boys hung one of their brown uniforms on the fence across the pasture, and put Grandpa’s old blue coat beside it. You could hardly distinguish the brown coat against the background, while the blue coat stood out like a target. It was hard for the old man to realize that both he and his musket belonged to a vanished past. The boys looked at the gun and at Grandpa marching home—trying to throw his old shoulders back into military form—and smiled knowingly at each other as youth has ever done in the pride of its power. They could not see—who of us ever can see?—the spiritual forces of patriotism which walked beside the old man, waiting for the time to show their power.
The weeks went by, and day by day Grandpa read his paper with growing indignation. You remember how for months the army in France seemed to stand still before that great “Hindenburg line” which stretched out like an iron wall in front of Germany. It seemed to Uncle Isaac as if his boys and the rest of the army were cowards—afraid to march up to the line and fight. One day he threw down his paper and expressed himself fully, as only an old soldier can.
“I told you those boys never would fight. At the Battle of the Wilderness Lee had a line of defense twice as strong as this Hindenburg ever had. Did General Grant sit still and wait for something to happen? Not much!
“‘Forward by the left flank!’
“That was the order, and we went forward. Don’t you know what he said at Fort Donelson? ‘I propose to move on your works at once.’ If General Grant was in France that’s what he’d say, and within an hour you’d see old Hindenburg coming out to surrender! My regiment fought all day against a regiment from North Carolina. I’ll tell you what! Let me have my old regiment and that North Carolina regiment alongside and I’ll guarantee that we will break right through that Hindenburg line, march right across the Rhine, hog-tie the Kaiser and bring him back with us.”
“But, father,” said his daughter gently, “don’t you remember what Harry writes? They don’t fight that way now. The cannon must open a way first. Harry says they fire shells so large and powerful that when they strike the ground they make a hole so large you could put the barn into it. Suppose one of these big shells struck in the middle of your regiment?”
“I don’t care,” said Uncle Isaac. “We’d start, anyway! We’d move on those breastworks and take our chances!”
And mother wrote about it to her boys in the army over in France. The young fellows laughed at the thought of those old white-haired men, with their antiquated weapons, lined up before the death-dealing power of Germany. It seemed such a foolish thing to youth. The letter finally came to the grey-haired colonel of the regiment—an elderly man who had in some way held his army place in the ocean of youth which surrounded him. His eyes were moist as he read it, for he knew that if that group of wasted, white-haired men had lined up in front of the army they would not have been alone. Down the aisles of history would have come a throng of old heroes—the spirit of the past would have stood with them. They would have stilled the laughter, and if these old veterans had started forward the whole great army would have thrown off restraint, broken orders and followed them through the “Hindenburg line.”
But Uncle Isaac, at home, humiliated and sad, went about the farm with something like a prayer in his old heart.
“Why can’t I do something to help? Don’t make me know my fighting days are over. What can I do?”
And Uncle Isaac finally had his chance. Perhaps you remember how at one time during the war things seemed dark enough. Our boys were swarming across the ocean, and submarines were watching for them. Food was scarce. Frost and storm had turned against us. Money was flowing out like water. Spies and German sympathizers were poisoning the public mind, and the Liberty Loan campaign was lagging. Uncle Isaac, reading it all day by day in his paper, felt like a man in prison galled to the soul by his inability to help. There came a big patriotic meeting at the county town. It was a factory town with many European laborers. They were restless and uneasy, opposed to the draft, tired of the war and not yet in full sympathy with America. Uncle Isaac determined to go to this meeting, though his daughter did all she could to dissuade him. There was no stopping him when he once made up his mind, so his daughter let him have his way, but she sent old John Zabriski along with him. Old John was a German Pole who came to this country as a young man out of the German army. He had lived on Uncle Isaac’s farm for years, and just as a cabbage or a tomato plant seems the stronger and better for transplanting, so this transplanted European in the soil of this country had grown into the noblest type of American. So the daughter, standing in the farmhouse door with eyes that were a little dimmed, watched these two old men drive away to the meeting.
They had the speaker’s stand in front of the court house. The street was packed with a great crowd. Right in front was a group of sullen, defiant foreigners who had evidently come for trouble. The sheriff was afraid of them, and inside the court house out of sight, but ready for instant service, was a squad of soldiers. A young man who was running for the Legislature caught sight of Uncle Isaac and led him through the court house to the speaker’s platform, and John went, too, as bodyguard. The old veteran sat there in his blue coat and hat with the gold braid, unable to hear a word, but full of the spirit which had come down to him from the old days.
Something was wrong. Even Uncle Isaac could see that, and John Zabriski beside him looked grave and anxious. That solid group of rough men in front began to sway back and forth like the movement of water when the high wind blows over it, and a sullen murmur, growing louder, came from the crowd. A small, effeminate-looking man was making a speech. Very likely his ancestors came originally to this country two centuries ago, but somewhere back in the years this man’s forebears had made a fortune. Instead of serving as a tool to spur the family on to finer things it had been spread out like a soft cushion to carry them through life without a bruise or bump. And these rough men, whose life had been all bruise and turmoil, knew that this soft little American was here talking platitudes when he should have been over in France. Perhaps you have never heard the angry murmur of a sullen crowd grow into a roar of rage, until the crowd becomes like a wild beast. The sheriff had heard this, and he was frankly frightened. He started a messenger back into the court house to notify the soldiers, but old John Zabriski stopped him.
“Wait,” he said, “do not that. You lose those men by fighting. We gain them.”
Then, before anyone could stop him, old John stepped up in front and barked out strange words which seemed like a command. Then a curious thing happened. The angry murmur stilled. The crowd stopped its movement, and then every man stood at attention! Almost every man there had in former years served in one of the European armies, and what old John had barked at them was the old army command which had been drilled into them years before. And through force of habit which had become instinct, that order, for the moment, changed that mob into an army of attentive soldiers. The bandmaster was a man of imagination, and as quickly as his men could catch up their instruments they began playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Poor old Uncle Isaac heard nothing of this. He could only guess what it was all about until John Zabriski laboriously wrote on a piece of paper:
“Dey blay der Shtar Banner!”
Then there came into Uncle Isaac’s sad life the great, glorious joy of power and opportunity. He walked down to the front of the stage, took off his gold-braided hat and bowed his white head before them all. And old John Zabriski, the transplanted European, came and stood at his side. A young woman, dressed all in white, caught up a flag and came and stood beside the two old men. Then a wounded soldier with one empty sleeve pinned to his breast followed her. And there in that sunlit street a great, holy silence fell over that vast crowd. For there before them on that platform stood the glory, the pride, the precious legacy of American history. The last Grand Army man, the European peasant made over into an American, and the young people who represented the promise and hope shining in the legacy which men like Uncle Isaac and John Zabriski have given them.
When the band stopped playing a mighty cheer went up from that great crowd, and one by one the men of that sullen group in front took off their hats and joined in the cheering. They made Uncle Isaac get up again and again to salute, and no less a person than Judge Bradley shook both hands and said:
“We all thank you, Captain Randall. You have saved this great meeting and made this town solidly patriotic.” It was a proud old soldier who marched into the farmhouse kitchen that night, and in answer to his daughter’s questioning eyes he said:
“Annie, I want you to write those boys all about it. Tell ’em they are not doing it all. Tell ’em Judge Bradley called me cap’n and said I saved the meeting. I only wish General Grant could have been there!”
All of which goes to show that those of you who have come to white hair should not feel that you are out of the game yet. Material things may go by us, but the spirit of the good old days is still the last resort!
This is the one night of the year for reading “Snow Bound.” Every man with New England blood in his veins should read Whittier’s poem at least once a year. That becomes as much of a habit as eating baked beans and fishballs. For two days now the storm has roared over our hills and shut us in. It must have been on just such a night as this that Emerson wrote:
“The sled and traveler stopped; the courier’s feet
Delayed; all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.”
Of course, Emerson lived at a time when the telephone and the electric light and the steam-heated house were dreams too obscure even for his great mind to comprehend. So, in spite of this fearful storm, the strong arm of the electric current still reaches our house, and while the telephone is slow, we can get our message through, after a fashion. But we are shut in. The car and the truck are useless tonight. The horses stamp contentedly in the barn—not troubling about the head-high drifts which are piled along the roadway. A bad night for a fire or for a hurry call for the doctor; but why worry about that as we sit here before the fire?
I got my copy of “Snow Bound” in 1872, and I have read the poem at least once each year since, and I have carried it all over the country with me. It is a little shabby now, but somehow that is the way I like to see old friends:
“Shut in from all the world without
We sat the clean winged hearth about,
Content to let the north wind roar
In baffled rage at pane and door,
While the red logs before us beat
The frost-line back with tropic heat.
“Between the andiron’s straddling feet
The mug of cider simmered low,
The apples sputtered in a row
And close at hand the basket stood
With nuts from brown October’s wood.
“What matter how the night behaved?
What matter how the north wind raved?
Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench our hearth fire’s ruddy glow.”
There is no finer picture of the old-time Northern farm home, and we Yankees are bound to think that with all her faults New England did in those days set the world an example of what a farm home ought to be. So I lay aside the book and look about me to see how close New Jersey can come on this fearful night to matching this old-time picture.
Here we are before the fire. Great logs of apple wood are blazing up into the black chimney. In Whittier’s day the open fire produced all the light, but here we have our electric light blazing, and I think as I sit here how miles away the great engines are working to send the current far up among the lonely hills to our home. For supper we had a thick tomato soup, a big dish of cornmeal mush—the grain ground in our little grinder—pot cheese, entire wheat bread and butter, baked apples and all the milk we could drink. Just run that over and see if it does not furnish as fine a balanced ration and as good a lot of vitamines as any $2 dinner in New York—and nearly 80 per cent of it was produced on this farm. Now the girls have washed the dishes and planned breakfast, and here we are. Mother sits in the first choice of seats before the fire. That is where she belongs. She is mending a pair of stockings, and as her fingers fly, no doubt she is thinking of those warmer days back in Mississippi. My daughter has just put a new record into her Victrola. The music comes softly to us—“Juanita.”
“Soft o’er the fountain
Lingering falls the Southern moon.”
I wonder what Whittier’s folks would have said to that! Two of the little girls are looking over some music, trying to get the air in “I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls!” There is no “frost line” in this house for the fire to drive back, for there is a good hot-water radiator in the corner. The pipe from the spring seems to have frozen, but the faithful old windmill, standing over the well at the barn, has stretched out its arms to catch this roaring gale and make it carry the water up to the tank. Thomas and three of the boys are playing parchesi, while the rest of the company give them all advice about playing from time to time. I have a big chair by the corner of the fireplace—where grandfather is supposed to sit—and little Rose is curled up on my lap eating an apple. I wish you were here. We could easily make room for you right in front of the fire, and we would surely call on you for a new story.
The wind is howling on the outside. As we sit here in comfort there comes an eager, pitiful face at the window pleading to be taken in. No, it is not the old story of the wayward child coming back to the lights of home. The nearest we can come to that at Hope Farm is the black cat with the dash of white at her face and throat. She and her tribe are expected to stay at the barn and catch rats, but there she is out in the cold looking in at the window. Mother is as stern as a Spartan mother when it comes to cats in the house. She will not have them there. But, after all, they are Hope Farm folks, and the little girls plead so hard that the good lady looks the other way when the baby opens the door. In comes the black cat and, though they were not invited, three of her brothers and sisters run in with her! So now I shall sit with little Rose on my lap, while on her lap is a cushion on which the white-faced kitty purrs contentedly. In the original “Snow Bound” the mug of cider simmered between the andirons. No hot drinks for us. A little of that cold pasteurized apple juice goes well. We see no use in cooking apples before the fire. There is that big basket of Baldwins by the table. Help yourself—we like them cold. Cherry-top was ahead in the game, but Thomas has just taken his leading “man” and sent him back to the starting point. The boy is a good sport. He takes a big bite out of a fresh Baldwin and goes after them again. The nearest we can come to “nuts from brown October’s wood” is a big bag of roasted peanuts. We have all been eating them and throwing the hulls at the fire. They have accumulated so that Mother’s idea of neatness compels her to get up and brush them all into the blaze. I did not tell you that we are starting up our little Florida farm again. Jack will grow a crop of sugar cane and peanuts.
And so, here in New Jersey, as well as in old-time New England, we care not how the wind blows or how the storm roars. This is home, and we are satisfied with it—all of us, from the white-faced kitty up to the Hope Farm man. We have all worked to make this home. It is a co-operative affair. None of us could be called rich or great, yet nothing could ever buy what we see in our big fire. Every now and then Mother looks up from her work and glances across the room at me with a smile. I know what she has in mind. Some of us rise to the power of animals in our ability to communicate thought without words. Life has been very much of a fight with us, but it seems worth while as we look at this big room full of eager young people, content and happy with the simple things of life. As little Rose snuggles up closer to me and pulls the kitty with her I begin to think of some of the complaining fault-finding people I know. I do know some star performers at the job of pitying themselves and magnifying their own troubles. On a night like this I will wager an apple that they are pouring out the gloom and trouble like a man tipping over a barrel of cold water. It’s their rheumatism or their debts or the Administration or the Republican party, or something else that they hold responsible for their troubles. I wish I could have some of those fellows here tonight, and also some of you folks who know the joy of looking on the bright side. We would do our best to rub some of the gloom out of them. I will guarantee that any one of us could, if we wanted to, tell the truth about our own troubles so that these gloomy individuals would look like “pikers” in their poor little self-pity! I would like to read extracts from two new books to them. One is “A Labrador Doctor,” by W. T. Grenfell; the other, “The Great Hunger,” by John Bojer.
