A BOY I KNEW AND FOUR DOGS
By Laurence Hutton
NEW YORK AND LONDON HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 1898
By LAURENCE HUTTON. LITERARY LANDMARKS OF ROME. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00. LITERARY LANDMARKS OF FLORENCE. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00. LITERARY LANDMARKS OF VENICE. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00. LITERARY LANDMARKS OF JERUSALEM. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, 75 cents. LITERARY LANDMARKS OF LONDON. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 75. LITERARY LANDMARKS OF EDINBURGH. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00. PORTRAITS IN PLASTER. Illustrated. Printed on Large Paper with Wide Margins. 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, Uncut Edges and Gilt Top, $6 00. CURIOSITIES OF THE AMERICAN STAGE. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, Cloth, Ornamental, Uncut Edges and Gilt Top, $2 50. FROM THE BOOKS OF LAURENCE HUTTON. With Portrait. 16mo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00. (In "Harper's American Essayists.") OTHER TIMES AND OTHER SEASONS. With Portrait. 16mo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 00. (In "Harper's American Essayists.") EDWIN BOOTH. Illustrated. 32mo, Cloth, 50 cents. NEW YORK AND LONDON: HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS.
Copyright, 1898, by Harper & Brothers.
All rights reserved.
TO MARK TWAIN
THE CREATOR OF TOM SAWYER
ONE OF THE BEST BOYS I EVER KNEW
May the light of some morning skies In days when the sun knew how to rise, Stay with my spirit until I go To be the boy that I used to know. H. C. Bunner, in "Rowen."
THACKERAY AND THE BOY Frontispiece
THE BOY'S MOTHER Facing p. 4
ST. JOHN'S CHAPEL AND PARK " 6
THE BOY'S UNCLE JOHN " 8
THE BOY IN KILTS " 10
THE BOY PROMOTED TO TROUSERS " 12
"CRIED, BECAUSE HE HAD BEEN KISSED" " 14
"GOOD-MORNING, BOYS" " 16
PLAYING "SCHOOL" " 18
THE BOY'S SCOTCH GRANDFATHER " 20
THE HOUSE OF THE BOY'S GRANDFATHER—CORNER OF HUDSON AND NORTH MOORE STREETS " 22
"ALWAYS IN THE WAY" " 24
READY FOR A NEW-YEAR'S CALL " 26
A NEW-YEAR'S CALL " 28
TOM RILEY'S LIBERTY-POLE " 30
THE BOY ALWAYS CLIMBED OVER " 32
THE CHIEF ENGINEER " 34
"MRS. ROBERTSON DESCENDED IN FORCE UPON THE DEVOTED BAND" " 36
THE BOY AS VIRGINIUS " 38
JOHNNY ROBERTSON " 40
JANE PURDY " 42
JOE STUART " 44
BOB HENDRICKS " 46
MUSIC LESSONS " 48
THE BOY'S FATHER " 56
WHISKIE " 62
PUNCH " 64
MOP AND HIS MASTER " 68
ROY AND HIS MASTER " 74
ROY " 76
"HE TRIES VERY HARD TO LOOK PLEASANT" " 80
ROY " 82
THE WAITING THREE " 84
The papers upon which this volume is founded—published here by the courtesy of The Century Company—appeared originally in the columns of St. Nicholas. They have been reconstructed and rearranged, and not a little new matter has been added.
The portraits are all from life. That of The Boy's Scottish grandfather, facing page 20, is from a photograph by Sir David Brewster, taken in St. Andrews in 1846 or 1847. The subject sat in his own garden, blinking at the sun for many minutes, in front of the camera, when tradition says that his patience became exhausted and the artist permitted him to move. The Boy distinctly remembers the great interest the picture excited when it first reached this country.
Behind the tree in the extreme left of the view of The Boy's Scottish-American grandfather's house in New York, facing page 22, may be seen a portion of the home of Mr. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, in 1843 or 1844, some years earlier than the period of "The Story of a Bad Boy." Warm and constant friends—as men—for upwards of a quarter of a century, it is rather a curious coincidence that the boys—as boys—should have been near neighbors, although they did not know each other then, nor do they remember the fact.
The histories of "A Boy I Knew" and the "Four Dogs" are absolutely true, from beginning to end; nothing has been invented; no incident has been palliated or elaborated. The author hopes that the volume may interest the boys and girls he does not know as much as it has interested him. He has read it more than once; he has laughed over it, and he has cried over it; it has appealed to him in a peculiar way. But then, he knew The Dogs, and he knew The Boy!
A BOY I KNEW
A BOY I KNEW
He was not a very good boy, or a very bad boy, or a very bright boy, or an unusual boy in any way. He was just a boy; and very often he forgets that he is not a boy now. Whatever there may be about The Boy that is commendable he owes to his father and to his mother; and he feels that he should not be held responsible for that.
His mother was the most generous and the most unselfish of human beings. She was always thinking of somebody else—always doing for others. To her it was blessed to give, and it was not very pleasant to receive. When she bought anything, The Boy's stereotyped query was, "Who is to have it?" When anything was bought for her, her own invariable remark was, "What on earth shall I do with it?" When The Boy came to her, one summer morning, she looked upon him as a gift from Heaven; and when she was told that it was a boy, and not a bad-looking or a bad-conditioned boy, her first words were, "What on earth shall I do with it?"
She found plenty "to do with it" before she got through with it, more than forty years afterwards; and The Boy has every reason to believe that she never regretted the gift. Indeed, she once told him, late in her life, that he had never made her cry! What better benediction can a boy have than that?
The Boy's father was a scholar, and a ripe and good one. Self-made and self-taught, he began the serious struggle of life when he was merely a boy himself; and reading, and writing, and spelling, and languages, and mathematics came to him by nature. He acquired by slow degrees a fine library, and out of it a vast amount of information. He never bought a book that he did not read, and he never read a book unless he considered it worth buying and worth keeping. Languages and mathematics were his particular delight. When he was tired he rested himself by the solving of a geometrical problem. He studied his Bible in Latin, in Greek, in Hebrew, and he had no small smattering of Sanskrit. His chief recreation, on a Sunday afternoon or on a long summer evening, was a walk with The Boy among the Hudson River docks, when the business of the day, or the week, was over and the ship was left in charge of some old quartermaster or third mate. To these sailors the father would talk in each sailor's own tongue, whether it were Dutch or Danish, Spanish or Swedish, Russian or Prussian, or a patois of something else, always to the great wonderment of The Boy, who to this day, after many years of foreign travel, knows little more of French than "Combien?" and little more of Italian than "Troppo caro." Why none of these qualities of mind came to The Boy by direct descent he does not know. He only knows that he did inherit from his parent, in an intellectual way, a sense of humor, a love for books—as books—and a certain respect for the men by whom books are written.
It seemed to The Boy that his father knew everything. Any question upon any subject was sure to bring a prompt, intelligent, and intelligible answer; and, usually, an answer followed by a question, on the father's part, which made The Boy think the matter out for himself.
The Boy was always a little bit afraid of his father, while he loved and respected him. He believed everything his father told him, because his father never fooled him but once, and that was about Santa Claus!
When his father said, "Do this," it was done. When his father told him to go or to come, he went or he came. And yet he never felt the weight of his father's hand, except in the way of kindness; and, as he looks back upon his boyhood and his manhood, he cannot recall an angry or a hasty word or a rebuke that was not merited and kindly bestowed. His father, like the true Scotchman he was, never praised him; but he never blamed him—except for cause.
The Boy has no recollection of his first tooth, but he remembers his first toothache as distinctly as he remembers his latest; and he could not quite understand then why, when The Boy cried over that raging molar, the father walked the floor and seemed to suffer from it even more than did The Boy; or why, when The Boy had a sore throat, the father always had symptoms of bronchitis or quinsy.
The father, alas! did not live long enough to find out whether The Boy was to amount to much or not; and while The Boy is proud of the fact that he is his father's son, he would be prouder still if he could think that he had done something to make his father proud of him.
From his father The Boy received many things besides birth and education; many things better than pocket-money or a fixed sum per annum; but, best of all, the father taught The Boy never to cut a string. The Boy has pulled various cords during his uneventful life, but he has untied them all. Some of the knots have been difficult and perplexing, and the contents of the bundles, generally, have been of little import when they have been revealed; but he saved the strings unbroken, and invariably he has found those strings of great help to him in the proper fastening of the next package he has had occasion to send away.
The father had that strong sense of humor which Dr. Johnson—who had no sense of humor whatever—denied to all Scotchmen. No surgical operation was necessary to put one of Sydney Smith's jokes into the father's head, or to keep it there. His own jokes were as original as they were harmless, and they were as delightful as was his quick appreciation of the jokes of other persons.
A long siege with a certain bicuspid had left The Boy, one early spring day, with a broken spirit and a swollen face. The father was going, that morning, to attend the funeral of his old friend, Dr. McPherson, and, before he left the house, he asked The Boy what should be brought back to him as a solace. Without hesitation, a brick of maple sugar was demanded—a very strange request, certainly, from a person in that peculiar condition of invalidism, and one which appealed strongly to the father's own sense of the ridiculous.
