A MAN AND A WOMAN
By STANLEY WATERLOO
[A NEW EDITION]
Way & Williams
Copyright, 1892, by Stanley Waterloo
All rights reserved
I PROLOGUE II CLOSE TO NATURE III BOY, BIRD, AND SNAKE IV GROWING UP WITH THE COUNTRY V GRIM-VISAGED WAR VI THE SPEARING OF ALFRED VII HOW FICTION MADE FACT VIII NEW FORCES AT WORK IX MRS. POTIPHAR X THE BUILDING OF THE FENCE XI SETTLING WITH WOODELL XII INCLINATION AGAINST CONSCIENCE XIII FAREWELL TO THE FENCE XIV A RUGGED LOST SHEEP XV A STRANGE WORLD XVI THE REALLY UGLY DUCKLING XVII "EH, BUT SHE'S WINSOME" XVIII THE WOMAN XIX PURGATORY XX TWO FOOLS XXI "MY LITTLE RHINOCEROS-BIRD" XXII TWO FOOLS STILL XXIII JUST A PANG XXIV "AS TO THOSE OTHERS" XXV NATURE AGAIN XXVI ADVENTURES MANIFOLD XXVII THE HOUSE WONDERFUL XXVIII THE APE XXIX THE FIRST DISTRICT XXX THE NINTH WARD XXXI THEIR FOOLISH WAYS XXXII THE LAW OF NATURE XXXIII WHITEST ASHES
A MAN AND A WOMAN.
But for a recent occurrence I should certainly not be telling the story of a friend, or, rather, I should say, of two friends of mine. What that occurrence was I will not here indicate—it is unnecessary; but it has not been without its effect upon my life and plans. If it be asked by those who may read these pages under what circumstances it became possible for me to acquire such familiarity with certain scenes and incidents in the lives of one man and one woman,—scenes and incidents which, from their very nature, were such that no third person could figure in them,—I have only to explain that Grant Harlson and I were friends from boyhood, practically from babyhood, and that never, during all our lives together, did a change occur in our relationship. He has told me many things of a nature imparted by one man to another very rarely, and only when each of the two feels that they are very close together in that which sometimes makes two men as one. He was proud and glad when he told me these things—they were but episodes, and often trivial ones—and I was interested deeply. They added the details of a history much of which I knew and part of which I had guessed at.
He was not quite the ordinary man, this Grant Harlson, close friend of mine. He had an individuality, and his name is familiar to many people in the world. He has been looked upon by the tactful as but one of a type in a new nationality—a type with traits not yet clearly defined, a type not large, nor yet, thank God, uncommon—one of the best of the type; to me, the best. A close friend perhaps is blind. No; he is not that: he but sees so clearly that the world, with poorer view, may not always agree with him.
I hardly know how to describe this same Grant Harlson. At this stage of my story it is scarcely requisite that I should, but the account is loose and vagrant and with no chronology. Physically, he was more than most men, six feet in height, deep of chest, broad-shouldered, strong-legged and strong-featured, and ever in good health, so far as all goes, save the temporary tax on recklessness nature so often levies, and the other irregular tax she levies by some swoop of the bacilli of which the doctors talk so much and know so little. I mean only that he might catch a fever with a chill addition if he lay carelessly in some miasmatic swamp on some hunting expedition, or that, in time of cholera, he might have, like other men, to struggle with the enemy. But he tossed off most things lightly, and had that vitality which is of heredity, not built up with a single generation, though sometimes lost in one. Forest and farm-bred, college-bred, city-fostered and broadened and hardened. A man of the world, with experiences, and in his quality, no doubt, the logical, inevitable result of such experiences—one with a conscience flexile and seeking, but hard as rock when once satisfied. One who never, intentionally, injured a human being, save for equity's sake. One who, of course, wandered in looking for what was, to him, the right, but who, having once determined, was ever steadfast. A man who had seen and known and fed and felt and risked, but who seemed to me always as if his religion were: "What shall I do? Nature says so-and-so, and the Power beyond rules nature." Laws of organization for political purposes, begun before Romulus and Remus, and varied by the dale-grouped Angles or the Northmen's Thing, did not seem to much impress him. He recognized their utility, wanted to improve them, made that his work, and eventually observed most of them. This, it seemed to me, was his honest make-up—a Berseker, a bare-sark descendant of the Vikings, in a dress-coat. He had passions, and gratified them sometimes. He had ambitions, and worked for them. He had a conscience, and was guided by it.
It was always interesting to me to look at him in youthful fray, more so, years afterward, in club or in convention, or anywhere, and try to imagine him the country small boy. Keen, hard, alert in all the ways of a great city, it was difficult to conceive him in his early youth, well as I knew it; difficult to reflect that his dreams at night were not of the varying results of some late scheme, nor of white shoulders at the opera, nor the mood of the Ninth Ward, nor of the drift of business, but of some farm-house's front yard in mid-summer with a boy aiming a long shot-gun at a red-winged poacher in a cherry tree, or that he saw, in sleep, the worn jambs beside the old-fashioned fireplace where, winter mornings, he kicked on his frozen boots, and the living-room where, later in the morning, he ate so largely of buckwheat cakes. He was a figure, wicked some said, a schemer many said, a rock of refuge for his friends said more. This was the man, no uncommon type in the great cities of the great republic.
As for the woman, I write with greater hesitation. I can tell of her in this place but in vague outline. She was slender, not tall, brown-haired and with eyes like those of the deer or Jersey heifer, save that they had the accompanying expression of thought or mood or fancy which mobile human features with them give. She was a woman of the city, with all that gentle craft which is a woman's heritage. She was good. She was unlike all others in the world to one man—no, to two.
I have but tried to tell what these two people appeared to me. I can see them as they were, but cannot tell it as I should. I have not succeeded well in expressing myself in words. Even were I cleverer, I should fail. We can picture characters but approximately.
CLOSE TO NATURE.
The great forest belt, oak, ash, beech and maple, sweeps southwestward from New England through New York and trends westward and even to the north again till one sees the same landscape very nearly reproduced in Wisconsin wilds. Not far from where its continuity is broken by the southern reach of Lake Huron was a clearing cut in the wood. The land was rolling, and through the clearing ran a vigorous creek, already alder-fringed—for the alder follows the chopper swiftly—and glittering with countless minnows. In the spring great pickerel came up, too, from the deep waters, miles away, to spawn and, sometimes, to be speared. From either side of the creek the ground ascended somewhat, and on one bank stood a little house. It was a house pretentious for the time, since it was framed and boarded instead of being made of logs, but it contained only three rooms: one, the general living-room with the brick fireplace on one side, and the others, smaller, for sleeping apartments. So close to the edge of the forest was the house that the sweep of the wind through the tree-tops made constant music, and the odd, squalling bark of the black squirrel, the chatter of the red one, the drumming of the ruffed grouse, the pipe of the quail and the morning gobble of the wild turkey were familiar sounds. There were deer and bear in the depths of the green ocean, and an occasional wolverine. Sometimes at night a red fox would circle about the clearing and bark querulously, the cry contrasting oddly with the notes of whippoorwills and the calls of loons. The trees were largely oak and beech and ash and birch, and in the spring there were great splashes of white where the Juneberry trees had burst into bloom. In summer there was a dense greenness everywhere, and in autumn a great blaze of scarlet and yellow leaves.
There was an outlined flower garden in front of the house, made in virgin soil, and with the stumps of trees, close-hewn, still showing above the surface. Beside the door were what they called "bouncing Betties" and "old hen and chickens," and on each side of a short pathway, that led to what was as yet little more than a trail through the wood, were bunches of larkspur and phlox and old-fashioned pinks and asters, and there were a few tall hollyhocks and sunflowers standing about as sentinels. The wild flowers all about were so close to these that all their perfumes blended, and the phlox and pinks could see their own cousins but a few feet away. The short path ran through a clump of bushes but a few yards from the creek. In these bushes song-sparrows and "chippy-birds" built their nests.
In the doorway of the little house by the forests edge stood, one afternoon in summer, a young man. He was what might perhaps be termed an exceedingly young man, as his sixth birthday was but lately attained, and his stature and general appearance did not contradict his age. His apparel was not, strictly speaking, in keeping with the glory of the general scene. His hat had been originally of the quality known as "chip," but the rim was gone, and what remained had an air of abandon about it. His clothing consisted of two garments, a striped, hickory shirt and trousers of blue drilling. The trousers were supported by suspenders, home-made, of the same material. Sometimes he wore but one. It saved trouble. He was barefooted. He stood with a hand in each pocket, his short legs rather wide apart, and looked out upon the landscape. His air was that of a large landed proprietor, one, for instance, who owned the earth.
