Page images

Most all the time, the whole year 'round, there ain't no flies on me.
But jest 'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!
Got a yeller dog named Sport, sick him on the cat;
First thing she knows she don't know where she's at !
Got a clipper sled, an' when us kids goes out to slide
'Long comes the grocery cart, and we all hook a ride!
But sometimes when the grocery man is worrited an' cross,
He reaches at us with his whip, an' larrups up his hoss,
An' then I laff an’ holler, “Oh, ye never teched me!”
But jest 'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!

Gran'ma says she hopes that when I get to be a man,
I'll be a missionarer like her oldest brother, Dan,
As was et up by the cannibuls that lives in Ceylon's isle,
Where every prospeck pleases, an' only man is vile!
But gran'ma she has never been to see a Wild West show
Nor read the life of Daniel Boone or else I guess she'd know
That Buff'lo Bill an' cowboys is good enough for me!
Excep' jest 'fore Christmas, when I'm good as I kin be!

And then old Sport he hangs around, so solemn-like an' still,
His eyes they seem a-sayin: “What's the matter, little Bill?”
The old cat sneaks down off her perch an’ wonders what's become
Of them two enemies of hern that used to make things hum!
But I am so perlite an' tend so carnestly to biz,
That mother says to father: “How improved our Willie is !”
But father, havin' been a boy hisself, suspicions me
When jest 'fore Christmas I'm as good as I kin be!

For Christmas, with its lots an’ lots of candies, cakes and toys,
Was made, they say, for proper kids and not for naughty boys;
So wash yer face an' bresh yer hair, an' mind yer p's and q's,
And don't bust out yer pantaloons, and don't wear out yer shoes ;
Say “Yessum ” to the ladies, and “Yessur” to the men,
An' when they's company, don't pass yer plate for pie again;
But, thinkin' of the things yer'd like to see upon that tree,
Just 'fore Christmas be as good as yer kin be!”

Notwithstanding these little episodes, James made great proficiency in his studies during the following winter. He was

also very active in the Literary Society and Debating School. He even persuaded himself that he was quite a proficient orator. Indeed, so well satisfied was he with his intellectual acquisitions, that he resolved in the spring to return to his native country, Vermont, and make money by teaching elocution. Returning, he was warmly received in Whitingham, and congratulated by his friends for his marked “lingual improvement.” The elocutionary school he opened there was really his first business venture. As a pecuniary success it fell far short of his expectations. After paying all expenses he realized for several months' work but fifteen dollars. The disposal of these hard earnings is the sure index of his sweet sympathies, running then quite at random, as do mountain streams, to bless the jagged fern. Meeting a poor, unfortunate traveler one day, lame, ragged, and sorrowful, his heart was touched, and he impulsively emptied the whole fifteen into the beggar's grateful hand, saying, “ I am even now better off than he, the poor lame man!” Here is the key-note to his nature,- sympathetic; sometimes imprudent in giving. No money, no home, hungry and weary, he sat by the roadside, and ate a raw turnip for a supper, the tears flowing freely.

* Look up! the skies are blue, the night unbinds

Her starry tresses; all the holy air
Cradling within its breast the infant winds,

Sleeps dreamless in her frame's diffusion there;
Till Morning, on his minaret shall stand,
And sound the call to prayer, from land to land.”

- Harris.



APRIC 1903




“What would'st thou have, aspiring soul ?

Claim it, for 'tis already thine.
Thy wish is born of what thou hast,

Concealed within thy soul divine.”

“Come, Fear and Doubt:
Come, horrible dread of that which awaits the dead.
Leer and grin at me, ye imps of darkness, brood of hell !
Chatter and mew. Twist your features more horribly!
Ye can not frighten me, I stand stock-still,
Laughing at all your horrors !”

- Lauer.

