HotFreeBooks.com
Their Yesterdays
by Harold Bell Wright
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THEIR YESTERDAYS

By: HAROLD BELL WRIGHT

Author of "The Winning Of Barbara Worth" etc., etc.



With illustrations by F. GRAHAM COOTES



To Mrs. Elsbery W. Reynolds

In admiration of the splendid motherhood that, in her sons, has contributed such wealth of manhood to the race. And, in her daughter, has given to human-kind such riches of womanhood. With kindest regards, I inscribe this book.

H. B. W.

"Relay Heights" June 8, 1912



Behold the child, by Nature's kindly law, Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw; Some livelier plaything gives his youth delight, A little louder, but as empty quite; Scarfs, garters, gold, amuse his riper stage, And beads and prayer-books are the toys of age; Pleased with this bauble still, as that before; Till tired he sleeps, and life's poor play is o'er.

"AN ESSAY ON MAN"—Pope.



PROEM

There was a man.

And it happened—as such things often so happen—that this man went back into his days that were gone. Again and again and again he went back. Even as every man, even as you and I, so this man went back into his Yesterdays.

Then—why then there was a woman.

And it happened—as such things sometimes so happen—that this woman also went back into her days that were gone. Again and again and again she went back. Even as every woman, even as you and I, so this woman went back into her Yesterdays.

So it happened—as such things do happen—that the Yesterdays of this man and the Yesterdays of this woman became Their Yesterdays, and that they went back, then, no more alone but always together.

Even as one, they, forever after, went back.



What They Found in Their Yesterdays

And the man and the woman who went back into Their Yesterdays found there the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life. Just as they found these things in their grown up days, even unto the end, so they found them in Their Yesterdays.

Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life there are. No life can have less. No life can have more. All of life is in them. No life is without them all.

Dreams, Occupation, Knowledge, Ignorance, Religion, Tradition, Temptation, Life, Death, Failure, Success, Love, Memories: these are the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life—found by the man and the woman in their grown up days—found by them in Their Yesterdays—and they found no others.

It does not matter where this man and this woman lived, nor who they were, nor what they did. It does not matter when or how many times they went back into Their Yesterdays. These things are all that they found. And they found these things even as every man and woman finds them, even as you and I find them, in our days that are and in our days that were—in our grown up days and in our Yesterdays.

And it is so that in all of these Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life there is a man and there is a woman.



THE THIRTEEN TRULY GREAT THINGS OF LIFE

DREAMS

OCCUPATION

KNOWLEDGE

IGNORANCE

RELIGION

TRADITION

TEMPTATION

LIFE

DEATH

FAILURE

SUCCESS

LOVE

MEMORIES



THEIR YESTERDAYS



DREAMS

The man, for the first time, stood face to face with Life and, for the first time, knew that he was a man.

For a long time he had known that some day he would be a man. But he had always thought of his manhood as a matter of years. He had said to himself: "when I am twenty-one, I will be a man." He did not know, then, that twenty-one years—that indeed three times twenty-one years—cannot make a man. He did not know, then, that men are made of other things than years.

I cannot tell you the man's name, nor the names of his parents, nor his exact age, nor just where he lived, nor any of those things. For my story, such things are of no importance whatever. But this is of the greatest importance: as the man, for the first time, stood face to face with Life and, for the first time, realized his manhood, his manhood life began in Dreams.

It is the dreams of life that, at the beginning of life, matter. Of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life, Dreams are first.

It was green fruit time. From the cherry tree that grew in the upper corner of the garden next door, close by the hedge that separated the two places, the blossoms were gone and the tiny cherries were already well formed. The nest, that a pair of little brown birds had made that spring in the hedge, was just empty, and, from the green laden branches of the tree, the little brown mother was calling anxious advice and sweet worried counsel to her sons and daughters who were trying their new wings.

In the cemetery on the hill, beside a grave over which the sod had formed thick and firm, there was now another grave—another grave so new that on it no blade of grass had started—so new that the yellow earth in the long rounded mound was still moist and the flowers that tried with such loving, tender, courage, to hide its nakedness were not yet wilted. Cut in the block of white marble that marked the grass-grown grave were the dearest words in any tongue—Wife and Mother; while, for the new-made mound that lay so close beside, the workmen were carving on a companion stone the companion words.

There were two other smaller graves nearby—one of them quite small—but they did not seem to matter so much to the tall young fellow who had said to himself so many times: "when I am twenty-one, I will be a man." It was the two graves marked by the companion words that mattered. And certainly he did not, at that time, feel himself a man. As he left the cemetery to go home with an old neighbor and friend of the family, he felt himself rather a very small and lonely boy in a very big and empty world.

But there had been many things to do in those next few days, with no one but himself to do them. There had been, in the voices of his friends, a note that was new. In the manner of the men who had come to talk with him on matters of business, he had felt a something that he had never felt before. And he had seen the auctioneer—a lifelong friend of his father—standing on the front porch of his boyhood home and had heard him cry the low spoken bids and answer the nodding heads of the buyers in a voice that was hoarse with something more than long speaking in the open air. And then—and then—at last had come the sharp blow of the hammer on the porch railing and from the trembling lips of the old auctioneer the word: "Sold."

It was as though that hammer had fallen on the naked heart of the boy. It was as though the auctioneer had shouted: "Dead."

And so the time had come, a week later, when he must go for a last look at the home that was his no longer. Very slowly he had walked about the yard; pausing a little before each tree and bush and plant; putting forth his hand, at times, to touch them softly as though he would make sure that they were there for he saw them dimly through a mist. The place was strangely hushed and still. The birds and bees and even the butterflies seemed to have gone somewhere far away. Very slowly he had gone up the steps to open the front door. Very slowly he had passed from room to room in the empty, silent, house. On the kitchen porch he had paused again, for a little, because he could not see the steps; then had gone on to the well, the garden, the woodhouse, the shop, the barn, and so out into the orchard that shaded the gently rising slope of the hill beyond the house. At the farther side of the orchard, on the brow of the hill, he had climbed the rail fence and had seated himself on the ground where he could look out and away over the familiar meadows and fields and pastures.

A bobo-link, swinging on a nearby bush, poured forth a tumbling torrent of silvery melody. Behind him, on the fence, a meadow lark answered with liquid music. About him on every side, in the soft sunlight, the bluebirds were flitting here and there, twittering cheerily the while over their bluebird tasks. And a woodpecker, hard at work in the orchard shade, made himself known by the din of his industry.

But the man, who did not yet quite realize that he was a man, gave no heed to these busy companions of his boyhood. To him, it was as though those men with their shovels had heaped that mound of naked, yellow, earth upon his heart. The world, for him, was as empty as the old house down there under the orchard hill. For a long time he sat very still—seeing nothing, hearing nothing, heeding nothing—conscious only of that dull, aching, loneliness—conscious only of that heavy weight of pain.

A mile or more away, beyond the fields, a moving column of smoke from a locomotive lifted itself into the sky above the tree tops and streamed back a long, dark, banner. As the column of smoke moved steadily on toward the distant horizon, the young man on the hilltop watched it listlessly. Then, as his mind outran the train to the cities that lay beyond the line of the sky, his eyes cleared, his countenance brightened, his thoughts went outward toward the great world where great men toil mightily; and the long, dark, banner of smoke that hung above the moving train became to him as a flag of battle leading swiftly toward the front. Eagerly now he watched—watched until, far away, the streaming column of smoke passed from sight around a wooded hill and faint and clear through the still air—a bugle call to his ears—came the long challenging whistle.