This young man under consideration had not been in society to any great extent, and of one world had seen very little. Of another he knew a great deal, for his age. With people of the sort who live in towns he was unacquainted, but with nature's people he was on closer terms. He had a great friend and crony in a person who had been a teacher, and who had come to this frontier life from a broader field. This person was his mother. With his father he was also on a relationship of familiarity, but the father was, necessarily, out with his axe most of the time, and so it came that the young man and his mother were more literally growing up together with the country. To her he went with such problems as his great mind failed to solve, and he had come to have a very good opinion of her indeed. Not that she was as wise as he in many things; certainly not. She did not know how the new woodchuck hole was progressing, nor where the coon tracks were thickest along the creek, nor where the woodpecker was nesting; but she was excessively learned, nevertheless, and could be relied upon in an emergency. He approved of her, decidedly. Besides, he remembered her course on one occasion when he was in a great strait. He was but three years old then, but he remembered all about it. It was, in fact, this occurrence which had given him his hobby.
The young man had a specialty. He had several specialties, but to one yielded all the rest. He had an eye to chipmunks, and had made most inefficient traps for them and hoped some day to catch one, but they were nothing to speak of. As for the minnows in the creek, had he not caught one with a dipper once, and had he not almost hit a big pickerel with a stone? He knew where the liverwort and anemones grew most thickly in the spring and had gathered fragrant bunches of them daily, and he knew, too, of a hollow where there had been a snowy sheet of winter-green blossoms earlier, and where there would soon be an abundance of red berries such as his mother liked. At beech-nut gathering, in the season, he admitted no superior. As for the habits of the yellow-birds, particularly at the season when they were feeding upon thistle-seed and made a golden cloud amid the white one as they drifted with the down, well, he was the only one who really knew anything about it! Who but he could take the odd-shaped pod of the wild fleur-de-lis, the common flag, and, winding it up in the flag's own long, narrow leaf, holding one end, and throwing the pod sling-wise, produce a sound through the air like that of the swoop of the night-hawk? And who better than he could pluck lobelia, and smartweed, and dig wild turnips and bring all for his mother to dry for possible use, should, he or his father or she catch cold or be ill in any way? Hopes for the future had he, too. Sometimes a deer had come in great leaps across the clearing, and once a bear had invaded the hog-pen. The young man had an idea that as soon as he became a little taller and could take down the heavy gun, an old "United States yager" with a big bore, bloodshed would follow in great quantities. He had persuaded his father to let him aim the piece once or twice, and had confidence that if he could get a fair shot at any animal, that animal would die. Were it a deer, he had concluded he would aim from a great stump a few feet distant from the house. If a bear came, he would shut the door and raise the window, not too far, and blaze away from there. But in none of all these things, either present exploits or imaginings for the future, was his interest most entangled. His specialty was Snakes.
Not intended by nature for a naturalist was this youthful individual whose specialty was snakes. Very much enamored was he of most of nature's products, but not at all of the family ophidia. Snakes were his specialty simply because he did not approve of them. All dated back to the affair of three years before. Snakes were abundant in the wood, but were not of many kinds. There were garter-snakes, dreaded of the little frogs, but timid of most things; there was a small snake of wonderful swiftness and as green as the grass into which it darted; there were the water pilots, sunning themselves in coils upon the driftwood in the water, swart of color, thick of form and offensive of aspect; there were the milk-snakes, yellowish gray, with wonderful banded sides and with checker-board designs in black upon their yellow bellies. Sometimes a pan of milk from the solitary cow, set for its cream in the dug-out cellar beneath the house, would be found with its yellow surface marred and with a white puddling about the floor, and then the milk remaining would be thrown away and there would be a washing and scalding of the pan, because the thief was known. There were, in the lowlands, the massasaugas; short, sluggish rattle-snakes, venomous but cowardly, and, finally, there were the black-snakes ranging everywhere, for no respecter of locality is bascanion constrictor when in pursuit of prey. Largest of all the snakes of the region, the only constrictor among them, at home in the lowlands, on the hill-sides or in the tree-tops, the black-snake was the dread of all small creatures of the wood. There was a story of how one of them had dropped upon a hunter, coiled himself about his neck and strangled him.
This young man of six remembered how, one day, three years back, before he had assumed trousers or become familiar with all the affairs of the world, he was alone in the house, his mother having gone into the little garden. He remembered how, looking up, he saw, lifted above the doorsill, a head with beady, glittering eyes, and how, after a moment's survey, the head was lifted higher and there came gliding over the floor toward him a black monster, with darting tongue and long, curved body and evident fierce intent. He remembered how he leaped for a high stool which served him at the table, how he clambered to its top and there set up a mighty yell for succor—for he had great lungs. He could, by shutting his eyes, even now, see his mother as she came running from the garden, see her look of terror as she caught sight of the circling thing upon the floor, and then the look of desperation as the mother instinct rose superior and she dashed into the room, seized the great iron shovel that stood before the fireplace, and began dealing reckless blows at the hissing serpent. A big black-snake is not a pleasant customer, but neither—for a black-snake—is a frenzied mother with an iron fire shovel in her hand, and this particular snake turned tail, a great deal of it, by the way, since it extended to its head, and disappeared over the doorsill in a cataract of black and into the wood again.
From that hour the individual so beleaguered on a stool had been no friend of snakes. Talk about vendettas! No Sicilian feud was ever bitterer or more relentlessly pursued, as the boy increased in size and confidence. Scores of garter-snakes had been his victims; once even a milk-snake had yielded up the ghost, and once—a great day that—he had seen a black-snake in the open and had assailed it valorously with stones hurled from a distance. When it came toward him he retreated, but did not abandon the bombardment, and finally drove it into a cover of deep bushes. Come to close quarters with a black-snake he had never done, for a double reason: firstly, because stones did almost as well as a club, and, secondly, because his father, fearing for him, had threatened him with punishment if he essayed such combat, and the firm old rule of "spare the rod and spoil the child" was adhered to literally by the father and indorsed by the mother with hesitation. And, growing close to the house, were slender sprouts of birch and willow, each of which leaned forward as if to say, "I am just the thing to lick a boy with," and such a sprout as one of these, especially the willow, does, under proper conditions, so embrace one's shoulders and curl about one's legs and make itself familiar. But the feud was on, and as a permanency, though, on this particular afternoon, the young man, as he stood there in the doorway, had no thought of snakes. Something else this summer was attracting much of his attention. He had a family on his hands.
BOY, BIRD AND SNAKE.
The young man's family was not large, but a part of it was young, and he felt the responsibility. The song-sparrow is the very light and gladness of the woods and fields. There are rarer singers, and birds of more brilliant plumage, but he is the constant quantity. His notes may not rival those mellow, brief ones of the blue-birds in early spring, so sweet in their quaint inflection, which suggest all hope, and are so striking because heard while snow may be yet upon the ground; he may not have the wild abandon of the bobolink with that tinkle and gurgle and thrill; he is no pretentious songster, like a score of other birds, but he is a great part of the soul of early summer, for he is telling, morning, noon and night, how good the world is, how he approves of the sunshine, and how everything is all right! And so the young man approved much of the song-sparrow, and was interested in the movements of all his kind.
One day in May, the boy had noted something in the clump of bushes, between the house and creek, which very much resembled a small bird's-nest, and had at once investigated. He found it, the nest of the song-sparrow, and, when the little gray guardian had fluttered away, he noted the four tiny eggs, and their mottled beauty. He did not touch them, for he had been well trained as to what should be the relations between human beings and all singing birds, but his interest in the progress of that essay in summer housekeeping became at once absorbing. He announced in the house that he intended to watch over the nest all summer, and keep off the hawks, and that when the little eggs were hatched, and the little birds were grown, maybe he would try to tame one. He was encouraged in the idea. It is good to teach a boy to be protective. And when the birds were hatched, his interest deepened.
He was half inclined, as he stood in the doorway on this particular day, to visit the dense bushes and note the condition of affairs in that vicinity, but, buoyant as he was, there was something in the outlook which detained him. There was such a yellow glory to the afternoon, and so many things were happening.
Balanced above the phlox, a humming-bird, green-backed and glittering, hung and tasted for a moment, then flashed to where the larkspurs were. A red-headed woodpecker swung downward on the wing to the white-brown side of a dead elm, sounded a brief tattoo upon the surface, then dived at a passing insect. A phoebe bird was singing somewhere. A red squirrel sat perched squarely on the drooping limb of a hickory tree and chewed into a plucked nut, so green that the kernel was not formed, then dropped it to the ground, and announced in a chatter that he was a person of importance. Great yellow butterflies, with black markings upon their wings, floated lazily here and there, and at last settled in a magnificent cluster upon a moist spot in a mucky place where something pleased their fancy, and where they fed and fluttered tremulously. There were myriads of wild bees, and a pleasant droning filled the air, while from all about came the general soft clamor of the forest, made up of many sounds.
