PIPES O' PAN AT ZEKESBURY
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
BOWEN-MERRILL CO., PUBLISHERS
TO MY BROTHER JOHN A. RILEY WITH MANY MEMORIES OF THE OLD HOME
AT ZEKESBURY 13
DOWN AROUND THE RIVER POEMS
DOWN AROUND THE RIVER 37
KNEELING WITH HERRICK 39
HAS SHE FORGOTTEN 43
A' OLD PLAYED-OUT SONG 45
THE LOST PATH 47
THE LITTLE TINY KICKSHAW 48
HIS MOTHER 49
KISSING THE ROD 50
HOW IT HAPPENED 51
THE DAYS GONE BY 54
MRS. MILLER 57
RHYMES OF RAINY DAYS
THE TREE-TOAD 79
A WORN-OUT PENCIL 80
THE STEPMOTHER 82
THE RAIN 83
THE LEGEND GLORIFIED 84
WHUR MOTHER IS 85
OLD MAN'S NURSERY RHYME 86
THREE DEAD FRIENDS 88
IN BOHEMIA 91
IN THE DARK 93
WET-WEATHER TALK 94
WHERE SHALL WE LAND 96
AN OLD SETTLER'S STORY 101
SWEET-KNOT AND GALAMUS
AN OLD SWEETHEART 159
MARTHY ELLEN 161
LONG AFORE HE KNOWED 164
DEAR HANDS 166
THIS MAN JONES 167
TO MY GOOD MASTER 169
WHEN THE GREEN GITS BACK 170
AT BROAD RIPPLE 171
WHEN OLD JACK DIED 172
DOC SIFERS 174
AT NOON—AND MIDNIGHT 177
A WILD IRISHMAN 181
RAGWEED AND FENNEL
WHEN MY DREAMS COME TRUE 205
A DOS'T O' BLUES 206
THE BAT 208
THE WAY IT WUZ 209
THE DRUM 212
TOM JOHNSON'S QUIT 214
IN THE SOUTH 217
THE OLD HOME BY THE MILL 219
A LEAVE-TAKING 221
WAIT FOR THE MORNING 222
WHEN JUNE IS HERE 223
THE GILDED ROLL 227
PIPES O' PAN AT ZEKESBURY
The pipes of Pan! Not idler now are they Than when their cunning fashioner first blew The pith of music from them: Yet for you And me their notes are blown in many a way Lost in our murmurings for that old day That fared so well, without us.—Waken to The pipings here at hand:—The clear halloo Of truant-voices, and the roundelay The waters warble in the solitude Of blooming thickets, where the robin's breast Sends up such ecstacy o'er dale and dell, Each tree top answers, till in all the wood There lingers not one squirrel in his nest Whetting his hunger on an empty shell.
The little town, as I recall it, was of just enough dignity and dearth of the same to be an ordinary county seat in Indiana—"The Grand Old Hoosier State," as it was used to being howlingly referred to by the forensic stump orator from the old stand in the courthouse yard—a political campaign being the wildest delight that Zekesbury might ever hope to call its own.
Through years the fitful happenings of the town and its vicinity went on the same—the same! Annually about one circus ventured in, and vanished, and was gone, even as a passing trumpet-blast; the usual rainy-season swelled the "Crick," the driftage choking at "the covered bridge," and backing water till the old road looked amphibious; and crowds of curious townsfolk straggled down to look upon the watery wonder, and lean awe-struck above it, and spit in it, and turn mutely home again.
The usual formula of incidents peculiar to an uneventful town and its vicinity: The countryman from "Jessup's Crossing," with the cornstalk coffin-measure, loped into town, his steaming little gray-and-red-flecked "roadster" gurgitating, as it were, with that mysterious utterance that ever has commanded and ever must evoke the wonder and bewilderment of every boy. The small-pox rumor became prevalent betimes, and the subtle aroma of the assafoetida-bag permeated the graded schools "from turret to foundation-stone;" the still recurring expos of the poor-house management; the farm-hand, with the scythe across his shoulder, struck dead by lightning; the long-drawn quarrel between the rival editors culminating in one of them assaulting the other with a "sidestick," and the other kicking the one down stairs and thenceward ad libitum; the tramp, suppositiously stealing a ride, found dead on the railroad; the grand jury returning a sensational indictment against a bar-tender non est; the Temperance outbreak; the "Revival;" the Church Festival; and the "Free Lectures on Phrenology, and Marvels of Mesmerism," at the town hall. It was during the time of the last-mentioned sensation, and directly through this scientific investigation, that I came upon two of the town's most remarkable characters. And however meager my outline of them may prove, my material for the sketch is most accurate in every detail, and no deviation from the cold facts of the case shall influence any line of my report.
For some years prior to this odd experience I had been connected with a daily paper at the state capitol; and latterly a prolonged session of the legislature, where I specially reported, having told threateningly upon my health, I took both the advantage of a brief vacation, and the invitation of a young bachelor Senator, to get out of the city for awhile, and bask my respiratory organs in the revivifying rural air of Zekesbury—the home of my new friend.
"It'll pay you to get out here," he said, cordially, meeting me at the little station, "and I'm glad you've come, for you'll find no end of odd characters to amuse you." And under the very pleasant sponsorship of my senatorial friend, I was placed at once on genial terms with half the citizens of the little town—from the shirt-sleeved nabob of the county office to the droll wag of the favorite loafing-place—the rules and by-laws of which resort, by the way, being rudely charcoaled on the wall above the cutter's bench, and somewhat artistically culminating in an original dialectic legend which ran thus:
F'rinstance, now whar some folks gits To relyin' on their wits. Ten to one they git too smart, And spile it all right at the start!— Feller wants to jest go slow And do his thinkin' first, you know:—— Ef I can't think up somepin' good, I set still and chaw my cood!
And it was at this inviting rendezvous, two or three evenings following my arrival, that the general crowd, acting upon the random proposition of one of the boys, rose as a man and wended its hilarious way to the town hall.
"Phrenology," said the little, old, bald-headed lecturer and mesmerist, thumbing the egg-shaped head of a young man I remembered to have met that afternoon in some law office; "Phrenology," repeated the professor—"or rather the term phrenology—is derived from two Greek words signifying mind and discourse; hence we find embodied in phrenology-proper, the science of intellectual measurement, together with the capacity of intelligent communication of the varying mental forces and their flexibilities, etc., &c. The study, then, of phrenology is, to wholly simplify it—is, I say, the general contemplation of the workings of the mind as made manifest through the certain corresponding depressions and protuberances of the human skull, when, of course, in a healthy state of action and development, as we here find the conditions exemplified in the subject before us."
Here the "subject" vaguely smiled.
"You recognize that mug, don't you?" whispered my friend. "It's that coruscating young ass, you know, Hedrick—in Cummings' office—trying to study law and literature at the same time, and tampering with 'The Monster that Annually,' don't you know?—where we found the two young students scuffling round the office, and smelling of peppermint?—Hedrick, you know, and Sweeney. Sweeney, the slim chap, with the pallid face, and frog-eyes, and clammy hands! You remember I told you 'there was a pair of 'em?' Well, they're up to something here to-night. Hedrick, there on the stage in front; and Sweeney—don't you see?—with the gang on the rear seats."
"Phrenology—again," continued the lecturer, "is, we may say, a species of mental geography, as it were; which—by a study of the skull—leads also to a study of the brain within, even as geology naturally follows the initial contemplation of the earth's surface. The brain, thurfur, or intellectual retort, as we may say, natively exerts a molding influence on the skull contour; thurfur is the expert in phrenology most readily enabled to accurately locate the multitudinous intellectual forces, and most exactingly estimate, as well, the sequent character of each subject submitted to his scrutiny. As, in the example before us—a young man, doubtless well known in your midst, though, I may say, an entire stranger to myself—I venture to disclose some characteristic trends and tendencies, as indicated by this phrenological depression and development of the skull-proper, as later we will show, through the mesmeric condition, the accuracy of our mental diagnosis."
Throughout the latter part of this speech my friend nudged me spasmodically, whispering something which was jostled out of intelligent utterance by some inward spasm of laughter.
"In this head," said the Professor, straddling his malleable fingers across the young man's bumpy brow—"In this head we find Ideality large—abnormally large, in fact; thurby indicating—taken in conjunction with a like development of the perceptive qualities—language following, as well, in the prominent eye—thurby indicating, I say, our subject as especially endowed with a love for the beautiful—the sublime—the elevating—the refined and delicate—the lofty and superb—in nature, and in all the sublimated attributes of the human heart and beatific soul. In fact, we find this young man possessed of such natural gifts as would befit him for the exalted career of the sculptor, the actor, the artist, or the poet—any ideal calling; in fact, any calling but a practical, matter-of-fact vocation; though in poetry he would seem to best succeed."