Then it was that he realized his manhood—knew that he was a man—and understood that manhood is not a matter of only twenty-one years. And then it was—as he sat there alone on the brow of the little hill with his boyhood years dead behind him and the years of his manhood before—that his manhood life began, even as the manhood life of every man really begins, with his Dreams.

Indeed it is true that all life really begins in dreams. Surely the lover dreams of his mistress—the maiden of her mate. Surely mothers dream of the little ones that sleep under their hearts and fathers plan for their children before they hold them in their arms. Every work of man is first conceived in the worker's soul and wrought out first in his dreams. And the wondrous world itself, with its myriad forms of life, with its grandeur, its beauty and its loveliness; the stars and the heavenly bodies of light that crown the universe; the marching of the days from the Infinite to the Infinite; the procession of the years from Eternity to Eternity; all this, indeed, is but God's good dream. And the hope of immortality—of that better life that lies beyond the horizon of our years—what a vision is that—what a wondrous dream—given us by God to inspire, to guide, to comfort, to hold us true!

With wide eyes the man looked out upon a wide world somewhat as a conquering emperor, confident in his armed strength, might from a hilltop look out over the scene of a coming battle. He did not see the grinding hardships, the desperate struggles, the disastrous losses, the pitiful suffering. The dreadful dangers did not grip his heart. The horrid fear of defeat did not strike his soul. He did not know the dragging weight of responsibility nor the dead weariness of a losing fight. He saw only the deeds of mighty valor, the glorious exhibitions of courage, of heroism, of strength. He felt only the thrill of victories, the pride of honors and renown. He knew only the inspiration of a high purpose. He heard only the call to greatness. And it was well that in his Dreams there were only these.

The splendid strength of young manhood stirred mightily in his limbs. The rich, red, blood of youth moved swiftly in his veins. His eager spirit shouted aloud in exultation of the deeds that he would do. And, surely, it was no shame to him that at this moment, when for the first time he realized his manhood, this man, in his secret heart, felt himself to be a leader of men, a conqueror of men, a savior of men. It was no shame to him that he felt the salvation of the world depending upon him.

And he was right. Upon him and upon such as he the salvation of the world does depend. But it is well, indeed, that these unrecognized, dreaming, saviors of the world do not know, as they dream, that their crosses, even then, are being prepared for them. It is their salvation that they do not know. It is the salvation of the world that they do not know.

And then, as one from the deck of a ship bound for a foreign land looks back upon his native shore when the vessel puts out from the harbor, this man turned from his years that were to come to his years that were past and from dreaming of his future slipped back into the dreams of his Yesterdays. Perhaps it was the song of the bobo-link that did it; or it may have been the music of the meadow lark; or perhaps it was the bluebird's cheerful notes, or the woodpecker's loud tattoo—whatever it was that brought it about, the man dreamed again the dreams of his boyhood—dreamed them even as he dreamed the dreams of his manhood.

And there was no one to tell him that, in dreaming, his boyhood and his manhood were the same.

Once again a boy, on a drowsy summer afternoon, he lay in the shade of the orchard trees or, in the big barn, sought the mow of new mown hay, and, with half closed eyes, slipped away from the world that droned and hummed and buzzed so lazily about him into another and better world of stirring adventure and brave deeds. Once again, when the sun was hidden under heavy skies and a steady pouring rain shut him in, through the dusk of the attic he escaped from the narrow restrictions of the house, and, from his gloomy prison, went out into a fairyland of romance, of knighthood, and of chivalry. Again it was winter time and the world was buried deep under white drifts, with all its brightness and beauty of meadow and forest hidden by the cold mantle, and all its music of running brooks and singing birds hushed by an icy hand, when, snug and warm under blankets and comforters, after an evening of stories, he slipped away into the wonderland of dreams—not the irresponsible, sleeping, dreams—those do not count—but the dreams that come between waking and sleeping, wherein a boy dare do all the great deeds he ever read about and can be all the things that ever were put in books for boys to wish they were.

Oh, but those were brave dreams—those dreams of his Yesterdays! No cruel necessity of life hedged them in. No wall of the practical or possible set a limit upon them. No right or wrong decreed the way they should go. In his Yesterdays, there were fairy Godmothers to endow him with unlimited power and to grant all his wishes, even unto mountains of golden wealth and vast caverns filled with all manner of precious gems. In his Yesterdays, there were wicked giants and horrid dragons and evil beasts to kill, with always a good Genii to see that they did not harm him the while he bravely took their baleful lives. In his Yesterdays, he was a prince in gorgeous raiment; an emperor with jeweled scepter and golden crown; a knight in armor, with a sword and proudly stepping horse of war; he was a soldier leading a forlorn hope; or a general, with his plumed staff officers about him, directing the battle from a mountain top; he was a sailor cast away on a desert island; or a captain commanding his ship in a storm or, clinging to the shrouds in a smother of battle flame and smoke, shouting his orders through a trumpet to his gallant crew; he was a pirate; a robber chief; a red Indian; a hunter; a scout of the plains—he could be anything, in those dreams of his Yesterdays, anything.

So, even as the man, the boy had dreamed. But the man did not think of it in that way—the dreams of his manhood were too real.

Then in his Yesterdays would come, also, the putting of his dreams into action, for the play of children, even as the works of men, are only dreams in action after all. The quiet orchard became a vast and pathless forest wherein lurked wild beasts and savage men ready to pounce upon the daring hunter; or, perhaps, it was an enchanted wood with lords and ladies imprisoned in the trees while in the carriage house—which was not a carriage house at all but a great castle—a cruel giant held captive their beautiful princess. The haymow was a robbers' cave wherein great wealth of booty was stored; the garden, a desert island on which lived the poor castaway. And many a long summer hour the bold captain clung to the rigging of his favorite apple tree ship and gazed out over the waving meadow sea, or the general of the army, on his rail fence war horse, directed the battle from the hilltop or led the desperate charge.

But rarely, in his Yesterdays, could the boy put his dreams into successful action alone. Alone he could dream but to realize his dreams, he needs must have the help of another. And so she came to take her place in his life, to help him play out his dreams—the little girl who lived next door.

Who was she? Why, she was the beautiful princess held captive by the giant in his carriage house castle until rescued by the brave prince who came to her through the enchanted wood. She was the crew of the apple tree ship; the robber band; the army following her general in his victorious charge; and the relief expedition that found the castaway on his desert island. Sometimes she was even a cannibal chief, or a monster dragon, or a cruel wild beast. And always—though the boy did not know—she was a good fairy weaving many spells for his happiness.

The man remembered well enough the first time that he met her. A new family was moving into the house that stood just below the garden and, from his seat on the gate post, the boy was watching the big wagons, loaded with household goods, as they turned into the neighboring yard. On the high seat of one of the wagons was the little girl. A big man lifted her down and the boy, watching, saw her run gaily into the house. For some time he held his place, swinging his bare legs impatiently, but he did not see the little girl come out into the yard again. Then, dropping to the ground, the boy slipped along the garden fence under the currant bushes to a small opening in the hedge that separated the two places. Very cautiously, at first, he peered through the branches. Then, upon finding all quiet, he grew bolder, and on hands and knees crept part way through the little green tunnel to find himself, all suddenly, face to face with her.