The boy was satisfied with the prospect. Suddenly he started. There was a call which was not of peacefulness. He knew the cry. He had heard it when some bird of prey had seized a smaller one. It was the call of the sparrow now, and it came from his clump of bushes. His family was in danger. A hawk, perhaps, but he would have seen such a foe in its descent. It might be a cat-bird or a weasel?
With a rush, the boy was across the garden, and as he ran he snatched up what was for a person of such inches an ideal club, a cut of hickory, perhaps two feet in length, not over an inch in thickness, but tough and heavy enough for a knight errant of his years. He broke through the slight herbage about the place where the bushes grew thickest, and, getting into an open space, had a fair view of the particular shrub wherein were the bird's-nest and his birdlings. He stopped short and looked, then ran back a little, then looked again, and straightway there rose from his throat a scream which, though greater in volume, was almost in its character like that other wild cry of the two sparrows who were fluttering pitifully and desperately about their nest, tempting their own death each instant in defense of their half-fledged young. He stood with his youthful limbs half paralyzed, and screamed, for he saw what was most horrible, and what it seemed he could not check nor hinder, though a cruel tragedy was going on before his eyes!
Curled easily about the main stem of the bush, close to which, upon a forked limb, rested the sparrow's nest, its dark coils reaching downward and its free neck and head waving regularly to and fro, was a monstrous black-snake, and in its jaws fluttered feebly one of the youthful sparrows. Evidently the seizure had just been made when the boy burst in upon the scene. The snake's eyes glittered wickedly, and it showed no disposition to drop its prey because of the intruder. It only reared its head and swung slowly from side to side. Lying almost at full length upon a branching limb of the same bush, and on a level with the nest, was a second serpent, its head raised slightly, but motionless, awaiting, it seemed, its opportunity to seize another of the tender brood. The parent birds flew about in converging circles in their strait, clamoring piteously and approaching dangerously near to the jaws of their repulsive enemies. The boy but stood and screamed. They were the greatest black-snakes he had ever seen. Then, all at once, he became another creature. His childish voice changed in its key, and, club in hand, screaming still louder, he ran right at the bush. At the same moment his frightened mother came running down the pathway, screaming also.
As the boy leaped downward, both snakes, with wonderful swiftness, dropped to the ground and darted across the open space of a few yards, toward the creek. Side by side, with crests erect, they glided, and one of them still held between his jaws the unfortunate young sparrow. The boy did not hesitate a moment. Still making a great noise, but hoarsely for a creature of his age, he ran to head them off and barely passed them as they touched the water. He leaped in ahead of them and they were beside him in an instant. The water was up to his waist. He plunged deeper recklessly. With a cry of rage he struck at the serpent with the bird, and struck and struck again, blindly, still giving utterance to that odd sound, and with the fury of a young demon. The woman had reached the bank and stood, unknowing what to do, shrieking in maternal terror, while across the clearing a man was running. And then a fierce chance blow, delivered with all the strength of the maddened boy, alighted fairly, just below the head of the snake carrying away the bird, and in a second it was done for, floating, writhing down the stream with a broken neck, and its tiny prey loosened and drifting away beside it.
The mother gasped in relief, but only for a moment. The boy cast one glance at the floating reptile and the bird, and only one, then turned to the other serpent. It had almost reached the shore, and between that and the covert it might attain was a stretch of shrubless ground. Already its black length was defined on the short grass when the boy rushed from the water with uplifted club, just as his father came in full view of the scene from the other side. With cries like those of some young wild beast, the child ran at the snake, raining blows with the stout club, and with rage in every feature. The black-snake, checked in its course, turned with the constrictor's instinct and sprang at the boy, whipping its strong coils about one of its assailant's legs and rearing its head aloft to a level with his face. The boy but struck and gasped and stumbled over some obstruction, and, somehow, the snake was wrenched away, and then there was another rush at it, another rain of blows, and it was hit as had been its mate, and lay twisting with a broken back. The man dashed through the creek and came upon the scene with a great stick in his hand, but its use was not required. The only labor which devolved upon him was to tear away from his quarry the boy who was possessed of a spirit of rage and vengeance beyond all reasoning. Upon the heaving, tossing thing, so that he would have been fairly in its coils had it possessed longer any power, he leaped, striking fiercely and screaming out all the fearful terms he knew—what would have been the wildest of all abandonment of profanity had he but acquired the words for such performance. His father caught him by the arm, and he struggled with him. It was simply a young madman. Carried across the creek and held in bonds for a brief period, he suddenly burst out sobbing, and then went to inspect the ravished nest where the two old birds hovered mourningly about, and where the remaining nestlings seemed dead at first, though they subsequently recovered, so gruesomely had the fascination of their natural enemy affected them!
What happened then? What happens when any father and mother have occasion to consider the matter of a son, a child, bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh, who has transgressed some rule they have set up for him wisely, thoughtfully, but with no provision for emotional or extraordinary contingencies, because it would be useless, since he could not comprehend exceptions. They took him to the house. The father looked at him queerly, but with an expression that was far removed from anger on his face, and his mother took the young man aside and washed him, and put on another hickory shirt, and told him that his sparrows would raise a pretty good family after all, and that it wouldn't be so hard for the old birds to feed three as four.
Early that same evening a six-foot father strolled over to the place of the nearest settler, a mile or so away, and the two men walked back, talking together as neighbors will in a new country, though they do not so well in cities, and when they reached the creek one of them, the father, cut a forked twig and lifted the black-snake to its full length. Its head, raised even with his, allowed its tail to barely touch the ground. Evidently the men were interested, and evidently one of them was rather proud of something. But he said nothing to his son about it. That would, in its full consideration, have involved a licking of somebody for disobedience of orders. It was a good thing for the bereaved song-sparrows, though. Older heads than that of the boy were now considerate of their welfare. Lucky sparrows were they!
As for the youth, he had, that night, queer dreams, which he remembered all his life. He was battling with the snakes again, and the fortunes of war shifted, and there was much trouble until daylight. Then, with the sun breaking in a blaze upon the clearing, with the ground and trees flashing forth illuminated dew-drops, with a clangor of thousands of melodious bird-voices—even the bereaved father song-sparrow was singing—he was his own large self again, and went forth conquering and to conquer. He found the murdered nestling stranded down the creek, and buried it with ceremony. He found both dead invaders, and punched their foul bodies with a long stick. And he wished a bear would come and try to take a pig!
This was the boy. This was the field he grew in, the nature of his emergence into active entity, and this may illustrate somewhat his unconscious bent as influenced by early surroundings, while showing some of the fixed features of heredity, for he came of a battling race.
GROWING UP WITH THE COUNTRY.
Have you ever seen a buckwheat field in bloom? Have you stood at its margin and gazed over those acres of soft eider-down? Have your nostrils inhaled the perfume of it all, the heavy sweetness toned keenly with the whiff of pine from the adjacent wood? Have you noted the wild bees in countless myriads working upon its surface and gathering from each tiny flower's heart that which makes the clearest and purest and most wine-like of all honey? Have you stood at the forest's edge, perched high upon a fence, maybe of trees felled into a huge windrow when first the field was cleared, or else of rails of oak or ash, both black and white—the black ash lasts the longer, for worms invade the white—and looked upon a field of growing Indian corn, the green spread of it deep and heaving, and noted the traces of the forest's tax-collectors left about its margins: the squirrel's dainty work and the broken stalks and stripped ears upon the ground, leavings of the old raccoon, the small bear of the forest, knowing enough to become a friend of man when caught and tamed, and almost human in his ways, as curious as a scandal-monger and selfish as a money-lender?
Have you gone into the hard maple wood, the sugar bush, in early spring, the time of frosty nights and sunny days, and driven home the gouge and spile, and gathered the flowing sap and boiled it in such pots and kettles as later pioneers have owned, and gained such wildwood-scented product as no confectioner of the town may ever hope to equal? Have you lain beside some pond, a broadening of the creek above an ancient beaver-dam, at night, in mellowest midsummer, and watched the muskrats at their frays and feeding? Have you hunted the common wildcat, short-bodied demon, whose tracks upon the snow are discernible each winter morning, but who is so crafty, so gifted with some great art of slyness, that you may grow to manhood with him all about you, yet never see him in the sinewy flesh unless with dog and gun, and food and determination, you seek his trail, and follow it unreasoningly until you terminate the stolid quest with a discovery of the quarry lying close along the body of some eloping, stunted tree, and with a lively episode in immediate prospect? Did you ever chase a wolverine, last of his kind in a clearing-overflowed region, strange combination in character and form of bear and lynx, gluttonous and voracious, and strong and fearless, a beast descended almost unchanged from the time of the earliest cave-men, the horror of the bravest dog, and end his too uncivilized career with a rifle-shot at thoughtful distance?