When the father returned, at dinner-time, he carried the brick, enveloped in many series of papers, beginning with the coarsest kind and ending with the finest kind; and each of the wrappers was fastened with its own particular bit of cord or ribbon, all of them tied in the hardest of hard knots. The process of disentanglement was long and laborious, but it was persistently performed; and when the brick was revealed, lo! it was just a brick—not of maple sugar, but a plain, ordinary, red-clay, building brick which he had taken from some pile of similar bricks on his way up town. The disappointment was not very bitter, for The Boy knew that something else was coming; and he realized that it was the First of April and that he had been April-fooled! The something else, he remembers, was that most amusing of all amusing books, Phoenixiana, then just published, and over it he forgot his toothache, but not his maple sugar. All this happened when he was about twelve years of age, and he has ever since associated "Squibob" with the sweet sap of the maple, never with raging teeth.
It was necessary, however, to get even with the father, not an easy matter, as The Boy well knew; and he consulted his uncle John, who advised patient waiting. The father, he said, was absolutely devoted to The Commercial Advertiser, which he read every day from frontispiece to end, market reports, book notices, obituary notices, advertisements, and all; and if The Boy could hold himself in for a whole year his uncle John thought it would be worth it. The Commercial Advertiser of that date was put safely away for a twelvemonth, and on the First of April next it was produced, carefully folded and properly dampened, and was placed by the side of the father's plate; the mother and the son making no remark, but eagerly awaiting the result. The journal was vigorously scanned; no item of news or of business import was missed until the reader came to the funeral announcements on the third page. Then he looked at the top of the paper, through his spectacles, and then he looked, over his spectacles, at The Boy; and he made but one observation. The subject was never referred to afterwards between them. But he looked at the date of the paper, and he looked at The Boy; and he said: "My son, I see that old Dr. McPherson is dead again!"
The Boy was red-headed and long-nosed, even from the beginning—a shy, introspective, self-conscious little boy, made peculiarly familiar with his personal defects by constant remarks that his hair was red and that his nose was long. At school, for years, he was known familiarly as "Rufus," "Red-Head," "Carrot-Top," or "Nosey," and at home it was almost as bad.
His mother, married at nineteen, was the eldest of a family of nine children, and many of The Boy's aunts and uncles were but a few years his senior, and were his daily, familiar companions. He was the only member of his own generation for a long time. There was a constant fear, upon the part of the elders, that he was likely to be spoiled, and consequently the rod of verbal castigation was rarely spared. He was never praised, nor petted, nor coddled; and he was taught to look upon himself as a youth hairily and nasally deformed and mentally of but little wit. He was always falling down, or dropping things. He was always getting into the way, and he could not learn to spell correctly or to cipher at all. He was never in his mother's way, however, and he was never made to feel so. But nobody except The Boy knows of the agony which the rest of the family, unconsciously, and with no thought of hurting his feelings, caused him by the fun they poked at his nose, at his fiery locks, and at his unhandiness. He fancied that passers-by pitied him as he walked or played in the streets, and he sincerely pitied himself as a youth destined to grow up into an awkward, tactless, stupid man, at whom the world would laugh so long as his life lasted.
An unusual and unfortunate accident to his nose when he was eight or ten years old served to accentuate his unhappiness. The young people were making molasses candy one night in the kitchen of his maternal grandfather's house—the aunts and the uncles, some of the neighbors' children, and The Boy—and the half of a lemon, used for flavoring purposes, was dropped as it was squeezed by careless hands—very likely The Boy's own—into the boiling syrup. It was fished out and put, still full of the syrup, upon a convenient saucer, where it remained, an exceedingly fragrant object. After the odor had been inhaled by one or two of the party, The Boy was tempted to "take a smell of it"; when an uncle, boylike, ducked the luckless nose into the still simmering lemonful. The result was terrible. Red-hot sealing-wax could not have done more damage to the tender, sensitive feature.
The Boy carried his nose in a sling for many weeks, and the bandage, naturally, twisted the nose to one side. It did not recover its natural tint for a long time, and the poor little heart was nearly broken at the thought of the fresh disfigurement. The Boy felt that he had not only an unusually long nose, but a nose that was crooked and would always be as red as his hair.
He does not remember what was done to his uncle. But the uncle was for half a century The Boy's best and most faithful of friends. And The Boy forgave him long, long ago.
The Boy's first act of self-reliance and of conscious self-dependence was a very happy moment in his young life; and it consisted in his being able to step over the nursery fender, all alone, and to toast his own shins thereby, without falling into the fire. His first realization of "getting big" came to him about the same time, and with a mingled shock of pain and pleasure, when he discovered that he could not walk under the high kitchen-table without bumping his head. He tried it very often before he learned to go around that article of furniture, on his way from the clothes-rack, which was his tent when he camped out on rainy days, to the sink, which was his oasis in the desert of the basement floor. This kitchen was a favorite playground of The Boy, and about that kitchen-table centre many of the happiest of his early reminiscences. Ann Hughes, the cook, was very good to The Boy. She told him stories, and taught him riddles, all about a certain "Miss Netticoat," who wore a white petticoat, and who had a red nose, and about whom there still lingers a queer, contradictory legend to the effect that "the longer she stands the shorter she grows." The Boy always felt that, on account of her nose, there was a peculiar bond of sympathy between little Miss Netticoat and himself.
As he was all boy in his games, he would never cherish anything but a boy-doll, generally a Highlander, in kilts and with a glengarry, that came off! And although he became foreman of a juvenile hook-and-ladder company before he was five, and would not play with girls at all, he had one peculiar feminine weakness. His grand passion was washing and ironing. And Ann Hughes used to let him do all the laundry-work connected with the wash-rags and his own pocket-handkerchiefs, into which, regularly, every Wednesday, he burned little brown holes with the toy flat-iron, which would get too hot. But Johnny Robertson and Joe Stuart and the other boys, and even the uncles and the aunts, never knew anything about that—unless Ann Hughes gave it away!
The Boy seems to have developed, very early in life, a fondness for new clothes—a fondness which his wife sometimes thinks he has quite outgrown. It is recorded that almost his first plainly spoken words were "Coat and hat," uttered upon his promotion into a more boyish apparel than the caps and frocks of his infancy. And he remembers very distinctly his first pair of long trousers, and the impression they made upon him, in more ways than one. They were a black-and-white check, and to them was attached that especially manly article, the suspender. They were originally worn in celebration of the birth of the New Year, in 1848 or 1849, and The Boy went to his father's store in Hudson Street, New York, to exhibit them on the next business-day thereafter. Naturally they excited much comment, and were the subject of sincere congratulation. And two young clerks of his father, The Boy's uncles, amused themselves, and The Boy, by playing with him a then popular game called "Squails." They put The Boy, seated, on a long counter, and they slid him, backward and forward between them, with great skill and no little force. But, before the championship was decided, The Boy's mother broke up the game, boxed the ears of the players, and carried the human disk home in disgrace; pressing as she went, and not very gently, the seat of The Boy's trousers with the palm of her hand!
He remembers nothing more about the trousers, except the fact that for a time he was allowed to appear in them on Sundays and holidays only, and that he was deeply chagrined at having to go back to knickerbockers at school and at play.
The Boy's first boots were of about this same era. They were what were then known as "Wellingtons," and they had legs. The legs had red leather tops, as was the fashion in those days, and the boots were pulled on with straps. They were always taken off with the aid of the boot-jack of The Boy's father, although they could have been removed much more easily without the use of that instrument. Great was the day when The Boy first wore his first boots to school; and great his delight at the sensation he thought they created when they were exhibited in the primary department.
The Boy's first school was a dame's school, kept by a Miss or Mrs. Harrison, in Harrison Street, near the Hudson Street house in which he was born. He was the smallest child in the establishment, and probably a pet of the larger girls, for he remembers going home to his mother in tears, because one of them had kissed him behind the class-room door. He saw her often, in later years, but she never tried to do it again!
At that school he met his first love, one Phoebe Hawkins, a very sweet, pretty girl, as he recalls her, and, of course, considerably his senior. How far he had advanced in the spelling of proper names at that period is shown by the well-authenticated fact that he put himself on record, once as "loving his love with an F, because she was Feeby!"
Poor Phoebe Hawkins died before she was out of her teens. The family moved to Poughkeepsie when The Boy was ten or twelve, and his mother and he went there one day from Red Hook, which was their summer home, to call upon his love. When they asked, at the railroad-station, where the Hawkinses lived and how they could find the house, they were told that the carriages for the funeral would meet the next train. And, utterly unprepared for such a greeting, for at latest accounts she had been in perfect health, they stood, with her friends, by the side of Phoebe's open grave.
In his mind's eye The Boy, at the end of forty years, can see it all; and his childish grief is still fresh in his memory. He had lost a bird and a cat who were very dear to his heart, but death had never before seemed so real to him; never before had it come so near home. He never played "funeral" again.