That was the beginning. The end had come several years later when the family had moved again.

The parting, too, he remembered well enough. A boy and girl parting it was. And the promises—boy and girl promises they were. At first many poorly written, awkwardly expressed, laboriously compiled, but warmly interesting letters were exchanged. Then the letters became shorter and shorter; the intervals between grew longer and longer; until, even as childhood itself goes, she had slipped out of his life. Even as the brave dreams of his boyhood she had gone—even as his Yesterdays.

The bobo-link had long ago left his swinging bush. The meadow lark had gone to find his mate in a distant field. The twittering bluebirds had finished their tasks. The woodpecker had ceased from his labor. The sunshine was failing fast. Faint and far away, through the still twilight air, came the long, clear, whistle of another train that was following swiftly the iron ways to the world of men.

The man on the hill came back from his Yesterdays—came back to wonder: "where is the little girl now? Has she changed much? Her eyes would be the same and her hair—only a little darker perhaps. And does she ever go back into the Yesterdays? It is not likely," he thought, "no doubt she is far too busy caring for her children and attending to her household duties to think of her childhood days and her childhood playmate. And what would her husband be like?" he wondered.

There was no woman in the dreams of the man who that afternoon, for the first time, realized his manhood and began his manhood life. He dreamed only of the deeds that he would do; of the work he would accomplish; of the place he would win; and of the honors he would receive. The little girl lived for him only in his Yesterdays. She did not belong to his manhood years. She had no place in his manhood dreams.

Slowly he climbed the rail fence again and, through the orchard, went down the hill toward the house. But he did not again enter the house. He went on past the kitchen porch to the garden gate where he stood, for some minutes, looking toward the hedge that separated the two places and toward the cherry tree that grew in the corner of the garden next door.

At the big front gate he paused again and turned lingeringly as one reluctant to go. The old home in the twilight seemed so lonely, so deserted by all to whom it had been most kind.

At last, with a movement suggestive of a determination that could not have belonged to his boyhood, he set his face toward the world. Down the little hill in the dusk of the evening he went, walking quickly; past the house where the little girl had lived; across the creek at the foot of the hill; and on up the easy rise beyond. And, as he went, there was on his face the look of a man. There was in his eyes a new light—the light of a man's dream. Nor did he once look back.

To-morrow he would leave the friends of his boyhood; he would leave the scenes of his Yesterdays; he would go to work out his dreams—even as in his Yesterdays, he would play them out—for the works of men are as the plays of children but dreams in action, after all.

Would he, could he, play out his manhood dreams alone?

And the woman also, for the first time, was face to face with Life and, for the first time, knew that she was a woman.

For a long while she had seen her womanhood approaching. Little by little, as her skirts had been lengthened, as her dolls had been put away, as her hair had been put up, she had seen her womanhood drawing near. But she had always said to herself: "when I do not play with dolls, when I can dress like mother, and fix my hair like mother, I will be a woman." She did not know, then, that womanhood is a matter of things very different from these. Until that night she did not know. But that night she knew.

I cannot tell you the woman's name, nor where she lived, nor any of those things that are commonly told about women in stories. But, as my story is not that kind of a story, it will not matter that I cannot tell. What really matters to my story is this: the woman, that night, when, for the first time, she knew herself to be a woman, began her woman life in dreams. Because the dreams of life are of the greatest importance—because Dreams are of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life—this is my story: that the woman life of this woman, when first she knew herself to be a woman, began in dreams.

It was the time of the first roses. For a week or more she had been very busy with a loving, tender, joyous, occupation that left her no time to think of herself. Her dearest friend—her girlhood's most intimate companion, and, save for herself, the last of their little circle—was to be married and she was to be bridesmaid.

They had been glad days—those days of preparation—for she rejoiced greatly in the happiness of her friend and had shared, as fully as it was possible for another to share, the sweet sacredness, the holy mysteriousness, and the proud triumph of it all. But with the gladness of those days, there had come into her heart a strange quietness like the quietness of an empty room that is furnished and ready but without a tenant.

At the wedding that evening she had been all that a bridesmaid should be, even to the last white ribbon and the last handful of rice, for she would that no shadow of a cloud should come over the happiness of her friend. But when the new-made husband and wife had been put safely aboard the Pullman, and, with the group on the depot platform frantically waving hats and handkerchiefs and shouting good lucks and farewells, the train had pulled away, the loneliness in her heart had become too great to hide. Her escort had made smart jokes about her tears, alleging disappointment and envy. He was a poor, shallow, witless, fool who could not understand; and that he could not understand mattered, to her, not at all. She had commanded him to take her home and at her front door had thanked him and sent him away.

And then it was—in the blessed privacy of her own room, with the door locked and the shades drawn close, with her wedding finery thrown aside and the need of self-repression no longer imperative—that, as she sat in a low chair before the fire, she looked, for the first time, boldly at Life and, for the first time, knew that she was a woman—knew that womanhood was not a matter of long skirts, of hair dressing, and the putting away of dolls.

She was tired, very tired, from the responsibilities and excitement of the day but she did not feel that she could sleep. From the fire, she looked up to the clock that ticked away so industriously on the mantle. It was a little clock with a fat, golden, cupid grasping the dial in his chubby arms as though striving to do away with time when he might better have been busy with his bow and arrows. The hands of the clock pointed nearly midnight. The young woman looked into the fire again.

Already her girl friend had been a wife several hours—a wife. Already the train was miles away bearing the newly wedded ones to their future home—their home. The hours would go swiftly into days, the days into weeks and months and years, and there would be boys and girls—their children. And the years would go swiftly as the days and there would be the weddings of their sons and daughters and then—the children of their children.

And the woman who that night knew that she was a woman—the woman whose heart, as she sat alone before the fire, was even as an empty room—a room that is furnished and ready but without a tenant—what, this woman asked herself, would the years bring her? The years of her childhood and girlhood were past. What of her womanhood years that were to come?

There are many doors in the life of these modern days at which a woman may knock with hope of being admitted; and this woman, as she sat alone before her fire that night, paused before them all—all save two. Two doors she saw but did not pause before; and one of them was idleness and pleasure. And one other door there is that stands open wide so that there is no need to knock for admittance. Before this wide open door the woman paused a long time. It is older than the other doors. It is very, very, old. Since the beginning it has never been closed. But though it stood open so wide and there was no need to knock for admittance, still the woman could not enter for she was alone. No woman may enter that old, old, open door, alone.

Three times before she had stood before that ancient door and had been urged to cross the threshold; but always she had hesitated, had held back, and turned away. She wondered if always she would hesitate, if always she would turn away; or would some one come with whom she could gladly, joyously, confidently, cross the threshold. She could not say. She could only wait. And while she waited she would knock at one of the other doors. She would knock because she must. The custom of the age, necessity, circumstances, forced her to knock at one of those doors that, in the life of these modern days, opens to women who seek admittance alone.

I cannot tell just what the circumstances of the woman's life were nor why it was necessary. Nor does it in the least matter that I cannot tell. The necessity, the circumstances, have nothing to do with my story save this: that, whatever they were, I am quite sure they ought not to have been. I am quite sure that any circumstance, or necessity, or custom, that forces a woman who knows herself to be a woman to seek admittance at any one of those doors through which she must enter alone is not right. This it is that belongs to my story: the woman did not wish to enter the life that lies on the other side of those doors through which she must go alone.