Have you seen the wild pigeons, before pot-hunters invaded their southern roosts and breeding-grounds and slaughtered them by millions, exterminating one of the most wonderful of American game birds, sweep over in such dense clouds that the sun would be obscured, and at times so close to earth that a long pole thrust aloft from tree or hillock would stun such numbers as would make a gallant pot-pie? Have you followed the deer in the dense forest, clinging doggedly to his track upon the fresh snow from the dusk of early morning, startling him again and again from covert, and shooting whenever you caught even so much as a glimpse of his gray body through distant interstices of tree and brush, until, late in the afternoon, human endurance, which always surpasses that of the wild beast, overcame him, and he leaped less strongly with each new alarm and grew more reckless before twilight, and came within easy range and fed his enemies on the morrow? Have you watched for him beside the brackish waters of the lick, where, perched upon a rude, high scaffold built beside a tree, mosquito-bitten and uneasy, you waited and suffered, preserving an absolute silence and immobility until came ghost-like flitting figures from the forest to the shallow's edge, when the great gun, carrying the superstitious number of buckshot, just thirteen, roared out, awakening a thousand echoes of the night, and, clambering down, found a great antlered thing in its death agony?
Have you wandered through new clearings neglected for a season and waded ankle-deep in strawberry blooms, and, later, fed there upon such scarlet fruit, so fragrant and with such a flavor of its own that the scientific horticulturist owns to-day his weakness? Have you looked out upon the flats some bright spring morning and found them transformed into a shallow lake by the creek's first flood, and seen one great expanse of shining gold as the sun smote the thin ice made in the night but to disappear long before mid-day and leave a surface all ripples and shifting lights and shadows, upon which would come an occasional splash and great out-extending circles, as some huge mating pickerel leaped in his glee? Have you stood sometime, in sheer delight of it, and drawn into distended lungs the air clarified by hundreds of miles of sweep over an inland sea, the nearest shore not a score of miles away, and filtered through aromatic forests to your senses, an invisible elixir, exhilarating, without a headache as the price? Have you seen the tiger-lilies and crimson Indian-tobacco blossoms flashing in the lowlands? Have you trapped the mink and, visiting his haunts, noticed there the old blue crane flitting ever ahead of you through dusky corridors, uncanny, but a friend? Have you—but there are a thousand things!
If you have not seen or known or felt all these fair things—so jumbled together in the allusion here, without a natural sequence or thought or reason or any art—if you have not owned them all and so many others that may not here be mentioned, then you have missed something of the gifts and glories of growth in a new land. Such experience comes but to one generation. But one generation grows with the conquest, and it is a great thing. It is man-making.
And from the east came more hewers of wood, not drawers of water, and the axe swung all around, and new clearings were made and earlier ones broadened, and where fireweed first followed, the burning of the logs there were timothy and clover, though rough the mowing yet, and the State was "settled." Roads through the woods showed wagon-ruts, now well defined; houses were not so far apart, and about them were young orchards. The wild was being subjugated. The tame was growing. The boy was growing with it.
There was nothing particularly novel in the manner of this youth's development, save that, as he advanced in years, he became almost a young Indian in all woodcraft, and that the cheap, long, single-barreled shotgun, which was his first great personal possession, became, in his skilled hands, a deadly thing. Wild turkey and ruffed grouse, and sometimes larger game, he contributed to the family larder, and he had it half in mind to seek the remoter west when he grew older, and become a mighty hunter and trapper, and a slaughterer of the Sioux. The Chippewas of his own locality were scarcely to be shot at. Those remaining had already begun the unpretending life most of them live to-day, were on good terms with everybody, tanned buckskin admirably, and he approved of them. With the Sioux it was quite different. He had read of them in the weekly paper, which was now a part of progress, and he had learned something of them at the district school—for the district school had come, of course. It springs up in the United States after forests have been cut away, just as springs the wheat or corn. And the district school was, to the youth, a novelty and a vast attraction. It took him into Society.
Through forest paths and from long distances in each direction came the pupils to this first school of the region, and there were perhaps a score of them in all, boys and girls, and the teacher was a fair young woman from the distant town. The school-house was a structure of a single room, built in the wood, and squirrels dropped nuts upon its roof from overhanging boughs and peeped in at the windows, and sometimes a hawk would chase a fleeing bird into the place, where it would find a sure asylum, but create confusion. Once a flock of quail came marching in demurely at the open door, while teacher and pupils maintained a silence at the pretty sight. And once the place was cleared by an invasion of hornets enraged at something. That was a great day for the boys.
The studies were not as varied as in the cross-roads schools to-day. There was the primer, and there were a few of the old Webster spelling-books, but, while the stories of the boy in the apple tree and the overweening milkmaid were familiar, the popular spelling-book was Town's, and the readers were First, Second, Third and Fourth, and their "pieces" included such classics as "Webster's Reply to Hayne" and "Thanatopsis," and numerous clever exploits of S. P. Willis in blank verse. Davie's Arithmetic was dominant, and, as for grammar, whenever it was taught, Brown's was the favorite. There was, even then, in the rural curriculum the outlining of that system of the common schools which has made them of this same region unexcelled elsewhere in all the world. There were strong men, men who could read the future, controlling the legislation of some of the new States.
The studies mentioned, and geography were the duties now in hand, and there was indifference or hopefulness or rivalry among those of the little group as there is now in every school, from some new place in Oklahoma to old Oxford, over seas. In all scholarship, it chanced that this same boy, Grant Harlson, was easily in the lead. His mother, an ex-teacher in another and older State, loving, regardful, tactful, had taught him how to read and comprehend, and he had something of a taste that way and a retentive memory. So, inside the rugged schoolroom, he had a certain prestige. Outside, he took his chances.
It has been said that there were some twenty children in the school. They were of various degrees and fortunes. There were the sons and daughters of the land-owners, the pioneers, and there were the sons and daughters of the men who worked for them, mostly the drifting class, who occupied log houses on unclaimed ground and got flour or meal or potatoes for their services with the steadier or more masterful. In the school, though, there were no distinctions on this account. There were but two measurements of standing among girls and boys together, their relative importance in their classes, the teacher giving force to this, and among the boys alone the equation resulting from the issue of all personal encounter. Boys will be boys, and our fighting Anglo-Saxon blood will tell.
There were Harrison Woodell and George Appleton and Frank Hoadly and Mortimer Butler, among the older boys; and, among the second growth, though varying somewhat in their ages, were Alf Maitland and Maurice Shannon and Grant Harlson, and three or four others who ranked with them. The girls differed more in age, for there were some who aspired to be teachers, who, if boys, would have been home at work in summer-time, and some who could come, while very young, since their older sisters came with them to exercise all needed care. And among the smaller ones, though not so young as some, was Katie Welwood, a black-haired, black-eyed, evil-tempered little thing, who was the rage among the boys. She had smiled upon Grant Harlson, and smiled upon young Maitland, so early in her years is the female a coquette, and they looked askance upon each other, though they were the best of friends. Had they not together defied the big George Appleton, and vanquished him in running fight, and were they not sworn allies, come any weal or woe! But woman, even at the age of ten, has ever been the cause of trouble between males, and those two had, on her account, a mortal feud. It all came suddenly. There had been certain jealousies and heartaches caused by the raven-locked young vixen with the winning eyes, but there had been no outspoken words of anger between these vassals in her train until there came excuse in other way, for your country lad is modest, and never admits that his ailing has aught to do with the grand passion. But there had been a sharp debate over the proper ownership of a big gray squirrel at which they had shot their arrows from strong hickory bows together, and, with this excuse for fuel to the fire already smoldering, there soon came a great flame. Neither would yield to one he knew in his heart addicted to winning, villainously, the affections of the young woman, and so they fought. Unfortunately for Grant, Napoleon was at least in a measure right when he remarked that Providence always favored the heaviest battalions, and equally unfortunate for him that Alf, as resolute as he, was just a little heavier, was as tough of fiber at that stage of their young careers, and was, in a general way, what a patron of the prize ring would term the better man. Grant went home licked as thoroughly as any country boy, not hyper-critical, could ask, and should have felt that all was lost save honor. But he did not feel that way. He did not consider honor at greater length than is generally done by any boy of ten, on the way to eleven, but he did want vengeance. To lose his siren and a portion of his blood—"-'twas from the nose," as Byron says—together, was too much for his philosophy. He must have vengeance! He was no lambkin, and he knew things. He had read the Swiss Family Robinson. He resolved that on the morrow he would spear his hated rival and successful adversary!