In 1851 or 1852 The Boy went to another dame's school. It was kept by Miss Kilpatrick, on Franklin or North Moore Street. From this, as he grew in years, he was sent to the Primary Department of the North Moore Street Public School, at the corner of West Broadway, where he remained three weeks, and where he contracted a whooping-cough which lasted him three months. The other boys used to throw his hat upon an awning in the neighborhood, and then throw their own hats up under the awning in order to bounce The Boy's hat off—an amusement for which he never much cared. They were not very nice boys, anyway, especially when they made fun of his maternal grandfather, who was a trustee of the school, and who sometimes noticed The Boy after the morning prayers were said. The grandfather was very popular in the school. He came in every day, stepped upon the raised platform at the principal's desk, and said in his broad Scotch, "Good morning, boys!" to which the entire body of pupils, at the top of their lungs, and with one voice, replied, "G-o-o-d morning, Mr. Scott!" This was considered a great feature in the school; and strangers used to come from all over the city to witness it. Somehow it made The Boy a little bit ashamed; he does not know why. He would have liked it well enough, and been touched by it, too, if it had been some other boy's grandfather. The Boy's father was present once—The Boy's first day; but when he discovered that the President of the Board of Trustees was going to call on him for a speech he ran away; and The Boy would have given all his little possessions to have run after him. The Boy knew then, as well as he knows now, how his father felt; and he thinks of that occasion every time he runs away from some after-dinner or occasional speech which he, himself, is called upon to make.
After his North Moore Street experiences The Boy was sent to study under men teachers in boys' schools; and he considered then that he was grown up.
The Boy, as has been said, was born without the sense of spell. The Rule of Three, it puzzled him, and fractions were as bad; and the proper placing of e and i, or i and e, the doubling of letters in the middle of words, and how to treat the addition of a suffix in "y" or "tion" "almost drove him mad," from his childhood up. He hated to go to school, but he loved to play school; and when Johnny Robertson and he were not conducting a pompous, public funeral—a certain oblong hat-brush, with a rosewood back, studded with brass tacks, serving as a coffin, in which lay the body of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, or the Duke of Wellington, all of whom died when Johnny and The Boy were about eight years old—they were teaching each other the three immortal and exceedingly trying "R's"—reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic—in a play-school. Their favorite spelling-book was a certain old cook-book, discarded by the head of the kitchen, and considered all that was necessary for their educational purpose. From this, one afternoon, Johnnie gave out "Dough-nut," with the following surprising result. Conscious of the puzzling presence of certain silent consonants and vowels, The Boy thus set it down: "D-O, dough, N-O-U-G-H-T, nut—doughnut!" and he went up head in a class of one, neither teacher nor pupil perceiving the marvellous transposition.
All The Boy's religious training was received at home, and almost his first text-book was "The Shorter Catechism," which, he confesses, he hated with all his little might. He had to learn and recite the answers to those awful questions as soon as he could recite at all, and, for years, without the slightest comprehension as to what it was all about. Even to this day he cannot tell just what "Effectual Calling," or "Justification," is; and I am sure that he shed more tears over "Effectual Calling" than would blot out the record of any number of infantile sins. He made up his youthful mind that if he could not be saved without "Effectual Calling"—whatever that was—he did not want to be saved at all. But he has thought better of it since.
It is proper to affirm here that The Boy did not acquire his occasional swear-words from "The Shorter Catechism." They were born in him, as a fragment of Original Sin; and they came out of him innocently and unwittingly, and only for purposes of proper emphasis, long before the days of "Justification," and even before he knew his A, B, C's.
His earliest visit to Scotland was made when he was but four or five years of age, and long before he had assumed the dignity of trousers, or had been sent to school. His father had gone to the old home at St. Andrews hurriedly, upon the receipt of the news of the serious illness of The Boy's grandmother, who died before they reached her. Naturally, The Boy has little recollection of that sad month of December, spent in his grandfather's house, except that it was sad. The weather was cold and wet; the house, even under ordinary circumstances, could not have been a very cheerful one for a youngster who had no companions of his own age. It looked out upon the German Ocean—which at that time of the year was always in a rage, or in the sulks—and it was called "Peep o' Day," because it received the very first rays of the sun as he rose upon the British Isles.
The Boy's chief amusement was the feeding of "flour-scones" and oat-cakes to an old goat, who lived in the neighborhood, and in daily walks with his grandfather, who seemed to find some little comfort and entertainment in the lad's childish prattle. He was then almost the only grandchild; and the old man was very proud of his manner and appearance, and particularly amused at certain gigantic efforts on The Boy's part to adapt his own short legs to the strides of his senior's long ones.
After they had interviewed the goat, and had watched the wrecks with which the wild shore was strewn, and had inspected the Castle in ruins, and the ruins of the Cathedral, The Boy would be shown his grandmother's new-made grave, and his own name in full—a common name in the family—upon the family tomb in the old kirk-yard; all of which must have been very cheering to The Boy; although he could not read it for himself. And then, which was better, they would stand, hand in hand, for a long time in front of a certain candy-shop window, in which was displayed a little regiment of lead soldiers, marching in double file towards an imposing and impregnable tin fortress on the heights of barley-sugar. Of this spectacle they never tired; and they used to discuss how The Boy would arrange them if they belonged to him; with a sneaking hope on The Boy's part that, some day, they were to be his very own.
At the urgent request of the grandfather, the American contingent remained in St. Andrews until the end of the year; and The Boy still remembers vividly, and he will never forget, the dismal failure of "Auld Lang Syne" as it was sung by the family, with clasped hands, as the clock struck and the New Year began. He sat up for the occasion—or, rather, was waked up for the occasion; and of all that family group he has been, for a decade or more, the only survivor. The mother of the house was but lately dead; the eldest son, and his son, were going, the next day, to the other side of the world; and every voice broke before the familiar verse came to an end.
As The Boy went off to his bed he was told that his grandfather had something for him, and he stood at his knee to receive—a Bible! That it was to be the lead soldiers and the tin citadel he never for a moment doubted; and the surprise and disappointment were very great. He seems to have had presence of mind enough to conceal his feelings, and to kiss and thank the dear old man for his gift. But as he climbed slowly up the stairs, in front of his mother, and with his Bible under his arm, she overheard him sob to himself, and murmur, in his great disgust: "Well, he has given me a book! And I wonder how in thunder he thinks I am going to read his damned Scotch!"
This display of precocious profanity and of innate patriotism, upon the part of a child who could not read at all, gave unqualified pleasure to the old gentleman, and he never tired of telling the story as long as he lived.
The Boy never saw the grandfather again. He had gone to the kirk-yard, to stay, before the next visit to St. Andrews was made; and now that kirk-yard holds everyone of The Boy's name and blood who is left in the town.
The Boy was taught, from the earliest awakening of his reasoning powers, that truth was to be told and to be respected, and that nothing was more wicked or more ungentlemanly than a broken promise. He learned very early to do as he was told, and not to do, under any consideration, what he had said he would not do. Upon this last point he was almost morbidly conscientious, although once, literally, he "beat about the bush." His aunt Margaret, always devoted to plants and to flowers, had, on the back stoop of his grandfather's house, a little grove of orange and lemon trees, in pots. Some of these were usually in fruit or in flower, and the fruit to The Boy was a great temptation. He was very fond of oranges, and it seemed to him that a "home-made" orange, which he had never tasted, must be much better than a grocer's orange; as home-made cake was certainly preferable, even to the wonderful cakes made by the professional Mrs. Milderberger. He watched those little green oranges from day to day, as they gradually grew big and yellow in the sun. He promised faithfully that he would not pick any of them, but he had a notion that some of them might drop off. He never shook the trees, because he said he would not. But he shook the stoop! And he hung about the bush, which he was too honest to beat. One unusually tempting orange, which he had known from its bud-hood, finally overcame him. He did not pick it off, he did not shake it off; he compromised with his conscience by lying flat on his back and biting off a piece of it. It was not a very good action, nor was it a very good orange, and for that reason, perhaps, he went home immediately and told on himself. He told his mother. He did not tell his aunt Margaret. His mother did not seem to be as much shocked at his conduct as he was. But, in her own quiet way, she gave him to understand that promises were not made to be cracked any more than they were made to be broken—that he had been false to himself in heart, if not in deed, and that he must go back and make it "all right" with his aunt Margaret. She did not seem to be very much shocked, either; he could not tell why. But they punished The Boy. They made him eat the rest of the orange!
He lost all subsequent interest in that tropical glade, and he has never cared much for domestic oranges since.
Among the many bumps which are still conspicuously absent in The Boy's phrenological development are the bumps of Music and Locality. He whistled as soon as he acquired front teeth; and he has been singing "God Save the Queen" at the St. Andrew's Society dinners, on November the 30th, ever since he came of age. But that is as far as his sense of harmony goes. He took music-lessons for three quarters, and then his mother gave it up in despair. The instrument was a piano. The Boy could not stretch an octave with his right hand, the little finger of which had been broken by a shinny-stick; and he could not do anything whatever with his left hand. He was constantly dropping his bass-notes, which, he said, were "understood." And even Miss Ferguson—most patient of teachers—declared that it was of no use.
The piano to The Boy has been the most offensive of instruments ever since. And when his mother's old piano, graceful in form, and with curved legs which are still greatly admired, lost its tone, and was transformed into a sideboard, he felt, for the first time, that music had charms.