Alone in her room that night, with the shades drawn close and the only light the light of the dancing fire, this woman who, for the first time, knew herself to be a woman, did not dream of a life on the other side of those doors at which she must ask admittance. She dreamed of a future beyond the old, old, door that has stood open wide since the beginning.

And it was no shame to her that she so dreamed. It was no shame that she called before her, one by one, those who had asked her to cross with them the threshold and those who might still ask her. It was no shame that, while her heart said always, "no," she still waited—waited for one whom she knew not but only knew that she would know him when he came. And it was no shame to her that, even while this was so, she saw herself in the years to come a wife and mother. In the glowing heart of the fire she saw her home warm with holy love, bright with sacred companionship. In the dancing flames she saw her children—happy, beautiful, children. Nor did she in her dreams fear the flickering shadows that came and went for in the dusk of the room she felt the dear presence of that one who was to be her other self; who was to be to her strength in her weakness, hope in her sadness, and comfort in her mourning.

It is well indeed that the shadows of life bring no fears into our dreams else we would not dare to dream and life itself would lose its purpose and its meaning.

So the woman saw her future, not in the shadows that came and went upon the wall, but in the glowing heart of the fire. And, as she dreamed her dreams of womanhood, her face grew beautiful with a tender, thoughtful, beauty that is given only to those women who dream such dreams. With the realization of her womanhood and the beginning of her woman life, her lips curved in a smile that was different from the smile of girlhood and there came into her eyes a light that was never there before. And then, as one setting out on a long journey might turn back for a last farewell view of loved familiar scenes, she turned to go back for a little into her Yesterdays.

There was a home in those Yesterdays and there was a mother—a mother who lived now in a better home than any of earth's building. A father she had never known but there was a big, jolly, uncle who had done and was doing yet all that an uncle of limited means could do to take her father's place in the life of his sister's only child. And there was sunshine in her Yesterdays—bright sunshine—unclouded by city smoke; and flowers unstained by city grime; and blue skies unmarred by city buildings; and there were beautiful trees and singing birds and broad fields in her Yesterdays. Also there were dreams—such dreams as only those who are very young or very wise dare to dream.

It may have been the firelight that did it; it may have been the vision of her children who lived only in the life that she saw beyond the old, old, open door: or perhaps it was the wedding finery that lay over a nearby chair: or the familiar tick, tick, tick, of the clock in the arms of the fat cupid who neglected his bow and arrows in a vain attempt to do away with time—whatever it was that brought it about, the woman dreamed again the dreams of childhood—dreamed them even as she dreamed those first dreams of her womanhood.

And no one was there to tell her that the dreams of her girlhood and of her womanhood were the same.

Again, on a long summer afternoon, as she kept house in a snug corner of the vine shaded porch, she was really the mistress of a grand mansion that was furnished with beautiful carpets and furniture, china and silver, books and pictures. And in that mansion she received her distinguished guests and entertained her friends with charming grace and dignity, even as she set her tiny play table with dishes of thimble size and served tea and cakes to her play lady friends. Again, as she rocked her dollies to sleep beside the evening fire and tucked them into their beds with a little mother kiss for each, there were dreams of merry boys and girls who should some day call her mother. And there were dreams of fine dresses and jewels the while she stitched tiny garments for her newest child who had come to her with no clothing at all, or fashioned a marvelous hat for another whose features were but a smudge of paint and whose hair had been glued on so many times that it was far past combing and a hat was a necessity to hide the tangled mat. And sometimes she was a princess shut up in a castle tower and a noble prince, who wore golden armor and rode a great war horse, would come to woo her and she would ride away with him through the deep forest followed by a long procession of lords and ladies, of knights and squires and pages. Or, perhaps, she would be a homeless girl in pitiful rags who, because of her great beauty, would be stolen by gypsies and sold to a cruel king to be kept in a dungeon until rescued by a brave soldier lover.

And, in her Yesterdays, the master of the dream home over which she was mistress—the father of her dream children—the prince with whom she rode away through the forest—the soldier lover who rescued her from the dungeon—and the hero of many other adventures of which she was the heroine—was always the same. Outside her dreams he was a sturdy, brown cheeked, bare legged, little boy who lived next door. But what a man is outside a woman's dreams counts for little after all—even though that woman be a very small and dainty little woman with a very large family of dolls.

The woman remembered so well their first meeting. It was at the upper end of the garden near the strawberry beds and he was creeping toward her on hands and knees through a hole in the hedge that separated the two places. How she had jumped when she first caught sight of him! How he had started and turned as if to escape when he saw her watching him! How shyly they had approached each other with the first timid offerings of friendship!

Many, many, times after that did he come to her through the opening in the hedge. Many, many, times did she go to him. And he came in many disguises. In many disguises she helped him put his dreams into action. But always, to her, he was a hero to be worshiped, a leader to be followed, a master to be obeyed. Always she was very proud of him—of his strength and courage—of the grand deeds he wrought—and of the great things that he would some day do. And sometimes—the most delightful times of all—at her wish, he would help her, in his masterful way, to play out her dreams. And then, though he liked being an Indian or a robber or a soldier best, he would be a model husband and help her with the children; although he did, at times, insist upon punishing them rather more than she thought necessary. But when the little family was ill with the measles or scarlet fever or whooping cough no dream husband could have been more gentle, more thoughtful, or more wise, in his attention.

And once they had played a wedding.

The woman whose heart was as an empty room stirred in her chair uneasily as one who feels the gaze of a hidden observer. But the door was locked, the shades drawn close, and the only light was the flickering light of the fire. The night without was very dark and still. There was no sound in the sleeping house—no sound save the steady tick, tick, tick, of the time piece in the chubby arms of the fat cupid on the mantle.

And once they had played a wedding.

It was when her big, jolly, uncle was married. The boy and the girl were present at the ceremony and she wore a wonderful new dress while the boy, scrubbed and combed and brushed, was arrayed in his best clothes with shoes and stockings. There were flowers and music and good things to eat and no end of laughter and gay excitement; and the jolly uncle looked so big and fine and solemn; and the bride, in her white veil, was so like a princess in one of the dreams; that the little girl was half frightened and felt a queer lump in her throat as she clung to her mother's hand. And there was a strange ceremony in which the minister, in his gown, read out of a book and said a prayer and asked questions; and the uncle and the princess answered the questions; and the uncle put a ring on the finger of the princess; and the minister said that they were husband and wife. And then there were kisses while everybody laughed and cried and shook hands; and some one told the little girl that the princess was her new auntie; and her uncle caught her up in his big arms and was his own jolly self again. It was all very fine and strange and impressive to their childish eyes; and so, of course, the very next day, the boy and the girl played a wedding.

It was up in that quiet corner of the garden, near the hedge, and the cherry tree was in bloom and showered its delicate blossoms down upon them with every puff of air that stirred the branches; while, in the hedge nearby, a little brown bird was putting the finishing touch to a new nest. The boy's shepherd dog, who sat up when you told him, was the minister; and all the dollies were there, dressed in their finest gowns. The little girl was very serious and again, half frightened, felt that queer lump in her throat as she promised to be his wife. And the boy looked very serious, too, as he placed a little brass ring upon her finger and, speaking for the brown eyed, shaggy coated, minister, said: "I pronounce you husband and wife and anything that God has done must never be done any different by anybody forever and ever, Amen." And then—because there was no one else present and they both felt that the play would not be complete without—then, he had kissed her, and they were both very, very, happy.