THE SPEARING OF ALFRED.
"The spears they carried, though entirely of wood, were dangerous weapons," says the old writer in describing the armament of a tribe of the South Sea islanders. "Their points are hardened by being subjected to fire, and, in the hands of those fierce men, they are as deadly as the assegai of the African."
This passage, which he had stumbled upon somewhere, was of deepest interest to young Harlson. His armament, he felt, was not yet what it should be. He had arrived at the dignity of a gun, it was true, but that was quite another thing. What he needed was something especially adapted for personal encounter and for any knight-errantry which chanced to offer itself. He had imagined what might occur if he were with Katie Welwood and they should be assailed by anything or anybody. He had large ideas of what was a lover's duty, and was under the impression, from what he had read, that a proper knight should go always prepared for combat. So he had fashioned him a spear, a formidable weapon contrived with great exactitude after the South Sea island recipe. He had gone into the woods and selected a blue beech, straight as could be found, and nearly an inch in thickness. From this he had cut a length of perhaps ten feet, which, with infinite labor and risk of jack-knife, he had whittled down to smoothness and to whiteness. Upon one end he left as large a head as the sapling would allow, and this, after shaving it into the fashion of a spear-blade, he had plunged into the fire until it had begun to char. He had scraped away the charring with a piece of broken glass, and, as a result of his endeavors, had really a spear with a point of undoubted sharpness and great hardness. He took huge pride in his new weapon, and carried it to school with him for days and on his various woodland expeditions, but there had come no chance to rescue any distressful maiden anywhere, and the envy and admiration of the other boys had but resulted in emulation and in the appearance of similar warlike gear among them.
He had tired of carrying the thing about, and had for some time left it peacefully at home, leaning beside the hog-pen. Now all was different. The time had come! He would have revenge, and have it in a gory way. As the South Sea islanders treated their foes, his should be treated. He would go upon the war-path, and as for Alf—well, he was sorry for him in a general way, but all mercy was dead within his breast specifically. He remembered something in the reader:
"'Die! spawn of our kindred! Die! traitor to Lara!' As he spake, there was blood on the spear of Mudara!"
There must be blood, and he laid his plans with what he considered the very height of savage craft and ingenuity.
The father of Alf was a sturdy man and good one, but he had a weakness. He was the chief supporter in the neighborhood of the itinerant minister who exhorted throughout this portion of the country, and he had imbibed, perhaps, too much of a fancy for hearing himself talk at revival meetings, and for hearing himself in long prayers at home. His petitions covered a great range of subjects, and he was regular in their presentation. The family prayers before breakfast every morning were serious matters to the boys from one point of view, and not as serious as they should have been from another. Present, and kneeling at chairs about the room, they always were on these occasions, for the order was imperative, and the father's arm was strong, and above the door hung a strap of no light weight, constituting as it had once done that portion of a horse's harness known technically as the bellyband. So the boys were always there, each at his particular chair, and Grant Harlson, who had been present at these orisons many a time, knew exactly where Alf's chair was, and the attitude he must occupy. It was close beside an open window, and his back was always toward the opening, this particular attitude having been dictated by the father in the vain hope of making his buoyant offspring more attentive if their gaze were diverted from things outside. And all these circumstances the dreadful savage from the South Sea islands was considering with care. They are very regular in their habits in the country, and he knew just the moment when the morning devotions would begin—some fifteen minutes before the breakfast hour. He knew about how long he would be in traversing the distance between his own house and the scene of the coming tragedy, and the morning after his resolve was made he bolted his own breakfast in a hurry, seized his spear, and scurried down the wood road until he approached the verge of the Maitland clearing. Then began a series of extraordinary movements.
Mr. Maitland's house stood close by the wood at one side of the clearing, and Grant could easily have walked unperceived until within a few yards of the place, had he but kept hidden by the trees; but such was not his course. Right across the clearing, and passing near the house, had been dug a great ditch a yard in depth, a year or two before, with the intent of draining a piece of lowland lately subjugated. This ditch had been overgrown with weeds until it was almost hidden from sight, and now in summer time its bottom was but a sandy surface. It was with the aid of this natural shelter that the wily invader proposed to steal upon his enemy. Already he was lurking near its entrance.
Just why he had to "lurk" at this particular juncture Grant could not probably have told. There was not the slightest necessity for lurking. There were no windows in the side of the house toward him, and no one was visible about the place, but he knew what he had read, and he knew that the savages of the South Sea islands were always addicted to lurking just previous to springing upon their unsuspecting victims, and he was bound to lurk and do it thoroughly. His manner of lurking consisted, before he reached the clearing fence, in crouching very low and creeping along in a most constrained and uncomfortable manner, occasionally dropping to the ground slowly and with utter noiselessness and rising again with equal caution. All this time the face of the young man wore what he conceived to be an expression of most bloody purpose craftily concealed. Upon reaching the fence, he shot his head above it, and withdrew it with lightning-like rapidity, frightening almost into convulsions, in her nest, a robin whose home was between the rails in the immediate vicinity. Of course he could have looked through the fence with greater ease, but that would have involved no such dramatic effect. His sudden view of the landscape taken, the boy climbed the fence, ran to the dry ditch, parted the overhanging weeds and leaped down. Once in the dry waterway, he was utterly concealed from view, even had any one been near; but that made no difference with his precautions. He knew that after savages had lurked, they always glided, and that what the writers describe as "a snake-like motion" was something absolutely essential.
Spear in hand and creeping on his hands and knees, the destroyer advanced along the drain, lying flat and wriggling with much patience wherever a particularly clear stretch of sand presented itself. Half way across the field he raised his head with a movement so slow that a full minute was occupied in the performance, parted the weeds gently and peered out to get his bearings and ascertain if any foemen were in sight. There were no foemen, and his progress had been satisfactory. The remainder of the desperate advance was made with no less adroitness and success. At last there fell upon the ear of the avenger the sound of a human voice. He was close to the house, and the morning exercises had begun!
Here was the moment for the exhibition of all South Sea island craft, and the moment was about at hand, too, for exhibition of the full measure of a South Sea islander's ferocity! The islander glided from the ditch, crept to the house and slowly put forth his head until he could see around the corner. There, within three feet of him, back to the window, kneeling beside his chair, was Alf, ostensibly paying deep attention to his father's unctuous and sonorous sentences, though really, as Grant could see, engaged in flicking kernels of corn at his brother in another corner. His jeans trousers were, as a result of his present attitude, drawn tightly across that portion of his body nearest to the window, and never fairer mark was offered savage spear! Not a moment did the avenger hesitate. He poised his weapon, took deadly aim, and lunged!
Never was quiet of a summer morning broken more suddenly and startlingly. A yell so loud, so wild, so blood-curdling, ascended from within the farm-house, that even nature seemed to shiver for a moment. Then came the rush of feet and the clamor of many voices. Out of doors ran all the household, the father included, so appalling had been Alf's cry of apparently mortal agony, to learn the source of all the trouble. There was nothing to be seen. Not a living being was in sight. It dawned upon the elders gradually that nothing very serious had occurred, and the father and the females of the household went in to breakfast, the exercises of the morning not being now renewed, while Alf and his brother scoured the wood. Upon one leg of Alf's jeans trousers appeared an artistic dab of red. He had been wounded, and for days the sitting down and the uprising of him would be acts of care.
And where was the South Sea islander? Almost as he lunged he had leaped backward around the corner of the house and run for the covered ditch. Once in that covert, he did not "lurk" to any great extent. He crawled away as rapidly as his hands and knees would carry him, reasoning that the boys would, upon finding no one near the house, run naturally to the wood in search of the enemy. They never thought of the old ditch, though, later in the day, the thing occurred to them, and an examination of the sandy bottom told the story. The edge of the field was reached, the islander lying very low until he could climb the fence in safety. Then he examined his fatal spear-point. It appeared incarnadined. There was certainly blood on the spear of Mudara!
A week later Alf caught Grant, and, despite another valiant struggle, licked him mercilessly. A year later the fortunes of war had turned the other way. As they grew, these boys, like race-horses well-matched, passed each other, physically, time and again, one now surging to the front and then another, with no great difference at any time between them.
HOW FICTION MADE FACT.