He had to practise half an hour a day, by a thirty-minute sand-glass that could not be set ahead; and he shed tears enough over "The Carnival of Venice" to have raised the tide in the Grand Canal. They blurred the sharps and the flats on the music-books—those tears; they ran the crotchets and the quavers together, and, rolling down his cheeks, they even splashed upon his not very clean little hands; and, literally, they covered the keys with mud.
Another serious trial to The Boy was dancing-school. In the first place, he could not turn round without becoming dizzy; in the second place, he could not learn the steps to turn round with; and in the third place, when he did dance he had to dance with a girl! There was not a boy in all Charraud's, or in all Dodworth's, who could escort a girl back to her seat, after the dance was over, in better time, or make his "thank-you bow" with less delay. His only voluntary terpsichorean effort at a party was the march to supper; and the only steps he ever took with anything like success were during the promenade in the lancers. In "hands-all-round" he invariably started with the wrong hand; and if in the set there were girls big enough to wear long dresses, he never failed to tear such out at the gathers. If anybody fell down in the polka it was always The Boy; and if anybody bumped into anybody else, The Boy was always the bumper, unless his partner could hold him up and steer him straight.
Games, at parties, he enjoyed more than dancing, although he did not care very much for "Pillows and Keys," until he became courageous enough to kneel before somebody except his maiden aunts. "Porter" was less embarrassing, because, when the door was shut, nobody but the little girl who called him but could tell whether he kissed her or not. All this happened a long time ago!
The only social function in which The Boy took any interest whatever was the making of New-Year's calls. Not that he cared to make New-Year's calls in themselves, but because he wanted to make more New-Year's calls than were made by any other boy. His "list," based upon last year's list, was commenced about February 1; and it contained the names of every person whom The Boy knew, or thought he knew, whether that person knew The Boy or not, from Mrs. Penrice, who boarded opposite the Bowling Green, to the Leggats and the Faures, who lived near Washington Parade Ground, the extreme social limits of his city in those days. He usually began by making a formal call upon his own mother, who allowed him to taste the pickled oysters as early as ten in the morning; and he invariably wound up by calling upon Ann Hughes in the kitchen, where he met the soap-fat man, who was above his profession, and likewise the sexton of Ann Hughes's church, who generally came with Billy, the barber on the corner of Franklin Street. There were certain calls The Boy always made with his father, during which he did not partake of pickled oysters; but he had pickled oysters everywhere else; and they never seemed to do him any serious harm.
The Boy, if possible, kept his new overcoat until New Year's Day—and he never left it in the hall when he called! He always wore new green kid gloves—why green?—fastened at the wrists with a single hook and eye; and he never took off his kid gloves when he called, except on that particular New Year's Day when his aunt Charlotte gave him the bloodstone seal-ring, which, at first, was too big for his little finger,—the only finger on which a seal-ring could be worn—and had to be made temporarily smaller with a piece of string.
When he received, the next New Year, new studs and a scarf-pin—all bloodstones, to match the ring—he exhibited no little ingenuity of toilet in displaying them both, because studs are hardly visible when one wears a scarf, unless the scarf is kept out of the perpendicular by stuffing one end of it into the sleeve of a jacket; which requires constant attention and a good deal of bodily contortion.
When The Boy met Johnny Robertson or Joe Stuart making calls, they never recognized each other, except when they were calling together, which did not often occur. It was an important rule in their social code to appear as strangers in-doors, although they would wait for each other outside, and compare lists. When they did present themselves collectively in any drawing-room, one boy—usually The Boy's cousin Lew—was detailed to whisper "T. T." when he considered that the proper limit of the call was reached. "T. T." stood for "Time to Travel"; and at the signal all conversation was abruptly interrupted, and the party trooped out in single file. The idea was not original with the boys. It was borrowed from the hook-and-ladder company, which made all its calls in a body, and in two of Kipp and Brown's stages, hired for the entire day. The boys always walked.
The great drawbacks to the custom of making New-Year's calls were the calls which had to be made after the day's hard work was supposed to be over, and when The Boy and his father, returning home very tired, were told that they must call upon Mrs. Somebody, and upon Mrs. Somebody-else, whom they had neglected to visit, because the husbands and the sons of these ladies had called upon the mother of The Boy. New Year's Day was not the shortest day of the year, by any means, but it was absolutely necessary to return the Somebody's call, no matter how late the hour, or how tired the victims of the social law. And it bored the ladies of the Somebody household as much as it bored the father and The Boy.
The Boy was always getting lost. The very first time he went out alone he got lost! Told not to go off the block, he walked as far as the corner of Leonard Street, put his arm around the lamp-post, swung himself in a circle, had his head turned the wrong way, and marched off, at a right angle, along the side street, with no home visible anywhere, and not a familiar sign in sight. A ship at sea without a rudder, a solitary wanderer in the Great American Desert without a compass, could not have been more utterly astray. The Boy was so demoralized that he forgot his name and address; and when a kindly policeman picked him up, and carried him over the way, to the Leonard Street station-house for identification, he felt as if the end of everything had come. It was bad enough to be arrested, but how was he to satisfy his own conscience, and explain matters to his mother, when it was discovered that he had broken his solemn promise, and crossed the street? He had no pocket-handkerchief; and he remembers that he spoiled the long silk streamers of his Glengarry bonnet by wiping his eyes upon them. He was recognized by his Forty-second-plaid gingham frock, a familiar object in the neighborhood, and he was carried back to his parents, who had not had time to miss him, and who, consequently, were not distracted. He lost nothing by the adventure but himself, his self-respect, a pint of tears—and one shoe.
He was afterwards lost in Greenwich Street, having gone there on the back step of an ice-cart; and once he was conveyed as far as the Hudson River Railroad Depot, at Chambers Street, on his sled, which he had hitched to the milkman's wagon, and could not untie. This was very serious, indeed; for The Boy realized that he had not only lost himself but his sleigh, too. Aunt Henrietta found The Boy sitting disconsolately in front of Wall's bake-shop; but the sleigh did not turn up for several days. It was finally discovered, badly scratched, in the possession of "The Head of the Rovers."
"The Hounds" and "The Rovers" were rival bands of boys, not in The Boy's set, who for many years made out-door life miserable to The Boy and to his friends. They threw stones and mud at each other, and at everybody else; and The Boy was not infrequently blamed for the windows they broke. They punched all the little boys who were better dressed than they were, and they were even depraved enough, and mean enough, to tell the driver every time The Boy or Johnny Robertson attempted to "cut behind."
There was also a band of unattached guerillas who aspired to be, and often pretended to be, either "Hounds" or "Rovers"—they did not care which. They always hunted in couples, and if they met The Boy alone they asked him to which of the organizations he himself belonged. If he said he was a "Rover," they claimed to be "Hounds," and pounded him. If he declared himself in sympathy with the "Hounds," they hoisted the "Rovers'" colors, and punched him again. If he disclaimed both associations, they punched him anyway, on general principles. "The Head of the Rovers" was subsequently killed, in front of Tom Riley's liberty-pole in Franklin Street, in a fireman's riot, and "The Chief of the Hounds," who had a club-foot, became a respectable egg-merchant, with a stand in Washington Market, near the Root-beer Woman's place of business, on the south side. The Boy met two of the gang near the Desbrosses Street Ferry only the other day; but they did not recognize The Boy.
The only spot where The Boy felt really safe from the interference of "The Hounds" and "The Rovers" was in St. John's Square, that delightful oasis in the desert of brick and mortar and cobble-stones which was known as the Fifth Ward. It was a private enclosure, bounded on the north by Laight Street, on the south by Beach Street, on the east by Varick Street, and on the west by Hudson Street; and its site is now occupied by the great freight-warehouses of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company.
In the "Fifties," and long before, it was a private park, to which only the property owners in its immediate neighborhood had access. It possessed fine old trees, winding gravel-walks, and meadows of grass. In the centre was a fountain, whereupon, in the proper season, the children were allowed to skate on both feet, which was a great improvement over the one-foot gutter-slides outside. The Park was surrounded by a high iron railing, broken here and there by massive gates, to which The Boy had a key. But he always climbed over. It was a point of etiquette, in The Boy's set, to climb over on all occasions, whether the gates were unlocked or not. And The Boy, many a time, has been known to climb over a gate, although it stood wide open! He not infrequently tore his clothes on the sharp spikes by which the gates were surmounted; but that made no difference to The Boy—until he went home!
The Boy once had a fight in the Park, with Bill Rice, about a certain lignum-vitae peg-top, of which The Boy was very fond, and which Bill Rice kicked into the fountain. The Boy got mad, which was wrong and foolish of The Boy; and The Boy, also, got licked. And The Boy never could make his mother understand why he was silly and careless enough to cut his under-lip by knocking it against Bill Rice's knuckles. Bill subsequently apologized by saying that he did not mean to kick the top into the fountain. He merely meant to kick the top. And it was all made up.
The Boy did not fight much. His nose was too long. It seemed that he could not reach the end of it with his fists when he fought; and that the other fellows could always reach it with theirs, no matter how far out, or how scientifically, his left arm was extended. It was "One, two, three—and recover"—on The Boy's nose! The Boy was a good runner. His legs were the only part of his anatomy which seemed to him as long as his nose. And his legs saved his nose in many a fierce encounter.
