Page images
PDF
EPUB

“Well, what makes 'em put her in a coffin? She can't get out!”

"The coffin will rot away, my son."

“And not the body rot, mother? Won't something then eat Aunt Sally up, so she won't live again?”

The mother and child were alike here confronted with a great mystery, and she could only answer in the usual ortho

dox way:

“Oh well, my son, these are God's mysteries. We must not ask too many questions."

The next spring there was a "revival of religion in Whitingham, and “Aunt Betsey ” was converted. Whilst witnessing her baptism James clung to his mother, and in a trembling voice asked,

“What are they doing with Aunt Betsey, drowning her?” 'She is to be saved, my son." “Saved? What is that, mother?"

She then told him how God had prepared a hell of fire and brimstone for wicked people, and even for people who were not wicked if they did not believe right, and do certain things which God required, one of which was to dip them in baptismal water. All of this was very mysterious to the boy.

When his mother informed him that a solemn angel kept a complete debt and credit account of his daily transactions, he readily inferred that he alone, might be able to keep the “Recording Angel " exceedingly busy by giving him constant employment. Whether the balance of that account would be in favor or against him was a problem, however, and his young mind struggled with it in secret until the merry voice was hushed and a shadow came over the sunny face of the child.

How dreamily prophetic were the successive sabbaths, when this youth walked beside his mother to church, holding her by the hand, inquiring what it all meant. B. F. Taylor paints the picture of those “meeting-times”:

You may

“For a sprig of green carraway carries me there,

To the old village church and the old village choir;
When, clear of the floor, my feet slowly swung,
And timed the sweet praise of the song as they sung,
Till the glory aslant from the afternoon sun
Seemed the rafters of gold in God's temple begun.

smile at the nasals of old Deacon Brown,
Who followed by scent till he ran the tune down;
And the dear Sister Green, with more goodness than grace,
Rose and fell on the tunes as she stood in her place;
And, where old 'Coronation' exultingly flows,
Tried to reach the high notes on the tips of her toes.
To the land of the leal they went with their song,
Where the choir and the chorus together belong.
Oh, be lifted, ye gates ! let me hear them again!
Blessed song! blessed Sabbath! forever, amen!

The social hive in Whitingham was now becoming too contracted. The means of subsistence failed to keep pace with the increase of population. James's parents began to feel the narowing limits of the little valley and the stony hillside, and so yielded to the impulse which was becoming quite common in those days, to try their fortunes further west. So the Peebles family pulled up stakes and moved to Smithville, Chenango Co., N. Y. Here new hardships were presented, and for a time it was quite a struggle to school the children and make the "ends meet." James was now about twelve years old. To him this new location was quite a different world from the one where his cradle was laid. The social scenery was completely changed. New acquaintances were formed, and he soon became a favorite with the young people. As we have already seen, under the tuition of Professor Hurlburt he was cured of stammering. This was a great joy to him. His natural exuberance now began to brim over the surfaces of his character, and he sought acquaintances where once he shunned contact with jeering schoolmates. The propensity of the average schoolboy to heap ridicule and insult upon a school fellow who has inherited some defect or misfortune, is well-nigh irre

pressible and universal. The cases are very rare where such a misfortune elicits tender pity or sympathy from the young.

James was now not only becoming a general favorite with the young people, but the damsels, especially in the country round about, began to be aware that the boy, now just beginning to fledge toward early manhood, was a very charming young fellow. And he, exuberant over his stammering victory, and not knowing just what to do with himself, became pierced with an arrow from Cupid's bow. He was now thirteen. If poetry is potential in the boy, a first love will be pretty sure to call it forth. The poetry was precipitated. After sending the palpitating verses to the bashful girl, who, it seems, was "going to sea,” the psychological effusion suddenly vanished. The animus of the poetry indicates at this age the musical genius of the man: so we snatch it from oblivion. The first poetry and first little shoe should always be preserved.