What may become a streak of proper modern chivalry in the man is but a fantastic imagining in the boy. Some one has said that but for the reading of "Ivanhoe" in the South, there would have been no war of the rebellion, that the sentiment of knightliness and desire to uphold opinions in material encounter was so fostered by the presence of the book in thousands of households that, when the issue came, a majority was for war which might have been otherwise inclined under more practical teaching. This may or may not have been the case. There would be nothing strange in it were the theory correct; the influence of great novels is always underrated; but certain it is that the reading of the age influences much the youth, and that many a bent of mind is made by the books that lie about the house when some strong young intellect is forming. So with this boy. The same force which made of him a great savage marauder of the South Sea islands, though modified by a keener perception and a broader intelligence, affected him as he grew older. There were a few books available to him; and what a reader he was, and what a listener! His father would sometimes read aloud at night from current weeklies, and then the boy would sprawl along the floor, his feet toward the great fireplace, his head upon a rolled-up sheepskin, and drink in every word. "East Lynne" was running as a serial then, and he would have given all his worldly possessions to have had Sir Francis Levison alone in the wood, and had his spear, and at his back some half-dozen of the boys whom he could name. In some publication, too, at about that time, appeared the tale of the adventures of Captain Gardiner and Captain Daggett in antarctic wastes, seeking the sea-lions' skins, and the story of pluckiness and awful trial affected his imagination deeply. Years afterward, when he himself was at death's portal once, because of a grievous injury, and when ice was bound upon his head to keep away the fever from his brain, he imagined in his delirium that he was Captain Gardiner, and called aloud the orders to the crew which he had heard read when a boy, and which had so long lain in his memory's storehouse among the unconsidered lumber.
The boy's reading included all there was in his home, and the small collection was not a bad one. "Chambers' Miscellany" was in the accidental lot, and good for him it was. "Chambers' Miscellany" is better reading than much that is given to the world to-day, and the boy rioted in the adventure-flavored tales and sketches. Scott's poetical works were there, and Shakespeare, but the latter was read only for the story of the play, and "Titus Andronicus" outranked even "Hamlet" among the tragedies. As for Scott, the stirring rhymes had marked effect, and this had one curious sequence. Tales of the lance and tilting have ever captivated boys, and Grant was no exception. Alf did not read so much, was of a nature less imaginative, and his younger brother, Valentine, read not at all, but among them was enacted a great scene of chivalry which ended almost in a tragedy. Grant, his mind absorbed in jousting and its laurels, explained the thing to Alf and induced him to read the tales of various encounters. Alf was more or less affected by the literature and ready to do his share toward making each of them a proper warrior fit for any fray. They considered the situation with much earnestness, and concluded that the only way to joust was to joust, and that Valentine should act as marshal of the occasion, for a marshal at a tourney, they discovered, was a prime necessity. As for coursers, barbs, destriers, or whatever name their noble steeds might bear, they had no choice. There were but a couple of clumsy farm mares available to them, and these the knights secured, their only equipments being headstalls abstracted from the harness in the barn, while the course fixed upon was a meadow well out of sight from the houses and the eyes of the elders. Valentine was instructed in his duties, particularly in the manner of giving the word of command. Laissez aller, as found in "Ivanhoe," Grant did not understand, but a passage from "The Lady of the Lake":
"Now, gallants! for your ladies' sake, Upon them with the lance!"
seemed to answer every purpose, and Valentine was instructed to commit it to memory, as the event proved, with but indifferent success. He comprehended, in a vague way, that the warriors were to do battle for the honor of their true loves, but, at the critical moment, the lines escaped him and he had to improvise. The lances were rake-handles, and, as this was not to be a fray a l'outrance, about the end of each formidable weapon was wadded and tied an empty flour bag.
The unwilling, lumbering mares were brought upon the ground, and Valentine held the headstall reins while a preliminary ceremony was performed, for your perfect knight omits no courteous detail. Gloves were unknown about the farm, but Grant drew from his pocket a buckskin mitten, and with it slapped Alf suddenly in the face. It was to be regretted that the aggressor had somewhat exaggerated the mediaeval glove idea, and had not previously explained to Alf that to fling one's glove in a foeman's face was one proper form of deadly insult preceding mortal combat, for, ignoring lances, steeds and all about them, the assailed personage immediately "clinched," and the boys rolled over in a struggle, earnest, certainly, but altogether commonplace. It was with the greatest difficulty, while defending himself, that Grant was enabled to explain that his act was one rendered necessary by the laws of chivalry and a part of the preliminaries of the occasion, instead of an attack in cold blood upon an unwarned adversary. Alf accepted the apology gloweringly, and manifested great anxiety to secure his lance, and mount. It was evident the encounter would be deadly.
Some hundred yards apart, with the perplexed, astonished old mares facing each other, sat the warriors in their saddles, or, rather, in the place where their saddles would have been had they possessed them. Each grasped the headstall reins firmly in his left hand, and with his right aimed his top-heavy lance in a somewhat wobbling manner at his adversary. It must soon be known to all the world of knighthood which was the grimmer champion! At middle distance and well to one side, stood Grand Marshal Valentine, racking his brains for the lines which should give the signal for the shock, but all in vain. Desperation gave him inspiration. "Let 'er go for your girls!" he roared.
Never, even in the gentle and joyous passage of arms at Ashby, or on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, was afforded a more thrilling spectacle than when these two paladins rushed to the onset and met in mid-career. Each gave a yell and dug his heels into his charger, and whacked her with the butt end of his lance, and forced her into a ponderous gallop for the meeting. It matters not now what was the precise intent of either jouster, which of them aimed at gorget or head-piece, or at shield, for—either because the flour bags made the lances difficult to manage or of some unevenness in the ground—each missed his enemy in the encounter! Not so the two old mares! They came together with a mighty crash and rolled over in a great cloud of dust and grass and mane and tail and boy and spear and flour-bag!
There is a providence that looks after reckless youth especially, else there would have been broken bones, or worse; but out of the confusion two warriors scrambled to their feet, dazed somewhat and dirty, but unharmed, and two old mares floundered into their normal attitude a little later, evidently much disgusted with the entire proceeding. And Valentine, grand marshal, who had chanced to have a little difficulty with his elder brother the day before, promptly awarded the honors of the tournament to Grant on the ground that old Molly, the horse ridden by Alfred, seemed a little more shaken up than the other.
Of course there were other books than those of chivalric doings which appealed to this young reader so addicted to putting theory into practice at all risks. "Robinson Crusoe," and Byron, and D'Aubigne's "History of the Reformation," and "Midshipman Easy," and "Snarleyow," and the "Woman in White," "John Brent," and Josephus, and certain old readers, such as the American First Class Book, made up the odd country library, and there was not a book in the lot which was not in time devoured. There was another book, a romance entitled "Don Sebastian," to which at length a local tragedy appertained. The scene was laid in Spain or Portugal and the hero of the story was a very gallant character, indeed, one to be relied upon for the accomplishment of great slaughter in an emergency, but who was singularly unlucky in his love affair, in the outcome of which Grant became deeply interested, too deeply, as the event proved. Upon the country boy of eleven or twelve devolve always, in a new country, certain responsibilities not unconnected with the great fuel question,—the keeping of the wood-box full,—and these duties, in the absorption of the novel, the youth neglected shamefully. A casual allusion or two, followed by a direct announcement of what must come, had been entirely lost upon him, and, one day, as he was lying by the unreplenished fire, deep in the pages of the book, the volume was lifted gently from his hands, and, to his horror, dropped upon the blazing coals against the back-log. Many things occurred to him in later life of the sort men would avoid, but never came much greater mental shock than on that black occasion. Stunned, dazed, he went outside and threw himself upon the grass and tried to reason out what could be done. Was he never to know the fate of Don Sebastian? It was beyond endurance! A cheap quality of literature the book was, no doubt, but he was not critical at that age, and in later years he often sought the volume out of curiosity to learn what in his boyhood had entranced him, but he never found it. It was a small, fat volume, very like a pocket Bible in shape, bound cheaply in green cloth, and printed in England, probably somewhere in the '30's, but it had disappeared. The bereaved youth was, henceforth, in as sore a retrospective strait over "Don Sebastian" as Mr. Andrew Lang declares he is, to-day, with his "White Serpent" story.
Byron—"Don Juan," in particular—had an effect upon the youth, and "The Prisoner of Chillon" gave him dreams. "Snarleyow" was the book, though, which struck him as something great in literature. The demon dog tickled his fancy amazingly. He was somewhat older when he read "Jane Eyre" and "John Brent," and could recognize a little of their quality, but "Snarleyow" came to him at an age when there was nothing in the world to equal it.