So it was that, in the quiet secrecy of her dimly lighted room, the woman who that night knew herself to be a woman, felt her cheeks hot with blushes and upon her hot cheeks felt her tears.

So it was that she came back from her Yesterdays to wonder: where was the boy now? What kind of a man had he grown to be? Was he making his way to fame and wealth or laboring in some humble position? Had he a home with wife and children? Did he ever go back into the Yesterdays? Had he forgotten that wedding under the cherry tree? When the one with whom she would go through the old, old, door into the life of her womanhood dreams should come, would it matter if the hero of her childhood dreams went in with them? He could be no rival to that one who was to come for he lived only in the Yesterdays and the Yesterdays could not come back. The fat little cupid on the mantle neglected his bow and arrows in vain; he could not do away with time.

Very slowly the woman prepared for her rest and, when she was ready, knelt in the soft dusk of her room, a virgin in white to pray. And God, I know, understood why her prayer was confused and uncertain with longings she could not express even to him who said: "Except ye become as little children." God, I know, understood why this woman, who that night, for the first time, knowing herself to be a woman had dreamed a true woman's dream—God, I know, understood why, as she lay down to sleep in the quiet darkness, she stretched forth her empty arms and almost cried aloud.

In to-morrow's light it would all be gone, but that night—that night—her womanhood dreams of the future were real—real even as the girlhood dreams of her Yesterdays.



OCCUPATION

In a small, bare, room in a cheap city boarding house, the man cowered like a wild thing, wounded, neglected, afraid; while over him, gaunt and menacing, cruel, pitiless, insistent, stood a dreadful need—the need of Occupation—the need of something to do.

In all the world there is no danger so menacing as the danger of idleness: there is no privation so cruel, no suffering so pitiful, as the need of Occupation: there is no demand so imperative, no necessity so dreadful, as the want of something to do.

Occupation is the very life of Life. As nature abhors a vacuum so life abhors idleness. To be is to be occupied. Even though one spend his days in seeking selfish pleasures still must he occupy himself to live, for the need of something to do is most imperative upon those who strive hardest to do nothing. As life and the deeds of men are born in dreams so life itself is Occupation. A man is the thing he does. What the body is to the spirit; what the word is to the thought; what the sunshine is to the sun; Occupation is to Dreams. One of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life is Occupation.

From the cherry tree in the upper corner of the garden near the hedge, the cherries had long ago been gathered. The pair of brown birds had reared their children and were beginning to talk with their neighbors and kinfolk about their winter home in the south. In the orchard on the hill back of the house, the late fruit was hanging, full ripe, upon the bending boughs. From the brow of the hill, where the man had sat that afternoon when, for the first time, he faced Life and knew that he was a man, the fields from which the ripened grain had been cut lay in the distance, great bars and blocks and patches of golden yellow, among the still green pastures and meadows and the soft brown strips of the fall plowing. In the woods, the squirrels were beginning to take stock of the year's nut crop and to make their estimates for the winter's need, preparing, the while, their storehouses to receive the precious hoard. And over that new mound in the cemetery, the grass fairies had woven a coverlid thick and firm and fine as though, in sweet pity of its yellow nakedness, they would shield it from the winds that already had in them a hint that summer's reign was past.

But all this was far, very far, from where, in his small bare room, the man crouched frightened and dismayed. The rush and roar of the crowded trains on the elevated road outside his window shook the casement with impatient fury. The rumbling thunder of the heavily loaded subway trains jarred the walls of the building. The rattle and whirr of the overflowing surface cars rose sharply above the hum and din of the city streets. To the man who asked only a chance, only a place, only room to stand and something—anything—to do, it was maddening. A blind, impotent, fury took possession of him. He clenched his fists and cursed aloud.

But the great, crowded, world heeded his curses as little as it noticed him and he fell again into the silence of his hopelessness.

Out from the sheltered place of his dreams the man had come into the busy world of deeds—into the world where those who, like himself, had dreamed, were putting their dreams into action. Out from the years of his boyhood he had come into the years of his manhood—out from the scenes of his Yesterdays into the scenes of his to-days.

For weeks, with his young strength stirring mightily within him and his rich, red, blood hot in his veins, he had been crying out to the world: "Make way for me. Give me a place that I may work out my dreams. Give me something to do." For weeks, he had been trying to convince the world that it needed him. But the busy, happy, world—the idle, dreaming, world—the discontented, sullen, world—was not so easily convinced. His young strength and his red blood did not seem to count for as much as they should. His confidence and his courage did not seem to impress. His high rank in the boyhood world did not entitle him to a like position among men. His graduating address had made no stir in the world of thought. His athletic record had caused no comment in the world of industry. His coming did not disturb the world of commerce.

A few he found who wrought with all the vigor and enthusiasm of their dreaming. These said: "What have you done that we should make room for you? Prove yourself first then come to us." Many he saw who had wearied of the game and were dreaming new dreams. These said: "We ourselves are without Occupation. There are not places enough for all. Stand aside and give us room." Many others there were who, with dreams forgotten, labored as dull cattle, goaded by brute necessity, with no vision, no purpose, no hope, to make of their toil a blessing. And these laughed at him with vicious laughter, saying: "Why should anyone want anything to do?"

So the man in those days saw his dreams going from him—saw his bright visions growing dim. So he came to feel that his young strength was of no value; that his red blood was worthless; that his courage was vain. So his confidence was shaken; his faith was weakened; his hope grew faint. He came to feel that the things that he had dreamed were already all wrought out—that there were no more great works to be done—that all that could be done was being accomplished—that in all the world there was nothing more for a man to do. Disappointed, discouraged, disheartened, weary and alone, he told himself that he had come too late—that in all the world there was nothing more for a man to do.

He did not look out upon the world, now, as a conquering emperor, confident in his armed strength, might look over the field of a coming battle. He did not dream, now, of victories, of honors, and renown. He did not, now, see himself a savior of the world. The world had stretched this man also upon the cross that it has always ready for such as he.

It was not the man's pressing need that hurt him so—gladly he would have suffered for his dreams. It was not for privation and hardships that he cared—proudly he would have endured those for his dreams. Nor was it loneliness and neglect that made him afraid—he was willing to work out his dreams alone. That which sent him cowering like a wounded, wild thing to his room was this: he felt that his strength, his courage, his willingness, his purpose, were as nothing in the world. That which frightened him with dreadful fear was this: he felt that his dreams were going from him. That for which he cared was this: he felt that he was too late. This was the cross upon which the world stretched him—the cross of enforced idleness—the cross of nothing to do.

It is not strange that in his lonely suffering the man sought to escape by the only way open to him—the way that led to his Yesterdays. There was a welcome for him there. There was a place for him. He was wanted there. There his life was held of value. It is not at all strange that he went back. As one flees from a desolate, burning, desert waste, to a land of shady groves and fruitful gardens, of cool waters and companionable friends, so this man fled from his days that were into his days that were gone—so he went back into his Yesterdays.

It may have been the soft dusk of the twilight hour that did it: or it may have been the loneliness of his heart: or, perhaps, it was the picture he found in his trunk as he searched among his few things trying to decide what next he should take to the pawn shop. Whatever it was that brought it about, the man was a boy again in the boyhood world of his Yesterdays.

And it happened that the day in his Yesterdays to which the man went back was one of those days when the boy could find nothing to do. Every game that he had ever played was played out. Every source of amusement he had exhausted. There was in all his boyhood world nothing, nothing, for him to do.