"Well," said my friend, seriously, "he's feeling for the boy!" Then laughingly: "Hedrick has written some rhymes for the county papers, and Sweeney once introduced him, at an Old Settlers' Meeting, as 'The Best Poet in Center Township,' and never cracked a smile! Always after each other that way, but the best friends in the world. Sweeney's strong suit is elocution. He has a native ability that way by no means ordinary, but even that gift he abuses and distorts simply to produce grotesque, and oftentimes ridiculous effects. For instance, nothing more delights him than to 'lothfully' consent to answer a request, at The Mite Society, some evening, for 'an appropriate selection,' and then, with an elaborate introduction of the same, and an exalted tribute to the refined genius of the author, proceed with a most gruesome rendition of 'Alonzo The Brave and The Fair Imogene,' in a way to coagulate the blood and curl the hair of his fair listeners with abject terror. Pale as a corpse, you know, and with that cadaverous face, lit with those malignant-looking eyes, his slender figure, and his long, thin legs and arms and hands, and his whole diabolical talent and adroitness brought into play—why, I want to say to you, it's enough to scare 'em to death! Never a smile from him, though, till he and Hedrick are safe out into the night again—then, of course, they hug each other and howl over it like Modocs! But pardon; I'm interrupting the lecture. Listen."
"A lack of continuity, however," continued the Professor, "and an undue love of approbation, would, measurably, at least, tend to retard the young man's progress toward the consummation of any loftier ambition, I fear; yet as we have intimated, if the subject were appropriately educated to the need's demand, he could doubtless produce a high order of both prose and poetry—especially the latter—though he could very illy bear being laughed at for his pains."
"He's dead wrong there," said my friend; "Hedrick enjoys being laughed at; he 's used to it—gets fat on it!"
"He is fond of his friends," continued the Professor "and the heartier they are the better; might even be convivially inclined—if so tempted—but prudent—in a degree," loiteringly concluded the speaker, as though unable to find the exact bump with which to bolster up the last named attribute.
The subject blushed vividly—my friend's right eyelid dropped, and there was a noticeable, though elusive sensation throughout the audience.
"But!" said the Professor, explosively, "selecting a directly opposite subject, in conjunction with the study of the one before us [turning to the group at the rear of the stage and beckoning], we may find a newer interest in the practical comparison of these subjects side by side." And the Professor pushed a very pale young man into position.
"Sweeney!" whispered my friend, delightedly; "now look out!"
"In this subject," said the Professor, "we find the practical business head. Square—though small—a trifle light at the base, in fact; but well balanced at the important points at least; thoughtful eyes—wide-awake—crafty—quick—restless—a policy eye, though not denoting language—unless, perhaps, mere business forms and direct statements."
"Fooled again!" whispered my friend; "and I'm afraid the old man will fail to nest out the fact also that Sweeney is the cold-bloodedest guyer on the face of the earth, and with more diabolical resources than a prosecuting attorney; the Professor ought to know this, too, by this time—for these same two chaps have been visiting the old man in his room at the hotel;—that's what I was trying to tell you awhile ago. The old sharp thinks he's 'playing' the boys, is my idea; but it's the other way, or I lose my guess."
"Now, under the mesmeric influence—if the two subjects will consent to its administration," said the Professor, after some further tedious preamble, "we may at once determine the fact of my assertions, as will be proved by their action while in this peculiar state." Here some apparent remonstrance was met with from both subjects, though amicably overcome by the Professor first manipulating the stolid brow and pallid front of the imperturbable Sweeney—after which the same mysterious ordeal was lothfully submitted to by Hedrick—though a noticeably longer time was consumed in securing his final loss of self-control. At last, however, this curious phenomenon was presented, and there before us stood the two swaying figures, the heads dropped back, the lifted hands, with thumb and finger-tips pressed lightly together, the eyelids languid and half closed, and the features, in appearance, wan and humid.
"Now, sir!" said the Professor, leading the limp Sweeney forward, and addressing him in a quick, sharp tone of voice.—"Now, sir, you are a great contractor—own large factories, and with untold business interests. Just look out there! [pointing out across the expectant audience] look there, and see the countless minions toiling servilely at your dread mandates. And yet—ha! ha! See! see!—They recognize the avaricious greed that would thus grind them in the very dust; they see, alas! they see themselves half-clothed—half-fed, that you may glut your coffers. Half-starved, they listen to the wail of wife and babe, and, with eyes upraised in prayer, they see you rolling by in gilded coach, and swathed in silk attire. But—ha! again! Look—look! they are rising in revolt against you! Speak to them before too late! Appeal to them—quell them with the promise of the just advance of wages they demand!"
The limp figure of Sweeney took on something of a stately and majestic air. With a graceful and commanding gesture of the hand, he advanced a step or two; then, after a pause of some seconds duration, in which the lifted face grew paler, as it seemed, and the eyes a denser black, he said:
"But yesterday I looked away O'er happy lands, where sunshine lay In golden blots, Inlaid with spots Of shade and wild forget-me-nots."
The voice was low, but clear, and ever musical. The Professor started at the strange utterance, looked extremely confused, and, as the boisterous crowd cried "Hear, hear!" he motioned the subject to continue, with some gasping comment interjected, which, if audible, would have run thus: "My God! It's an inspirational poem!"
"My head was fair With flaxen hair—"
resumed the subject.
"Yoop-ee!" yelled an irreverent auditor.
"Silence! silence!" commanded the excited Professor in a hoarse whisper; then, turning enthusiastically to the subject—"Go on, young man! Go on!—'Thy head-was fair-with flaxen hair—'"
"My head was fair With flaxen hair, And fragrant breezes, faint and rare, And warm with drouth From out the south, Blew all my curls across my mouth."
The speaker's voice, exquisitely modulated, yet resonant as the twang of a harp, now seemed of itself to draw and hold each listener; while a certain extravagance of gesticulation—a fantastic movement of both form and feature—seemed very near akin to fascination. And so flowed on the curious utterance:
"And, cool and sweet, My naked feet Found dewy pathways through the wheat; And out again Where, down the lane, The dust was dimpled with the rain."
In the pause following there was a breathlessness almost painful. The poem went on:
"But yesterday I heard the lay Of summer birds, when I, as they With breast and wing, All quivering With life and love, could only sing.
"My head was leant, Where, with it, blent A maiden's, o'er her instrument; While all the night, From vale to height, Was filled with echoes of delight.
"And all our dreams Were lit with gleams Of that lost land of reedy streams, Along whose brim Forever swim Pan's lilies, laughing up at him."
And still the inspired singer held rapt sway.
"It is wonderful!" I whispered, under breath.
"Of course it is!" answered my friend. "But listen; there is more:"
"But yesterday!... O blooms of May, And summer roses—Where-away? O stars above; And lips of love, And all the honeyed sweets thereof!
"O lad and lass. And orchard-pass, And briared lane, and daisied grass! O gleam and gloom, And woodland bloom, And breezy breaths of all perfume!—
"No more for me Or mine shall be Thy raptures—save in memory,— No more—no more— Till through the Door Of Glory gleam the days of yore."
This was the evident conclusion of the remarkable utterance, and the Professor was impetuously fluttering his hands about the subject's upward-staring eyes, stroking his temples, and snapping his fingers in his face.
"Well," said Sweeney, as he stood suddenly awakened, and grinning in an idiotic way, "how did the old thing work?" And it was in the consequent hilarity and loud and long applause, perhaps, that the Professor was relieved from the explanation of this rather astounding phenomenon of the idealistic workings of a purely practical brain—or, as my impious friend scoffed the incongruity later, in a particularly withering allusion, as the "blank-blanked fallacy, don't you know, of staying the hunger of a howling mob by feeding 'em on Spring poetry!"
The tumult of the audience did not cease even with the retirement of Sweeney, and cries of "Hedrick! Hedrick!" only subsided with the Professor's high-keyed announcement that the subject was even then endeavoring to make himself heard, but could not until utter quiet was restored, adding the further appeal that the young man had already been a long time under the mesmeric spell, and ought not be so detained for an unnecessary period. "See," he concluded, with an assuring wave of the hand toward the subject, "see; he is about to address you. Now, quiet!—utter quiet, if you please!"
"Great heavens!" exclaimed my friend, stiflingly; "Just look at the boy! Get onto that position for a poet! Even Sweeney has fled from the sight of him!"
And truly, too, it was a grotesque pose the young man had assumed; not wholly ridiculous either, since the dwarfed position he had settled into seemed more a genuine physical condition than an affected one. The head, back-tilted, and sunk between the shoulders, looked abnormally large, while the features of the face appeared peculiarly child-like—especially the eyes—wakeful and wide apart, and very bright, yet very mild and very artless; and the drawn and cramped outline of the legs and feet, and of the arms and hands, even to the shrunken, slender-looking fingers, all combined to most strikingly convey to the pained senses the fragile frame and pixey figure of some pitiably afflicted child, unconscious altogether of the pathos of its own deformity.
"Now, mark the kuss, Horatio!" gasped my friend.
At first the speaker's voice came very low, and somewhat piping, too, and broken—an eerie sort of voice it was, of brittle and erratic timbre and undulant inflection. Yet it was beautiful. It had the ring of childhood in it, though the ring was not pure golden, and at times fell echoless. The spirit of its utterance was always clear and pure and crisp and cheery as the twitter of a bird, and yet forever ran an undercadence through it like a low-pleading prayer. Half garrulously, and like a shallow brook might brawl across a shelvy bottom, the rhythmic little changeling thus began:
"I'm thist a little crippled boy, an' never goin' to grow An' git a great big man at all!—'cause Aunty told me so. When I was thist a baby one't I falled out of the bed An' got 'The Curv'ture of the Spine'—'at's what the Doctor said. I never had no Mother nen—far my Pa run away An' dassn't come back here no more—'cause he was drunk one day An' stobbed a man in thish-ere town, an' couldn't pay his fine! An' nen my Ma she died—an' I got 'Curv'ture of the Spine!'"