I have just been reading these books, and I shall read them over again. Dr. Grenfell has given his life to service in the far North among the fishermen of Labrador. A man of his ability could easily have gained fame and wealth by practising his profession in some great city. He went where he was most needed—into the cold, lonely places where humanity hungers and suffers for help. It has always seemed to me just about the noblest thing in life for a man of great natural ability to gain what science and education can give him and carry that great gift out to those who need it most. Grenfell did that, and this modest story of his life is wonderful to anyone who can get the message. I have always thought that the greatest teachers and preachers and wise men generally are not so much needed in the big cities as in the lonely country places. The city owes all it has in men and money to the country, but it will seldom acknowledge the gift. The city itself is able to offer as a gift knowledge, science and training. Yet those who receive this gift desire for the most part to remain in the city, when they should carry their gift out into the lonely and hard places where the city must finally go for strength. The storm seems hard tonight, but it is a mere zephyr to the Winters which Dr. Grenfell’s people endure. I wish I could tell you some of the wonderful things which have happened in that lonely land. At one place the doctor found a girl dying of typhoid. There was no way of saving her, and as soon as she was buried it was necessary to burn the rude bunk and the straw in which she lay. They carried it to the top of a hill and built a fire. For several days one of the fishing boats had been lost at sea in the fog, and had been given up for lost with all on board. The despairing men in that boat—far out at sea—saw the light when that hideous bed was burned and were able to get to land! Some of you self-pitying people ought to read how Dr. Grenfell organized a little orphans’ home to care for the little waifs of this lonely place. In one case a little girl of four, while her father was away hunting, crawled out into the snow, so that both legs were badly frozen. Gangrene set in halfway to the knee, and the father actually chopped both legs off to save her life! Think of such a child in the frozen North. I think of her as little Rose hugs the kitty close. Dr. Grenfell took this child, operated on her, obtained artificial legs, and now she can run about like other children. I wish I could tell you more about this book. At one time two men came together after medicine. One took a bottle of cough mixture, the other a strong turpentine liniment for a sprained knee. By mistake they mixed up the medicine. One rubbed the cough medicine on his knee, the other drank the liniment. If I had some fellow who thinks the Lord has put a special curse on him before our fire tonight I would tell him what others have endured. The chances are we could make him contribute something to the cause before we were done with him.
The other book I mentioned, “The Great Hunger,” is a story of Norwegian life and, as I think, very powerful. A boy born to poverty and disgrace grew up with a great hunger in his heart—he knew not what it was. He felt that power and material wealth would bring him the happiness he sought. He gained education, power, wealth and love, yet still the great hunger tortured him. Poverty, sickness, the deepest sorrow fell upon him, and at last the great hunger was satisfied by doing a needed service for the man who had done him the most hideous wrong! I wish I could tell you more about it. It is a powerful book; but it is time for little Rose to go to bed. Off she goes with a hug for all, and the children follow her one by one. I am not going to put more logs on that fire. Let it die down. The end of the day has come. Let the storm howl through the night like a pack of wolves at the door. They cannot get at us. Even if they did they can never destroy the memory of this night.
The other day the papers announced the death of the ex-Empress Eugénie. She lingered along, feeble and half-blind, until she was nearly 95 years old. She has been called “the Queen of Sorrows,” for few other women have lived a sadder life. Very few of this generation knew or cared anything about her. I presume most of our young people skipped the details of her life as given in the papers. Yet when I was a boy, shortly before the war between France and Germany, the women of the world regarded this sad empress as the great model of beauty and fashion. I suppose it would be hard for women in these days to realize how this beautiful empress dictated to people in every land how they should arrange their hair and wear their dresses. At that time most women wore their hair in short nets bunched just below the neck, and it was the age of “hoopskirts”—most of them, as it seemed, four to five feet wide. Just how this woman managed to put her ideas of fashion into the imagination of her sisters I never could understand. From the big city to the little backwoods hamlet women were studying to see what “Ugeeny” advised them to wear. I have often wondered if in her last days the poor, blind, feeble woman remembered those days of power.
Her death brings to mind an incident that had long been forgotten. I had been sent to one of the neighbors to borrow some milk, since our cow was dry. In those days, any caller—even a little boy—was like a pond in which one went fishing for compliments. The woman of the house, an immense, fat creature, with the shape of a barrel, a short, thick neck and a round moon face, had arrayed herself in glad clothes of the latest style—several years, I imagine, behind Paris. She wore an immense hoopskirt, which gave her the appearance of walking inside of a hogshead. Her hair was parted in the middle and brought down beside her wide face to be caught in a net just below her ears. I know so little and care so much less about style in clothes that I can remember in detail only two costumes that I have ever seen women wear. This outfit is one of them.
“This is just what Ugeeny is wearing,” said the fat lady as she poured out the milk. “You can tell your aunt that you have seen one lady dressed just like Paris.”
It did not strike me as very impressive, but I was glad to have the experience.
“You can tell her, too, that a very fine gentleman came here today and said I looked enough like Ugeeny to be her half-sister—dressed as I am now. He has been in Paris, too.”
“It was a book agent,” put in her husband, “and sold her a book on the strength of that yarn. Say, Mary, you don’t look any more like Ugeeny than old Spot does—and you don’t need to.”
“The trouble with you, John Drake, is that you have no idea of beauty.”
“I know it. I may not have any soul, but I’ve got a stomach, and I know that you can make the best doughnuts and Indian pudding ever made in Bristol County. That’s more than Ugeeny ever did, or ever can do. You are worth three of her for practical value to the world, and I think you a handsome woman—but you can’t look like her, because you haven’t got the shape, and I’m glad of it.”
But where was there ever a woman who could be satisfied with such evident truth, and who did not reach out after the impossible? She turned to old Grandpa, who sat back in the corner, away from the light.
“Now, Grandpa, you seen a lot of the world. What do you say? Don’t I look like Ugeeny?”
Old Grandpa nodded his white head and looked at her critically.
“You’re in her class, Mary—that’s what I’ll say—you’re in her class!”
“You’re in her class,” repeated Grandpa. “The people in this world are divided into two classes—strung together like beads on different strings. Some strings are like character, others like looks or shape or thinking or maybe meanness. You can’t get out of your class—for the Lord organized it and teaches it. You look at me; I’m in the class with some of the finest men that ever lived on earth!”
“Now, Mary, see what you’ve done,” said John Drake. “You’ve got Grandpa started on that class business. He’s worse than Ugeeny.”
But Grandpa went right ahead. “Ain’t I in the class with the old and new prophets? Here I have for years been telling what is coming to the world. Folks won’t always be down as they are now. My wife killed herself carrying water and fuel to get up vittles and keep the house clean. Some day or ’nuther every farmhouse will have water and heat and light right inside. There’ll be power to do all this heavy work. In those days farmers will be kings.”
The old man’s face lighted up as he talked.
“You don’t believe me now, but it will all come. I’m out ahead of the crowd. So was Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner on the slavery question. Folks hooted at them, laughed them down and did all they could to stop their ideas. But you can’t stop one of these ideas when there’s a man back of it. Those men lived to see what the world called fool notions made into wisdom. They just had visions which don’t come to common men. That’s what I’ve got now, and what I ask is, Ain’t I in their class?”
“If I was in your place I wouldn’t mind, Grandpa,” said Mary, as she shook out that great hoopskirt. “That’s not good talk for boys; it makes them discontented!”
“But that’s why they’ve got to be if the world is going ahead,” put in Grandpa. “What’s the matter with farming today, I’ll ask? Education has all gone to other things. Farmers think the common schools are plenty good enough for farmers, while the colleges are all for lawyers and such like. You mark what I say—some day or ’nuther there will be farm colleges as big as any, where farming will be taught just like lawing or doctoring. Then people will see that farming is agriculture, and the difference between the two will change the world. This Ugeeny doesn’t amount to much as a woman, and I don’t believe this Prince Imperial will ever rule France, but Ugeeny has put women like Mary in her class. These clothes look foolish to me, but every woman who follows Ugeeny in dress gets into her class, and it’s like a schoolgirl passing from one grade to another, for some day they’ll pass out of that hoopskirt and that bob net for their hair and rise up to better things, and it will be Ugeeny that started them. She may be only a painted doll, but she has given the women ideas of beauty and something better than common. Sometime or ’nuther you will see the result of her idle life. That’s why I say Mary’s in Ugeeny’s class. She’s got the vision of beauty and something far ahead of you, John. You are smart and strong, but Mary’s getting class. That hoopskirt and that net are not prisons—they help to set her free.”
“Well, Grandpa,” said John, good-naturedly, “I suppose, according to you, I ought to put on a swallow-tailed coat every time I milk.”
“No; not when you milk, John, but if you shaved every day and put on your best clothes once a day for supper, you would get in the upper class, and carry your boys with you. But I ask this boy here, ain’t I in their class?”
I was sure of it, but just then we heard the horn sounding far down the road. I knew that Uncle Daniel had grown tired of waiting for the milk, so he blew the horn to remind me that I was still in the class of errand boys.
In August of that year I went up on Black Mount after huckleberries, and ran upon Grandpa once more. He sat on a rock resting, while Mary and three children were picking near by. The hill was thick with a tangle of berry vines and briars, with snakes and woodchucks as sole inhabitants. Old Grandpa sat on the rock and waved his stick about.
“In my younger days this hill was a cornfield. I have seen it all in wheat. Farmers let education and money get away, and, of course, the best boys chased out after them. But it won’t always be so. Some day or ’nuther this field will come back. It won’t pay in these coming days to raise huckleberries in this way. They will be raised in gardens like strawberries and raspberries. This hill will have to produce something that is worth more—peaches or apples.”
“But how can they make peaches grow on this sour hill, Grandpa?” asked one of the boys. “There’s a seedling now—10 years old and not four feet high!”
“They will bring in lime for the soil as they will coal in place of wood. I don’t know how it will be done, but some day or ’nuther they will use yeast in the soil as they do in bread to make it come up, and they’ll harness the lightning to ’lectrify it. You wait till these farm colleges give us knowledge. And farmers, too. They won’t always stand back and fight each other and backbite and try to get each other’s hide. Some day or ’nuther grown-up men and women are going to see what life ought to be. They will come together to live, instead of standing apart to die. I may not see it, and people laugh at me for saying what I know must come true. But didn’t they laugh at Columbus? Didn’t they try to kill Galileo? Wasn’t Morse voted a fool? Hasn’t it always been so with the men and women who looked far over the valley and saw the light ahead? And, tell me this: Ain’t I in their class?”
That was 50 years and more ago. I had forgotten it, and yet when I read the headlines announcing the death of Empress Eugénie I had to put the paper down, for there rose before me a picture of that sunny Summer day on the New England hills. On the rock in that lonely pasture sat old Grandpa pointing with his stick far across the rolling valley, far to the shadow on the distant hills, where he knew the immortals were awaiting him—as one who had kept his soul clean and his faith undimmed. I wish I could look across the valley to the distant hills with the sublime hope with which he asked his old question:
“Ain’t I in their class?”
A year or two ago I went back to the old town. Ah, but if Grandpa could see it now! The old house with its “beau” windows and new roof seemed to be dressed with as much taste as Eugénie would be if she were still Empress of France. There were power and light and heat all through it. Two boys and a girl were home from an agricultural college—one of the boys being manager of the local selling organization. Black Mount was a forest of McIntosh and Baldwin apple trees, the old swamp was drained and lay a thick mat of clover. Grandpa’s vision had come true—all but one thing. Education and power had brought material things, which would have seemed to be miracles to John and Mary. Yet farmers were not “kings,” after all, as Grandpa said they would be, for there was still discontent and talk of injustice. But, after all, that is what Grandpa said—“That’s what they’ve got to be, if the world is going ahead.”
Perhaps, after all, a “divine discontent” is the noblest legacy of the ages.
But in the churchyard back in one corner I came upon Grandpa’s grave. It was not very well cared for. It had not been trimmed. A bird had made her nest and reared her brood right by the side of the headstone. It was a lonely place. As I stood there a cow in the adjoining pasture put her head over the stone wall and tried to gnaw the grass on that neglected grave. And this was what they had carved on the stone:
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away!”
If I could have my way I would put up another stone with this inscription:
“He has entered their class.”
“I’LL TELL GOD”
Just at this time many people seem to be concerned about what they call “the unseen world.” That means the state of existence after death. Many of our readers have written asking what I think or know about this. Most of those who write me seem to be living in lonely places or under rather hard conditions. They have all lost wife or husband, parent, child, or some dear friend. Now like most other reasoning people, I have tried to imagine what really happens to a human being after what we call death, and I have had some curious experiences which you might or might not credit. When I was a boy, I was thrown much into the society of avowed spiritualists. I knew several so-called “mediums” and attended many “séances.” The evident clumsy and vulgar “fakes” about most of those things disgusted me, yet I must admit that some of these “mediums” did possess a strange and peculiar power which I have never been able to understand.