The orchard was not a trackless forest inhabited by fierce, wild beasts; nor an enchanted wood with lords and ladies imprisoned in the trees; it was only an orchard—a commonplace old orchard—nothing more. Indians and robbers were stupid creatures of no importance whatever. There were no fairies, no giants, no soldiers left in the boyhood world. The rail fence war horse refused to charge. The apple tree ship was a wreck on the rocks of discontent. The hay had all been cut and stored away in the barn. The excitement and fun of the grain harvesting was over and the big stacks were waiting the threshers. It was not time for fall apple picking and the cider mill, nor to gather the corn, nor to go nutting. There was nothing, nothing, to do.

The boy's father was busy with some sort of work in the shop and told his little son not to bother. The hired man was doing something to the barnyard fence and told the boy to get out of the way. A carpenter was repairing the roof of the house and the long ladder looked inviting enough, but, the instant the boy's head appeared above the eaves, the man shouted for him to get down and to run and play. Even the new red calf refused to notice him but continued its selfish, absorbing, occupation with wobbly legs braced wide and tail wagging supreme indifference. His very dog had deserted him and had gone away somewhere on business of his own, apparently forgetting the needs of his master. And mother—mother too was busy, as busy as could be with sweeping and dusting and baking and mending and no end of things that must be done.

But somehow mother's work could always wait. At least it could wait long enough for her to look lovingly down into the troubled, discontented, little face while she listened to the plaintive whine: "There's nothin' at all to do. Mamma, tell me—tell me something to do."

Poor little boy in the Yesterdays! Quickly mother's arm went around him. Lovingly she drew him close. And mother's work waited still as she considered the serious problem. There was no feeling of not being wanted in the boy's heart then. As he looked up at her he felt already renewed hope and quickening interest.

Then mother's face brightened, in a way that mother faces do, and the boy's eyes began to shine in eager anticipation. What should he do? Why mother knew the very thing of course. It was the best—the very best—the most interesting thing in all the world for a boy to do. He should build a house for the little girl who lived next door.

Out under the lilac bushes he should build it, in a pretty corner of the yard, where mother, from her window, every now and then, could look out to see how well he was doing and help, perhaps, with careful suggestions. Mother herself would ask the carpenter man for some clean, new boards, some shingles and some nails. And it would all be a secret, between just mother and the boy, until the house was finished and ready and then he should go and bring the little girl and they would see how surprised and glad she would be.

It was wondrous magic those mothers worked in the Yesterdays. In a twinkle, for the boy who could find nothing to do, the world was changed. In a twinkle, there was nothing in all the world worth doing save this one thing—to build a house for the little girl next door.

With might and main he planned and toiled and toiled and planned; building and rebuilding and rebuilding yet again. He cut his fingers and pounded his thumb and stuck his hands full of slivers and minded it not at all so absorbed was he in this best of all Occupations.

But keep it secret! First there was father's smiling face close beside mother's at the window. Then the hired man chanced to pass and paused a moment to make admiring comment. And, later, the carpenter man came around the corner of the house and, when he saw, offered a bit of professional advice and voluntarily contributed another board. Even the boy's dog, as though he had heard the news that the very birds were discussing so freely in the tree tops, came hurrying home to manifest his interest. Keep it secret! How could the boy keep it secret! But the little girl did not know. Until he was almost ready to tell her, the little girl did not know. Almost he was ready to tell her, when—But that belongs to the other part of my story.

About the man in his bare, lonely, room in the great city, the world in its madness raged—struggling, pushing, crowding, jostling, scrambling—a swirling, writhing, mass of life—but the man did not heed. On every side, this life went rushing, roaring, rumbling, thundering, whirring, shrieking, clattering by. But the man noticed the world now no more than it noticed him. In his Yesterdays he had found something to do. He had found the only thing that a man, who knows himself to be a man, can do in truth to his manhood. Again, in his Yesterdays, he was building a house for the little girl who lived next door—the little girl who did not know.

Someday this childish old world will grow weary of its games of war and wealth. Someday it will lose interest in its playthings—banks, and stocks, and markets. Someday it will lose faith in its fairies of fame, its giants of position and power. Then will the disconsolate, forlorn, old world turn to Mother Nature to learn from her that the only Occupation that is of real and lasting worth is the one Occupation in which all of Mother Nature's children have fellowship—the Occupation of home building.

In meadow and forest and field; in garden and grove and hedge and bush; in mountain and plain and desert and sea; in hollow logs; amid swaying branches; in rocky dens and earthy burrows; high among towering cliffs and mighty crags; low in the marsh grass and among reeds and rushes; in stone walls; in fence corners; in tufts of grass and tiny shrubs; among the flowers and swinging vines; everywhere—everywhere—in all this great, round, world, Mother's children all are occupied in home building—occupied in this and nothing more. This is the one thing that Mother's children, in all the ages since the beginning, have found worth doing. One wayward child alone is occupied just now, seemingly, with everything but home building. Man seems to be doing everything these days but the one thing that must be the foundation work of all. But never mind—homebuilding will be the world's work at the last. When all the playthings of childhood and all the childish games of men have failed, homebuilding will endure. Occupation must in the end mean home building or it is meaningless.

And the din, the confusion, the struggle, the turmoil of life—when it all means to men the building of homes and nothing more; when the efforts of men, the ambitions of men, the labor and toil of men are all to make homes for the little girls next door; then, will Mother Nature smile upon her boys and God, I am sure, will smile upon them, too.

The man came back from his Yesterdays with a new heart, with new courage and determination, and the next day he found something to do.

I do not know what it was that the man found to do—that is not my story.

* * * * *

It was nearly the time of falling leaves when the woman, who knew herself to be a woman, knocked at one of those doors, at which she did not wish to knock, and was admitted.

It does not matter which of the doors it was. I cannot tell you what work it was that the woman found to do. What mattered to her—and to the world if only the world would understand—was this: that she was forced by the customs of the age and by necessity to enter a life that her woman heart did not desire. While her dreams were of the life that lies beyond the old, old, door that has stood open since the beginning; while she waited on the threshold and longed to go in; she was forced to turn aside, to seek admittance at one of those other doors. This it is that matters—matters greatly. Perhaps only God who made the woman heart and who Himself set that door open wide—perhaps only God knows how greatly it matters.

Of course, if the woman had not known herself to be a woman, it would have made little difference either to her or to the world.

And the woman when she had joined that great company of women, who, in these modern days labor behind the doors through which they must go alone, found them to be good women—good and brave and true. And most of them, she found, were in that great company of workers just as she was there—just as every woman who knows her womanhood is there—through circumstances, the custom of the age, necessity. The only saving thing about it all is this: their woman hearts are somewhere else.

And the woman found also that, while the door opened readily enough to her knock, she was received without a welcome. Through that other door, the door that God himself has opened, she would have entered into a joyous welcome—she would have been received with gladness, with rejoicing, with holiest love, and highest honor. To her, in the world that lies beyond the old, old, door, would have been rendered homage and reverence second only to that given to God Himself. There, she would have been received as a woman for her womanhood; she would have been given first place among all created things. But the world into which she entered alone did not so receive her. It received her coldly. Its manner said quite plainly: "Why are you here? What do you want?" It said: "There is no sentiment here, no love, no reverence, no homage; there is only business here, only law, only figures and facts."

