Page images

time the boy did not go to his parent with a voluntary confession, but admitted the act when confronted with the facts. He was then given another stern example in juvenile training.

This restless boy did not take to “applied” industry. For axes, hoes, and churns he contracted an early dislike; nor did he ever learn to make a dexterous use of tools. Mechanism never possessed any charms for him. “We can never make anything of James," was a frequent exclamation of his father. The truth was, the parents did not touch the pulse of genius that was latent in the boy. But birds' nests and flowers and water brooks and fishes -- these he could seek during the livelong day. Though he displayed an intense dislike for set tasks, he was by no means lazy, or averse to action; but he wanted the freedom of the woods and fields, where he could get close to the heart of nature. That wild country of rocks and mountains enchanted him. The flowers and birds were his companions, birch and maple poles his ponies, willow branches his whips to drive them with, and pieces of dried bark were his sailing vessels in the neighboring brook. He used pin fishhooks to capture the minnows, and made free with the butterflies and robins' eggs. Unwearied were the swift hours as he climbed his native hills, and sought acquaintance with the wealth of nature spread out before him. He was a somnambulist and often talked in his sleep. A genius seemed ever to attend him in his rambles, an undefinable feeling, a mystic consciousness, and when locked in slumber on his rickety bed close under the roof in the attic, a face bent benignantly over him.

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped

Through many a listening chamber, cave, and ruin,
And star-lit wood, with fearful steps pursuing,
High hopes of talk with the departed dead.”



“All things are engaged in writing their history; the air is full of sounds, the sky of tokens; the ground is all memoranda and signatures, and every object covered over with hints which speak to the intelligent.” Emerson.

Down the valley from the old homestead, about one mile away, just “round by the pond,” was a little red schoolhouse. A second growth of maple and birch occupied the outlying grounds. A clear, limpid brook meandered on the further side of the little valley, abounding with fish, lamper-eels, and fresh-water shells. To childhood's eyes the saplings were tall trees, the neighboring hills towered up like mountains, and the little brook seemed like a respectable river. Names were carved on those saplings,—that of James among the rest. The brook where the boys and girls fished, and built dams and water-wheels, still winds like a silver thread among the fields, but how diminutive compared with what it once seemed ! The landscape still remains. The same moon casts its silver shine on the laughing face of the little brook, and the silent constellations look down upon this local scene as in “ days of yore.” But the boys and girls of the “olden days ” are no longer there. They have all been transplanted from this early lesson school, - some to peaceful industrious homes in the far West, some to active participation in the world's great movements, and still others from the visible arena to a home in the heavens.

In this little red schoolhouse James acquired those rudiments of written speech which were essential to open to him the book lore he was to master in his prime. His early tutors did not cast his horoscope, however. They knew nothing of

the quality of genius they had taken in hand to train. Child education in those days — and for that matter, largely at the present day — took no account of the specialty of genius, or of the diversities of talent and temperament. Every child must be fitted to the same “ Procrustean bedstead.” Nevertheless he acquired the necessary rudiments of intellectual training.

James was not more than six years old when he went to school to his uncle, Dr. Corbitt Peebles. The preceptor was a firm believer in Solomon's philosophy, and practiced his principles with an unfailing fidelity. The Doctor did not allow the internal organs of his pupils to become congested, for the reason that he rarely failed to bring the circulation to the surface. Under his régime James had his jacket dusted about every day, and all because of his well-directed efforts to promote healthful mirth and amusements in school hours, which were not duly appreciated. It was no fault of his that he had inherited a very active temperament. True, he may have manifested a restless disposition; and who has not the right to cultivate his inheritance? The truth is he was so constituted that he required some constant and agreeable occupation, though he hated all forms of dry manual labor.