Misfortunes in Vermont taught James a wholesome but bitter lesson. He did not however sit down by the willows and weep, but resolved that he would hereafter mix prudence with impulse, and again take up the battle of life with some sort of purpose in view. But for the present, that purpose was provisional, since he had only a hazy, ill-defined idea of what his profession or occupation in life should be; but he saw plainly that an education must be a fitting preliminary. So for the time being, he resolved to apply himself with the utmost assiduity to his studies. Returning to Smithville, he again placed himself under the tuition of Prof. Bedient, and soon won for himself a high recommendation. But he was poor and must supply his own needs while pursuing his studies. This he did by teaching a portion of the time each year. He was now sixteen. Securing a certificate without trouble, he entered with high hopes upon the experiment of teaching his first school in Pitcher, Chenango Co., N. Y.

Some of the pupils in this school were older than himself, but gifted with tact he was soon on good terms with them all,

enlisting a deep interest and enthusiasm in their studies. Each morning the school was called a few minutes before nine o'clock, to give the pupils a little talk on the objects in life and the importance of acquiring an education. Soon a debating school was organized, and evening spelling schools were frequent, into all of which their beloved teacher heartily entered. In the debating school he was a leading spirit, and even thus early gave some promise of those brilliant gifts which became so conspicuous later in life. A natural joy and exuberance abounded through all the early years of his manhood, and we may add through middle life, and still continues unabated through his old age.

Evangelical religion became a very active factor in Pitcher during his first winter's school, and James' emotional nature was tested in a manner he had hitherto little dreamed of. The acquisition of such a social and brilliant young man by the church was considered very desirable, but his observation and reflections during his first week's stay did not incline him strongly in that direction. He boarded with a Baptist deacon who — on account of the original sin which his son had inherited — found it necessary, one morning, to abruptly suspend prayer that he might chastise the boy, after which he resumed at the point of interruption and wound up in regular form. This sandwich of incongruous elements corporal punishment and fervent prayer — somewhat diminished the young teacher's respect for religious ceremonies. But about that time one of those religio-magnetic fevers, otherwise described as "a revival of religion," was raging in Smithville. A great pressure was brought to bear on the young schoolmaster. He was earnestly prayed for and warned in the most emphatic language. All the while the Spirit of Sinai thundered from the pulpit; and hollow voices rehearsed the terrors of the law with frightful emphasis. He was besieged by the young converts of both sexes, who exhorted him in passionate language to close in with the offers of mercy. Suiting the action to the words of supplication, his neck was

encircled by delicate arms. In the ecstasy of faith, and hope, and love, they held his hands and wept, and prayed for the conversion of his soul. Skepticism could hold out no longer. How could an ordinary sinner resist such sisterly overtures ? Could he refute the preacher and close his ears to the awful thunders of Sinai? No. And how could he coldly shrink away from the loving presence of gentler ministers? Of human nature - ever since the fall we may not expect so much. The young pedagogue was forced to surrender without terms. He said he believed. Then the preacher declared there was “joy in heaven;" and the assembly shouted, Gloria in Excelsis!

When the meeting terminated, the magnetic spell was broken. A little exercise in the open air and the holy fervor subsided. James subjected his experience to a more searching analysis. True, there were pleasant associations connected with his religious awakening, but he began to doubt the genuineness of the conversion. He could not comprehend the supernatural. And then, he was not certain that the clergy were sincere. Often their preaching and their practice did not correspond. Within a few months, this pious Elder Bush, under whose revival preaching this youth was supposed to have been "born again," abandoned his wife and four children and eloped with his maid-servant into an adjoining State. Immediately, James's religion fell to zero. He was all at sea, tossed hither and thither by the passing waves. He read infidel authors. Paine's “ Age of Reason ” and “ Volney's “Ruins" charmed him. Drifting into this open sea of skepticism, he was disposed at times to regard all religion a sham, and worship a priest-invented farce.

And yet, young Peebles inherited a lofty ideal of religion and a supreme love of truth. Some sort of equilibrium between these rash extremes was sure to be found. In his early religious training the tares grew up with the wheat, and in his haste to root out the tares, he pulled up much of the wheat also. The mental soil by no means became barren, but gave assurance of golden harvests that would be reaped in later life.

« PreviousContinue »