This world was not unkind to her, but it did not receive her as a woman. It could not. It did not value her womanhood. Womanhood has no value there. It valued her clear brain, her physical strength, her skillful hands, her willing feet, her ready wit: but her womanhood it ignored. The most priceless gift of the Creator to his creatures—the one thing without which all human effort would be in vain, no Christian prayer would be possible; the one thing without which mankind would perish from the earth—this world, into which the woman went, rejected. But the things that belonged to her womanhood—the charm of her manner; the beauty of her face and form; the appeal of her sex; the quick intuitions of her soul—all these this world received and upon them put a price. They became not forces to be used by her in wifehood and motherhood but commercial assets, valued in dollars, worth a certain price upon the woman labor market in the business world.

And the woman's heart, because she knew herself to be a woman, rebelled at this buying and selling the things of her womanhood. These things she rightly felt to be above price—far, far, above price. They were the things of her wifehood and motherhood. They were given her to be used by her in love, in mating, in bearing and rearing children, in the giving of life to the world.

The things of a woman's womanhood are as far above price as life itself to which they belong. Even as color and perfume belong to the flowers; even as the music of the birds belongs to the feathery songsters; even as the blue belongs to the sky, and the light to the stars; so these graces of a woman belong to her and to the mission of her womanhood are sacred. They are hers to be used in her holy office of womanhood; by her alone, without price, for the glory and honor of life and the future of the race. So the woman's heart rebelled, but secretly, instinctively, almost unconsciously. Open rebellion would have made it impossible for her to remain in the world into which she entered because of her necessity and the custom of the age.

She found, too, that this world into which she had entered was very courteous, that it was even considerate and kind—as considerate and kind as it was possible to be—for it seemed to understand her position quite as well as she herself understood it. And this world paid her very well for the services she was asked to render. But it asked of her no favors. It accorded her no honors. It sought her with no offering. And, because of this, the woman, in the heart of her womanhood, felt ashamed and humiliated.

It is the right of womanhood to bestow favors. It is a woman's right to be honored above all creatures of earth. Since the beginning of life itself her sex has been so honored—has received the offerings from life. Mankind, alone, has at times attempted to change this law but has never quite succeeded. Mankind never can fully succeed in this because woman holds life itself in her keeping. So the woman felt that her womanhood was humiliated and shamed. But she hid this feeling also, hid it carefully, buried it deeply, because she knew that if she did not it would betray her and she would not be permitted to remain in the world into which necessity forced her. To the woman, it seemed that the world into which she had gone, itself, felt her shame and humiliation. That, in secret, it desired to ask of her; to accord to her honors; to seek her with offerings. But this world could not do these things because it dared not recognize her womanhood. When a woman goes into that world into which she must go alone, she leaves her womanhood behind. Her womanhood is not received there.

But most of all, the thing that troubled the woman was this: the risk she ran in entering into that life behind the door at which she had sought admittance. She saw that there was danger there—grave danger—to her womanhood. In the busy, ceaseless, activity of that life there would be little time for her waiting beside the old, old, door. The exacting demands of her work, or profession, or calling, or business, would leave little leisure for the meditation and reflection that is so large a part of the preparation necessary for entrance into that other world of which she had dreamed. Constant contact with the unemotional facts and figures of that life which sets a market value upon the sacred things of womanhood would make it ever more difficult for her to dream of love. There was grave danger that interest and enthusiasm in other things would supplant her longing for wifehood and motherhood. She feared that in her Occupation she might not know, when he came, that one who was to cross the threshold with her into the life of her dreams—that, indeed, he might come and go again while she was busy with other things. She feared that she would come to accept the commercial valuation of the things that belonged to her womanhood and thus forget their higher, holier, use and that the continued rejection of her womanhood would, in time, lead her to think of it lightly, as incidental rather than supreme. There was real danger that she would lose her desire to be sought, to give, to receive offerings; that she would cease to rebel secretly; that she would no longer feel humiliated at her position. She feared in short this danger—the gravest danger to her womanhood and thus to all that womankind holds in her keeping—that she would come to feel contented, satisfied, and happy, in being a part of the world into which she was forced to go by the custom of the age and by necessity. Because this woman knew herself to be a woman she feared this. If she had not come to know her womanhood she would not have feared it. Neither would it have mattered.

The woman was thinking of these things that Saturday afternoon as she walked homeward from her work. She often walked to her home on Saturday afternoons, when there was time, for she was strong and vigorous, with an abundance of good red woman blood in her veins, and loved the free movement in the open air.

Perhaps, though, it is not exact to say that she was thinking of these things. The better word would be feeling. She was not thinking of them as I have set them down: but she was feeling them all. She was conscious of them, just as she was conscious of the dead brown leaves that drifted across her path, though she was not thinking of the leaves. She felt them as she felt the breath of fall in the puff of air that drifted the leaves: but she did not put what she felt into words. So seldom do the things that women feel get themselves put into words.

The young woman had chosen a street that led in the direction of her home through one of the city's smaller parks, and, as she went, the people she met turned often to look after her for she was good to look at. She walked strongly but with a step as light as it was firm and free; and, breathing deeply with the healthful exercise, her cheeks were flushed with rosy color, her eyes shone, her countenance—her every glance and movement—betrayed a strong and perfect womanhood—a womanhood that, rightly understood, is wealth that the race and age can ill afford to squander.

Coming to the park, she walked more slowly and, after a little, seated herself on a bench to watch the squirrels that were playing nearby. The foliage had already lost its summer freshness though here and there a tree or bush made brave attempt to retain its garb of green. Not a few brown leaves whirled helplessly about—the first of unnumbered myriads that soon would be offered by the dying summer in tribute to winter's conquering power. The sun was still warm but the air had in it a subtle flavor that seemed a blending of the coming season with the season that was almost gone.

Near the farther entrance to the little park, a carpenter was repairing the roof of a house and, from where she sat, the woman could see the long ladder resting against the eaves. A boy with his shepherd dog came romping along the walk under the trees as irresponsible as the drifting leaves. The squirrels scampered away; the boy and dog whirled on; and the woman, from the world into which she had entered because she must, went far away into the world of childhood. From her day of toil in a world that denied her womanhood she went back into her Yesterdays where womanhood—motherhood—was supreme. Perhaps it was that subtle flavor in the air that did it; or it may have been the boy and his dog as they whirled past—care free as the drifting brown leaves; or perhaps it was the sight of the man repairing the roof of the house with his long ladder resting against the eaves: the woman herself could not have told what it was, but, whatever it was, she slipped away to one of the brightest, happiest, days in all her Yesterdays.

But, for a little while, that day was not at all bright and happy. It started out all right then, little by little, everything went wrong; and then it changed again and became one of the best of all her Yesterdays. The day went wrong for a little while at first because everything in the house was being taken up, or taken down, beaten, shaken, scrubbed or dusted; everything was being arranged or disarranged and rearranged again. Surely there was never such confusion, so it seemed to the little girl, in any home in all the world. Every time that she would get herself nicely settled with her dolls she would be forced to move again; until there was in the whole, busy, bustling place no corner at all where she was not in somebody's way. When she would have entered into the confusion and helped to straighten things out, the woman told her, rather sharply, to go away, and declared that her efforts to help only made things worse.