A few titterings from the younger people in the audience marked the opening stanza, while a certain restlessness, and a changing to more attentive positions seemed the general tendency. The old Professor, in the meantime, had sunk into one of the empty chairs. The speaker went on with more gaiety:
"I'm nine years old! An' you can't guess how much I weigh, I bet!— Last birthday I weighed thirty-three!—An' I weigh thirty yet! I'm awful little far my size—I'm purt' nigh littler 'an Some babies is!—an' neighbors all calls me 'The Little Man!' An' Doc one time he laughed an' said: 'I 'spect, first thing you know, You'll have a little spike-tail coat an' travel with a show!' An' nen I laughed—till I looked round an' Aunty was a-cryin'— Sometimes she acts like that, 'cause I got 'Curv'ture of the Spine!'"
Just in front of me a great broad-shouldered countryman, with a rainy smell in his cumbrous overcoat, cleared his throat vehemently, looked startled at the sound, and again settled forward, his weedy chin resting on the knuckles of his hands as they tightly clutched the seat before him. And it was like being taken into a childish confidence as the quaint speech continued:
"I set—while Aunty's washin'—on my little long-leg stool, An' watch the little boys an' girls 'a-skippin' by to school; An' I peck on the winder, an' holler out an' say: 'Who wants to fight The Little Man 'at dares you all to-day?' An' nen the boys climbs on the fence, an' little girls peeks through, An' they all says: 'Cause you're so big, you think we're 'feared o' you!' An' nen they yell, an' shake their fist at me, like I shake mine— They're thist in fun, you know, 'cause I got 'Curv'ture of the Spine!'"
"Well," whispered my friend, with rather odd irrelevance, I thought, "of course you see through the scheme of the fellows by this time, don't you?"
"I see nothing," said I, most earnestly, "but a poor little wisp of a child that makes me love him so I dare not think of his dying soon, as he surely must! There; listen!" And the plaintive gaiety of the homely poem ran on:
"At evening, when the ironin's done, an' Aunty's fixed the fire, An' filled an' lit the lamp, an' trimmed the wick an' turned it higher, An' fetched the wood all in far night, an' locked the kitchen door, An' stuffed the ole crack where the wind blows in up through the floor— She sets the kittle on the coals, an' biles an' makes the tea, An' fries the liver an' the mush, an' cooks a egg far me; An' sometimes—when I cough so hard—her elderberry wine Don't go so bad far little boys with 'Curv'ture of the Spine!'"
"Look!" whispered my friend, touching me with his elbow. "Look at the Professor!"
"Look at everybody!" said I. And the artless little voice went on again half quaveringly:
"But Aunty's all so childish-like on my account, you see, I'm 'most afeared she'll be took down—an' 'at's what bothers me!— 'Cause ef my good ole Aunty ever would git sick an' die, I don't know what she'd do in Heaven—till I come, by an' by:— Far she's so ust to all my ways, an' ever'thing, you know, An' no one there like me, to nurse, an' worry over so!— 'Cause all the little childerns there's so straight an' strong an' fine, They's nary angel 'bout the place with 'Curv'ture of the Spine!'"
The old Professor's face was in his handkerchief; so was my friend's in his; and so was mine in mine, as even now my pen drops and I reach for it again.
I half regret joining the mad party that had gathered an hour later in the old law-office where these two graceless characters held almost nightly revel, the instigators and conniving hosts of a reputed banquet whose menu's range confined itself to herrings, or "blind robins," dried beef, and cheese, with crackers, gingerbread, and sometimes pie; the whole washed down with anything but
"——Wines that heaven knows when Had sucked the fire of some forgotten sun, And kept it through a hundred years of gloom Still glowing in a heart of ruby."
But the affair was memorable. The old Professor was himself lured into it, and loudest in his praise of Hedrick's realistic art; and I yet recall him at the orgie's height, excitedly repulsing the continued slurs and insinuations of the clammy-handed Sweeney, who, still contending against the old man's fulsome praise of his more fortunate rival, at last openly declared that Hedrick was not a poet, not a genius, and in no way worthy to be classed in the same breath with himself—"the gifted but unfortunate Sweeney, sir—the unacknowledged author, sir—'y gad, sir!—of the two poems that held you spell-bound to-night!"
DOWN AROUND THE RIVER POEMS
DOWN AROUND THE RIVER.
Noon-time and June-time, down around the river! Have to furse with 'Lizey Ann—but lawzy! I fergive her! Drives me off the place, and says 'at all 'at she's a-wishin', Land o' gracious! time'll come I'll git enough o' fishin'! Little Dave, a-choppin' wood, never 'pears to notice; Don't know where she's hid his hat, er keerin' where his coat is,— Specalatin', more 'n like, he haint a-goin' to mind me, And guessin' where, say twelve o'clock, a feller'd likely find me.
Noon-time and June-time, down around the river! Clean out o' sight o' home, and skulkin' under kivver Of the sycamores, jack-oaks, and swamp-ash and ellum— Idies all so jumbled up, you kin hardly tell 'em!— Tired, you know, but lovin' it, and smilin' jest to think 'at Any sweeter tiredness you'd fairly want to drink it. Tired o' fishin'—tired o' fun—line out slack and slacker— All you want in all the world's a little more tobacker!
Hungry, but a-hidin' it, er jes' a-not a-keerin':- Kingfisher gittin' up and skootin' out o' hearin'; Snipes on the t'other side, where the County Ditch is, Wadin' up and down the aidge like they'd rolled their britches! Old turkle on the root kindo-sorto drappin' Intoo th' worter like he don't know how it happen! Worter, shade and all so mixed, don't know which you'd orter Say, th' worter in the shadder—shadder in the worter!
Somebody hollerin'—'way around the bend in Upper Fork—where yer eye kin jes' ketch the endin' Of the shiney wedge o' wake some muss-rat's a-makin' With that pesky nose o' his! Then a sniff o' bacon, Corn-bread and 'dock-greens—and little Dave a-shinnin' 'Crost the rocks and mussel-shells, a-limpin' and a-grinnin', With yer dinner far ye, and a blessin' from the giver. Noon-time and June-time down around the river!
KNEELING WITH HERRICK.
Dear Lord, to Thee my knee is bent.— Give me content— Full-pleasured with what comes to me, What e'er it be: An humble roof—a frugal board, And simple hoard; The wintry fagot piled beside The chimney wide, While the enwreathing flames up-sprout And twine about The brazen dogs that guard my hearth And household worth: Tinge with the ember's ruddy glow The rafters low; And let the sparks snap with delight, As ringers might That mark deft measures of some tune The children croon: Then, with good friends, the rarest few Thou holdest true, Ranged round about the blaze, to share My comfort there,— Give me to claim the service meet That makes each seat A place of honor, and each guest Loved as the rest.
I' b'en a-kindo musin', as the feller says, and I'm About o' the conclusion that they ain't no better time, When you come to cipher on it, than the times we used to know When we swore our first "dog-gone-it" sorto solem'-like and low!
You git my idy, do you?—Little tads, you understand— Jes' a wishin' thue and thue you that you on'y was a man.— Yit here I am, this minute, even forty, to a day, And fergittin' all that's in it, wishin' jes' the other way!
I hain't no hand to lectur' on the times, er dimonstrate Whur the trouble is, er hector and domineer with Fate,— But when I git so flurried, and so pestered-like and blue, And so rail owdacious worried, let me tell you what I do!—
I jes' gee-haw the hosses, and unhook the swingle-tree, Whur the hazel-bushes tosses down their shadders over me, And I draw my plug o' navy, and I climb the fence, and set Jes' a-thinkin' here, 'y gravy! till my eyes is wringin'-wet!
Tho' I still kin see the trouble o' the present, I kin see— Kindo like my sight was double—all the things that used to be; And the flutter o' the robin, and the teeter o' the wren Sets the willer branches bobbin "howdy-do" thum Now to Then!
The deadnin' and the thicket's jes' a bilin' full of June, Thum the rattle o' the cricket, to the yallar-hammer's tune; And the catbird in the bottom, and the sap-suck on the snag, Seems ef they cain't—od-rot'em!—jes' do nothin' else but brag!
They's music in the twitter of the bluebird and the jay, And that sassy little critter jes' a-peckin' all the day; They's music in the "flicker," and they's music in the thrush, And they's music in the snicker o' the chipmunk in the brush!
They's music all around me!—And I go back, in a dream— Sweeter yit than ever found me fast asleep—and in the stream That used to split the medder whur the dandylions growed, I stand knee-deep, and redder than the sunset down the road.
Then's when I' b'en a-fishin'!—and they's other fellers, too, With their hickry poles a-swishin' out behind 'em; and a few Little "shiners" on our stringers, with their tails tiptoein' bloom, As we dance 'em in our fingers all the happy journey home.