Most of these sincere “mediums” seemed to be people who had suffered greatly and had carried through life some great affliction or trouble over which they constantly brooded. I have come to believe that the blind and deaf and all seriously afflicted see and understand things which most others do not. An afflicted person is forced to develop extraordinary power in order to make up for the loss of the missing limb or organ or faculty. The blind man must learn to see with his fingers and his ears. The deaf man must hear with his eyes or develop a sort of quick judgment or instinct of decision. The man plunged into grief or despondency at the loss of fortune, friends or health must rise out of it through some extraordinary development of faith and hope and will-power. Someone has said that the blind or deaf man is “half dead,” and in his efforts to do anything like a full man’s work in the world, he must borrow power from the great “unseen world.” For example, I will ask you this question: Take a woman like Helen Keller, without sight or speech or hearing. Take a man who is totally deaf and also blind—how would they know physically when they are dead? I think I can understand why it is that real advancement in true religion and Christian thought has for the most part been made by some “man of sorrows,” or people who through great affliction have been forced to go to the “unseen world” for help!
Years ago, in a Western State, there lived a farmer. I do not know whether he is living now or not. Perhaps he will read this. Perhaps he has gone into the silent country to learn what influence the little child had with the Ruler of the universe. This man was deaf. Through long years, his hearing had slowly failed and its going left a dark discouragement upon him. He owned his farm and was moderately well-to-do. A hard worker and honest man, he went about his work mechanically, through habit, with a great hunger in his heart. He did not know what it was; a longing for human sympathy and love. His wife was a good woman but all her childhood had been starved of sympathy and poetry and she could not understand. She made her husband comfortable and loved him in her strange, inexpressive way, but it is hard, after all, to get over the feeling that the afflicted are abnormal and strange. They had no children, their one little girl had died in babyhood. Sometimes at night you would see the deaf man standing in the barnyard at the gate, looking off over the hills to the west where the clouds were glorious in the sunset. And his practical wife would see him standing there with the empty milk pail on his arm. She could not understand the vision and glory, the message from the unseen world which filled her husband’s soul at such times. So she would go out to the barnyard, shake her dreaming husband by the arm and shout in his ear:
“Wake up and get that milking done.”
She meant well, and her husband never complained. She meant to save his money, but he knew in such moments that money never could pay his passage off through the purple sunset to the “unseen land.”
Some day, I think I will tell some of the “adventures in the silence,” which fall to the daily life of the deaf man. One Saturday afternoon this man and his wife drove to town together. While his wife was doing her shopping the man walked about to meet some of his old friends. As he stood on the street, a sharp-faced woman came out of the store followed by a little child. It was a little black-haired thing with great brown eyes which carried the look of some hunted wild animal. A poor thin little thing with a shabby dress and tattered shoes. As she passed, the child glanced up at the farmer and saw something in his face that gave her confidence, for she smiled at him and held out her little hand. The woman turned sharply and the frightened child stumbled over a little stone.
“You awkward little brat,” shrilled the woman, “take that,” and with her heavy hand she slapped the thin little face. Then something like the love of a lioness for her cub suddenly started in that farmer’s heart. Many fool jokes have been made about “love at first sight,” but it is really nothing short of a divine message when two lives are suddenly welded together forever. Under excitement, the deaf are rarely dignified, but they are strangely and forcibly emphatic. The woman quailed before the roar of that farmer and the little girl ran to him and held his hand for protection. A crowd gathered and Lawyer Brown came running down from his office.
“I want this child,” said the farmer. “You know me; get her for me.”
It was not very hard to do. The woman had married a man with this little girl. The man had run away and left her (I do not much blame him), and this “brat” had been left on her hands.
“Take her, and welcome,” said the sharp-faced woman. “A good riddance to bad rubbish.”
So Lawyer Brown fixed it up legally and the deaf man walked off to where his wagon stood, with the little girl hanging tight to his big finger.
When the woman came with her load of packages, she found her husband sitting on the wagon seat with the little girl sitting on his lap. She had found that she could not make him hear, so she just sat there looking into his face, and they both understood. But the good woman did not understand.
“What do you mean by picking up a child like you would a stray kitten? Put her down and leave her here.”
But that was as far as she got. Her husband looked at her with a fierce glare, and there was a sound in his throat which she did not like. I can tell you that when these good-natured and long-suffering men finally assert themselves, there is a great clumsy force about it that cannot be resisted. And when they got home and the little child sat up at the table between them, something of mother-love stirred in the woman’s heart. She actually tried to kiss the little thing, but the child trembled and ran to the farmer and climbed on his knee. The woman paused at her work to watch them as they sat before the fire, and something that was like the beginning of jealous rage came into her heart, for it came to her that this little one had seen at once something in her husband’s life and soul that she had not been able to understand.
There was something more than beautiful in the strange intimacy which sprang up between the deaf farmer and the little girl. In some way she made herself understood and she followed him about day by day at his work or on his lonely walk of a Sunday afternoon. You would see her riding on the wagon beside him, standing near as he milked, or holding his finger as he came down the lane at sunset. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, you might come upon them sitting at the top of a high hill with the old dog beside them, looking off across the pleasant country. And as the shadows grew longer, they would come home, the farmer carrying the little one, and the old dog walking ahead. I cannot tell you the peace and renewed hope which the little waif brought to that farmer’s heart through the gentle yet mighty force of love. And the farmer’s wife would look out of the window and see them coming. She could not walk with her husband through lonely places and make him understand, because she had never learned how. Yet the little one was drawing the older people closer together and was showing them more of the greatest mystery and the greatest meaning of life. But there came a Sunday when the little one could not walk over the hills. The day was bright and fair, the farmer stood looking at the cool shadows of the blue pines sadly and the old dog put his head on one side and regarded his master curiously. They could both hear the voice of the hills calling them away. And the voices came to the little one, hot and weary with fever, tossing on her little bed upstairs. The doctor shook his head when they called him in. The child was done with earthly things,—surely called off into the Country Unseen just as love and home had come to her. The farmer went up into the sick-room where his wife sat by the little sufferer. This man had never regarded his wife as a handsome woman, but he was startled at her face as she bent over the child. For at last in the face of death and sacrifice, love had really come to that woman’s lonely heart, and the joy of it illuminated her face like a lamp within.
The farmer was left alone with the child. She knew him and beckoned him to come near and moved her lips to speak. The man lay on the bed beside her and put his ear close to the little mouth, but try as he would, he could not hear her message. I suppose there can be no sadder picture in the book of time than this denial by fate of the right to hear the last message of love from one passing off into the long journey from which there comes no report. Hopeless and bitter with disappointment, the man found pencil and paper and a large book and gave them to the child. Sitting up in bed with a last painful effort the little one painfully wrote or printed a single sentence and gave it to him with her little face aflame with love. He hid the note in his pocket as his wife and the doctor came in—for the message from the unseen world seemed to him too sacred for other human eyes.
The woman watched her husband closely and wondered why he felt so cheerful as the days passed by. The little one was no longer with him, yet he went about his work with cheerfulness and often with a smile. She could not understand, but now and then she would see him take from his pocket an envelope, open it and read what seemed to be a letter. He would sometimes sit before the fire at night, silent and thoughtful. As she went about her work, she would see him take out this mysterious letter and read it over and over, as one would read a message from a friend very dear of old and happy days. And she wondered what it could be that brought the happy, beautiful smile to his face, and then there came the time when one evening in June the sun seemed to pass behind the western hill with royal splendor. It seemed as if there had never been such gorgeous coloring as the western sky put on that night, and the practical wife looked from her back-door and saw her husband standing in the barnyard gate like one in a glorious vision. The cows stood in the lane, the empty milk pail hung on a post, yet the farmer stood gazing off to the west unheeding the call to his work. And as the woman waited she saw her dreaming husband take that mysterious letter from his pocket and read it once more. She could see the look of joy which spread over his face as he read it. And this plain, practical woman, moved by some sudden impulse, walked down to the gate and put her hand gently on her husband’s shoulder. He started out of his dream and looked guiltily at the empty milk pail, but she only smiled and pointed to the paper he had in his hand. He hesitated shyly for a moment, and then he passed it to her. It was just the scrawl which the little child had written after her failure to make him hear. It was the last message from one who stood on the threshold of the unseen country, and was permitted to look within. And this was what the woman read, written in straggling childish letters:
“I’ll tell God how good you are.”
And the shy, unresponsive man and woman, starved of love and sympathy through all these years, standing in the lonely silence of that golden sunset knew that God’s blessing had fallen upon them out of the unseen country through the influence of that little child.
A DAY’S WORK
“Well, boys, I’m going to quit and call it a day!” As the Hope Farm man spoke he got up from his knees in the strawberry patch and proceeded to straighten out his back. It was half past four on Saturday, September 4. Our week’s work was done—all but the chores. Our folks had picked and packed and shipped four big truckloads of produce, with a surplus of nearly 100 bushels of apples and 60 baskets of tomatoes ahead for next week. This in addition to regular farm work—and one day off fishing for the boys. It does not seem possible that September has come upon us! I do not know how she even got here—yet the big hand on the clock’s calendar points to that date. When the foolish finger of “daylight saving” appears on the clock we can discount it, but there is no discounting the mark on the calendar. That is like the finger of fate. Yet it seems out of date. We have not finished picking Gravenstein apples. In former years Labor Day found us clearing up the McIntosh. This year we have not even touched them! Last year the Mammoth sweet corn was about cleaned out in August. Now we are beginning to pick. The season and the calendar are fighting this year. Now if they will both turn in and hold Jack Frost up for a couple of weeks later than usual we will forgive the season.
This morning I took this strawberry job from choice—surely no one else wanted it. Thomas had not come back from his night on the market. Philip cleaned up the chores, while the rest went to picking apples and tomatoes. My daughter goes across the lawn with 100 or more chickens at her heels. They are black Jersey Giants and R. I. Reds going to breakfast. Out on the cool back porch Mother is playing the part of family “Red.” That is, she is canning tomatoes. This porch is screened in, and there is an oil stove to put heat into the canning outfit. The lady is peeling a basket of big red fruit; her hands and arms are well smeared with the blood—not of martyrs, but of tomatoes! This job of mine would make one of those model gardeners too disgusted for comment. We set out the strawberry plants in April, in rows three feet apart, the plants two feet in the row. The soil is strong, and we wanted to push it hard. So in part of the patch we planted early peas between the rows, and in the rest early potatoes. The theory of this plan is sound enough. You get a big crop of peas and potatoes, and take them out in time for the berry plants to run out and cover the patch. In practice this does not always work. While the pea and potato vines stood up straight we kept the patch clean. Then came a time when these vines fell down and refused to get up. Then came the constant rains and the crab grass, and weeds came from all over to seek shelter under these vines. Before we could interfere the patch was a mass of this foul stuff, and the long rains kept it growing. The richness of the soil delayed ripening of the potatoes, and by the time we got them out the strawberry plants seemed lost in the tangle. Here I am cleaning up this mess. Most of the work must be done with the fingers—a hoe would tear up too many runners. You have to get down on your knees and pull. As I crawl across the patch I leave a pile of weeds behind me like a windrow. I hold up my fingers and it seems surprising that they are not worn down at least half an inch. If I had kept those peas and potatoes out of here the berries would be far better, and I would not have this crawling job. I am not to be alone here after all. That big black chicken leaves his crowd on the lawn and comes over here to scratch beside me. The Jersey Giants are very tame and enterprising. This one stays right at my elbow for hours—the only member of my family to take this job from choice. He will have all the worms I can dig out!
There is a rattle and a sputter on the driveway and the truck comes snorting into the barnyard. At the same time Tom and Broker, the big grays, come down the hill with a load of apples. Tom scents the gasoline and pricks back his ears with a snort. You can see him turn his head as if talking to sober old Broker:
“That fellow thinks he’s smart, but what fearful breath he has! For years we went on the road like honest horses and did all the marketing on the farm. Why does this man keep such a great awkward thing around? It may have speed, but I’ll bet it eats him out of house and home!”
“Well, now,” said old Broker, “every horse to his job. Working right on this farm is good enough for me. Let that truck do the road work, says I. No place like home for an honest horse like me.”
“Not much. I like a little life now and then. I want to get out on the road among horses and see what is going on. That great, lazy, smelling thing has got us farm-bound where nobody sees us or knows what we are doing. And look at the gasoline that thing eats up, and its keep—my stars!”
“Well, you have something of an appetite yourself. A gallon of oats costs something, too. I’ll bet this man can’t feed and shoe and harness you for less than $200 a year! Let’s be glad this thing takes some of the work off our shoulders!”
“But I saw this man’s bill for repairs”—but there came a jerk on the lines and “Get up!” and Tom put his mighty shoulders into the collar and pulled the load up to the shed, while the truck with a snort that sounded like a sneer moved on into the barn—just as if a repair bill for $273 was a very small matter.