The Boy first had daily admission to St. John's Park after the family moved to Hubert Street, when The Boy was about ten years old; and for half a decade or more it was his happy hunting-ground—when he was not kept in school! It was a particularly pleasant place in the autumn and winter months; for he could then gather "smoking-beans" and horse-chestnuts; and he could roam at will all over the grounds without any hateful warning to "Keep Off the Grass."
The old gardener, generally a savage defender of the place, who had no sense of humor as it was exhibited in boy nature, sometimes let the boys rake the dead leaves into great heaps and make bonfires of them, if the wind happened to be in the right direction. And then what larks! The bonfire was a house on fire, and the great garden-roller, a very heavy affair, was "Engine No. 42," with which the boys ran to put the fire out. They all shouted as loudly and as unnecessarily as real firemen did, in those days; the foreman gave his orders through a real trumpet, and one boy had a real fireman's hat with "Engine No. 42" on it. He was chief engineer, but he did not run with the machine: not because he was chief engineer, but because while in active motion he could not keep his hat on. It was his father's hat, and its extraordinary weight was considerably increased by the wads of newspaper packed in the lining to make it fit. The chief engineer held the position for life on the strength of the hat, which he would not lend to anybody else. The rest of the officers of the company were elected, viva voce, every time there was a fire.
This entertainment came to an end, like everything else, when the gardener chained the roller to the tool-house, after Bob Stuart fell under the machine and was rolled so flat that he had to be carried home on a stretcher, made of overcoats tied together by the sleeves. That is the only recorded instance in which the boys, particularly Bob, left the Park without climbing over. And the bells sounded a "general alarm." The dent made in the path by Bob's body was on exhibition until the next snow-storm.
The favorite amusements in the Park were shinny, baseball, one-old-cat, and fires. The Columbia Baseball Club was organized in 1853 or 1854. It had nine members, and The Boy was secretary and treasurer. The uniform consisted chiefly of a black leather belt with the initials [reversed C]B[reversed B]C in white letters, hand-painted, and generally turned the wrong way. The first base was an ailantus-tree; the second base was another ailantus-tree; the third base was a button-ball-tree; the home base was a marble head-stone, brought for that purpose from an old burying-ground not far away; and "over the fence" was a home-run. A player was caught out on the second bounce, and he was "out" if hit by a ball thrown at him as he ran. The Boy was put out once by a crack on the ear, which put The Boy out very much.
"The Hounds" and "The Rovers" challenged "The Columbias" repeatedly. But that was looked upon simply as an excuse to get into the Park, and the challenges were never accepted. The challengers were forced to content themselves with running off with the balls which went over the fence; an action on their part which made home-runs through that medium very unpopular and very expensive. In the whole history of "The Hounds" and "The Rovers," nothing that they pirated was ever returned but The Boy's sled.
Contemporary with the Columbia Baseball Club was a so-called "Mind-cultivating Society," organized by the undergraduates of McElligott's School, in Greene Street. The Boy, as usual, was secretary when he was not treasurer. The object was "Debates," but all the debating was done at the business meetings, and no mind ever became sufficiently cultivated to master the intricacies of parliamentary law. The members called it a Secret Society, and on their jackets they wore, as conspicuously as possible, a badge-pin consisting of a blue enamelled circlet containing Greek letters in gold. In a very short time the badge-pin was all that was left of the Society; but to this day the secret of the Society has never been disclosed. No one ever knew, or will ever know, what the Greek letters stood for—not even the members themselves.
The Boy was never a regular member of any fire-company, but almost as long as the old Volunteer Fire Department existed, he was what was known as a "Runner." He was attached, in a sort of brevet way, to "Pearl Hose No. 28," and, later, to "11 Hook and Ladder." He knew all the fire districts into which the city was then divided; his ear was always alert, even in the St. John's Park days, for the sound of the alarm-bell, and he ran to every fire at any hour of the day or night, up to ten o'clock P.M. He did not do much when he got to the fire but stand around and "holler." But once—a proud moment—he helped steer the hook-and-ladder truck to a false alarm in Macdougal Street—and once—a very proud moment, indeed—he went into a tenement-house, near Dr. Thompson's church, in Grand Street, and carried two negro babies down-stairs in his arms. There was no earthly reason why the babies should not have been left in their beds; and the colored family did not like it, because the babies caught cold! But The Boy, for once in his life, tasted the delights of self-conscious heroism.
When The Boy, as a bigger boy, was not running to fires he was going to theatres, the greater part of his allowance being spent in the box-offices of Burton's Chambers Street house, of Brougham's Lyceum, corner of Broome Street and Broadway, of Niblo's, and of Castle Garden. There were no afternoon performances in those days, except now and then when the Ravels were at Castle Garden; and the admission to pit and galleries was usually two shillings—otherwise, twenty-five cents. His first play, so far as he remembers, was "The Stranger," a play dismal enough to destroy any taste for the drama, one would suppose, in any juvenile mind. He never cared very much to see "The Stranger" again, but nothing that was a play was too deep or too heavy for him. He never saw the end of any of the more elaborate productions, unless his father took him to the theatre (as once in a while he did), for it was a strict rule of the house, until The Boy was well up in his teens, that he must be in by ten o'clock. His father did not ask him where he was going, or where he had been; but the curfew in Hubert Street tolled at ten. The Boy calculated carefully and exactly how many minutes it took him to run to Hubert Street from Brougham's or from Burton's; and by the middle of the second act his watch—a small silver affair with a hunting-case, in which he could not keep an uncracked crystal—was always in his hand. He never disobeyed his father, and for years he never knew what became of Claude Melnotte after he went to the wars; or if Damon got back in time to save Pythias before the curtain fell. The Boy, naturally, had a most meagre notion as to what all these plays were about, but he enjoyed his fragments of them as he rarely enjoys plays now. Sometimes, in these days, when the air is bad, and plays are worse, and big hats are worse than either, he wishes that he were forced to leave the modern play-house at nine-forty-five, on pain of no supper that night, or twenty lines of "Virgil" the next day.
On very stormy afternoons the boys played theatre in the large garret of The Boy's Hubert Street house; a convenient closet, with a door and a window, serving for the Castle of Elsinore in "Hamlet," for the gunroom of the ship in "Black-eyed Susan," or for the studio of Phidias in "The Marble Heart," as the case might be. "The Brazilian Ape," as requiring more action than words, was a favorite entertainment, only they all wanted to play Jocko the Ape; and they would have made no little success out of the "Lady of Lyons" if any of them had been willing to play Pauline. Their costumes and properties were slight and not always accurate, but they could "launch the curse of Rome," and describe "two hearts beating as one," in a manner rarely equalled on the regular stage. The only thing they really lacked was an audience, neither Lizzie Gustin nor Ann Hughes ever being able to sit through more than one act at a time. When The Boy, as Virginius, with his uncle Aleck's sword-cane, stabbed all the feathers out of the pillow which represented the martyred Virginia; and when Joe Stuart, as Falstaff, broke the bottom out of Ann Hughes's clothes-basket, the license was revoked, and the season came to an untimely end.
Until the beginning of the weekly, or the fortnightly, sailings of the Collins line of steamers from the foot of Canal Street (a spectacle which they never missed in any weather), Joe Stuart, Johnny Robertson, and The Boy played "The Deerslayer" every Saturday in the back-yard of The Boy's house. The area-way was Glimmer-glass, in which they fished, and on which they canoed; the back-stoop was Muskrat Castle; the rabbits were all the wild beasts of the Forest; Johnny was Hawk-Eye, The Boy was Hurry Harry, and Joe Stuart was Chingachgook. Their only food was half-baked potatoes—sweet potatoes if possible—which they cooked themselves and ate ravenously, with butter and salt, if Ann Hughes was amiable, and entirely unseasoned if Ann was disposed to be disobliging.
They talked what they fondly believed was the dialect of the Delaware tribe, and they were constantly on the lookout for the approaches of Rivenoak, or the Panther, who were represented by any member of the family who chanced to stray into the enclosure. They carefully turned their toes in when they walked, making so much effort in this matter that it took a great deal of dancing-school to get their feet back to the "first position" again; and they even painted their faces when they were on the war-path. The rabbits had the worst of it!
The campaign came to a sudden and disastrous conclusion when the hostile tribes, headed by Mrs. Robertson, descended in force upon the devoted band, because Chingachgook broke one of Hawk-Eye's front teeth with an arrow, aimed at the biggest of the rabbits, which was crouching by the side of the roots of the grape-vine, and playing that he was a panther of enormous size.
Johnny Robertson and The Boy had one great superstition—to wit, Cracks! For some now inexplicable reason they thought it unlucky to step on cracks; and they made daily and hourly spectacles of themselves in the streets by the eccentric irregularity of their gait. Now they would take long strides, like a pair of ostriches, and now short, quick steps, like a couple of robins; now they would hop on both feet, like a brace of sparrows; now they would walk on their heels, now on their toes; now with their toes turned in, now with their toes turned out—at right angles, in a splay-footed way; now they would walk with their feet crossed, after the manner of the hands of very fancy, old-fashioned piano-players, skipping from base to treble—over cracks. The whole performance would have driven a sensitive drill-sergeant or ballet-master to distraction. And when they came to a brick sidewalk they would go all around the block to avoid it. They could cross Hudson Street on the cobblestones with great effort, and in great danger of being run over; but they could not possibly travel upon a brick pavement, and avoid the cracks. What would have happened to them if they did step on a crack they did not exactly know. But, for all that, they never stepped on cracks—of their own free will!