“ When the storm-god wildly rages,

And the foaming billows roar;
When thou art far away, my lady,

I'll think of thee the more.

Often friends in life deceive us,

Till we know not whom to trust;
But the links of love that bind us,

Oh ! may they never, never rust!

Though oceans may between us roll,

Still will fancy love to trace,
In thy true, devoted soul,

Ever thy remembered face.

I'll think of thee when evening's ray

Is gleaming o'er the sea;
When gentle twilight's shadows play

On mountain, vale, and tree."

At Smithville James attended a select school taught by Amos H. Bedient. Here he made rapid progress in grammar,

composition, geography, rhetoric, and elocution. Between school hours there was much mischievous roguery perpetrated in the neighborhood. A few examples will suffice: A certain deacon whom the boys regarded as very stingy of his fruit and melons, had an orchard and melon patch near his house. Just beyond the house was a narrow and miry swale, below a spring, across which the deacon had a plank walk. A plank projected from either bank with long legs inserted in one end, which went down into the mire. A gap in the center of about eight feet was closed by a loose plank. One night during the fruit and melon season James plotted a little fun at the deacon's expense. Taking two companions with him he went forth in the “ stilly hours," removed the loose plank from the walk across the swale, and then sent his two companions up a tree that was loaded with fruit, near the house. Here they made sufficient noise to awaken the deacon, who came out in too great a hurry to don his pantaloons. The boys dropped down out of the apple tree and ran around by the head of the swale by the spring and then doubled toward the path. The deacon took a "short cut” to head them off, making directly for the plank walk, which he did not stop to inspect. The next moment he was nearly up to his arm-pits in the center of the swale, and the boys made good their escape.

On another occasion this same deacon was pulling a crop of flax a mile up the road from his residence. He left his onehorse wagon by the roadside under the wide-spreading branches of a second-growth walnut tree. James passed that way in the evening, and seeing the wagon, it occurred to him that he might again have a little fun at the deacon's expense. So when night came on, he gathered together a half dozen boys, and returning to the wagon, they proceeded to hoist it into the tree, twelve or fifteen feet above the ground. While this was in progress the deacon came that way on foot, returning from an evening chat with a neighbor. He quietly stopped under the tree and watched the proceedings. The boys tugged away until they got the wagon in position so it

would not slide back again, and when about to descend they were confronted by the deacon at the foot of the tree! who sternly demanded what they were up to. The boys were completely taken by surprise, but James hastily explained that they were trying to "tree a coon."

"Well, boys," replied the deacon, “I think I've got you treed, and if you wish to get away with a whole carcass, you put that wagon down where you found it; and mind ye, if I catch you in mischief again you will not be let off so easy."

The wagon was soon restored to its place by the roadside, and the boys beat a hasty retreat.

The next victim was a Methodist class leader given to “shouting,” who resided one and a half miles from the village church. In those days the Methodist “Quarterly Meeting was an important affair, holding over Saturday and Sunday. This sect was very unpopular then. Sunday at nine A, M. was the hour for their "love-feast," at which everybody was expected to be present. A number of brethren from adjacent towns went home with the aforesaid class leader on Saturday night. The good brother greased his wagon and had everything in readiness for an early start to the “ love-feast " Sunday morning. This was another opportunity for James. Taking a couple of boys with him, he went on Saturday night, removed a linch-pin from the Methodist brother's wagon, took off a fore-wheel and placed it on top of the sign post at the village tavern. The good brother and his family had a lesson in “Christian patience" on Sunday morning. They failed to give in their testimony at the "love-feast."

Eugene Field must have had just such youngsters as James in his mind when he wrote his " Jest 'Fore Christmas ": “Father calls me William, sister calls me Will,

Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill !
Mighty glad I ain't a girl -- ruther be a boy,
Without them sashes, curls and things, that's worn by Fauntleroy!
Love to chawnk green apples an' go swimmin' in the lake –
Hate to take the castor-ile they give for belly-ache!

« PreviousContinue »