Thomas was tired—as you might expect after a night on the market. The load sold for $106.95. It was a mixture of corn, apples and tomatoes. That looks right at first thought, but one year ago the corresponding load of about the same class of goods brought $143. That is about the way they have gone this season. Our prices are certainly lower, and every item of cost is higher. There can be no question about that, yet our friends who buy food are paying as much as they ever did. But for the truck we would be worse off than we are now. We never could handle our crop with the horses. It is more and more necessary to get the goods right into market promptly and with no stop. While the truck has become a necessity, let no man think that it works for nothing. Old Tom is right in saying that I have a bill for $273 for refitting the truck this year and putting it in shape for the season. That item alone will add quite a few cents to the cost of carrying each package. Some of the smaller farmers on well-traveled roads are selling at roadside markets. This is a hard life, and includes Sunday work, and I understand that for some reason people are not buying such goods as they did. The retail trade is rarely satisfactory when one produces a fairly large crop. I think the plan for the future will mean a combination of farmers to open a store in the market town and retail and deliver their own goods co-operatively.
My back feels as if there were three hard knots in it. I must straighten them out by a change of occupation. I am going up on the hill to look at the apple picking for a time. Little Rose, barefooted and bareheaded, dressed in a pair of overalls, trots along with me. She eats two tomatoes on the way up, and then I find her a couple of mellow McIntosh. The dirt on the tomatoes has been transferred to her little face, and I think some of it follows the apple into her mouth. Oh, well, these scientists will probably find vitamines in dirt before they are done. We are picking Gravensteins today—big rosy fellows—some of the trees running 15 bushels or more. I planted a block of these trees as an experiment. Now I wish I had more of them. The last lot brought $5.25 per barrel. I do not care much for them for eating, but as baking apples they sell well. This year any big apple brings a fair price. For instance, that despised Wolf River has been our best seller. The boys own several trees of Twenty Ounce, which are bringing about $20 per tree this year. Cherry-top is going to Paterson this afternoon to put some of his apple money into a bicycle. I have told in past years how I gave my boys a few bearing apple trees and how they have bought others. These trees have given surprising returns. The larger boy is just starting for college, and his trees will go a long way toward paying expenses. The objection to giving such trees or selling at a low price is that the boy finds the income very “easy money.” It would be better for him to plant the young tree and stay by it till it comes in bearing. The only chemical I know of for extracting character out of money is warm sweat. I’d like to spend the day on the hills—here in the sunshine with the apples blushing on the trees and the grapes purpling on the walls and the clouds drifting over us. But that would never clean up those strawberries, and so little Rose and I go down on a load of apples—big Tom and Broker creeping down the steep hillside as if they realized that here was a job which the truck could not copy.
I got at those weeds once more. Philip had carried several bushels to the geese, and these wise birds make much of them. The big sow, too, stands chewing a big red root as a boy would chew candy. Nearby on a grassy corner little Missy has been tied out. She is a very proud little cow, for just inside the barn her yellow daughter lies in the straw—pretending to chew her small cud. We shall have to call this young lady Sippi to complete her mother’s name. Missy has given us a taste of real cream already. But here is a pull at my shoulder, and little Rose, her face washed and hair brushed, comes to lead me in to dinner. There will be 14 of us today. I wish you could make it 15. The food is all on the table, so we can see what there is to start with. Have some of this soft hash. That means a hash baked in a deep dish, with considerable liquid in it. You may think we live on hash, but a busy Saturday is a good time for working up the odds and ends. Then you can have boiled potatoes, boiled beets, sweet corn, tomatoes, bread and butter, baked apples and all the milk you want. We are all hearty eaters, and I figure that if I took my family to the restaurant in the city where I sometimes have my dinner, the bill would be about as follows:
Sweet corn 3.60
Bread and butter 1.40
Baked apples 2.30
That is a very low estimate of what this dinner would cost us. Now what would a farmer get at wholesale for what we have eaten? Not quite $1.30 at the full limit. Last week I ordered a baked apple and was charged 30 cents for it! But no matter what this dinner would cost elsewhere, it is free here, and I hope you will have another baked apple. Try another glass of milk. Our folks have a way of pouring some of that thick cream in when they drink it.
That dinner provided heart and substance to all of us. I am back at those berries, and Philip has come to help me. Our folks have stopped picking apples for the day and will cut sweet corn fodder—where the ears have been picked off. That will have to be our “hay” this winter. The women folks and a couple of the boys have started for town to do a little shopping. Philip and I have a pile of weeds here as large as a henhouse, and the strawberry plants as they come out of the tangle look better than I expected. A car has just rolled in with a family after apples. One well-groomed young man is viewing me appraisingly over his glasses. He is talking to the soft, fluffy young woman at his side. “Is that the Hope Farm man? A rather tough-looking citizen! Why does he do that very common work? He ought to hire that job done and get up out of that dirt!”
This young man will never know what it will mean next Spring when the vines are full of big red berries to know that he saved them and with his own labor turned them from failure to success. He probably never will know any such feeling—and that is his misfortune. This weed-pulling gets to be mechanical. It doesn’t require much thought and I have a chance to consider many things as we work. A short distance away is that patch of annual sweet clover. The plant we have been measuring is now 60 inches tall and still growing. The plants are seeding at different dates—some of them earlier than others. What a wonder this clover will be for those of us who have the vision to make use of it.
But my day’s work is over—I’m going to adjourn. I am quite sure that I could have picked 50 bushels of Gravenstein apples from those low trees instead of working here, but this seemed to be my job for the day. What now? I’m going to make an application of hot water and get this soil off my hands and arms, shave, put on some clean clothes and take my book out on the front porch until the girls come home. What book? Well, I found in an old bookstore a copy of James G. Blaine’s “Twenty Years of Congress.” As I had just read Champ Clark’s book I wanted to read Blaine’s. I can well remember when about 40 per cent of the people of this country considered James G. Blaine a hero. The trouble was that about 60 per cent thought otherwise. His book is a sound and serious discussion of the legislation which covered the Civil War and 20 years after. As I worked here today I have been thinking of what Blaine says of Senator Matt Carpenter. This man was a brilliant student, but suddenly went blind. For three years he sat in darkness. Yet this affliction proved a great blessing, for he forced himself to review and analyze and prove what he had read, so that when sight came back to him his reasoning powers were remarkable. This book contains the best statement I have ever read of the reasons for trying to impeach President Andrew Johnson, and how and why the effort failed. What’s that got to do with farming? Well, I think the political events which clustered around that incident came about as near to smashing the Constitution and wrecking the Government as anything that has yet happened. But here comes Cherry-top on his new wheel. He actually got home ahead of the car. I must hurry, or our folks will not find that literary reception committee waiting for them. Better come along with me. I have some other books that will make you think, and I’ll guarantee that thinking will do you more good right now than a day’s work.
PROFESSOR GANDER’S ACADEMY
Our Thanksgiving turkey this year will be a goose—or rather a pair of geese. As you read this they will be browning and sizzling in the oven, with plenty of “sage and onion” to stuff in the desired quality. They will come to the table flanked by half a dozen vegetables and backed by several big pumpkin pies. I shall resign the position of carver, remembering my old experience with the roast duck and the minister. The duck got away from my knife, and slid all over the table, ending by upsetting the gravy in front of the minister’s plate. After the usual objections Mother will apply the carving knife to the geese, secretly proud of her skill as an anatomist. She can do everything with a roasted goose except provide white meat. Since Nature decided not to implant that delicacy in the breast of a goose, man cannot supply it. Therefore the lady must content herself with brown meat. I’ll guarantee that most blind men eating the white breast of a turkey and then the brown breast of a goose would call for more of the latter. It is something like this rather foolish preference for white-shelled eggs. Like “the Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady,” they are sisters under the shell! Anyway, a goose, well stuffed and roasted, is a thank-offering well suited to the Hope Farm table.
No doubt as we pour the thick brown gravy over Mother’s generous slices Mr. Gander will lead his family across the lawn and find something to be thankful for. I have learned, this Summer, to have great respect for Gander and his wife, the gray goose. Nature may have left the white meat out of the goose in order to prepare a finer delicacy, but she put an extra quantity of gray matter into the goose brain. It seems to me that Mr. Gander and his able assistant are about the most successful teachers of youth I have ever known. To many a learned educator I would say, “Go to the goose, thou wise man, and learn how to train the young for a successful life.” Take this young bird, whose meat is rapidly disappearing from the Thanksgiving altar. Mother has scraped the bones nearly clean. What little remains will be boiled out as soup. This bird has lived what I may call an eminently successful life. He ends his career in the highest place possible to be conceived of in the philosophy of a goose. He was trained and educated from the start, and as I look at Gander and goose on the lawn I cannot think of any human teachers who have had any greater success in training their charges into just what a man or woman ought to be.
In the Spring the gray goose selected a place in the old barn and laid 21 eggs. We rather expected more, but the goose was master of ceremonies. She came back to the same place each day, and finally we found her there hissing like the steam escaping from a broken pipe. It was her signal that she was ready to serve as incubator. So we put 13 eggs under her and eight more under a big Red hen. This big hen was a great failure as a layer, but as nurse and incubator she had proved a wonder. She had raised three broods of chicks with great success. Surely she ought to be a better guide and teacher of youth than a young goose with her first brood! If you were selecting teachers for your children would you not choose those who have had experience? In due time, and on the same day, the goose walked out with 10 goslings, while the Red hen sat on her nest and compelled five to stay under her. The two broods kept apart. The hen was evidently disappointed with the way the goose handled children, and she punished her brood whenever they tried to mingle with their own brothers and sisters. They all lived, but after about eight weeks I noticed a strange thing. The hen’s brood, though eating the same food, would average at least 30 per cent lighter than the goslings which ran with the goose. There was no question about it—the hen’s charges were inferior in size and weight and in “common sense,” or the art of looking out for themselves.
There being no chance for an argument about it, I concluded that it was very largely a matter of education, and we began to study the methods of teaching employed by Mr. and Mrs. Gander and Mrs. Red Hen. The first thing we noticed was the influence of the male side of the family. Roger Red, the big rooster, paid no attention to his wife’s family. All he did was to mount the fence and crow, or go gallivanting off after worms or seeds. If one of the goslings got in his way he kicked it to one side and gave not even a suggestion to his busy wife. He was like one of those men who will not even wheel the baby carriage, but make the wife carry the child. On the other hand, Mr. Gander was a true head of the family. He kept right with the goose, brooded part of the flock at night, fought off rats and even a weasel, and was ready to battle with a hawk or a cat. In time of danger the rooster ran for shelter, but the gander stepped right out in front of his brood with his wing extended like a prizefighter’s arm, and that great bill open to nip a piece of flesh out of the enemy. He taught his children to graze on weeds and grass. When anyone forgot to feed them the gander wasted no time in complaint. He led his family right into the garden, where they picked up their share. He led the goslings through the wet grass and into the brook, where they cleaned out all the watercress and weeds. On the other hand, the hen hung around the barnyard and cried if breakfast did not come on time. She would not let her children wade through the wet grass or get into the water, and she did not know that a young goose can eat grass like a calf. The hen worried herself insane when her family followed the natural instincts of geese and headed for the brook.
Now, Mrs. Hen is not the first teacher who has failed to understand the first law of education—to train a child properly you must understand his natural instincts and tendencies and build upon them. For many generations the hen has feared water, and has been taught that all feathered young must be kept away from it. I have no doubt that a race of swimming hens could be developed, provided the fear of water could be taken from the mind of the hen. For the hen must swim with her mind before she can swim with her feet! I have seen many cut-and-dried teachers as much afraid of the truth as this big Red hen was afraid of water. At any rate, we learned why one set of goslings was far superior to the other. One set had the benefit of father’s example and influence. Their teacher knew from long experience just what a young goose ought to know. The teacher knew that because she had been a goose herself, and could remember her youth. The hen’s brood knew nothing of their father’s example—no more than some little humans who only seem to know there is a man in the world who claims to be the detached head of the family. The hen’s goslings were brought up in one of these beheaded families. Their teacher ranked as a successful educator, but as she had never been a young goose herself she could not teach her children what they ought to know. It was not unlike trying to make a blacksmith out of a poet, or a drygoods salesman out of a natural farmer. These feathered children were fed and warmed and defended, but they could not make perfect geese because they were not trained to work out a goose job.
The result was clearly evident. The young geese under the hen were undersized and fell into the hen character. After centuries of domestication or slavery the average hen loses the independence of the wild bird. Now and then a nobler specimen will feel some dormant brain cell thrill within her, remember the freedom of centuries ago and fly into the trees, but for the most part the modern hen is a selfish, fawning, tricky creature. She drives her family away as soon as the children become tiresome, and there is little or no real community life among hens. When their usual food is not forthcoming all but a few adventurous spirits stand slouching about waiting for help. Thus the goslings were taught to fawn upon man for their food and reject their brothers and sisters in the other brood. It was an unnatural life for a goose, and these little ones could not thrive under such training. On the other hand, Mr. Gander’s pupils were taught by an expert on goose training. They were taught to swim, to bathe in the wet grass, to eat grass or hay, to get out and find their own breakfast if man did not do his duty. As a result they grew up with strong independence of character. While the others might fawn and beg for food, the gander’s class were taught to scorn such subservient behavior. And they were taught family life and co-operation. While the hens separate and lead their selfish, separate lives, the geese live in a group. There they go now in a solid bunch across the lawn. Throw a stick into a flock of hens or let a dog run at them, and they will scatter in all directions. Try the same with a flock of young geese, and they will line up in solid array “all for each and each for all.” I do not know of anything finer in the education of geese or children than this thorough idea of co-operation. In the future those groups which are taught like the geese will rule the nation. Those which are taught to fear strange things or live the selfish life of a hen will always serve. In other words, the future of this country depends on its teachers and their wisdom? You are right!