I kin see us, true to Natur', thum the time we started out With a biscuit and a 'tater in our little "roundabout!" I kin see our lines a-tanglin', and our elbows in a jam, And our naked legs a-danglin' thum the apern of the dam.
I kin see the honeysuckle climbin' up around the mill; And kin hear the worter chuckle, and the wheel a-growlin' still; And thum the bank below it I kin steal the old canoe, And jes' git in and row it like the miller used to do.
W'y, I git my fancy focussed on the past so mortal plain I kin even smell the locus'-blossoms bloomin' in the lane; And I hear the cow-bells clinkin' sweeter tunes 'n "money musk" Far the lightnin'-bugs a-blinkin'and a-dancin'in the dusk.
And so I keep on musin', as the feller says, till I'm Firm-fixed in the conclusion that they hain't no better time, When you come to cipher on it, than the old times,—and, I swear, I kin wake and say "dog-gone-it!" jes' as soft as any prayer!
HAS SHE FORGOTTEN.
Has she forgotten? On this very May We were to meet here, with the birds and bees, As on that Sabbath, underneath the trees We strayed among the tombs, and stripped away The vines from these old granites, cold and gray— And yet, indeed, not grim enough were they To stay our kisses, smiles and ecstacies, Or closer voice-lost vows and rhapsodies. Has she forgotten—that the May has won Its promise?—that the bird-songs from the tree Are sprayed above the grasses as the sun Might jar the dazzling dew down showeringly? Has she forgotten life—love—everyone— Has she forgotten me—forgotten me?
Low, low down in the violets I press My lips and whisper to her. Does she hear, And yet hold silence, though I call her dear, Just as of old, save for the tearfulness Of the clenched eyes, and the soul's vast distress? Has she forgotten thus the old caress That made our breath a quickened atmosphere That failed nigh unto swooning with the sheer Delight? Mine arms clutch now this earthen heap Sodden with tears that flow on ceaselessly As autumn rains the long, long, long nights weep In memory of days that used to be,— Has she forgotten these? And, in her sleep, Has she forgotten me—forgotten me?
To-night, against my pillow, with shut eyes, I mean to weld our faces—through the dense Incalculable darkness make pretense That she has risen from her reveries To mate her dreams with mine in marriages Of mellow palms, smooth faces, and tense ease Of every longing nerve of indolence,— Lift from the grave her quiet lips, and stun My senses with her kisses—drawl the glee Of her glad mouth, full blithe and tenderly, Across mine own, forgetful if is done The old love's awful dawn-time when said we, "To-day is ours!".... Ah, Heaven! can it be She has forgotten me—forgotten me!
A' OLD PLAYED-OUT SONG.
It's the curiousest thing in creation, Whenever I hear that old song, "Do They Miss Me at Home?" I'm so bothered, My life seems as short as it's long!— Far ever'thing 'pears like adzackly It 'peared, in the years past and gone,— When I started out sparkin', at twenty, And had my first neckercher on!
Though I'm wrinkelder, older and grayer Right now than my parents was then, You strike up that song, "Do They Miss Me?" And I'm jest a youngster again!— I'm a-standin' back there in the furries A-wishin' far evening to come, And a-whisperin' over and over Them words, "Do They Miss Me at Home?"
You see, Marthy Ellen she sung it The first time I heerd it; and so, As she was my very first sweetheart, It reminds of her, don't you know,— How her face ust to look, in the twilight, As I tuck her to spellin'; and she Kep' a-hummin' that song 'tel I ast her, Pine-blank, ef she ever missed me!
I can shet my eyes now, as you sing it, And hear her low answerin' words, And then the glad chirp of the crickets As clear as the twitter of birds; And the dust in the road is like velvet, And the ragweed, and fennel, and grass Is as sweet as the scent of the lilies Of Eden of old, as we pass.
"Do They Miss Me at Home?" Sing it lower— And softer—and sweet as the breeze That powdered our path with the snowy White bloom of the old locus'-trees! Let the whippoorwills he'p you to sing it, And the echoes 'way over the hill, 'Tel the moon boolges out, in a chorus Of stars, and our voices is still.
But, oh! "They's a chord in the music That's missed when her voice is away!" Though I listen from midnight 'tel morning, And dawn, 'tel the dusk of the day; And I grope through the dark, lookin' up'ards And on through the heavenly dome, With my longin' soul singin' and sobbin' The words, "Do They Miss Me at Home?"
THE LOST PATH.
Alone they walked—their fingers knit together, And swaying listlessly as might a swing Wherein Dan Cupid dangled in the weather Of some sun-flooded afternoon of Spring.
Within the clover-fields the tickled cricket Laughed lightly as they loitered down the lane, And from the covert of the hazel-thicket The squirrel peeped and laughed at them again.
The bumble-bee that tipped the lily-vases Along the road-side in the shadows dim, Went following the blossoms of their faces As though their sweets must needs be shared with him.
Between the pasture bars the wondering cattle Stared wistfully, and from their mellow bells Shook out a welcoming whose dreamy rattle Fell swooningly away in faint farewells.
And though at last the gloom of night fell o'er them, And folded all the landscape from their eyes, They only know the dusky path before them Was leading safely on to Paradise.
THE LITTLE TINY KICKSHAW.
"—And any little tiny kickshaws."—Shakespeare.
O the little tiny kickshaw that Mither sent tae me, 'Tis sweeter than the sugar-plum that reepens on the tree, Wi' denty flavorin's o' spice an' musky rosemarie, The little tiny kickshaw that Mither sent tae me.
'Tis luscious wi' the stalen tang o' fruits frae ower the sea, An' e'en its fragrance gars we laugh wi' langin' lip an' ee, Till a' its frazen sheen o' white maun melten hinnie be— Sae weel I luve the kickshaw that Mither sent tae me.
O I luve the tiny kickshaw, an' I smack my lips wi' glee, Aye mickle do I luve the taste o' sic a luxourie, But maist I luve the luvein' han's that could the giftie gie O' the little tiny kickshaw that Mither sent tae me.
DEAD! my wayward boy—my own— Not the Law's! but mine—the good God's free gift to me alone, Sanctified by motherhood.
"Bad," you say: Well, who is not? "Brutal"—"with a heart of stone"— And "red-handed."—Ah! the hot Blood upon your own!
I come not, with downward eyes, To plead for him shamedly,— God did not apologize When He gave the boy to me.
Simply, I make ready now For His verdict.—You prepare— You have killed us both—and how Will you face us There!
KISSING THE ROD.
O heart of mine, we shouldn't Worry so! What we've missed of calm we couldn't Have, you know! What we've met of stormy pain, And of sorrow's driving rain, We can better meet again, If it blow!
We have erred in that dark hour We have known, When our tears fell with the shower, All alone!— Were not shine and shadow blent As the gracious Master meant?— Let us temper our content With His own.
For, we know, not every morrow Can be sad; So, forgetting all the sorrow We have had, Let us fold away our fears, And put by our foolish tears, And through all the coming years Just be glad.
HOW IT HAPPENED.
I got to thinkin' of her—both her parents dead and gone— And all her sisters married off, and none but her and John A-livin' all alone there in that lonesome sort o' way, And him a blame old bachelor, confirmder ev'ry day! I'd knowed 'em all from childern, and their daddy from the time He settled in the neighborhood, and had n't ary a dime Er dollar, when he married, far to start housekeepin' on!— So I got to thinkin' of her—both her parents dead and gone!
I got to thinkin' of her; and a-wundern what she done That all her sisters kep' a gittin' married, one by one, And her without no chances—and the best girl of the pack— An old maid, with her hands, you might say, tied behind her back! And Mother, too, afore she died, she ust to jes' take on, When none of 'em was left, you know, but Evaline and John, And jes' declare to goodness 'at the young men must be bline To not see what a wife they 'd git if they got Evaline!
I got to thinkin' of her; in my great affliction she Was sich a comfert to us, and so kind and neighberly,— She 'd come, and leave her housework, far to be'p out little Jane, And talk of her own mother 'at she 'd never see again— Maybe sometimes cry together—though, far the most part she Would have the child so riconciled and happy-like 'at we Felt lonesomer 'n ever when she 'd put her bonnet on And say she 'd railly haf to be a-gittin' back to John!
I got to thinkin' of her, as I say,—and more and more I'd think of her dependence, and the burdens 'at she bore,— Her parents both a-bein' dead, and all her sisters gone And married off, and her a-livin' there alone with John— You might say jes' a-toilin' and a-slavin' out her life Far a man 'at hadn't pride enough to git hisse'f a wife— 'Less some one married Evaline, and packed her off some day!— So I got to thinkin' of her—and it happened thataway.
Heigh-ho! Babyhood! Tell me where you linger: Let's toddle home again, for we have gone astray; Take this eager hand of mine and lead me by the finger Back to the Lotus lands of the far-away.
Turn back the leaves of life; don't read the story,— Let's find the pictures, and fancy all the rest:— We can fill the written pages with a brighter glory Than Old Time, the story-teller, at his very best!
Turn to the brook, where the honeysuckle, tipping O'er its vase of perfume spills it on the breeze, And the bee and humming-bird in ecstacy are sipping From the fairy flagons of the blooming locust trees.