The Boy's earliest attempts at versification were found, the other day, in an old desk, and at the end of almost half a century. The copy is in his own boyish, ill-spelled print; and it bears no date. The present owner, his aunt Henrietta, well remembers the circumstances and the occasion, however, having been an active participant in the acts the poem describes, although she avers that she had no hand in its composition. The original, it seems, was transcribed by The Boy upon the cover of a soap-box, which served as a head-stone to one of the graves in his family burying-ground, situated in the back-yard of the Hudson Street house, from which he was taken before he was nine years of age. The monument stood against the fence, and this is the legend it bore—rhyme, rhythm, metre, and orthography being carefully preserved:
"Three little kitens of our old cat Were berrid this day in this grassplat. They came to there deth in an old slop pale, And after loosing their breth They were pulled out by the tale. These three little kitens have returned to their maker, And were put in the grave by The Boy, Undertaker."
At about this period The Boy officiated at the funeral of another cat, but in a somewhat more exalted capacity. It was the Cranes' cat, at Red Hook—a Maltese lady, who always had yellow kittens. The Boy does not remember the cause of the cat's death, but he thinks that Uncle Andrew Knox ran over her, with the "dyspepsia-wagon"—so called because it had no springs. Anyway, the cat died, and had to be buried. The grave was dug in the garden of the tavern, near the swinging-gate to the stable, and the whole family attended the services. Jane Purdy, in a deep crape veil, was the chief mourner; The Boy's aunts were pall-bearers, in white scarves; The Boy was the clergyman; while the kittens—who did not look at all like their mother—were on hand in a funeral basket, with black shoestrings tied around their necks.
Jane was supposed to be the disconsolate widow. She certainly looked the part to perfection; and it never occurred to any of them that a cat, with kittens, could not possibly have left a widow behind her.
The ceremony was most impressive; the bereaved kittens were loud in their grief; when, suddenly, the village-bell tolled for the death of an old gentleman whom everybody loved, and the comedy became a tragedy. The older children were conscience-stricken at the mummery, and they ran, demoralized and shocked, into the house, leaving The Boy and the kittens behind them. Jane Purdy tripped over her veil, and one of the kittens was stepped on in the crush. But The Boy proceeded with the funeral.
When The Boy got as far as a room of his own, papered with scenes from circus-posters, and peopled by tin soldiers, he used to play that his bed was the barge Mayflower, running from Barrytown to the foot of Jay Street, North River, and that he was her captain and crew. She made nightly trips between the two ports; and by day, when she was not tied up to the door-knob—which was Barrytown—she was moored to the handle of the wash-stand drawer—which was the dock at New York. She never was wrecked, and she never ran aground; but great was the excitement of The Boy when, as not infrequently was the case, on occasions of sweeping, Hannah, the up-stairs girl, set her adrift.
The Mayflower was seriously damaged by fire once, owing to the careless use, by a deck-hand, of a piece of punk on the night before the Fourth of July; this same deck-hand being nearly blown up early the very next morning by a bunch of fire-crackers which went off—by themselves—in his lap. He did not know, for a second or two, whether the barge had burst her boiler or had been struck by lightning!
Barrytown is the river port of Red Hook—a charming Dutchess County hamlet in which The Boy spent the first summer of his life, and in which he spent the better part of every succeeding summer for a quarter of a century; and he sometimes goes there yet, although many of the names he knows were carved, in the long-agoes, on the tomb. He always went up and down, in those days, on the Mayflower, the real boat of that name, which was hardly more real to him than was the trundle-bed of his vivid, nightly imagination. They sailed from New York at five o'clock P.M., an hour looked for, and longed for, by The Boy, as the very beginning of summer, with all its delightful young charms; and they arrived at their destination about five of the clock the next morning, by which time The Boy was wide awake, and on the lookout for Lasher's Stage, in which he was to travel the intervening three miles. And eagerly he recognized, and loved, every landmark on the road. Barringer's Corner; the half-way tree; the road to the creek and to Madame Knox's; and, at last, the village itself, and the tavern, and the tobacco-factory, and Massoneau's store, over the way; and then, when Jane Purdy had shown him the new kittens and the little chickens, and he had talked to "Fido" and "Fanny," or to Fido alone after Fanny was stolen by gypsies—Fanny was Fido's wife, and a poodle—he rushed off to see Bob Hendricks, who was just his own age, barring a week, and who has been his warm friend for more than half a century; and then what good times The Boy had!
Bob was possessed of a grandfather who could make kites, and swings, and parallel-bars, and things which The Boy liked; and Bob had a mother—and he has her yet, happy Bob!—who made the most wonderful of cookies, perfectly round, with sparkling globules of sugar on them, and little round holes in the middle; and Bob and The Boy for days, and weeks, and months together hen's-egged, and rode in the hay-carts, and went for the mail every noon, and boosted each other up into the best pound-sweet-tree in the neighborhood; and pelted each other with little green apples, which weighed about a pound to the peck; and gathered currants and chestnuts in season; and with long straws they sucked new cider out of bung-holes; and learned to swim; and caught their first fish; and did all the pleasant things that all boys do.
At Red Hook they smoked their first cigar—half a cigar, left by uncle Phil—and they wished they hadn't! And at Red Hook they disobeyed their mothers once, and were found out. They were told not to go wading in the creek upon pain of not going to the creek at all; and for weeks they were deprived of the delights of the society of the Faure boys, through whose domain the creek ran, because, when they went to bed on that disastrous night, it was discovered that Bob had on The Boy's stockings, and that The Boy was wearing Bob's socks; a piece of circumstantial evidence which convicted them both. When the embargo was raised and they next went to the creek, it is remembered that Bob tore his trousers in climbing over a log, and that The Boy fell in altogether.
The Boy usually kept his promises, however, and he was known even to keep a candy-cane—twenty-eight inches long, red and white striped like a barber's pole—for a fortnight, because his mother limited him to the consumption of two inches a day. But he could not keep any knees to his trousers; and when The Boy's mother threatened to sew buttons—brass buttons, with sharp and penetrating eyes—on to that particular portion of the garment in question, he wanted to know, in all innocence, how they expected him to say his prayers!
One of Bob's earliest recollections of The Boy is connected with a toy express-wagon on four wheels, which could almost turn around on its own axis. The Boy imported this vehicle into Red Hook one summer, and they used it for the transportation of their chestnuts and their currants and their apples, green and ripe, and the mail, and most of the dust of the road; and Bob thinks, to this day, that nothing in all these after years has given him so much profound satisfaction and enjoyment as did that little cart.
Bob remembers, too—what The Boy tries to forget—The Boy's daily practice of half an hour on the piano borrowed by The Boy's mother from Mrs. Bates for that dire purpose. Mrs. Bates's piano is almost the only unpleasant thing associated with Red Hook in all The Boy's experience of that happy village. It was pretty hard on The Boy, because, in The Boy's mind, Red Hook should have been a place of unbroken delights. But The Boy's mother wanted to make an all-round man of him, and when his mother said so, of course it had to be done or tried. Bob used to go with The Boy as far as Dr. Bates's house, and then hang about on the gate until The Boy was released; and he asserts that the music which came out of the window in response to The Boy's inharmonic touch had no power whatever to soothe his own savage young breast. He attributes all his later disinclination to music to those dreary thirty minutes of impatient waiting.
The piano and its effect upon The Boy's uncertain temper may have been the innocent cause of the first, and only, approach to a quarrel which The Boy and Bob ever had. The prime cause, however, was, of course, a girl! They were playing, that afternoon, at Cholwell Knox's, when Cholwell said something about Julia Booth which Bob resented, and there was a fight, The Boy taking Cholwell's part; why, he cannot say, unless it was because of his jealousy of Bob's affection and admiration for that charming young teacher, who won all hearts in the village, The Boy's among the number. Anyway, Bob was driven from the field by the hard little green apples of the Knox orchard; more hurt, he declares, by the desertion of his ally than by all the blows he received.
It never happened again, dear Bob, and, please God, it never will!
Another trouble The Boy had in Red Hook was Dr. McNamee, a resident dentist, who operated upon The Boy, now and then. He was a little more gentle than was The Boy's city dentist, Dr. Castle; but he hurt, for all that. Dr. Castle lived in Fourth Street, opposite Washington Parade Ground, and on the same block with Clarke and Fanning's school. And to this day The Boy would go miles out of his way rather than pass Dr. Castle's house. Personally Dr. Castle was a delightful man, who told The Boy amusing stories, which The Boy could not laugh at while his mouth was wide open. But professionally Dr. Castle was to The Boy an awful horror, of whom he always dreamed when his dreams were particularly bad. As he looks back upon his boyhood, with its frequent toothache and its long hours in the dentists' chairs, The Boy sometimes thinks that if he had his life to live over again, and could not go through it without teeth, he would prefer not to be born at all!