But the real, final test of a goose’s education is made with the carving-knife. Judging from the empty plates I think this one will pass a good examination. If I am not mistaken this was one of the hen’s goslings. When we saw that their teacher was a failure we put them into Mr. Gander’s class. He looked them over and knocked them down with his wing a few times. Then he put his wise head to one side as if to say:
“I’ll do my best with them. They have been spoiled, and I must take some of the conceit out of them first. If the law forbidding corporal punishment holds in New Jersey I will resign the task, because no goose can ever live a successful life unless those foolish hen ideas are whipped out of him. And another thing: I won’t have that Red hen bothering around me. The influence of a foolish mother is the worst thing a teacher has to contend with. I’ll try to make geese out of them, but keep that hen away!”
The Red hen put up a great cry for a time. She ran out and called for her “darling children” to leave those low companions. The goose took those “darling children” right by the tail feathers and pulled them back. The gander waddled up to the hen and took one nip which sent her squawking to the barnyard, where the big rooster was challenging the world.
“I’ve been insulted!” she screamed, “and my dear children have been stolen from me. If you have the courage of a mouse you will defend your wife!”
“Where is he?” roared the rooster, and he started on a run for the orchard. There was the goose with all her children at school, and right in front was the gander with his great beak open and that right wing all unslung for a blow. The rooster got within about six feet of him and then halted. He didn’t like the looks of that sharp beak.
“Good-morning, Mr. Gander! I saw you over in the next field, and I came to ask how the worms are running over there!”
As he went back the rooster, after the manner of husbands generally, sought to pacify his wife.
“After all, your children are in a good school, and you will now have more time for your neglected household duties. Nursing those children has been a hard strain on you. Now for a little recreation!”
From my own experience I can testify that Professor Gander is right. No one can train a child properly if the mother is foolish naturally, and seeks to interfere with the child’s education. Those who undertake to “take a child” into their family may well take heed from Professor Gander. It were far better that such a child never saw his mother again. She may easily ruin the life which she brought into the world.
But at any rate, this bird on the table was well educated to live the perfect life of a goose. Have another slice! I know you can eat another helping of this dressing. Pass back your plate. Of course I know Mother would like to hold that other goose back for a later meal, but that is not the true Thanksgiving spirit. Pass back for another slice and I will use my influence with the housekeeper to carve the second goose. Its education has been finished.
COLONEL O’BRIEN AND SERGEANT HILL
I imagine that most of us, at one time or another, expect to set the world on fire. So we start what we consider a nice little blaze and stand back to see it spread. For we think the world is as dry as a stack of hay in a drought—only needing our little flare of flame to start it going. We find the world more like a soggy swamp. It does not flare up—our little blaze strikes the wet spots, and not having heat enough to dry out the water it comes to an end. Missionaries who have been among the savage tribes of Africa say that the most wonderful thing to the average savage is the simple act of striking a match. These men and their ancestors have for centuries obtained fire only after long and patient rubbing of two sticks together. Often many hours of this laborious friction were needed before they could obtain even a glow at the end of a stick, and then nurse it into flame. Here at one scratch this “magic stick” produced the effect of hours of hard toil! One savage stole a box of matches and undertook to “show off” before his friends. He could start the little flame of the match well enough, but he tried to make a fire out of big logs or damp sticks, direct from the match. Of course, the little match flame could only spread to things of its own size. You cannot jump flame from a glimmer to a giant log unless the latter is full of oil or gunpowder.
Two things have brought that to mind recently. My young friend, Henry Barkman, came the other day with an oration which he was to deliver before some political society. When a man is well satisfied with his own literary production, he goes about shedding the evidence of his admiration. When you come to be as old as I am, you will recognize the signs. I knew Henry felt that he had produced a world-beater—one of those great bursts of mental flame which every now and then set the world on fire. Yet no honest person, except perhaps his mother or sister or sweetheart, would imagine that society would stumble or even pause for an instant at its delivery. Henry would deliver it with a loud voice and many gestures, and then wait for the world to blaze up. When there was no blaze he would feel that he had been casting pearls before swine, when in truth he had thrown his match into a soggy pile of large sticks, where it sputtered for a moment and then flickered out. Youth cannot understand how long years of drudgery are required to split and splinter those big sticks and dry them out with the fire of faith before the match can start the blaze, and then in after years the man who throws in the match gets the credit which belongs to the patient workers, who have been silently splitting and drying the wood. I tried to tell Henry that when Lincoln delivered his speech at Gettysburg few people realized that it was to become a classic. A new generation with the power to look back through the mellowing haze of the years was needed to give it a full place in the American mind. Henry could not see it. When did youth ever know the back-looking vision of age? It is a wise thing that youth must ever look ahead.
I had all these things in mind as we came to the last lap of our journey to Starkville, Miss. That pleasant town lies west of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad—on a side road of its own. When I went there 37 years ago the track wound on through what seemed like a wilderness, with here and there a negro cabin. Now it seemed like one continuous stretch of farm villages or blue grass pastures. In former years the streets of Starkville were just ribbons of mud or dust, as the seasons determined. I knew a man who came to town in November and bought an empty wagon. He could not haul it home until the following April, so deep was the mud. Now the main street was as smooth and solid as Broadway, and firm stone roads branched out into the country in all directions. The streets were thickly lined with cars. Here, as in Kentucky, I saw men riding on genuine saddle horses, which shuffled quickly along like a rocking-chair on four animated legs. It seemed like a moving-picture show taken from some old fairy tale, and it is no wonder that the years fell away and I went back in memory to those old days.
It was in 1883 that I was graduated at an agricultural college and went down to “reform and uplift the South.” Since then I have heard the motive or spirit of such a wildcat enterprise variously called “cheek,” “gall,” “nerve,” “assurance” or “foolishness,” with various strong adjectives pinned to the latter! Yet, looking back upon it now, I feel that while perhaps all these terms were appropriate, they do not cover the essential thing. I had a smattering of such science as could be taught in those days. I had a great abiding faith in the power of education to lift men up and set them free. A few years before I had given up the thought of ever being anything except an ordinary workman, because I had had no training which fitted me to do anything well. It seemed to me that the agricultural college had given me almost the miraculous help which came to the man with the darkened mind. Who could blame youth for feeling that the great joy and power of education could actually remove mountains of depression and trouble? I had been told that the chief assets of Mississippi were “soil, climate, character and the determination of a proud and well-bred race to train their hands to labor!” That was surely in line with my stock of material assets, and so I came to set the South on fire with ambition and vision.
Well do I remember the day I walked into the little brick building where The Southern Live Stock Journal was printed. Colonel O’Brien and Sergeant Hill looked me over. Colonel O’Brien was tall and straight—every inch a soldier. Sergeant Hill was short and fat. You would not think it, but he was with Forrest when they captured Fort Pillow. Sergeant Hill’s remark was:
“Another one of them literary cranks, I’ll bet.”
Colonel O’Brien was more practical.
“Come out and feed the press and then fold these papers.”
And almost before I knew it my job of uplifting the South was on. I suppose you might call me a “useful citizen.” I fed the press, set type, swept the office, did the mailing, acted as fighting editor, tried to sing in the church choir, taught “elocution,” pitched baseball on the town nine and filled columns of the paper with soul-stirring editorials. At least, they stirred me if they had no effect upon any other reader. Those were the days when living was a joy. Some days there would be a little run of subscriptions and perhaps a big advertisement would come. Now and then some ball club would come to town and our boys would send them home in defeat and disgrace. These occasions were bright spots on the calendar, but they were as nothing in the bright lexicon of youth to the great editorials I ground out at that battered and shaky table in the corner. Among other things I broke a labor strike in that town, alone and unassisted. It was the talk of the town, but to me it seemed a very poor thing beside the great editorial on “The South’s Future,” which I wrote on that stormy day in Christmas week.
It comes back to me now as I write this. In those days everybody “knocked off” during Christmas week and we printed no paper. Yet we all seemed to come to the shop a few hours each day as part of our “holiday.” It was cold and wet, with mud nearly to your hips. Colonel O’Brien had started a fire in the fireplace, and he and Sergeant Hill stood before it smoking their pipes and telling war stories. Colonel O’Brien was telling how he heard the soldiers around their fires at night saying it was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” Sergeant Hill told about the Indian who went after the molasses and glue to make into printer’s rollers, and how in consequence the Yankees captured the printing outfit. I must tell you that story some day. And while these two old vets kept down on the ground in thought I was up on the heights developing a glorious future for the “Sunny South.” And at the last flourish of the pen I cleared my throat and read it to these old soldiers. And, honestly, I did not get the humor of it. These two men had given all they had of youth, ambition, money and hope to their section. They must walk softly all their remaining days amid the ruins and the melancholy of defeat. And here was I without the least conception of what life must have meant to the Southern people, with the enthusiasm of a boy, pouring out dreams of a future which seemed even beyond the vision of an Isaiah. Great is youth and glorious are its prophetic visions. At any rate, the old soldiers let their pipes go out as they listened.
“Fine,” said Sergeant Hill. “Splendid. I reckon you’ll have us all in Heaven 40 years hence?”
“Fine,” said Colonel O’Brien. “Fine. I hope I’ll be here to see it; but today I saw that paper collector from New Orleans in town. We can’t pay his bill. He’ll have to leave on the night train. Better shut up the office.” And they tramped out into the mud, and I knew that as they plowed up the street they were looking at each other as men do when they feel a pity for some weak-minded lunatic who has stepped out in front of the crowd with a thought or an act that is called unorthodox. And I locked the door and sat before the fire polishing that editorial. Collectors might pound on the door, paper and ink might run short—what were these poor material things to one whose winged thoughts were to save the country? Surely, I had it all planned out that night, and went home, rising far up above the fog and rain, and bumping my head against the stars! Do I not know just how Henry Barkman felt about his great oration? Heaven give him the philosophy to endure with patience the day which finally came to me when I had to realize that I was not an uplifter, after all! And yet cursed be he who would, with a sneer, deny to youth the glorious foolishness with which he
“Longs to clutch the golden keys;
To mold the mighty state’s decrees
And shape the whisper of the throne!”
And now, 37 years after, there is nothing left of all these dreams. Colonel O’Brien and Sergeant Hill have answered the last call.
“They know at last whose cause was right
In God the Father’s sight!”
Old Sol, the black man who turned the press, has passed on with them. Years ago The Southern Live Stock Journal was absorbed by a stronger publication. It is doubtful if in all the town or country you could find an old copy of the paper. Those great editorials which I climbed into the clouds to write were evidently too thin and light for this world. They have all sailed away far from the mind of man. The little building where we started the candle flame which was to burn up all the prejudice and depression in the South seems to be occupied as a negro hotel or boarding house. The little shop where (with Sol on the crank of the press and I feeding in the papers) we turned out what we felt to be a mental feast, is now a kitchen where cow peas, bacon and greens and corn bread form a more substantial food than we ever served up in printer’s ink. It was no longer a molder of public opinion.
“To what base uses we may return, Horatio.”
And yet the sky was blue, the day was fair—the vision had come true. I wished that Colonel O’Brien and Sergeant Hill might stand in front of the old building and look about them. No longer a sea of mud, but smooth, firm pavements. The sidewalks were lined with cars. Beautiful trees shaded the streets, until the town seemed like a New England Village with six generations behind it. Outside, stretching away in every direction, was the thick, beautiful carpet of blue grass and clover. Here and there was a young man in the uniform of the American Union. In the vaults of the banks were great bundles of Liberty bonds. And a gray-haired man on the street corner told me this:
“You will find that the very States which sixty years ago tried to break up the Union will, in the future, prove to be the very ones which must hold it together.”
Yet let me tell Henry Barkman and the millions who felt as he did about his oration, that no one in all that town remembered my former editorials or the great work of the Journal. My literary work has been blown away as completely as the clouds among which it was composed. At the end of the great college commencement exercises a man came on the stage with a great bunch of flowers and bowed in my direction. I am not much in the habit of having verbal bouquets fired at me, but I will confess that I thought: “Here is where my soul-inspiring editorial work is appreciated. All things come round to him who will but wait.”
But this orator, like the rest of them, never dreamed that I ever tried to “uplift the South.” He said I entered into the young life of the town and was remembered with affection because I played baseball with skill and taught that community how to pitch a curved ball!
And let me say to the Henry Barkmans who read this that the lesson of all this is the truest thing I know. Many a man has gone out into life like a knight on a crusade, armed with what he thinks are glorious weapons. In after years people cannot remember what his weapons were, but he got into their hearts with some simple, common thing which seemed foolish beside his great deeds. Nobody remembered my brain children, though they were embalmed in ink and cradled in a printing press. But I put a twist on a baseball, overcame the force of gravity and made the ball dodge around a corner, and my memory remains green for 40 years! Not one of my old subscribers spoke of the paper, but seven of the old baseball club, gray or bald, near-sighted or rheumatic, yet still with the old flame of youth, got together.