Turn to the lane, where we used to "teeter-totter," Printing little foot-palms in the mellow mold, Laughing at the lazy cattle wading in the water Where the ripples dimple round the buttercups of gold:
Where the dusky turtle lies basking on the gravel Of the sunny sandbar in the middle-tide, And the ghostly dragonfly pauses in his travel To rest like a blossom where the water-lily died.
Heigh-ho! Babyhood! Tell me where you linger: Let's toddle home again, for we have gone astray; Take this eager hand of mine and lead me by the finger Back to the Lotus lands of the far-away.
THE DAYS GONE BY.
O the days gone by! O the days gone by! The apples in the orchard, and the pathway through the rye; The chirrup of the robin, and the whistle of the quail As he piped across the meadows sweet as any nightingale; When the bloom was on the clover, and the blue was in the sky, And my happy heart brimmed over in the days gone by.
In the days gone by, when my naked feet were tripped By the honey-suckle's tangles where the water-lilies dipped, And the ripples of the river lipped the moss along the brink Where the placid-eyed and lazy-footed cattle came to drink, And the tilting snipe stood fearless of the truant's wayward cry And the splashing of the swimmer, in the days gone by.
O the days gone by! O the days gone by! The music of the laughing lip, the luster of the eye; The childish faith in fairies, and Aladdin's magic ring— The simple, soul-reposing, glad belief in everything,— When life was like a story, holding neither sob nor sigh, In the golden olden glory of the days gone by.
John B. McKinney, Attorney and Counselor at Law, as his sign read, was, for many reasons, a fortunate man. For many other reasons he was not. He was chiefly fortunate in being, as certain opponents often strove to witheringly designate him, "the son of his father," since that sound old gentleman was the wealthiest farmer in that section, with but one son and heir to, in time, supplant him in the role of "county god," and haply perpetuate the prouder title of "the biggest tax-payer on the assessment list." And this fact, too, fortunate as it would seem, was doubtless the indirect occasion of a liberal percentage of all John's misfortunes. From his earliest school-days in the little town, up to his tardy graduation from a distant college, the influence of his father's wealth invited his procrastination, humored its results, encouraged the laxity of his ambition, "and even now," as John used, in bitter irony, to put it, "it is aiding and abetting me in the ostensible practice of my chosen profession, a listless, aimless undetermined man of forty, and a confirmed bachelor at that!" At the utterance of this self-depreciating statement, John generally jerked his legs down from the top of his desk; and, rising and kicking his chair back to the wall, he would stump around his littered office till the manilla carpet steamed with dust. Then he would wildly break away, seeking refuge either in the open street, or in his room at the old-time tavern, The Eagle House, "where," he would say, "I have lodged and boarded, I do solemnly asseverate, for a long, unbroken, middle-aged eternity of ten years, and can yet assert, in the words of the more fortunately-dying Webster, that 'I still live!'"
Extravagantly satirical as he was at times, John had always an indefinable drollery about him that made him agreeable company to his friends, at least; and such an admiring friend he had constantly at hand in the person of Bert Haines. Both were Bohemians in natural tendency, and, though John was far in Bert's advance in point of age, he found the young man "just the kind of a fellow to have around;" while Bert, in turn, held his senior in profound esteem—looked up to him, in fact, and in even his eccentricities strove to pattern after him. And so it was, when summer days were dull and tedious, these two could muse and doze the hours away together; and when the nights were long, and dark, and deep, and beautiful, they could drift out in the noon-light of the stars, and with "the soft complaining flute" and "warbling lute," "lay the pipes," as John would say, for their enduring popularity with the girls! And it was immediately subsequent to one of these romantic excursions, when the belated pair, at two o'clock in the morning, had skulked up a side stairway of the old hotel, and gained John's room, with nothing more serious happening than Bert falling over a trunk and smashing his guitar,—just after such a night of romance and adventure it was that, in the seclusion of John's room, Bert had something of especial import to communicate.
"Mack," he said, as that worthy anathematized a spiteful match, and then sucked his finger.
"Blast the all-fired old torch!" said John, wrestling with the lamp-flue, and turning on a welcome flame at last. "Well, you said 'Mack!' Why don't you go on? And don't bawl at the top of your lungs, either. You've already succeeded in waking every boarder in the house with that guitar, and you want to make amends now by letting them go to sleep again!"
"But my dear fellow," said Bert, with forced calmness, "you're the fellow that's making all the noise—and—"
"Why, you howling dervish!" interrupted John, with a feigned air of pleased surprise and admiration. "But let's drop controversy. Throw the fragments of your guitar in the wood-box there, and proceed with the opening proposition."
"What I was going to say was this," said Bert, with a half-desperate enunciation; "I'm getting tired of this way of living—clean, dead-tired, and fagged out, and sick of the whole artificial business!"
"Oh, yes!" exclaimed John, with a towering disdain, "you needn't go any further! I know just what malady is throttling you. It's reform—reform! You're going to 'turn over a new leaf,' and all that, and sign the pledge, and quit cigars, and go to work, and pay your debts, and gravitate back into Sunday-School, where you can make love to the preacher's daughter under the guise of religion, and desecrate the sanctity of the innermost pale of the church by confessions at Class of your 'thorough conversion!' Oh, you're going to—"
"No, but I'm going to do nothing of the sort," interrupted Bert, resentfully. "What I mean—if you'll let me finish—is, I'm getting too old to be eternally undignifying myself with this 'singing of midnight strains under Bonnybell's window panes,' and too old to be keeping myself in constant humiliation and expense by the borrowing and stringing up of old guitars, together with the breakage of the same, and the general wear-and-tear on a constitution that is slowly being sapped to its foundations by exposure in the night-air and the dew." "And while you receive no further compensation in return," said John, "than, perhaps, the coy turning up of a lamp at an upper casement where the jasmine climbs; or an exasperating patter of invisible palms; or a huge dank wedge of fruit-cake shoved at you by the old man, through a crack in the door."
"Yes, and I'm going to have my just reward, is what I mean," said Bert, "and exchange the lover's life for the benedict's. Going to hunt out a good, sensible girl and marry her." And as the young man concluded this desperate avowal he jerked the bow of his cravat into a hard knot, kicked his hat under the bed, and threw himself on the sofa like an old suit.
John stared at him with absolute compassion. "Poor devil," he said, half musingly, "I know just how he feels—
'Ring in the wind his wedding chimes, Smile, villagers, at every door; Old church-yards stuffed with buried crimes, Be clad in sunshine o'er and o'er.—'"
"Oh, here!" exclaimed the wretched Bert, jumping to his feet; "let up on that dismal recitative. It would make a dog howl to hear that!"
"Then you 'let up' on that suicidal talk of marrying," replied John, "and all that harangue of incoherency about your growing old. Why, my dear fellow, you're at least a dozen years my junior, and look at me!" and John glanced at himself in the glass with a feeble pride, noting the gray sparseness of his side-hair, and its plaintive dearth on top. "Of course I've got to admit," he continued, "that my hair is gradually evaporating; but for all that, I'm 'still in the ring,' don't you know; as young in society, for the matter of that, as yourself! And this is just the reason why I don't want you to blight every prospect in your life by marrying at your age—especially a woman—I mean the kind of woman you'd be sure to fancy at your age."
"Didn't I say 'a good, sensible girl' was the kind I had selected?" Bert remonstrated.
"Oh!" exclaimed John, "you've selected her, then?—and without one word to me!" he ended, rebukingly.
"Well, hang it all!" said Bert, impatiently; "I knew how you were, and just how you'd talk me out of it; and I made up my mind that for once, at least, I'd follow the dictations of a heart that—however capricious in youthful frivolties—should beat, in manhood, loyal to itself and loyal to its own affinity."
"Go it! Fire away! Farewell, vain world!" exclaimed the excited John.—"Trade your soul off for a pair of ear-bobs and a button-hook—a hank of jute hair and a box of lily-white! I've buried not less than ten old chums this way, and here's another nominated for the tomb."
"But you've got no reason about you," began Bert,—"I want to"—
"And so do I 'want to,'" broke in John, finally,—"I want to get some sleep.—So 'register' and come to bed.—And lie up on edge, too, when you do come—'cause this old catafalque-of-a-bed is just about as narrow as your views of single blessedness! Peace! Not another word! Pile in! Pile in! I'm three-parts sick, anyhow, and I want rest!" And very truly he spoke.
It was a bright morning when the slothful John was aroused by a long, vociferous pounding on the door. He started up in bed to find himself alone—the victim of his wrathful irony having evidently risen and fled away while his pitiless tormentor slept—"Doubtless to at once accomplish that nefarious intent as set forth by his unblushing confession of last night," mused the miserable John. And he ground his fingers in the corners of his swollen eyes, and leered grimly in the glass at the feverish orbs, blood-shotten, blurred and aching.
The pounding on the door continued. John looked at his watch; it was only 8 o'clock.
"Hi, there!" he called viciously. "What do you mean, anyhow?" he went on, elevating his voice again; "shaking a man out of bed when he's just dropping into his first sleep?"
"I mean that you're going to get up; that's what!" replied a firm female voice. "It's 8 o'clock, and I want to put your room in order; and I'm not going to wait all day about it, either! Get up and go down to your breakfast, and let me have the room!" And the clamor at the door was industriously renewed.