Meanwhile the whole face of nature was changing, and the boy was necessarily keeping up with the procession of new things. Broad meadows were where even he, a mere boy still, had seen dense woodland; there were highways, and it was far from the farmhouse door to the forests edge. The fauna had diminished. The bear and wolverine had gone forever. The fox rarely barked at night; the deer and wild turkey were far less plentiful, though the ruffed grouse still drummed in the copses, and the quail whistled from the fences. Different, even, were the hunters in their methods. The boy, whose single-barreled shot-gun had known no law, now carried a better piece, and scorned to slay a sitting bird. Both he and Alf became great wing shots, and clever gentlemen sportsmen from the city who sometimes came to hunt with them could not hope to own so good a bag at the day's end. Wise as to dogs and horses were they, too, and keen riders at country races. And ridges of good muscles stiffened now their loins, and their chests were deepening, and at "raisings," when the men and boys of the region wrestled after their work was done, the two were not uncounted. For them the country school had accomplished its mission. The world's geography was theirs. Grammar they had memorized, but hardly comprehended. As for mathematics, they were on the verge of algebra. Then came the force of laws of politics and trade, a shifting of things, and Grant strode out of nature to learn the artificial. His family was removed to town.
Western, or rather Northwestern, town life, when the town has less than ten thousand people, varies little with the locality. There is the same vigor everywhere, because conditions are so similar. It is odd, too, the close resemblance all through the great lake region in the local geography of the towns. Small streams run into larger ones, and these in turn enter the inland seas, or the straits, called rivers, which connect them. Where the small rivers enter the larger ones, or where the larger enter the straits or lakes, men made the towns. These were the water cross-roads, the intersections of nature's highways, and so it comes that to so many of these towns there is the great blue water front intersected at its middle by a river. There is a bridge in the town's main street, and the smell of water is ever in the air. Boys learn to swim like otters and skate like Hollanders, and their sisters emulate them in the skating, though not so much in the swimming as they should. There is a life full of great swing. The touch between the town and country is exceedingly close, and the country family which comes to the community blends swiftly with the current. So with the family of Grant Harlson and so with him personally. A year made him collared and cravatted, short-cropped of hair, mighty in high-school frays, and with a new ambition stirring him, of a quality to compare with that of one Lucifer of unbounded reputation and doubtful biography. There was something beyond all shooting and riding and wrestling fame and the breath of growing things. There was another world with reachable prizes and much to feed upon. He must wear medals, metaphorically, and eat his fill, in time.
The high-school is really the first telescope through which a boy so born and bred looks fairly out upon this planet. The astronomer who instructs him is often of just the sort for the labor, a being also climbing, one not to be a high-school principal forever, but using this occupation merely as a stepping-stone upon his ascending journey. If he be conscientious, he instils, together with his information that all Gaul is divided and that a parasang is not something to eat, also the belief that the game sought is worth the candle, and that hard study is not wasted time. Such a teacher found young Harlson; such a teacher was Professor—they always call the high-school principal "Professor" in small towns—Morgan, and he took an interest in the youth, not the interest of the typical great educator, but rather that of an older and aspiring jockey aiding a younger one with his first mount, or of a railroad engineer who tells his fireman of a locomotive's moods and teaches him the tricks of management. They might help each other some day. Well equipped, too, was Morgan for the service. No shallow graduate of some mere diploma-manufactory, but one who believed in the perfection of means for an end,—an advocate of thoroughness.
So it came that for four years Grant Harlson studied feverishly,—selfishly might be almost the word,—such was the impulse that moved him under Morgan's teaching, and so purely objective all his reasoning. In his vacations he hunted, fished, and developed the more thews and sinews, and acquired new fancies as to whether an Irish setter or a Gordon made the better dog with woodcock, and upon various other healthful topics, but his main purpose never varied. In his classes there were fair girls, and in high-schools there is much callow gallantry; but at this period of his life he would have none of it. He was not timid, but he was absorbed. Morgan told him one day that he was ready for college.
NEW FORCES AT WORK.
"You will be kind enough, sir, to write upon the blackboard two couplets:
"'What do you think I'll shave you for nothing and give you a drink.'
"'What do you think I'll shave you for nothing and give you a drink.'
"You will observe that, while the wording is the same, the inflection is different. Please punctuate them properly, and express the idea I intend to convey."
This from a professor, keen-eyed and unassuming in demeanor, to a big, long-limbed young fellow, facing, with misgivings despite himself, a portion of the test of whether or not he were qualified for admission as a freshman into one of our great modern universities. He had not been under much apprehension until the moment for the beginning of the trial. There was now to be met the first issue in the new field. He plunged into his task.
Then the professor:
"Well, yes, you have caught my idea. How write upon the board: 'This is the forest primeval,' and a dozen lines or so following, from this slip. Scan that for me; parse it; show me the relations of words and clauses, and all that sort of thing."
A pause; some only half-confident explanation, and enlargement upon the subject by the young man.
The professor again:
"H-u-u-m—well—now you may write—no, you needn't—just tell me the difference, in your opinion, between what are known as conjunctions and prepositions. Say what you please. We ask no odds of them. Be utterly free in your comment."
More explanations by the young man. The professor: "We'll not pursue that subject. You might tell us, incidentally, what a trochaic foot is?—Yes.—And who wrote that 'Forest primeval' you just scanned?—Certainly—That will do, I think. Oh, by the way, who was Becky Sharp?—The most desirable woman in 'Vanity Fair,' eh? I may be half inclined to agree with you, but I was asking who, not what. Good afternoon. You have passed your examination in English literature. I trust you may be equally successful in other departments. Good afternoon, sir."
And this was all from a professor whose name was known on more than one continent and who was counted one of the greatest of educators. Such was his test of what of English literature was required in a freshman. A lesser man than this great teacher would have taken an hour for the task and learned less, for, after all, did not the examination cover the whole ground? The droll range of the inquiry was such that the questioner had gauged, far better than by some more ponderous and detailed system, the quality of the young man's knowledge in one field. One of the strong teachers this, one not afraid of a departure, and one of those who, within the last quarter of a century, have laid the foundations of new American universities deep and wide, and given to the youth facilities for a learning not creed-bound, nor school-bound, but both liberal and of all utility.
It was well for the particular freshman whose examination is here described that his first experience with a professor was with such a man. It gave confidence, and set him thinking. With others of the examiners he did not, in each instance, fare so happily. What thousands of men of the world there are to-day who remember with something like a shudder still the inquisition of Prof. ——, whose works on Greek are text-books in many a college; or the ferocity of Prof. ——, to whom calculus was grander than Homer! But the woes of freshmen are passing things.
What Grant Harlson did in college need not be told at any length. He but plucked the fruit within his reach, not over-wisely in some instances, yet with some industry. He had, at least, the intelligence to feel that it is better to know all of some things than a little of all things, and so surpassed, in such branches as were his by gift and inclination, and but barely passed in those which went against the mental grain.
It may be the professor of English literature had something to do with this. Between Grant and him there grew up a friendship somewhat unusual under all the circumstances. One day the professor was overtaken by the student upon a by-way of the campus, and asked some questions regarding certain changed hours of certain recitations, and, having answered, detained the questioner carelessly in general conversation. The elder became interested—perhaps because it was a relief to him to talk with such a healthy animal—and, at the termination of the interview, invited him to call. There grew up rapidly, binding these two, between whose ages a difference of twenty years existed, a friendship which was never broken, and which doubtless affected to an extent the student's ways, for he at least accepted suggestions as to studies and specialties. This relationship resulted naturally in transplanting to the mind of the youth some of the fancies and, possibly, the foibles of the man. One incident will illustrate.
The student, during a summer vacation, had devoted himself largely to the copying of Macaulay's essays, for, in his teens, one is much impressed by the rolling sentences of that great writer. Upon his return Harlson told of his summer not entirely wasted, and expressed the hope that he might have absorbed some trifle of the writer's style.
The professor of English literature laughed.
"Better have taken Carlyle's 'French Revolution' or any one of half a dozen books which might be named. Let me tell a little story. Some time ago a fellow professor of mine was shown by a Swedish servant girl in his employ a letter she had just written, with the request that he would correct it. He found nothing to correct. It was a wonderfully clear bit of epistolary literature. He was surprised, and questioned the girl. He learned that, though well educated, she knew but little English, and had sought the dictionary, revising her own letter by selecting the shortest words to express the idea. Hence the letter's strength and clearness. Stick to the Saxon closely. Macaulay will wear off in time." And this was better teaching than one sometimes gets in class.