I think you older people will get my point. For the benefit of Henry Barkman and his friends perhaps I can do no better than to quote the following:
“God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.”
HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES
“Then I began to think that it is very true which is commonly said, that the one-half of the world knoweth not how the other half liveth.”
That was written by François Rabelais over 500 years ago. It is so true that it has entered the language as a proverb, or “old saying.” We hear it again and again in all classes of society. It is true that the great majority of us has no idea of the life or the life ambitions of the great world outside of our own little valley of thought. I suppose this failure to understand the “other half” is one of the things which do most to keep people apart and prevent anything like fair co-operation. It is the basis of most of the bitter intolerance which has ever been used by the “ruling classes” to keep the great mass of the people in subjection. Years ago some old lord or baron would build a strong castle on a hill and make the farmers for miles around believe that he “protected” them. Therefore, they built his castle free, gave their sons for his soldiers, and toiled on the land that he might live in idleness. And what did he “protect” them from? Why, from another group of farmers a few miles away, who, in like manner, were supporting another idle gang of cutthroats in another strong castle. These two groups of farmers did not need to be “protected” from each other. They had the same needs, the same wrongs and the same desires. Left to understand each other and to work together, they would have had no trouble, but would have led happier and far more prosperous lives. As it was they did not understand “how the other half liveth,” and thus they fought when they should have fraternized.
I find much of the same feeling between city people and farmers—consumers and producers. They do not understand how “the other half liveth,” and they find fault when they should from every point of economy work together. Your city man thinks the farmer has a soft job, and that with present high prices he is making a barrel of money. Either that or he is a slow-thinking drudge—a sort of inferior being, who doesn’t know any better than to carry the load which others strap on his back. He is “the backbone of the country” all right in a political campaign—but the backbone is merely a mechanical contrivance if you detach it from the brain. And the average farmer regards the city worker or commuter as a grafter—getting far more than he earns, and putting in short, easy days. It isn’t all graft and ease by a long way. Many of these city workers must travel miles to their jobs, and some of them put in longer hours than the average farmer. Many of them save little or nothing, and the wolf is always prowling around the door. Between these two classes it is a case of not knowing “how the other half liveth,” and this failure to understand has created a form of intolerance which separates two classes about as the old barons separated the groups of farmers years ago.
And something of the same lack of tolerant understanding has separated classes of farmers. The grain farmers, live-stock men, dairymen, gardeners and fruit growers all think at times that they have the hardest lot. The labor question, the markets or the weather all seem to turn against them. For instance, the dairymen usually think their lot is harder than that of others. They must work day after day in all sorts of weather and under hard conditions. I know about this, for I have worked on a dairy farm where conditions were very hard. Yet I also know that at this season the average dairyman has a good job compared with the life of the market gardener or fruit grower. On our own farm it has rained each day and night for many days. Get into a sweet corn or tomato field and pick the crop in a pouring rain, or pick early apples while the foliage is like a great sponge. Then sort out and pack, load the truck and travel through the rain to market, stand out in the rain and sell the load out to peddlers and dealers, and then hurry back home for another round of the same work. The fruit and vegetables are nearly as perishable as milk, and must be rushed promptly away. The dairyman knows beforehand what his milk will bring. The price may not be what he thinks is right, but he knows for weeks or months in advance what he can surely expect. We never know when we start what our stuff will bring. We must take what we can get for perishable fruit. We know what we have already spent, and what each load must bring in order to get our money back. Thus far corn is about equal in price to last year, tomatoes are lower, apples are at least 30 per cent lower, and so on. The dairyman has his troubles, but let him follow this job for a month and he would realize that “there are others.” In much the same way I can show that the potato men, the hay and grain farmers, the sheep men and all the rest, have their troubles—and hard ones at that. If farmers could only understand these things better, and realize that there are thorns and tacks in every so-called “soft job,” there would be greater tolerance in the world, and that is the only thing that can ever lead to true co-operation and fair treatment.
Pretty much the same thing is true of business. We ran upon a strange incident the other day. The city of Paterson, N. J., is a good market town. Work is well paid and the workmen are free spenders. It is a city of many breeds and races of men. On the market you will probably hear more languages and dialects than were used on the Tower of Babel. A large share of farm produce is distributed by peddlers—most of them of foreign blood. They are shrewd and tireless workers. I never can see when they sleep. Night after night they come on the market to buy produce, and day after day—through heat and cold, rain or shine—you see them driving their horses up and down the streets and lanes—always good-natured, always with a smile. Well, we sold Spot, our black cow, to one of these men—an Italian. Thomas had done business with him for some years. We had sold him many goods—he had always paid for them. He made part payment for the cow by giving about the most remarkable looking check I ever saw. It was on a first-class bank made out in a straggling hand, and signed by two names. We had passed several like it before through our bank, so I deposited it, as usual. In a few days it came back unpaid.
Thomas and I went to Paterson that night to see what was wrong. I wish some of you whose lives have been spent entirely in the country could see how this “other half liveth.” This man lived on a side street. The lower part of his house had been fitted as a little store. In the small backyard were several milk goats, a small flock of chickens and a shed, in which were two horses. Under a small, rude shelter of boards was old Spot, chewing away at green cornstalks. The man was a big, pleasant-faced Italian. You would mark him for an honest man on his appearance. There was a brood of children—eight or nine, I should say—and a pleasant-faced little wife, who carried the latest arrival around at her work. When confronted with the protested check, this man merely smiled and waved his hands. He could not read it! Two small boys—the oldest perhaps 12 years of age—seemed to be the only members of the family who could read and write English. They read the protest paper to their father and made him understand. He only smiled and spread out his hands as people do who talk with their shoulders. These two little boys had made out the check and signed it for their parents. They either did not figure out their bank balance, or figured it wrong. There was no attempt at dishonesty, and the check would finally be honored. That seemed to be all there was to it. These little boys, through the public school, represented all that these older people know of the great business life of America.
I know a good many Americans whose pedigrees run back close to Plymouth Rock. If some of them had let that check go in this way I should have loaded old Spot right on the truck and carried her home. Thomas knew this man and his reputation, and his way of doing business. He will pay, and in a few days of peddling he will pad out his bank account and then the check will go through. So we shook hands with him and came home. But that is the way “the other half liveth.” This man and woman came to a strange land too late in life to acquire a business education. They can work and plan, but must depend upon those little boys to do business which requires bookkeeping or banking. All the boys know about American business is what they learn at the public schools. I wish you could have seen the way that check was made out—yet any old piece of paper may be worth more than a gold-plated certificate if there is genuine character back of it. I am told that in most mill towns the banks carry a good many accounts just like this one; in fact, a good proportion of the business is conducted in about that way. It is said that some of the smaller manufacturers do not keep any set of books which enable them to figure their income tax! There are some men who could not buy a cow or a cat from us on credit, while others could have what credit they need right on their face and reputation.
There is another thing about this trade that will interest dairymen. We found old Spot giving about 18 quarts of milk per day, on a feed of green cornstalks and a little grain. This milk will sell for 18 cents, at least. The cow can live in that little shed until the middle of December, or about 120 days. In that time she will give 1,500 quarts or more, which, at 18 cents, means $270, and she can then be sold for at least $90 for beef! That makes $360 gross income for one cow in four months. Her feed will be mostly refuse tops and stalks from vegetables and a small amount of grain. She will be well cared for, carded and brushed every day, and made comfortable. Thus not half the cows know “how the other half liveth.” Someone will take these figures, multiply them by 25, and show what tremendous incomes our dairymen are making. The fact is this man can keep just one cow at a profit. If he kept two the extra cost of food would about eat up his profits. So we went whirling home through the dusk, thinking that we had had a glimpse at a little of the life of the other half, and it made me feel something more of charity for my fellow men. When you come to think of what the American public school means to that family, you realize the immense responsibility that goes with education. We can hardly be too careful about what our schools teach and how they teach it. I wonder how many of us, if we were transplanted to some foreign land, would be willing to turn our business over to our children and let them conduct it as they learned to do it from the schools! I think we would all be more tolerant and reasonable if we would let our children bring to us more of the spirit of youth and more of hope of the future. The rain had stopped, the sky had cleared, the wind had dried the grass, and on the lawn in front of the house our great army of children were dancing and playing as if there were no such thing as tomato rot, wet corn and low prices. I think that these handicaps would have seemed much lighter if we could have gone out and danced with the kids. I wonder where, along the road, we gave up doing that.
THE INDIANS WON
Thanksgiving is a time for physical feasting and mental fasting. By the latter I mean trying to think out some of the problems of life which come as a sort of shade when we remember all our mercies. A bunch of these problems came up to me through a cloud of memories as I sat with my feet on the concrete and my collar turned up.
It was a gray, raw, miserable day—good Indian weather as it turned out. It seemed as if the sun had covered its face with a blanket in one of those fits of depression when the impulse is to hide the face from human eyes. Some 12,000 people were grouped—piled up tier above tier—around a great field marked out with long white stripes. It was a cold crowd, for all had their feet on a concrete floor. At one side a devoted little band of college boys screamed and sang their songs, but for the most part this great crowd sat cold-eyed and impartial. At one side of the field there was a dash of bright color where a group of stolid Indians sat wrapped in big red blankets. Just across from these was another group of men with green blankets. Between them in the center of the field was a tangled mass of 22 husky boys in red or green, all fighting for the possession of a football.
Ah, a football game! What is this so-called farmer doing, wasting part of the price of a barrel of apples when he ought to be at work? Of course it is my privilege to say, “That’s my business if I want to,” but I will answer by saying that I was renewing my youth and studying human nature. You can’t improve on either operation for a man of my age. Up some 250 miles nearer the Canadian line the boy had been one of the 1,000 yelling young maniacs who sent these green-clad boys down to meet the Indians. He could not come, but he wrote me, “Be sure to see the game; it will be a peach.” As a peach grower, I am interested in all new varieties, and this certainly turned out to be one. It must be said that these green-clad boys came down out of their hills with a haughty spirit, wearing pride as conspicuously as they will wear their first high hat. They had not lost a game, but had trampled over two of the greatest colleges in the country. They represented the section where the purest-bred white Americans are to be found. One more victory and no one could deny their boast that they could stand any other football team on its head. So they came marching out on the field, very airy, very confident, and fully convinced of the great superiority of the white man!
I know very little about football. When I played it was more like a game of tag than a human battering ram. Here, however, was a round of the great human game which would make anyone thoughtful. Here were representatives of two races about to grapple. The great majority of the white thousands who watched them were unconcerned—for a New York audience is composed of so many races and tongues that it has little sentiment. All around me, however, there seemed standing up hundreds of swarthy, dark men whose eyes glittered as they watched the game. You could not realize how many there were with Indian and Negro blood until such a test of the white and red races was presented. Then you began to realize what a race question really means when the so-called inferior race gets a chance to test its real manhood on terms of equality.
It would have made a theme for a great historian as these young men lined up for the game. The whites trotted out confident and proud. Why not? The “betting” favored them, their record was superior, as their race was supposed to be. The Indians slouched to their places and shambled through their motions, silent and without great show of confidence. It came to me as not at all unlikely that a few centuries before the ancestors of these boys had faced each other under very different circumstances. Francis Parkman, the historian, tells of a famous battle in the upper Connecticut Valley. The white settlers had built a stockade as protection against roving bands of French and Indians. One day this fort was attacked by such a band, which had come down the valley capturing prisoners and booty. It was a savage fight, but the white men held their own, and finally a Frenchman came forward with a white flag for a parley. He actually offered to buy a supply of corn, as they were out of food, and then to retreat. In that gray mist, with my feet on the concrete, I could shut my eyes and see the ancestors of these football players. Stern white men, gun in hand, peering over the stockade, and silent red men creeping noiselessly out of the forest to pile up their booty in sight—as price for the corn. The frost on the leaves told them that Winter with all its cold and peril was approaching. Here were the necessities of life—a tremendous bargain. Yet back in the shadow of the woods were the captives—men, women and children—and the white settlers held out for them. For at that time, if not now, New England knew the value of a man to the nation. He was far above the dollar, even though the women and children would be a care and a danger.
In a way, something of the spirit of those grim old fighters lay in the hearts of these green-clad boys who had come down from these historic old hills. At that instant, at least, they, too, knew the value of a man. It was expressed by their little band of singers and cheerers led by the writhing “cheer leaders”—the glory and fame of the good old college on the hill. You could not have bought one of these boys for $1,000,000.
On the other hand, these shambling and big-boned Indians seemed to have something of the same spirit in their hearts. Silent and impassive, they seemed for the moment to have cast off their college training and gone back to the free, wild life, only carrying the discipline which authority and college training had given them. I wonder if any of these red men thought as they lined up on that field that it was the lack of just this stern discipline which lost them this country and nearly wiped out their race? Men fitted to play this game of football never would have given away Manhattan Island, or permitted a handful of white men to drive them from the coast. Over 1,000 men, each with the burning drop of Indian or Negro blood in his veins, were hoping and praying that in this modern battle the red men would humble the pride of Manhattan, as their ancestors had lost the island. Out of the gray mist there seemed to stride ghosts of stout Dutchmen and thin Yankees and silent, noiseless Indians to watch this fairer combat.