"Say!" called John, querulously, hurrying on his clothes, "Say! you!"
"There's no 'say' about it!" responded the determined voice: "I've heard about you and your ways around this house, and I'm not going to put up with it! You'll not lie in bed till high noon when I've got to keep your room in proper order!"
"Oh ho!" bawled John, intelligently: "reckon you're the new invasion here? Doubtless you're the girl that's been hanging up the new window-blinds that won't roll, and disguising the pillows with clean slips, and 'hennin' round among my books and papers on the table here, and ageing me generally till I don't know my own handwriting by the time I find it! Oh, yes! you're going to revolutionize things here; you're going to introduce promptness, and system, and order. See you've even filled the wash-pitcher and tucked two starched towels through the handle. Haven't got any tin towels, have you? I rather like this new soap, too! So solid and durable, you know; warranted not to raise a lather. Might as well wash one's hands with a door-knob!" And as John's voice grumbled away into the sullen silence again, the determined voice without responded: "Oh, you can growl away to your heart's content, Mr. McKinney, but I want you to distinctly understand that I'm not going to humor you in any of your old bachelor, sluggardly, slovenly ways, and whims and notions. And I want you to understand, too, that I'm not hired help in this house, nor a chambermaid, nor anything of the kind. I'm the landlady here; and I'll give you just ten minutes more to get down to your breakfast, or you'll not get any—that's all!" And as the reversed cuff John was in the act of buttoning slid from his wrist and rolled under the dresser, he heard a stiff rustling of starched muslin flouncing past the door, and the quick italicized patter of determined gaiters down the hall.
"Look here," said John to the bright-faced boy in the hotel office, a half hour later. "It seems the house here's been changing hands again."
"Yes, sir," said the boy, closing the cigar case, and handing him a lighted match. "Well, the new landlord, whoever he is," continued John, patronizingly, "is a good one. Leastwise, he knows what's good to eat, and how to serve it."
The boy laughed timidly,—"It aint a landlord,' though—it's a landlady; it's my mother."
"Ah," said John, dallying with the change the boy had pushed toward him. "Your mother, eh?" And where's your father?"
"He's dead," said the boy.
"And what's this for?" abruptly asked John, examining his change.
"That's your change," said the boy: "You got three for a quarter, and gave me a half."
"Well, you just keep it," said John, sliding back the change. "It's for good luck, you know, my boy. Same as drinking your long life and prosperity. And, Oh yes, by the way, you may tell your mother I'll have a friend to dinner with me to-day."
"Yes, sir, and thank you, sir," said the beaming boy.
"Handsome boy!" mused John, as he walked down street. "Takes that from his father, though, I'll wager my existence!"
Upon his office desk John found a hastily written note. It was addressed in the well-known hand of his old chum. He eyed the missive apprehensively, and there was a positive pathos in his voice as he said aloud, "It's our divorce. I feel it!" The note, headed, "At the Office, 4 in Morning," ran like this:
"Dear Mack—I left you slumbering so soundly that, by noon, when you waken, I hope, in your refreshed state, you will look more tolerantly on my intentions as partially confided to you this night. I will not see you here again to say good-bye. I wanted to, but was afraid to 'rouse the sleeping lion.' I will not close my eyes to-night—fact is, I haven't time. Our serenade at Josie's was a pre-arranged signal by which she is to be ready and at the station for the 5 morning train. You may remember the lighting of three consecutive matches at her window before the igniting of her lamp. That meant, 'Thrice dearest one, I'll meet thee at the depot at 4:30 sharp.' So, my dear Mack, this is to inform you that, even as you read, Josie and I have eloped. It is all the old man's fault, yet I forgive him. Hope he'll return the favor. Josie predicts he will, inside of a week—or two weeks, anyhow. Good-bye, Mack, old boy; and let a fellow down as easy as you can.
"Heavens!" exclaimed John, stifling the note in his hand and stalking tragically around the room. "Can it be possible that I have nursed a frozen viper? An ingrate? A wolf in sheep's clothing? An orang-outang in gent's furnishings?"
"Was you callin' me, sir?" asked a voice at the door. It was the janitor.
"No!" thundered John; "Quit my sight! get out of my way! No, no, Thompson, I don't mean that," he called after him. "Here's a half dollar for you, and I want you to lock up the office, and tell anybody that wants to see me that I've been set upon, and sacked and assassinated in cold blood; and I've fled to my father's in the country, and am lying there in the convulsions of dissolution, babbling of green fields and running brooks, and thirsting for the life of every woman that comes in gunshot!" And then, more like a confirmed invalid than a man in the strength and pride of his prime, he crept down into the street again, and thence back to his hotel.
Dejectedly and painfully climbing to his room, he encountered, on the landing above, a little woman in a jaunty dusting-cap and a trim habit of crisp muslin. He tried to evade her, but in vain. She looked him squarely in the face—occasioning him the dubious impression of either needing shaving very badly, or having egg-stains on his chin.
"You're the gentleman in No. 11, I believe?" she said.
He nodded confusedly.
"Mr. McKinney is your name, I think?" she queried, with a pretty elevation of the eyebrows.
"Yes, ma'am," said John, rather abjectly. "You see, ma'am—But I beg pardon," he went on stammeringly, and with a very awkward bow—"I beg pardon, but I am addressing—ah—the—ah—the—"
"You are addressing the new landlady," she interpolated, pleasantly. "Mrs. Miller is my name. I think we should be friends, Mr. McKinney, since I hear that you are one of the oldest patrons of the house."
"Thank you—thank you!" said John, completely embarrassed. "Yes, indeed!—ha, ha. Oh, yes—yes—really, we must be quite old friends, I assure you, Mrs.—Mrs.—"
"Mrs. Miller," smilingly prompted the little woman.
"Yes, ah, yes,—Mrs. Miller. Lovely morning, Mrs. Miller," said John, edging past her and backing toward his room.
But as Mrs. Miller was laughing outright, for some mysterious reason, and gave no affirmation in response to his proposition as to the quality of the weather, John, utterly abashed and nonplussed, darted into his room and closed the door. "Deucedly extraordinary woman!" he thought; "wonder what's her idea!"
He remained locked in his room till the dinner-hour; and, when he promptly emerged for that occasion, there was a very noticeable improvement in his personal appearance, in point of dress, at least, though there still lingered about his smoothly-shaven features a certain haggard, care-worn, anxious look that would not out.
Next his own place at the table he found a chair tilted forward, as though in reservation for some honored guest. What did it mean? Oh, he remembered now. Told the boy to tell his mother he would have a friend to dine with him. Bert—and, blast the fellow! he was, doubtless, dining then with a far preferable companion—his wife—in a palace-car on the P., C. & St. L., a hundred miles away. The thought was maddening. Of course, now, the landlady would have material for a new assault. And how could he avert it? A despairing film blurred his sight for the moment—then the eyes flashed daringly. "I will meet it like a man!" he said, mentally—"like a State's Attorney,—I will invite it! Let her do her worst!"
He called a servant, directing some message in an undertone.
"Yes, sir," said the agreeable servant, "I'll go right away, sir," and left the room.
Five minutes elapsed, and then a voice at his shoulder startled him:
"Did you send for me, Mr. McKinney? What is it I can do?"
"You are very kind, Mrs.—Mrs.—"
"Mrs. Miller," said the lady, with a smile that he remembered.
"Now, please spare me even the mildest of rebukes. I deserve your censure, but I can't stand it—I can't positively!" and there was a pleading look in John's lifted eyes that changed the little woman's smile to an expression of real solicitude. "I have sent for you," continued John, "to ask of you three great favors. Please be seated while I enumerate them. First—I want you to forgive and forget that ill-natured, uncalled-for grumbling of mine this morning when you wakened me."
"Why, certainly," said the landlady, again smiling, though quite seriously.
"I thank you," said John, with dignity. "And, second," he continued—"I want your assurance that my extreme confusion and awkwardness on the occasion of our meeting later were rightly interpreted."
"Certainly—certainly," said the landlady, with the kindliest sympathy.
"I am grateful—utterly," said John, with newer dignity. "And then," he went on,—after informing you that it is impossible for the best friend I have in the world to be with me at this hour, as intended, I want you to do me the very great honor of dining with me. Will you?"
"Why, certainly," said the charming little landlady—"and a thousand thanks beside! But tell me something of your friend," she continued, as they were being served. "What is he like—and what is his name—and where is he?"
"Well," said John, warily,—"he's like all young fellows of his age. He's quite young, you know—not over thirty, I should say—a mere boy, in fact, but clever—talented—versatile."
"—Unmarried, of course," said the chatty little woman.
"Oh, yes!" said John, in a matter-of-course tone—but he caught himself abruptly—then stared intently at his napkin—glanced evasively at the side-face of his questioner, and said,—"Oh yes! Yes, indeed! He's unmarried.—Old bachelor like myself, you know. Ha! Ha!"
"So he's not like the young man here that distinguished himself last night?" said the little woman, archly.
The fork in John's hand, half-lifted to his lips, faltered and fell back toward his plate.
"Why, what's that?" said John, in a strange voice; "I hadn't heard anything about it—I mean I haven't heard anything about any young man. What was it?"