But James appears to have been, in the main, a well-disposed boy, faithful to his friends, governed by generous impulses, and even willing to be sacrificed when necessary in the interest of his young companions, for the glory of Solomon or in his efforts to shield the mute creation from the causes of suffering. His humane disposition was manifested at an early age, and the lineaments of the Reformer were revealed in the child. In the spring, before the snow had disappeared from the shaded valleys and the northern slopes of the hills, he was wont to go out early in the morning to look after the young lambs of his father's flock to see that they were not chilled. brimming full of sympathy. His tender solicitude for all innocent creatures prompted him to care for them at his own cost, for it was not always that his father provided him with shoes, and in spite of the revelations of the horoscope, Jupiter

He was

had never so much as once warmed the little bare feet that were quick to run over the frosty ground on such errands of mercy.

In his childhood James had a serious impediment in his speech which was the occasion of many hours of sadness. On account of this misfortune he was almost continually tormented by the larger boys in school. For this reason he would not read aloud in his class. He came almost to hate the schoolroom, and especially the hard and high benches from which his feet hung dangling for hours each weary day. A sensation of bondage came to be associated with his daily tasks. A child never takes kindly to set tasks. But at last the schoolroom was converted into a center with delightful associations, when, through the aid of Professor Hurlburt, James succeeded in conquering his stammering difficulty.

The next summer Elizabeth Godfrey taught in the little red schoolhouse. One day she sent James with a tin pail for some water. The path led by Aunt Zuba Martin's garden. Through the picket fence the boy beheld some delicious ripe currants. They were too tempting for the youthful appetite to resist, and again and again the little hand plucked the “ forbidden fruit." Upon entering the schoolhouse his face betrayed embarrassment, and the stains upon his hands revealed the nature of the mischief he had perpetrated. The teacher was quick to convict him in the presence of the pupils.

"Go right to Aunt Zuba and confess you stole the currants," sternly commanded the teacher.

Snail-like, he dragged his heavy feet back to Mrs. Martin, the most humble and self-blaming lad, much ashamed, halfcrying. Aunt Zuba caught sight of him, as he entered the gate, and, greeting him with a smile, seeing his sadness, said very patronizingly,

What, my little man, come after more water a-ready?”

“S-s-sch-school-ma'am t-t-old me t-to come, and-and tell you I-I-I-st-stole your currants; and I-I-am sor-s-sor-sorry!"

Why! come here, my darling. Were you hungry? You should not steal, dear boy; but, when you want any more, come and ask me, and you shall have all you wish.”

Then she patted him tenderly on the cheek, and laid her hand upon his brow soothingly! The good aunt understood a boy's heart. A faithful teacher's promptness in correcting the first mistake, and a loving motherly sympathy from Aunt Zuba, impressed at the right moment, gave a moral direction to his restless and persistent spirit, - not to stain the hands with stolen juices, and always confess a fault where it is due. Both these good women are in the higher school of angels now.

Beneath a vein of light-hearted mirth and mischief, James had an undercurrent of deep feeling and serious thought. His imagination was deeply excited by the death of his Aunt Sally Corkings, who had suddenly passed away. As she lay in her coffin his mother pointed him to the face of the dead. The sight terrified him, and he implored his mother to take him straightway from the room. It should be remembered that a child is almost invariably terrified and appalled when it for the first time looks upon the features of a deceased person. James thought it a mistake that Aunt Sally should be shut up in a coffin, as it might be difficult for her to get out at the proper time. At that early period he was disposed to take a very natural view of the resurrection. He thought his Aunt, having been duly planted, would in due time sprout and come up like the vegetables in the garden. It was winter time and the snow was deep. They put the coffin on a stone-boat and dragged it with oxen to the grave; the white mantle of nature and the black drapery of the mourners forming a strange contrast, weirdly impressive to the lad.

“What did they put her in the ground for?” he silently asked. After the dismal funeral, he soberly went to his mother - always his oracle — with the inquiry:

“Will Aunt Sally sprout again, like corn and beans ? ”

“Her body, my son, will come to life again at the resurrection, in the end of time.”

« PreviousContinue »