This is no tale of the inner life of an American university. It is but a brief summary of young Harlson's ways there. But some day, I hope, a Thomas Hughes will come who will write the story, which can be made as healthful as "Tom Brown," though it will have a different flavor. What a chance for character study! What opportunity for an Iliad of many a gallant struggle! Valuable only in a lesser degree than what is learned from books is what is learned from men in college, that is, from young men, and herein lies the greater merit of the greater place. In the little college, however high the grade of study, there is a lack of one thing broadening, a lack of acquaintance with the youth of many regions. The living together of a thousand hailing from Maine or California, or Oregon or Florida, or Canada or England, young men of the same general grade and having the same general object, is a great thing for them all. It obliterates the prejudice of locality, and gives to each the key-note of the region of another. It builds up an acquaintance among those who will be regulating a land's affairs from different vantage-grounds in years to come, and has its most practical utility in this. When men meet to nominate a President this fact comes out most strongly. The man from Texas makes a combination with the man from Michigan, and two delegations swing together, for have not these two men well known each other since the day their classes met in a rush upon the campus twenty years ago?
No studious recluse was Harlson. His backwoods training would not allow of that. In every class encounter, in every fray with townsmen, it is to be feared in almost every hazing, after his own gruesome experience—for they hazed then vigorously—he was a factor, and beefsteak had been bound upon his cheek on more than one occasion. A rollicking class was his, though not below the average in its scholarship, and the sometimes reckless mood of it just suited him. "There were three men of Babylon, of Babylon, of Babylon."
There is what some claim is an aristocracy in American colleges. It is asserted that the leading Greek fraternities are this, and that the existence of Alpha Delta Phi, Psi Upsilon or Delta Kappa Epsilon, or others of the secret groups, is not a good thing for the students as a whole. Yet in the existence of these societies is forged another of the links of life to come outside, and all the good things to be gained in college are not the ratings won in classes. Harlson was one of those with badges and deep in college politics. He never had occasion to repent it.
And so, with study, some rough encounter and much scheming and much dreaming, time passed until the world outside loomed up again at close quarters. The present view was a new struggle. The great money question intervened. There had come a blight upon his father's dollar crop, and when Grant Harlson left the university he was so nearly penniless that the books he owned were sold to pay his railroad fare.
It must have been some person aged, say, twenty, who expressed to Noah the opinion that there wasn't going to be much of a shower. At twenty tomorrow is ever a clear day, and notes are easy things to meet, and friends and women are faithful, and Welsh rarebit is digestible, and sleep is rest, and air is ever good to breathe. Grant Harlson was not particularly troubled by the condition of his finances. That the money available had lasted till his schooling ended, was, at least, a good thing, and, as for the future, was it not his business to attend to that presently? Meanwhile he would dawdle for a week or two.
So the young man stretched his big limbs and lounged in hammocks and advised or domineered over his sisters, as the case might be, and read in a desultory way, and fished and shot, and ate with an appetite which threatened to bring famine to the family. Your lakeside small town is a fair place in July. He would loaf, he said, for a week or two. The loafing was destined to have character, perhaps to change a character.
There had come to Harlson in college, as to most young men, occasional packages from home, and in one of these he had found a pretty thing, a man's silk tie, worked wonderfully in green and gold, and evidently the product of great needlecraft. It was to his fancy, and he had thought to thank whichever of his sisters had wasted such time upon him, but had forgotten it when next he wrote, and so the incident had passed.
One day, wearing this same tie, he bethought him of his negligence lying supine on the grass, while his sister Bess was meanwhile reading in the immediate vicinity. He would be grateful, as a brother should.
"I say, Bess," he called, "I forgot to write about this tie and thank you. Which of you did it?"
Bess looked up, interested.
"I thought I wrote you when I sent the other things. None of us did it. It was Mrs. Rolfston."
"Certainly. She was here one day, when we were making up a lot of things for you, and said that she'd make something herself to go with the next lot. A week or two later she brought me that tie, and I inclosed it. Pretty, isn't it?"
The young man on the grass was thinking.
He knew Mrs. Rolfston slightly; knew her as the wife of a well-to-do man who saw but little of her husband.
Daughter of a poor man of none too good character in the little town, she had grown up shrewd, self-possessed, and with much animal beauty. At twenty she had married a man of fifty, a builder of steamboats, a red-faced, riotous brute, who had bought her as he would buy a horse, and to whom she went easily because she wanted the position money gives. Within a week he had disgusted her to such an extent that she almost repented of the bargain. Within a year, he had tired of her and was openly unfaithful in every port upon the lakes, a vigorous, lawless debauchee. His ship-building was done in a distant port, and he rarely visited his wife. He rather feared her, mastiff as he was, for here was the keener intelligence, and her moods, at times, were desperate as his. So he furnished her abundant income and was content to let it go at that. It pleased her, also, to have it that way.
Harlson thought of the woman, and wondered somewhat. Black-haired, black-eyed, white-skinned, deep of bust and with a graceful and powerful swing of movement, she was a woman, physically considered, not of the common herd. She was a lioness, yet not quite the grand lioness of the desert. She lacked somewhat of dignity and grandeur of countenance, and had more of alertness and of craft. She was, though dark, more like the tawny beast of the Rocky Mountains, the California lion, as that great cougar is called, supple, full of moods and passion, and largely cat-like. She had filled his eye casually. Why had she sent him the tie, the silken thing in green and gold?
He thought and pulled his long limbs together and rose till he was sitting, and decided that it was but courteous, but his duty as a gentleman, to wander over to her house and thank her for her remembrance of him. It was but an expression of good will toward the family generally, this little act of hers; he knew that, but it was a personal matter, after all, and he should thank her. It was well to be thoughtful, to attend to the small amenities, and it took him more than the usual time to dress. His apparently careless summer garb required the adjustment of an expert here and there. He was an hour in the doing of it. When he emerged he was not, taken in a comprehensive way, bad-looking. He was clear-faced, strong-featured and of stalwart build.
The ordinary man he would not have feared in any meeting; of the woman he was about to meet he had some apprehension. He knew her quality, but—she had worked for him a tie! He went up the broad path to the doorway, between flowers and trees and shrubbery. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, and he would find her alone, he thought, for chances of calls are not so great in the smaller towns as in the cities; there is an average to be maintained, and Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Smith does not receive on days particularized. He was compelled to wait in the parlor but a moment. She came in, and he saw her for the first time in two years.
What a gift women have in producing physical effects upon the creature male, no matter what the woman's status. Mrs. Rolfston came in with a look of half inquiry on her face and with a presentation of herself which was perfect in its way. She wore some soft and fluffy dress—a man cannot describe a garb in detail—with that lace-surrounded triangular bareness upon the bosom just below the chin which is as irreproachable as it is telling. There was a relation between the swing of her drapery and, the movements of her body. She was rich of figure, and flexile. And she was glad to see Mr. Harlson, and said so. He was not really embarrassed. The time had passed when that could be his way. But he was puzzled as to what to say. Some comment he made upon the quality of the season and upon Mrs. Rolfston's appearance of good health. Then he entered upon his subject with no link of connection with preceding sentences. "I but learned to-day," he said, "that the tie I wear was made by you. All fellows have little fancies, I suppose. I have, anyhow. I liked this, though I did not know who made it. My sister told me, and I have come to thank you. Why did you do it for me?"
That was putting the case plainly enough, certainly, and promptly enough, but it was not of a nature to trouble Mrs. Rolfston. This was a clever woman, married ten years, and of experiences which varied. She even glanced over the visitor from head to heel before she answered, and her color deepened and her eyes brightened, though he did not note it.
"You have changed," she commented. "I should hardly have known you but for your lips and eyes. You are broader and taller, and a big man, are you not? How long do you stay in town? Will you spend the summer here?"
"I wish I could," he answered. "It is pleasant here, but I must work, you know. I may idle for a little time. You haven't said anything about the tie."
"Oh, the tie? Don't speak of that. I had the whim to make something for somebody—I have an embroidering mania on me sometimes—and there was a chance to dispose of it, you see."
The young man's face fell a little as he looked upon the great, handsome woman and heard her seemingly careless words. He did not want to go away, yet what excuse was there for staying? He rose, hat in hand.
Here, now, was the woman in a quandary. She had not anticipated such abruptness.
"Don't go yet," she said, impetuously. "I want to talk with you. Tell me all about the college, and yourself, and your plans. And—-about the tie—I wouldn't have made one for any one else. I remembered your face. You know I was go often at your home, and I wondered how it would suit you. You should take that interest as a compliment. And I am lonesome here, and you are idling, you say, and why should we not be good friends for the summer? The men in town annoy me, and the girls here are not bright enough for you. Let us be cronies, will you not? Take me fishing to-morrow. I want you to teach me how to catch bass in the river. I heard some one say once you knew better than any one else how that is done. Is not this a good idea of mine? It will help both of us kill time."
She sat there on the sofa, half stretched out, yet not carelessly nor ungracefully, but in an assumed laziness of real felinishness, a woman just ten years older than the man she was addressing, yet in all the lushness of magnificent womanhood, and emanating all magnetism.