It has rather amused The Boy, in his middle age, to learn of the impressions he made upon Red Hook in his extreme youth. Bob, as has been shown, associates him with a little cart, and with a good deal of the concord of sweet sounds. One old friend remembers nothing but his phenomenal capacity for the consumption of chicken pot-pie. Another old friend can recall the scrupulously clean white duck suits which he wore of afternoons, and also the blue-checked long apron which he was forced to wear in the mornings; both of them exceedingly distasteful to The Boy, because the apron was a girl's garment, and because the duck suit meant "dress-up," and only the mildest of genteel play; while Bob's sister dwells chiefly now upon the wonderful valentine The Boy sent once to Zillah Crane. It was so large that it had to have an especial envelope made to fit it; and it was so magnificent, and so delicate, that, notwithstanding the envelope, it came in a box of its own. It had actual lace, and pinkish Cupids reclining on light-blue clouds; and in the centre of all was a compressible bird-cage, which, when it was pulled out, like an accordion, displayed not a dove merely, but a plain gold ring—a real ring, made of real gold. Nothing like it had ever been seen before in all Dutchess County; and it was seen and envied by every girl of Zillah's age between Rhinebeck and Tivoli, between Barrytown and Pine Plains.
The Boy did an extensive business in the valentine line, in the days when February Fourteenth meant much more to boys than it does now. He sent sentimental valentines to Phoebe Hawkins and comic valentines to Ann Hughes, both of them written anonymously, and both directed in a disguised hand. But both recipients always knew from whom they came; and, in all probability, neither of them was much affected by the receipt. The Boy, as he has put on record elsewhere, never really, in his inmost heart, thought that comic valentines were so very comic, because those that came to him usually reflected upon his nose, or were illuminated with portraits of gentlemen of all ages adorned with supernaturally red hair.
In later years, when Bob and The Boy could swim—a little—and had learned to take care of themselves in water over their heads, the mill-pond at Red Hook played an important part in their daily life there. They sailed it, and fished it, and camped out on its banks, with Ed Curtis—before Ed went to West Point—and with Dick Hawley, Josie Briggs, and Frank Rodgers, all first-rate fellows. But that is another story.
The Boy was asked, a year or two ago, to write a paper upon "The Books of his Boyhood." And when he came to think the matter over he discovered, to his surprise, that the Books of his Boyhood consisted of but one book! It was bound in two twelvemo green cloth volumes; it bore the date of 1850, and it was filled with pictorial illustrations of "The Personal History and Experiences of David Copperfield, the Younger." It was the first book The Boy ever read, and he thought then, and sometimes he thinks now, that it was the greatest book ever written. The traditional books of the childhood of other children came later to The Boy: "Robinson Crusoe," and the celebrated "Swiss Family" of the same name; "The Desert Home," of Mayne Reid; Marryat's "Peter Simple"; "The Leather Stocking Tales"; "Rob Roy"; and "The Three Guardsmen" were well thumbed and well liked; but they were not The Boy's first love in fiction, and they never usurped, in his affections, the place of the true account of David Copperfield. It was a queer book to have absorbed the time and attention of a boy of eight or nine, who had to skip the big words, who did not understand it all, but who cried, as he has cried but once since, whenever he came to that dreadful chapter which tells the story of the taking away of David's mother, and of David's utter, hopeless desolation over his loss.
How the book came into The Boy's possession he cannot now remember, nor is he sure that his parents realized how much, or how often, he was engrossed in its contents. It cheered him in the measles, it comforted him in the mumps. He took it to school with him, and he took it to bed with him; and he read it, over and over again, especially the early chapters; for he did not care so much for David after David became Trotwood, and fell in love.
When, in 1852, after his grandfather's death, The Boy first saw London, it was not the London of the Romans, the Saxons, or the Normans, or the London of the Plantagenets or the Tudors, but the London of the Micawbers and the Traddleses, the London of Murdstone and Grinby, the London of Dora's Aunt and of Jip. On his arrival at Euston Station the first object upon which his eyes fell was a donkey-cart, a large wooden tray on wheels, driven, at a rapid pace, by a long-legged young man, and followed, at a pace hardly so rapid, by a boy of about his own age, who seemed in great mental distress. This was the opening scene. And London, from that moment, became to him, and still remains, a great moving panorama of David Copperfield.
He saw the Orfling, that first evening, snorting along Tottenham Court Road; he saw Mealy Potatoes, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, lounging along Broad Street; he saw Martha disappear swiftly and silently into one of the dirty streets leading from Seven Dials; he saw innumerable public-houses—the Lion, or the Lion and something else—in anyone of which David might have consumed that memorable glass of Genuine Stunning ale with a good head on it. As they drove through St. Martin's Lane, and past a court at the back of the church, he even got a glimpse of the exterior of the shop where was sold a special pudding, made of currants, but dear; a two-pennyworth being no larger than a pennyworth of more ordinary pudding at any other establishment in the neighborhood. And, to crown all, when he looked out of his back bedroom window, at Morley's Hotel, he discovered that he was looking at the actual bedroom windows of the Golden Cross on the Strand, in which Steerforth and little Copperfield had that disastrous meeting which indirectly brought so much sorrow to so many innocent men and women.
This was but the beginning of countless similar experiences, and the beginning of a love for Landmarks of a more important but hardly of a more delightful character. Hungerford Market and Hungerford Stairs, with the blacking-warehouse abutting on the water when the tide was in, and on the mud when the tide was out, still stood near Morley's in 1852; and very close to them stood then, and still stands to-day, the old house in Buckingham Street, Adelphi, where, with Mrs. Crupp, Trotwood Copperfield found his lodgings when he began his new life with Spenlow and Jorkins. These chambers, once the home of Clarkson Stanfield, and since of Mr. William Black and of Dr. B. E. Martin, became, in later days, very familiar to The Boy, and still are haunted by the great crowd of the ghosts of the past. The Boy has seen there, within a few years, and with his eyes wide open, the spirits of Traddles, of Micawber, of Steerforth, of Mr. Dick, of Clara Peggotty and Daniel, of Uriah Heep—the last slept one evening on the sofa pillows before the fire, you may remember—and of Aunt Betsy herself. But in 1852 he could only look at the outside of the house, and, now and then, when the door was open, get a glimpse of the stairs down which some one fell and rolled, one evening, when somebody else said it was Copperfield!
The Boy never walked along the streets of London by his father's side during that memorable summer without meeting, in fancy, some friend of David's, without passing some spot that David knew, and loved, or hated. And he recognized St. Paul's Cathedral at the first glance, because it had figured as an illustration on the cover of Peggotty's work-box!
Perhaps the event which gave him the greatest pleasure was a casual meeting with little Miss Moucher in a green omnibus coming from the top of Baker Street to Trafalgar Square. It could not possibly have been anybody else. There were the same large head and face, the same short arms. "Throat she had none; waist she had none; legs she had none, worth mentioning." The Boy can still hear the pattering of the rain on the rattly windows of that lumbering green omnibus; he can remember every detail of the impressive drive; and Miss Moucher, and the fact of her existence in the flesh, and there present, wiped from his mind every trace of Mme. Tussaud's famous gallery, and the waxworks it contained.
This was the Book of The Boy's Boyhood. He does not recommend it as the exclusive literature of their boyhood to other boys; but out of it The Boy knows that he got nothing but what was healthful and helping. It taught him to abominate selfish brutality and sneaking falsehood, as they were exhibited in the Murdstones and the Heeps; it taught him to keep Charles I., and other fads, out of his "Memorials"; it taught him to avoid rash expenditure as it was practised by the Micawbers; it showed him that a man like Steerforth might be the best of good fellows and at the same time the worst and most dangerous of companions; it showed, on the other hand, that true friends like Traddles are worth having and worth keeping; it introduced him to the devoted, sisterly affection of a woman like Agnes; and it proved to him that the rough pea-jacket of a man like Ham Peggotty might cover the simple heart of as honest a gentleman as ever lived.
The Boy, in his time, has been brought in contact with many famous men and women; but upon nothing in his whole experience does he look back now with greater satisfaction than upon his slight intercourse with the first great man he ever knew. Quite a little lad, he was staying at the Pulaski House in Savannah, in 1853—perhaps it was in 1855—when his father told him to observe particularly the old gentleman with the spectacles, who occupied a seat at their table in the public dining-room; for, he said, the time would come when The Boy would be very proud to say that he had breakfasted, and dined, and supped with Mr. Thackeray. He had no idea who, or what, Mr. Thackeray was; but his father considered him a great man, and that was enough for The Boy. He did pay particular attention to Mr. Thackeray, with his eyes and his ears; and one morning Mr. Thackeray paid a little attention to him, of which he is proud, indeed. Mr. Thackeray took The Boy between his knees, and asked his name, and what he intended to be when he grew up. He replied, "A farmer, sir." Why, he cannot imagine, for he never had the slightest inclination towards a farmer's life. And then Mr. Thackeray put his gentle hand upon The Boy's little red head, and said: "Whatever you are, try to be a good one."
To have been blessed by Thackeray is a distinction The Boy would not exchange for any niche in the Temple of Literary Fame; no laurel crown he could ever receive would be able to obliterate, or to equal, the sense of Thackeray's touch; and if there be any virtue in the laying on of hands The Boy can only hope that a little of it has descended upon him.