At the signal the ball was kicked far down the field by a white man whose ancestors may have come with Hendrik Hudson. It was caught by a red man, whose ancestors may have been kings or chiefs while the white man’s were European peasants. Back he came running with the ball to form the basement of a pile of 10 struggling fighters, and the game was on. You must get someone else to describe the game. I do not understand it well enough. The two groups of players lined up against each other, and one side tried to batter the other down, or send a man through with the ball. Again and again came this fierce shock, and a strange and unexpected thing was happening. The Indians had no band of singers or cheer leaders, no pretty girls were urging them on, no pride of superior dominating race, but silently and resolutely they were smashing the white men back. It was hard. These boys in green died well. There was one light man who took the ball and ran through the Indians as his ancestors may have run the gauntlet, but they pulled him down. Inch by inch the white men were battered back over the line. The air seemed full of red blankets, for those substitutes at the side lines were back into the centuries coming home from a season on the warpath. Yet the green singers yelled on and shouted their defiance. Then the white men made a great rally and forced the Indians back, grimly battling over the other line. At the end of the first half the score stood 10 to 7, in favor of the white men. “It’s all over,” said a man who sat next to me. “They will come back and trample all over the Indians, for white men always have the endurance.” A man nearby with a touch of bronze in his skin glared at us with a look in his eyes that was not quite good to see. Back came the players, at it again. There was great trampling, but of the unexpected kind. These slouching and shambling Indians suddenly turned into human tigers, and the plain truth is that they both outwitted and walked right over the green-clad whites. There was no stopping them. All the cheering and singing and sentiment and “race-superiority” went for nothing. For here was where pride and a haughty spirit ran up against destruction, and great was the fall thereof. Yet I was proud of the way these white boys met their fate. They had been too confident, and had lost what is called the “psychological drop” on the enemy. The Indians had them at the stake with a hot fire burning, for no one knows what a victory right there would have meant for the good old college far away among the hills. Yet, face to face with fate, cruel, silent and relentless, those boys never faltered, but fought on. I liked them better in defeat than in their airy confidence before the game. When it was all over they got up out of the mud of defeat and gave their college war cry. There may have been a few cracked and corner-clipped notes in it, but it was fine spirit and good losing. Nearby the Indians waved their blankets and gave another college yell. And the 1,000 or more men with that burning drop of blood in their veins went home with shining faces and gleaming eyes, with better dreams for the future of their race. For they had made the white man’s burden of superiority a hard burden to carry.
My football days are over. No use for me to tell what great things I did 30 years ago. This age demands a “show me,” and I cannot give it. If I had my way I would introduce football, baseball, basketball, pushball and all other clean and organized games into every country town. I would organize leagues and contests and get country children to play. Do you ever stop to think that work, long and continuous, for ourselves and our children, has not taught us how to organize or use our forces together as we should? It is true. Organized play will do more to bring our children together for co-operative work than anything I can think of. It will give discipline, which is what we need. Two of these green-clad boys stood an Indian on his head and whirled him around like a top. It was part of the game. He got up good-naturedly and took his place in the line. Imagine what his grandfather would have done! One white boy was running with the ball and two Indians butted him, while another got him by the legs. The boy simply held on to the ball. It was discipline and training in self-control. Step on a city man’s foot in a crowded car and he would want to fight. Our country people need such discipline and spirit before they can compete with organized business. If I could have my way I would have our country children drilled in just such loyalty to the home town or district as these college boys displayed on the field. Tell me, if you will, how it can be gained now in any way except through organized and loyal play for our children. You know very well what I mean. Work is an essential of life, and it must be made the foundation of character. Organized and clean play is another essential, as I see it now, and I think its development and firm direction is to be one of the greatest forces in building up life in the country.
IKE SAWYER’S HOTEL
It was last year, as I recall it, at about this season, one of the children asked me a strange question:
“What was the thankfullest day you ever saw?”
Now I have seen somewhere around 20,000 days come and go, and every one of them has brought a dozen things to be thankful for. I sometimes think as the hands crawl around the clock at Hope Farm that the day they are recording right now is about the best of all. I have passed Thanksgiving Day in the mud, in the snow, in a swamp, on a mountain, in a crowded city, on a lonely farm—under about all the conditions you can mention. I have given hearty thanks over baked beans, salt pork, bread and cheese, turkey and all the rest, but before the fire tonight somehow they all burn away except that experience in Ike Sawyer’s Hotel.
They were stuck in the mud—with a broken axle—in a swamp in Northern Michigan. No one had dreamed of an auto in those days. You forded the swamp and stream in the primitive old way. It was a rich, middle-aged lumberman and his young wife. How this tough, hard pine knot of a man ever selected this soft-handed and selfish girl I cannot see. She had come with him into the woods on one of his business trips, and the silence by day and the whispering of the pines at night had filled her with terror. The rough, sturdy man suddenly saw that, unlike his first wife, this girl was not a helper and a partner, but a toy—a hothouse flower who could not live his life or help fight his battles. He had a great business deal on hand which required all his energies, but this girl could not understand or help him. She had begged and cried to go back to “civilization,” and they were on their way. And in this lonely place the axle of the carriage had snapped and left them in the mud.
It had been one of those gray, melancholy days which seem to fit best into the idea of a New England Thanksgiving. Now twilight was coming on and there were dark shadows in the swamp. The woman had climbed out of the mud and stood on a log by the roadside. She had been crying in her disappointment, for she had expected to reach the railroad that night, and spend Thanksgiving in the distant city—far from this lonely wilderness. Her husband was bargaining with an old farmer who finally agreed to haul the broken carriage back to the blacksmith shop for repairs.
“I’ve got entertainment for beast,” he said, “but not for man—so I can’t put you up. Quarter of a mile down the road Ike Sawyer runs a sorter hotel.”
He hauled the carriage out of the mud and started back along the road. There was nothing for us to do but hunt for the hotel. You may have seen some strong, capable man come to a crisis in his life where it suddenly flashes upon him that the woman of his choice is after all made of common clay, with little of that spirit or courage which we somehow think should belong to the thoroughbred. It was a very doleful, unhappy little woman and a sad and silent big man who walked through the mud and up the little sand hill in search of the hotel. They had nothing to be thankful for, and, yet did they but know it, they were to find the most precious thing in life in this lonely wilderness.
Around a turn in the road we came in sight of a long, rambling building, weatherbeaten and out of repair. Over the door was a faded sign, “Farmers’ Rest.” On the little porch just under this sign sat a white-haired woman in a wheel-chair. In front of the house a little man with a bald head and a pair of great spectacles perched at the end of his nose was chasing a big Plymouth Rock rooster about the yard. The old people had not noticed us, and we stopped in the road to watch them. The old man finally cornered the rooster by the garden fence and carried him flapping and squawking to the old lady. She examined him carefully, and evidently approved the choice, for the old man, still holding the rooster, pushed the wheel-chair into the house and then, picking up his ax, started for the chopping block just as we turned in from the road. We startled him so that he dropped the rooster. The gray bird did not stop to welcome us, but darted off into the shadows. He mounted the roost in the henhouse from which the old man easily pulled him a little later.
You may have seen old pictures of country hotel-keepers bowing and scraping as their guests arrive. Ike Sawyer could not play the part. He just peered at us over his spectacles and rubbed his hands together.
“Walk right in,” he said. “Me and Annie can put you up.” Then he led the way into the rambling old house. It was dark now, and the old man lighted a lamp so that we could look about us. The old woman did not rise from her chair, but she smiled up a welcome.
“Ain’t walked for 10 years,” explained her husband. “I play feet and she plays hands, and between us we make out fine.”
The old man bustled about and started a fire in the big fireplace. The young woman had entered the poor old building with an angry snarl of discontent on her face. It was all so mean and hateful to be obliged to stay in this lonely, dreadful place. As the fire blazed up and filled the room with warm light, I noticed that the snarl faded out and she sat watching the old lady with wondering eyes. She went to her room for a moment, but soon came back to sit by the fire and watch the sweet-faced old lady “play hands.” On the other side of the fireplace, silent and strong, her husband sat watching his wife with eyes half closed under his thick, bushy eyebrows.
I have seen the cook in a quick lunch counter stand in his little box and toss food together, and I have seen a chef earning nearly as much as the President daintily working in his great kitchen, but nothing will ever seem to equal the way that meal was prepared when Annie played hands and Ike played feet. Ike pushed a little table up in front of his wife, and at her call brought flour and milk and all that she needed for making biscuits. He stood beside her chair as the thin fingers did their work. Now and then he laid his hand upon her shoulder, and once he touched her beautiful head. As though forgetting her guests Annie would smile back at him—a beautiful smile which brought a strange look to the face of the young woman who sat watching them. At first it seemed like an amused sneer. Then there came a puzzled, curious look—the first faint glimmering of the thought that this old man and woman out of their trouble, out of their loneliness, had found and preserved that most precious of all earth’s blessings—love!
When a fellow has eaten more than 60,000 meals, as I have in my time, it must be a very good performance in that line to stand out like a bump or a peg in memory. Through all my days I can never forget that supper in the fire-lighted room where Ike played feet and Annie played hands and brains. Ike started a roaring fire in the kitchen stove. Then he brought in a basket of potatoes and Annie selected the best ones for baking. He came with a fragrant brown ham, and cut slices, under her eye, she measuring with her thin finger to make sure they were not too thick. She cut the bread herself, selected the eggs for frying, mixed the gravy and seemed to know by the sputter in the pan when the ham was done. Ike pushed her chair over to the table so she could spread the cloth and arrange the service. Then at a word he pushed her chair to the window where half a dozen plants were blooming. She cut two little nosegays and put them beside the plates of her guests. Ike brought in the ham and eggs, the great, mealy baked potatoes, the brown biscuits and the apple pie. In her city home a servant would have approached the lady and gently announced:
“Dinner is served!”
Ike Sawyer, when Annie nodded approval, simply invited:
“Sit by and eat!”
It was all so simple and human that it seemed a perfectly natural thing to do when the discontented and peevish young woman picked up the little nosegay at her husband’s plate and pinned it on his coat. She even patted his shoulder just as Ike had done with Annie. We were all ready to begin, when Ike, standing by Annie’s chair, took off his great spectacles and held up his hand.
“I don’t know who you be or whether you’re church folks or not, but me an’ Annie always makes every day a season for Thanksgivin’.”
Then in the deep silence with only the popping of the fire and the dim noises of the night, as accompaniment, the old man bowed his head and made his prayer. He prayed that the “stranger within our gates” might find peace and strength and go on his way thankful for all the blessings of life. Under those great bushy eyebrows the eyes of the strong, rich man glowed with a strange light. The young wife glanced at him, and the sneer faded away from her face. Then Ike became the landlord once more and he bustled about, tempting us to eat a little more of this or another piece of that, and at every word of praise falling back upon his stock explanation:
“It’s her—Annie plays hands and I play feet. Everybody knows hands have more skill than feet.”
After supper the big man and his wife stood at the window looking out into the wet, dismal night. After a little hesitation he put his arm gently around her. She did not throw it away as she did when he tried to comfort her in the swamp, but rather pulled it closer. After Ike had cleared up his dishes and caught and dressed the gray rooster we all sat before the fire and talked. With a few shrewd questions the lumberman drew out Ike’s story. Years before he and Annie had owned a good farm in New York. There they heard of the wonderful new town that was to be built in Northern Michigan. A city was to arise there, the railroad was coming, and fortune was to float on golden wings over the favored place. It is strange how people like Ike and Annie cannot see how much they need home and old friends and old scenes to make life satisfying. They are not made of the stuff used in building pioneers, but they cannot realize it and they listen to plausible dreams and go chasing after the impossible. So Ike and Annie sold the farm and came to start the great city. It never started. The railroad headed 20 miles west. Out among the scrub oaks you could find some of the rotting stakes marked “Broadway,” “Clay St.,” or “Lake Avenue.” The swamp and forest refused to be civilized. Ike built his hotel in anticipation of the human wave which would wash prosperity his way. It never came, and only a rough, rambling house remained as the weatherbeaten gravestone of Sawdust City. Of all the pioneers there were only Ike and Annie—last of them all—celebrating their happy Thanksgiving!
“Why don’t you sell out and move to some town?” said the practical lumberman.
“Well, sir—it would be too far from home! Me and Annie know this place—every corner of it. Every crick of a timber at night brings a memory. We are just part of the place. And the little girl is buried off there by the brook. We couldn’t go away from that, could we?”
“But isn’t it so awful lonesome?”
It was the young woman who asked, and it was Annie who softly answered her.
“No, for we have great company. I have Ike and he has me. All these long years have tried us out. We know each other, and we are satisfied. Each Thanksgiving finds us happier than before, because we know that our last years are to be our best years.”
The rich man looked over to Ike and Annie with something of hopeless envy printed on his face. His wife nodded her head gently and then sat gazing into the fire until Ike gave us clearly to understand that 10 o’clock was the hour for retiring at the “Farmers’ Rest.”
We stayed for our Thanksgiving dinner, and the gray rooster, stuffed with chestnuts and bread-crumbs, might well have stood up in the platter to crow at the praises heaped upon him. The forenoon was gloomy and dull, but just as we came to the table the sun broke through the clouds. A long splinter of sunshine broke through the window—falling upon Annie’s snow-white hair. Ike hurried to move her chair out of the sun, but the rich man asked Ike to leave her there, for I think something in that sunny picture took him back to childhood—where most men go on Thanksgiving Day.