"Haven't heard anything about the elopement?" exclaimed the little woman, in astonishment.—"Why, it's been the talk of the town all morning. Elopement in high life—son of a grain-dealer, name of Hines, or Himes, or something, and a preacher's daughter—Josie somebody—didn't catch her last name. Wonder if you don't know the parties—Why, Mr. McKinney, are you ill?"
"Oh, no—not at all!" said John: "Don't mention it. Ha—ha! Just eating too rapidly, that's all. Go on with—you were saying that Bert and Josie had really eloped."
"What 'Bert'?" asked the little woman quickly.
"Why, did I say Bert?" said John, with a guilty look. "I meant Haines, of course, you know—Haines and Josie.—And did they really elope?"
"That's the report," answered the little woman, as though deliberating some important evidence; "and they say, too, that the plot of the runaway was quite ingenious. It seems the young lovers were assisted in their flight by some old fellow—friend of the young man's—Why, Mr. McKinney, you are ill, surely?"
John's face was ashen.
"No—no!" he gasped, painfully: "Go on—go on! Tell me more about the—the—the old fellow—the old reprobate! And is he still at large?"
"Yes," said the little womon, anxiously regarding the strange demeanor of her companion. "They say, though, that the law can do nothing with him, and that this fact only intensifies the agony of the broken-hearted parents—for it seems they have, till now, regarded him both as a gentleman and family friend in whom"—
"I really am ill," moaned John, waveringly rising to his feet; "but I beg you not to be alarmed. Tell your little boy to come to my room, where I will retire at once, if you'll excuse me, and send for my physician. It is simply a nervous attack. I am often troubled so; and only perfect quiet and seclusion restores me. You have done me a great honor, Mrs."—("Mrs.—Miller," sighed the sympathetic little woman)—"Mrs. Miller,—and I thank you more than I have words to express." He bowed limply, turned through a side door opening on a stair, and tottered to his room.
During the three weeks' illness through which he passed, John had every attention—much more, indeed, than he had consciousness to appreciate. For the most part his mind wandered, and he talked of curious things, and laughed hysterically, and serenaded mermaids that dwelt in grassy seas of dew, and were bald-headed like himself. He played upon a fourteen-jointed flute of solid gold, with diamond holes, and keys carved out of thawless ice. His old father came at first to take him home; but he could not be moved, the doctor said.
Two weeks of John's illness had worn away, when a very serious looking young man, in a traveling duster, and a high hat, came up the stairs to see him. A handsome young lady was clinging to his arm. It was Bert and Josie. She had guessed the very date of their forgiveness. John wakened even clearer in mind than usual that afternoon. He recognized his old chum at a glance, and Josie—now Bert's wife. Yes, he comprehended that. He was holding a hand of each when another figure entered. His thin, white fingers loosened their clasp, and he held a hand toward the new comer. "Here," he said, "is my best friend in the world—Bert, you and Josie will love her, I know; for this is Mrs.—Mrs."—"Mrs. Miller," said the radiant little woman.—"Yes,—Mrs. Miller," said John, very proudly.
RHYMES OF RAINY DAYS
"'Scurious-like," said the tree-toad, "I've twittered far rain all day; And I got up soon, And I hollered till noon— But the sun, hit blazed away, Till I jest clumb down in a crawfish-hole, Weary at heart, and sick at soul!
"Dozed away far an hour, And I tackled the thing agin; And I sung, and sung, Till I knowed my lung Was jest about give in; And then, thinks I, ef hit don't rain now. There're nothin' in singin', anyhow!
"Once in awhile some Would come a drivin' past; And he'd hear my cry, And stop and sigh— Till I jest laid back, at last, And I hollered rain till I thought my th'oat Would bust right open at ever' note!
"But I fetched her! O I fetched her!— 'Cause a little while ago, As I kindo' set, With one eye shet, And a-singin' soft and low, A voice drapped down on my fevered brain, Sayin',—' Ef you'll jest hush I'll rain!'"
A WORN-OUT PENCIL.
Welladay! Here I lay You at rest—all worn away, O my pencil, to the tip Of our old companionship!
Memory Sighs to see What you are, and used to be, Looking backward to the time When you wrote your earliest rhyme!—
When I sat Filing at Your first point, and dreaming that Your initial song should be Worthy of posterity.
With regret I forget If the song be living yet, Yet remember, vaguely now, It was honest, anyhow.
You have brought Me a thought— Truer yet was never taught,— That the silent song is best, And the unsung worthiest.
So if I, When I die, May as uncomplainingly Drop aside as now you do, Write of me, as I of you:—
Here lies one Who begun Life a-singing, heard of none; And he died, satisfied, With his dead songs by his side.
First she come to our house, Tommy run and hid; And Emily and Bob and me We cried jus' like we did When Mother died,—and we all said 'At we all wisht 'at we was dead!
And Nurse she couldn't stop us, And Pa he tried and tried,— We sobbed and shook and wouldn't look, But only cried and cried; And nen someone—we couldn't jus' Tell who—was cryin' same as us!
Our Stepmother! Yes, it was her, Her arms around us all— 'Cause Tom slid down the bannister And peeked in from the hall.— And we all love her, too, because She's purt nigh good as Mother was!
The rain! the rain! the rain! It gushed from the skies and streamed Like awful tears; and the sick man thought How pitiful it seemed! And he turned his face away, And stared at the wall again, His hopes nigh dead and his heart worn out. O the rain! the rain! the rain!
The rain! the rain! the rain! And the broad stream brimmed the shores; And ever the river crept over the reeds And the roots of the sycamores: A corpse swirled by in a drift Where the boat had snapt its chain— And a hoarse-voiced mother shrieked and raved. O the rain! the rain! the rain!
The rain! the rain! the rain!— Pouring, with never a pause, Over the fields and the green byways— How beautiful it was! And the new-made man and wife Stood at the window-pane Like two glad children kept from school.— O the rain! the rain! the rain!
THE LEGEND GLORIFIED.
"I deem that God is not disquieted"— This in a mighty poet's rhymes I read; And blazoned so forever doth abide Within my soul the legend glorified.
Though awful tempests thunder overhead, I deem that God is not disquieted,— The faith that trembles somewhat yet is sure Through storm and darkness of a way secure.
Bleak winters, when the naked spirit hears The break of hearts, through stinging sleet of tears, I deem that God is not disquieted; Against all stresses am I clothed and fed.
Nay, even with fixed eyes and broken breath, My feet dip down into the tides of death, Nor any friend be left, nor prayer be said, I deem that God is not disquieted.
WANT TO BE WHUR MOTHER IS.
"Want to be whur mother is! Want to be whur mother is!" Jeemses Rivers! won't some one ever shet that howl o' his? That-air yellin' drives me wild! Cain't none of ye stop the child? Want jer Daddy? "Naw." Gee whizz! "Want to be whur mother is!"
"Want to be whur mother is! Want to be whur mother is!" Coax him, Sairy! Mary, sing somepin far him! Lift him, Liz— Bang the clock-bell with the key— Er the meat-ax! Gee-mun-nee! Listen to them lungs o' his! "Want to be whur mother is!"
"Want to be whur mother is! Want to be whur mother is!" Preacher guess'll pound all night on that old pulpit o' his; 'Pears to me some wimmin jest Shows religious interest Mostly 'fore their fambly's riz! "Want to be whur mother is!"
* * * * *
"Want to be whur mother is! Want to be whur mother is!" Nights like these and whipperwills allus brings that voice of his! Sairy; Mary; 'Lizabeth; Don't set there and ketch yer death In the dew—er rheumatiz— Want to be whur mother is?
OLD MAN'S NURSERY RHYME.
In the jolly winters Of the long-ago, It was not so cold as now— O! No! No! Then, as I remember, Snowballs, to eat, Were as good as apples now, And every bit as sweet!
In the jolly winters Of the dead-and-gone, Bub was warm as summer, With his red mitts on,— Just in his little waist- And-pants all together, Who ever heard him growl About cold weather?
In the jolly winters of the long-ago— Was it half so cold as now? O! No! No! Who caught his death o' cold, Making prints of men Flat-backed in snow that now's Twice as cold again?
In the jolly winters Of the dead-and-gone, Startin' out rabbit-hunting Early as the dawn,— Who ever froze his fingers, Ears, heels, or toes,— Or'd a cared if he had? Nobody knows!
Nights by the kitchen-stove, Shelling white and red Corn in the skillet, and Sleepin' four abed! Ah! the jolly winters Of the long-ago! We were not so old as now— O! No! No!
THREE DEAD FRIENDS.
Always suddenly they are gone— The friends we trusted and held secure— Suddenly we are gazing on, Not a smiling face, but the marble-pure Dead mask of a face that nevermore To a smile of ours will make reply— The lips close-locked as the eyelids are— Gone—swift as the flash of the molten ore A meteor pours through a midnight sky, Leaving it blind of a single star.
Tell us, O Death, Remorseless Might! What is this old, unescapable ire You wreak on us?—from the birth of light Till the world be charred to a core of fire! We do no evil thing to you— We seek to evade you—that is all— That is your will—you will not be known Of men. What, then, would you have us do?— Cringe, and wait till your vengeance fall, And your graves be fed, and the trumpet blown?