And whatever The Boy is, he has tried, for Thackeray's sake, "to be a good one!"
AN EAU DE VIE
In doggerel lines, Whiskie my dog I sing. These lines are after Virgil, Pope, or some one. His very voice has got a Whiskie Ring. I call him Whiskie, 'cause he's such a rum one.
His is a high-whine, and his nip has power, Hot-Scotch his temper, but no Punch is merrier; Not Rye, not Schnappish, he's no Whiskie-Sour. I call him Whiskie—he's a Whis-Skye terrier.
It was Dr. John Brown, of Edinboro', who once spoke in sincere sympathy of the man who "led a dog-less life." It was Mr. "Josh Billings" who said that in the whole history of the world there is but one thing that money cannot buy, to wit: the wag of a dog's tail. And it was Professor John C. Van Dyke who declared the other day, in reviewing the artistic career of Landseer, that he made his dogs too human. It was the Great Creator himself who made dogs too human—so human that sometimes they put humanity to shame.
The Boy has been the friend and confidant of Four Dogs who have helped to humanize him for a quarter of a century and more, and who have souls to be saved, he is sure. And when he crosses the Stygian River he expects to find, on the other shore, a trio of dogs wagging their tails almost off, in their joy at his coming, and with honest tongues hanging out to lick his hands and his feet. And then he is going, with these faithful, devoted dogs at his heels, to talk about dogs with Dr. John Brown, Sir Edwin Landseer, and Mr. "Josh Billings."
The first dog, Whiskie, was an alleged Skye terrier, coming, alas! from a clouded, not a clear, sky. He had the most beautiful and the most perfect head ever seen on a dog, but his legs were altogether too long; and the rest of him, was—just dog. He came into the family in 1867 or 1868. He was, at the beginning, not popular with the seniors; but he was so honest, so ingenuous, so "square," that he made himself irresistible, and he soon became even dearer to the father and to the mother than he was to The Boy. Whiskie was not an amiable character, except to his own people. He hated everybody else, he barked at everybody else, and sometimes he bit everybody else—friends of the household as well as the butcher-boys, the baker-boys, and the borrowers of money who came to the door. He had no discrimination in his likes and dislikes, and, naturally, he was not popular, except among his own people. He hated all cats but his own cat, by whom he was bullied in a most outrageous way. Whiskie had the sense of shame and the sense of humor.
One warm summer evening, the family was sitting on the front steps, after a refreshing shower of rain, when Whiskie saw a cat in the street, picking its dainty way among the little puddles of water. With a muttered curse he dashed after the cat without discovering, until within a few feet of it, that it was the cat who belonged to him. He tried to stop himself in his impetuous career, he put on all his brakes, literally skimming along the street railway-track as if he were out simply for a slide, passing the cat, who gave him a half-contemptuous, half-pitying look; and then, after inspecting the sky to see if the rain was really over and how the wind was, he came back to his place between the father and The Boy as if it were all a matter of course and of every-day occurrence. But he knew they were laughing at him; and if ever a dog felt sheepish, and looked sheepish—if ever a dog said, "What an idiot I've made of myself!" Whiskie was that dog.
The cat was a martinet in her way, and she demanded all the privileges of her sex. Whiskie always gave her precedence, and once when he, for a moment, forgot himself and started to go out of the dining-room door before her, she deliberately slapped him in the face; whereupon he drew back instantly, like the gentleman he was, and waited for her to pass.
Whiskie was fourteen or fifteen years of age in 1882, when the mother went to join the father, and The Boy was taken to Spain by a good aunt and cousins. Whiskie was left at home to keep house with the two old servants who had known him all his life, and were in perfect sympathy with him. He had often been left alone before during the family's frequent journeyings about the world, the entire establishment being kept running purely on his account. Usually he did not mind the solitude; he was well taken care of in their absence, and he felt that they were coming back some day. This time he knew it was different. He would not be consoled. He wandered listlessly and uselessly about the house; into the mother's room, into his master's room; and one morning he was found in a dark closet, where he had never gone before, dead—of a broken heart.
He had only a stump of a tail, but he will wag it—when next his master sees him!
The second dog was Punch—a perfect, thorough-bred Dandie Dinmont, and the most intelligent, if not the most affectionate, of the lot. Punch and The Boy kept house together for a year or two, and alone. The first thing in the morning, the last thing at night, Punch was in evidence. He went to the door to see his master safely off; he was sniffing at the inside of the door the moment the key was heard in the latch, no matter how late at night; and so long as there was light enough he watched for his master out of the window. Punch, too, had a cat—a son, or a grandson, of Whiskie's cat. Punch's favorite seat was in a chair in the front basement. Here, for hours, he would look out at the passers-by—indulging in the study of man, the proper study of his kind. The chair was what is known as "cane-bottomed," and through its perforations the cat was fond of tickling Punch, as he sat. When Punch felt that the joke had been carried far enough, he would rise in his wrath, chase the cat out into the kitchen, around the back-yard, into the kitchen again, and then, perhaps, have it out with the cat under the sink—without the loss of a hair, the use of a claw, or an angry spit or snarl. Punch and the cat slept together, and dined together, in utter harmony; and the master has often gone up to his own bed, after a solitary cigar, and left them purring and snoring in each other's arms. They assisted at each other's toilets, washed each other's faces, and once, when Mary Cook was asked what was the matter with Punch's eye, she said: "I think, Sur, that the cat must have put her finger in it, when she combed his bang!"
Punch loved everybody. He seldom barked, he never bit. He cared nothing for clothes, or style, or social position. He was as cordial to a beggar as he would have been to a king; and if thieves had come to break through and steal, Punch, in his unfailing, hospitable amiability, would have escorted them through the house, and shown them where the treasures were kept. All the children were fond of Punch, who accepted mauling as never did dog before. His master could carry him up-stairs by the tail, without a murmur of anything but satisfaction on Punch's part; and one favorite performance of theirs was an amateur representation of "Daniel in the Lion's Den," Punch being all the animals, his master, of course, being the prophet himself. The struggle for victory was something awful. Daniel seemed to be torn limb from limb, Punch, all the time, roaring like a thousand beasts of the forest, and treating his victim as tenderly as if he were wooing a sucking dove. The entertainment—when there were young persons at the house—was of nightly occurrence, and always repeatedly encored. Punch, however, never cared to play Lion to the Daniel of anybody else.
One of Punch's expressions of poetic affection is still preserved by a little girl who is now grown up, and has little girls of her own. It was attached to a Christmas-gift—a locket containing a scrap of blue-gray wool. And here it is:
"Punch Hutton is ready to vow and declare That his friend Milly Barrett's a brick. He begs she'll accept of this lock of his hair; And he sends her his love—and a lick."
Punch's most memorable performance, perhaps, was his appearance at a dinner-party of little ladies and gentlemen. They were told that the chief dish of the entertainment was one which they all particularly liked, and their curiosity, naturally, was greatly excited. The table was cleared, the carving-knife was sharpened in a most demonstrative manner, and half a dozen pairs of very wide-open little eyes were fixed upon the door through which the waitress entered, bearing aloft an enormous platter, upon which nothing was visible but a cover of equally enormous size—both of them borrowed, by-the-way, for the important occasion. When the cover was raised, with all ceremony, Punch was discovered, in a highly nervous state, and apparently as much delighted and amused at the situation as was anybody else. The guests, with one voice, declared that he was "sweet enough to eat."
Punch died very suddenly; poisoned, it is supposed, by somebody whom he never injured. He never injured a living soul! And when Mary Cook dug a hole, by the side of Whiskie's grave, one raw afternoon, and put Punch into it, his master is not ashamed to confess that he shut himself up in his room, threw himself onto the bed, and cried as he has not cried since they took his mother away from him.
Mop was the third of the quartet of dogs, and he came into the household like the Quality of Mercy. A night or two after the death of Punch, his master chanced to be dining with the Coverleys, in Brooklyn. Mr. Coverley, noticing the trappings and the suits of woe which his friend wore in his face, naturally asked the cause. He had in his stable a Dandie as fine as Punch, whom he had not seen, or thought of, for a month. Would the bereaved one like to see him? The mourner would like to look at any dog who looked like the companion who had been taken from him; and a call, through a speaking-tube, brought into the room, head over heels, with all the wild impetuosity of his race, Punch personified, his ghost embodied, his twin brother. The same long, lithe body, the same short legs (the fore legs shaped like a capital S), the same short tail, the same hair dragging the ground, the same beautiful head, the same wistful, expressive eye, the same cool, insinuating nose. The new-comer raced around the table, passing his owner unnoticed, and not a word was spoken. Then this Dandie cut a sort of double pigeon-wing, gave a short bark, put his crooked, dirty little feet on the stranger's knees, insinuated his cool and expressive nose into an unresisting hand, and wagged his stump of a tail with all his loving might. It was the longed-for touch of a vanished paw, the lick of a tongue that was still. He was unkempt, uncombed, uncared for, but he was another Punch, and he knew a friend when he saw one. "If that were my dog he would not live forgotten in a stable: he would take the place in the society to which his birth and his evident breeding entitle him," was the friend's remark, and Mop regretfully went back to his stall.