And shortly after dinner the farmer came up the road with the carriage. The axle had been mended and the horses rested. We all shook hands with Ike and Annie. I was to go my way and the other guests were to pass out of our little world.
Annie held the young girl’s hand for a moment.
“My dear, I hope you will soon be back in the city among your friends, where you will not be so lonely. It must be hard for you here.”
The girl hesitated a moment and then put her hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“John, would it mean very much to you if we went right back to the camp so you could finish your business?”
“Yes, it would—but I am afraid——”
“Then we will not go home yet, but we will go back until you are through. I have had a beautiful Thanksgiving. I would rather stay in the woods.”
And so they turned in their tracks and went back through the swamp. The night before she said she should always hate the place where the accident had made Ike Sawyer’s hotel a necessity. Now as she passed it she smiled and gave her husband a pinch—a trick she must have learned from Annie. And so they went on through the sunny afternoon of the “thankfullest day of their lives.” They were thinking of the working force at the “Farmers’ Rest”—the feet and the hands!
And the thought in their minds framed itself over and over into words:
“Out of their poverty, out of their trouble and loneliness, this man and woman have found each other, and thus have found the most beautiful and precious thing in life—love!”
“What is the matter with this political campaign?”
An old man who can remember public events far back of the Civil War and beyond asked that question the other day. He said this campaign reminded him more of a Sunday school convention. Nobody was fighting, and very few such epithets as “liar” or “thief” or “rascal” were being used. In these days no one seems to care who is to be elected. We are all too busy trying to pay our bills. The old man bewailed the loss of power and interest in this generation. He thought this quiet indifference meant that as a nation we have lost our political vigor. Having been through some of those old-time battles, I cannot fully agree with him. It is true that few people seem interested, yet they will vote this year, and I think the quiet and thoughtful study most of them are making will prove as effective as the big noise and excitement we used to have. We are merely doing things differently now. Whether the great excitement of those old political days made us better citizens is a question which has long puzzled me. I know that in those nervous and high-strung days we did many foolish things as a part of “politics.” On the other hand, I wish sometimes that our people could get as thoroughly worked up over the tribute we are paying to the profiteers as we did in those old days over the tariff and the slavery issue.
I can well remember taking part in the campaign between Garfield and Hancock. The Democrats felt that they had been robbed of the Presidency in ’76, but as they failed to renominate Tilden the Republicans called them quitters. I had dropped out of college for awhile to work as hired man for a farmer in a Western State, and we certainly had a great time. This farmer was an old soldier; he was a good talker and thought well of his own exploits. When you found that combination 40 years ago you struck a red-hot partisan. The man’s wife was a Democrat, because her father had been. She was one of those small, black-eyed women who acquire the habit of dominating things in the schoolroom and then concentrate the habit when they take a school of one pupil in the home. Her brother lived on the next farm. He had turned Republican because he wanted to be elected county clerk. It was fully worth the price of admission to sit by the fire some stormy night and hear this woman put those two Republicans on the broiler of her tongue. They were big men, fully capable of holding their own in any ordinary argument, but this small woman cowed them as she formerly did her A B C pupils. It was enough to make any young man very thoughtful about marrying a successful teacher to see this small woman point a finger at her big husband and say:
“Now John Crandall, don’t you dare to say it isn’t the truth!”
And John didn’t dare, though from his political religion it might be a base fabrication. One day, after a particularly hard thrust, John and I were digging potatoes, and he unburdened his mind a little:
“I’ll tell you one thing: any man who marries a good school-marm takes his life in his hands—his political life, anyway!” and he pushed his fork into the ground as though he was spearing a Democrat! “And yet,” he added, as he threw out a fine hill of potatoes, “sometimes I kinder think it’s worth the risk.”
My great regret is that this lady did not live to celebrate the Nineteenth Amendment! With the ballot in her hand she would have stirred excitement even into this dull campaign!
We worked all day, and went around arguing most of the night during that hot campaign. The names we had for the Democrats would not bear repeating here. The other side went around with pieces of chalk, making the figures “321” on every fence and building or on stones. That represented the sum of money which General Garfield was said to have stolen. The Republicans marched around in processions carrying a pair of overalls tied to a pole, representing one of the Democratic candidates. Oh, it was a “campaign of education” without doubt! And then Maine voted! John and his brother-in-law had been playing Maine as their trump card.
“Wait till you hear from the old Pine Tree State. As Maine goes, so goes the Union!”
John felt so sure of it that even his wife was a little fearful. The day after the Maine election John and I were seeding wheat on a hill back from the road. There were no telephones in those days, and news traveled slowly—we were eight miles from town. In the late afternoon we heard a noise from the distant road. There was Peleg Leonard driving his old white horse up the road at full speed and roaring out an old campaign song:
“Wait for the wagon! Wait for the wagon!
Democratic wagon, and we’ll all take a ride!”
The demand for prohibition in those days was confined to a few “wild-eyed fanatics,” and Peleg was not one of them, especially on those rare occasions when the Democrats got a chance to yell. We saw him stop in front of the house and wave his arms as he told the news to Sarah.
“Looks sorter bad. Can it be that Maine has gone back on us?” said John as he saw the celebrator go on his way.
We usually had a cold supper on such days, but now we saw the smoke pouring from the kitchen chimney, and the horn blew half an hour earlier than usual. John and I put up the horses, washed our faces at the pump and walked into the kitchen as only two dejected Republicans can travel. You see, it wasn’t so bad for the Democrats. They were used to being defeated, and had made no great claims. I was young then, and youth is intensely partisan. Since that day I have voted on four different party tickets, and glory in the fact that I am not “hide-bound.”
Sarah had on her best black silk and the white apron with lace edges. She had cooked some hot biscuit and dished up some of her famous plum preserve and actually skimmed a pan of milk to serve thick cream.
“Maine is gone Democratic!” she cried. “Hurrah for Hancock! Bread and water’s good enough for Republicans in this hour of triumph, but I know the fat of the land will taste like gall to both of you. Sit right down and feast, because the country’s safe!”
Physically that supper was perfect. There never were finer hot biscuits or better plum preserve or finer cold chicken! Spiritually it was the saddest and most depressing meal on record. We made a full meal. I can go back into the years and see that big farmer gnawing half a chicken under command of his wife. You remember “King Robert of Sicily” in Longfellow’s poem:
“The world he loved so much
Had turned to dust and ashes at his touch.”
And so with poor John. That fine chicken tasted exactly like crow as Sarah sat by and “rubbed it in.” Oh, politics, where are the charms we formerly saw in thy face?
John and I surely dawdled over our chores that night. We had no great desire to go in and hear the news. Finally Sarah came to the door and called us.
“Say,” said John to me as we started for the house, “you go to college. Have you ever studied logic or what they call psychology?”
“While I am no expert at either subject, I know what they mean.”
“Well, now, suppose your wife got after you like that, how would you use those studies to keep her quiet? What’s the use of an education if it don’t help you keep peace in the family?”
So I unwisely told John that he ought to tell his wife that a woman by law obtained her citizenship from her husband. That citizenship was the essence of politics; therefore the wife should by law belong to her husband’s party. I am older now in years, and I know better than to give any man arguments in a debate with his wife. The Maine election, however, had made us desperate. So John marched in with a very confident step and elaborated my arguments. He was quite impressive when he assured her that the law declared that a woman acquired her political principles from her husband. It did not work, however.
“Don’t you tell me! I didn’t marry any principles at all when I married you. How is a man going to give any principles to his wife when he never had any to give? My father was a Democrat, and I take my politics from him. He was the best man that ever lived, and you know it. I inherit my politics, I do—I didn’t marry them!”
The truth is that Sarah’s father was an old war Democrat who came near being tarred and feathered by his neighbors, but one of the saving graces of modern civilization is the fact that a woman’s father is always an immortal—never needing any defense—his virtues being self-evident, while her husband is a de-mortal who can hardly hope to become a good citizen except through long years of patient service! His only hope lies in the future when he has a daughter of his own.
And Henry Wilkins, Sarah’s brother, was running for county clerk. We held a caucus at the blacksmith shop, where John and I and two farmers were elected delegates to the county convention. We all went to the county seat one Saturday afternoon to nominate a ticket. The last we heard from Sarah was:
“Now, Henry, if you get nominated on that renegade ticket, I know one man that won’t vote for you and that’s John Crandall. I won’t let him vote if he has to stay in bed all day!”
Contrary to what some of the “antis” say woman has always exercised political power.
When we got to town we found the “drug-store ring” in control. This was a little group of politicians led by Jacob Spaulding. It was the “Tammany Hall” of Oak County. This ring had decided to nominate an undertaker from the west side of the county for clerk. Most of the farmers were all ready to quit when Jake Spaulding said the word, for he usually handed out the little political jobs. I was young and inexperienced in politics and ready for a fight. It hurt me to see that great crowd of farmers ready to give up the fight when a big, fat brute like Jake Spaulding and a few of his creatures shook their heads. So I called our delegates together and proposed that we go right in where Jake was and “talk turkey” to him. Strange, but John Crandall was the only outspoken supporter I had. John was bossed at home until he was like a lamb, but get him out among men and the pent-up feelings in the lamb expanded that innocent animal into a lion. So we had our way, and about 25 of us marched down the street to the courthouse, where in the sheriff’s room the county committee was making up the ticket.
You would have thought the destinies of the nation were at stake as we filed into that room. Half of our delegates were ready to quit when Jake Spaulding glared at us over his spectacles.
“What do you want?”
Dr. Walker was our spokesman, and Jake Spaulding had a mortgage on his house. You could see that mortgage peeking out from behind every sentence of the doctor’s speech. In effect he asked those politicians if they wouldn’t please nominate Henry Wilkins for county clerk. It didn’t take Jake long to put us where we belonged.
“No; the delegates to this convention are going to nominate Hiram Green. Nothing doing here. Just fall in and work for the grand old Republican party! And now, boys, good day; we’re busy.”
Several of our delegates started for the door. They were well-disciplined soldiers. I was not, and I did what most of them thought a very foolish thing. Before I well knew it I was up in front making a speech to Jake Spaulding. At that time no one had ever heard of the 35-cent dollar. The word “profiteer” was not in the language; but I think I did make it clear that these farmers were there to nominate Henry Wilkins or “bust” the convention. As I look back upon it now I think it was the most bold and palpable “bluff” ever attempted at a country convention. And John Crandall stood beside me and pounded his big hands together until the rest of the delegates forgot their fear and joined in. When I finished there was nothing to do for us but to file out of the courthouse.
Then they turned on me in sorrow and anger. Everyone would now be a marked man. They never could get any office from Jake Spaulding. Even Henry, the candidate, felt I had injured his chances, for if he kept quiet perhaps he might make a deal to get to be deputy clerk. But John Crandall stood by me.
“Good,” he said; “I’m a fighter. Get right up in convention and give ’em another. I’m going to vote for Henry till the last man is out.”
But these faint hearts did not know what was going on inside the sheriff’s room. When our delegation marched out the county committee sat and looked at each other.
“Boys,” said Jake Spaulding, “it looks like they mean business. We can’t let that spread. I guess we’ll have to take Henry on!”
There was a big crowd in the courthouse, and the convention went off like a well-oiled machine. They nominated sheriff and probate judge and then the chairman asked:
“Any nominations for county clerk?”
I had my throat all cleared and stood up with: “Mr. Chairman,”—but no one paid much attention to me. The chairman turned to the platform and said:
“I recognize Judge Spaulding,” and there was the big, fat boss on his feet.
“Mr. Chairman,” he said, “today our glorious country lives or dies! The grand old Republican party is on trial. Every patriot is needed in this great crisis. Ho! Israel, every man to his tent! I therefore take great pleasure in nominating that splendid farmer, that incomparable patriot, that popular citizen, Henry Wilkins of Adams township. I ask you in the name of our glorious citizenship to put him through with bells on!”
I stood there all through the speech too dazed to sit, until John Crandall pulled me down. Then I realized that for once a bluff had worked. And after the convention I met Jake Spaulding in front of the courthouse. “Young feller,” he said, “if you decide to settle down in this county, let me know. I’ll have a little job for you.”
We all rode home in the candidate’s wagon. Sarah was waiting for us at the gate.
“Well, how did you come out?”
“Nominated by acclamation,” said Henry. “John and the young feller here did it. They made Jake Spaulding come up!”
If some actress could put into a single word the scorn and surprise which Sarah packed into her husband’s name her fortune would be made. And John and I stood there like a couple of truant schoolboys waiting for the verdict.
“That’s what I said. John was fine. Only for him I’d have been defeated.” And Henry drove on.
“Now you two lazy Republicans, get out and milk those cows.”
We went, but when we got back the kitchen stove was roaring, and Sarah was just taking out a pan of biscuits. There were ham and eggs on the stove.
“Now you sit right down and eat. If I’ve got to be sister to a county clerk I want to know all about it. Now, John, you tell me just how it happened.”
Ah, but those were the happy days of politics. Do you wonder that we old-timers consider the present campaign about like dishwater—in more ways than one?