You desire no friends; but we—O we Need them so, as we falter here, Fumbling through each new vacancy, As each is stricken that we hold dear. One you struck but a year ago; And one not a month ago; and one— (God's vast pity!)—and one lies now Where the widow wails, in her nameless woe, And the soldiers pace, with the sword and gun, Where the comrade sleeps, with the laureled brow.
And what did the first?—that wayward soul, Clothed of sorrow, yet nude of sin, And with all hearts bowed in the strange control Of the heavenly voice of his violin. Why, it was music the way he stood, So grand was the poise of the head and so Full was the figure of majesty!— One heard with the eyes, as a deaf man would, And with all sense brimmed to the overflow With tears of anguish and ecstasy.
And what did the girl, with the great warm light Of genius sunning her eyes of blue, With her heart so pure, and her soul so white— What, O Death, did she do to you? Through field and wood as a child she strayed, As Nature, the dear sweet mother led; While from her canvas, mirrored back, Glimmered the stream through the everglade Where the grapevine trailed from the trees to wed Its likeness of emerald, blue and black.
And what did he, who, the last of these, Faced you, with never a fear, O Death? Did you hate him that he loved the breeze, And the morning dews, and the rose's breath? Did you hate him that he answered not Your hate again—but turned, instead, His only hate on his country's wrongs? Well—you possess him, dead!—but what Of the good he wrought? With laureled head He bides with us in his deeds and songs.
Laureled, first, that he bravely fought, And forged a way to our flag's release; Laureled, next—for the harp he taught To wake glad songs in the days of peace— Songs of the woodland haunts he held As close in his love as they held their bloom In their inmost bosoms of leaf and vine— Songs that echoed, and pulsed and welled Through the town's pent streets, and the sick child's room, Pure as a shower in soft sunshine.
Claim them, Death; yet their fame endures, What friend next will you rend from us In that cold, pitiless way of yours, And leave us a grief more dolorous? Speak to us!—tell us, O Dreadful Power!— Are we to have not a lone friend left?— Since, frozen, sodden, or green the sod,— In every second of every hour, Some one, Death, you have left thus bereft, Half inaudibly shrieks to God.
Ha! My dear! I'm back again— Vendor of Bohemia's wares! Lordy! How it pants a man Climbing up those awful stairs! Well, I've made the dealer say Your sketch might sell, anyway! And I've made a publisher Hear my poem, Kate, my dear.
In Bohemia, Kate, my dear— Lodgers in a musty flat On the top floor—living here Neighborless, and used to that,— Like a nest beneath the eaves, So our little home receives Only guests of chirping cheer— We'll be happy, Kate, my dear!
Under your north-light there, you At your easel, with a stain On your nose of Prussian blue, Paint your bits of shine and rain; With my feet thrown up at will O'er my littered window-sill, I write rhymes that ring as clear As your laughter, Kate, my dear.
Puff my pipe, and stroke my hair— Bite my pencil-tip and gaze At you, mutely mooning there O'er your "Aprils" and your "Mays!" Equal inspiration in Dimples of your cheek and chin, And the golden atmosphere Of your paintings, Kate, my dear!
Trying! Yes, at times it is, To clink happy rhymes, and fling On the canvas scenes of bliss, When we are half famishing!— When your "jersey" rips in spots, And your hat's "forget-me-nots" Have grown tousled, old and sere— It is trying, Kate, my dear!
But—as sure—some picture sells, And—sometimes—the poetry— Bless us! How the parrot yells His acclaims at you and me! How we revel then in scenes Of high banqueting!—sardines— Salads—olives—and a sheer Pint of sherry, Kate, my dear!
Even now I cross your palm, With this great round world of gold!— "Talking wild?" Perhaps I am— Then, this little five-year-old!— Call it anything you will, So it lifts your face until I may kiss away that tear Ere it drowns me, Kate, my dear.
IN THE DARK.
O in the depths of midnight What fancies haunt the brain! When even the sigh of the sleeper Sounds like a sob of pain.
A sense of awe and of wonder I may never well define,— For the thoughts that come in the shadows Never come in the shine.
The old clock down in the parlor Like a sleepless mourner grieves, And the seconds drip in the silence As the rain drips from the eaves.
And I think of the hands that signal The hours there in the gloom, And wonder what angel watchers Wait in the darkened room.
And I think of the smiling faces That used to watch and wait, Till the click of the clock was answered By the click of the opening gate.—
They are not there now in the evening— Morning or noon—not there; Yet I know that they keep their vigil, And wait for me Somewhere.
WET WEATHER TALK.
It ain't no use to grumble and complain; It's jest as cheap and easy to rejoice: When God sorts out the weather and sends rain, W'y, rain's my choice.
Men giner'ly, to all intents— Although they're ap' to grumble some— Puts most their trust in Providence, And takes things as they come;— That is, the commonality Of men that's lived as long as me, Has watched the world enough to learn They're not the boss of the concern.
With some, of course, it's different— I've seed young men that knowed it all, And didn't like the way things went On this terrestial ball! But, all the same, the rain some way Rained jest as hard on picnic-day; Er when they railly wanted it, It maybe wouldn't rain a bit!
In this existence, dry and wet Will overtake the best of men— Some little skift o' clouds'll shet The sun off now and then; But maybe, while you're wondern' who You've fool-like lent your umbrell' to, And want it—out'll pop the sun, And you'll be glad you ain't got none!
It aggervates the farmers, too— They's too much wet, er too much sun, Er work, er waiting round to do Before the plowin''s done; And maybe, like as not, the wheat, Jest as it's lookin' hard to beat, Will ketch the storm—and jest about The time the corn 's a-jintin' out!
These here cy-clones a-foolin' round— And back'ard crops—and wind and rain, And yit the corn that's wallered down May elbow up again! They ain't no sense, as I kin see, In mortals, sich as you and me, A-faultin' Nature's wise intents, And lockin' horns with Providence!
It ain't no use to grumble and complain; It's jest as cheap and easy to rejoice: When God sorts out the weather and sends rain, W'y, rain's my choice.
WHERE SHALL WE LAND.
"Where shall we land you, sweet?"—Swinburne.
All listlessly we float Out seaward in the boat That beareth Love. Our sails of purest snow Bend to the blue below And to the blue above. Where shall we land?
We drift upon a tide Shoreless on every side, Save where the eye Of Fancy sweeps far lands Shelved slopingly with sands Of gold and porphyry. Where shall we land?
The fairy isles we see, Loom up so mistily— So vaguely fair, We do not care to break Fresh bubbles in our wake To bend our course for there. Where shall we land?
The warm winds of the deep Have lulled our sails to sleep, And so we glide Careless of wave or wind, Or change of any kind, Or turn of any tide. Where shall we land?
We droop our dreamy eyes Where our reflection lies Steeped in the sea, And, in an endless fit Of languor, smile on it And its sweet mimicry. Where shall we land?
"Where shall we land?" God's grace! I know not any place So fair as this— Swung here between the blue Of sea and sky, with you To ask me, with a kiss, "Where shall we land?"
AN OLD SETTLER'S STORY
William Williams his name was—or so he said;—Bill Williams they called him, and them 'at knowed him best called him Bill Bills.
The first I seed o' Bills was about two weeks after he got here. The Settlement wasn't nothin' but a baby in them days, far I mind 'at old Ezry Sturgiss had jist got his saw and griss-mill a-goin', and Bills had come along and claimed to know all about millin', and got a job with him; and millers in them times was wanted worse'n congerss-men, and I reckon got better wages; far afore Ezry built, ther wasn't a dust o' meal er flour to be had short o' the White Water, better'n sixty mild from here, the way we had to fetch it. And they used to come to Ezry's far ther grindin' as far as that; and one feller I knowed to come from what used to be the old South Fork, over eighty mild from here, and in the wettest, rainyest weather; and mud! Law!
Well, this-here Bills was a-workin' far Ezry at the time—part the time a-grindin', and part the time a-lookin' after the sawin', and gittin' out timber and the like. Bills was a queer-lookin' feller, shore! About as tall a build man as Tom Carter—but of course you don't know nothin' o' Tom Carter. A great big hulk of a feller, Tom was; and as far back as Fifty-eight used to make his brags that he could cut and put up his seven cord a day.
Well, what give Bills this queer look, as I was a-goin' on to say, was a great big ugly scar a-runnin' from the corner o' one eye clean down his face and neck, and I don't know how far down his breast—awful lookin'; and he never shaved, and ther wasn't a hair a-growin' in that scar, and it looked like a—some kind o' pizen snake er somepin' a crawlin' in the grass and weeds. I never seed sich a' out-an'-out onry-lookin' chap, and I'll never fergit the first time I set eyes on him.
Steve and me—Steve was my youngest brother; Steve's be'n in Californy now far, le' me see,—well, anyways, I reckon, over thirty year.—Steve was a-drivin' the team at the time—I allus let Steve drive; 'peared like Steve was made a-purpose far hosses. The beatin'est hand with hosses 'at ever you did see-an'-I-know! W'y, a hoss, after he got kind o' used to Steve a-handlin' of him, would do anything far him! And I've knowed that boy to swap far hosses 'at cou'dn't hardly make a shadder; and, afore you knowed it, Steve would have 'em a-cavortin' around a-lookin' as peert and fat and slick!