Out in the garden, at the opening in the hedge, she called and called and waited and waited for the boy. But the boy did not answer. He was too busy, she thought, to care about her. She felt quite sure that he did not even want her to help in whatever it was that he was doing. Perhaps, she thought wistfully, peering through the little green tunnel, perhaps if she could go and find him he might—when he saw how miserable and lonely she was—he might be kind. But to go through the hedge was forbidden, except when mother said she might.

Sorrowfully she turned away to seek the kitchen where the cook was busy with the week's baking. But the cook, when the little girl offered to roll the pie crust or stir the frosting for the cake, was hurried and cross and declared that the little girl could not help but only hinder and that it would be better for her not to get in the way.

Once more, in a favorite corner of the big front porch, she was just beginning to find some comfort with her doll when the woman with the broom forced her to move again.

Poor little girl! What could she do under such trying circumstances—what indeed but go to mother. All the way up the long stairs she went to where mother was as busy as ever a mother could be doing something with a lot of things that were piled all over the room. But mother, when she saw the tear stained little face, understood in a flash and put aside whatever it was that she was doing, quickly, and held the little girl, dolly and all, close in her mother arms until the feeling of being in the way and of not being wanted was all gone. And, when the tears were quite dry, mother said, so gently that it did not hurt, "No dearie, I'm afraid you can't help mother now because mother's girl is too little to understand what it is that mother is doing. But I'll tell you something that you can do. Mother will give you some things from the pantry and you may go over to see the little boy. And I am as sure, as sure can be, that, when he sees all the nice things you have, he will play keeping house with you."

So the little girl in the Yesterdays, with her treasures from mother's pantry, went out across the garden and through the hedge to find the boy. Very carefully she went through the opening in the hedge so that she would lose none of her treasures. And oh, the joy of it! The splendid wonder of it! She found that the boy had built a house—all by himself he had built it—with real boards, and had furnished it with tiny chairs and tables made from boxes. Complete it was, even to a beautiful strip of carpet on the floor and a shelf on which to put the dishes. Then, indeed, when the boy told her how he had made the house for her—just for her—and how it was to have been a surprise; and that she had come just in time because if she tad come sooner it would have spoiled the fun—the heart of the little girl overflowed with gladness. And to think that all the time she was feeling so not wanted and in the way the boy was doing this and all for her! Did her mother know? She rather guessed that she did; mothers have such a marvelous way of knowing everything, particularly the nicest things.

So the little girl gave the boy all the treasures that she had brought so carefully and they had great fun eating them together; and all the rest of that day they played "keephouse." And this is why that day was among the best of all the woman's Yesterdays.

Several men going home from work passed the spot where the young woman sat. Then a group of shop girls followed; then another group and, in turn, two women from an office that did not close early on Saturdays. After them a young girl who looked very tired came walking alone, and then there were more men and women in a seemingly endless procession. And so many girls and women there were in the procession that the woman, as she came back from her Yesterdays, wondered who was left to make homes for the world.

The sun was falling now in long bars and shafts of light between the buildings and the trees, and the windows of the house where the man had been fixing the roof were blazing as if in flames. The man had taken down his ladder and gone away. It was time the young woman was going home. And as she went, joining the procession of laborers, her heart was filled with longing—with longing and with hope. The boy of her Yesterdays lived only in those days that were gone. He had no place in the dreams of her womanhood. He was only the playmate of the little girl. Even as those years were gone the boy had gone out of her life. But somewhere, perhaps, that one who was to go with her through the old, old, open door was even then building for her a home—their home. Perhaps, some day, an all wise Mother Nature would tell her to leave the world that gave her no welcome—that could not recognize her womanhood—that made her heart rebel in humiliation and shame—and go to do her woman's work.

Very carefully would she go when the time came, taking all the treasures of her womanhood. She would go very carefully that none of her treasures be lost.



KNOWLEDGE

The green of the pastures and the gold of the fields was buried so deeply under banks of snow that no one could say: "Here the cattle fed and the buttercups grew; there the grain was harvested; here the corn stood in shocks; there the daisies and meadow grass sheltered the nest of the bobo-link." As death calls alike the least and the greatest back to the dust from which they came, so winter laid over the varied and changing scenes of summer a cold, white, shroud of wearisome sameness. The birds were hundreds of miles away in their sunny southland haunts. The bees, the butterflies, and many of the tiny wood folk, were all snugly tucked in their winter beds, dreaming, perhaps, as they slept, of the sunshiny summer days. In the garden the wind had heaped a great drift high against the hedge on the boy's side, and, on the little girl's side, the cherry tree in the corner stood shivering in its nakedness with bare arms uplifted as though praying for mercy to the stinging cold wind.

In the city the snow, as fast as it fell, was stained by soot and grime and lay in the streets a mass of filth. The breath of the laboring truck horses arose from their wide nostrils like clouds of steam and, in the icy air, covered their breasts and shoulders and sides with a coat of white frost. The newsboys and vendors of pencils and shoestrings shivered in nooks and corners and doorways and, as the people went with heads bent low before the freezing blast that swirled through the narrow canyons between the tall buildings, the snowy pavement squeaked loudly under their feet.

And the man who had found something to do, from his Occupation, began to acquire Knowledge. In doing things, he began to know things.

But the man had to gain first a knowledge of Knowledge. He first had to learn this: that a man might know all about a thing without ever knowing the thing itself. He had to understand that Knowledge is not knowing about a thing but knowing the thing. When first he had dreamed his manhood dreams, before he had found something to do, the man, quite modestly, thought that he knew a great deal. In his school days, he had exhausted many text books and had passed many creditable examinations upon many subjects and so he had thought that he knew a great deal. And he did. He knew a great deal about things. But when he had found something to do, and had tried to do it, he found also very quickly that, although he knew so much about the thing he had to do, he knew very, very, little of the thing itself and that only knowledge of the thing itself could ever help him to realize his dreams.

From his Occupation, he learned this also: that Knowledge is not what some other man knows and tells you but what the thing that you have found to do makes known to you. Knowledge is not told, cannot be told, to one by another, even though that other has it abundantly for, to the one to whom it is told, it remains ever what someone else knows. What the thing that a man finds to do makes known to him, that is Knowledge. So Knowledge is to be had not from books alone but rather from Life. So idleness is a vicious ignorance and those who do the most are wisest.

Before he had found something to do the man had called himself a thinker. But when he tried to do the thing that he had found to do, he quickly realized that he had only thought that he thought. He found that he was not at all a thinker but a listener—a receiver—a rememberer. In his school days, the thoughts of others were offered him and he, because he had accepted them, called them his own. He came, now, to understand that thinking is not accepting the thoughts of others but finding thoughts of your own in whatever it is that you have found to do.

Thinking the thoughts of others is a delightful pastime and profitable but it is not really thinking. Also, if one be blessed with a good memory, he may thus cheaply acquire a reputation for great wisdom; just as one, if he happens to be born with a nose of uncommon length or bigness, may attract the attention of the world. But no one should deceive himself. A man because he is able, better than the multitude, to repeat the thoughts of other men must not therefore think himself a better thinker than the crowd. No more should the one with the uncommon nose flatter himself that he is necessarily handsome or distinguished in appearance because the people notice him. He who attracts the attention of the world should inquire most carefully into the reason for the gathering of the crowd; for a crowd will gather as readily to listen to a mountebank as to hear an angel from heaven.

To repeat what others have thought is not at all evidence that he who remembers is thinking. Great thoughts are often repeated thoughtlessly. A man's Occupation betrays him or establishes his claim to Knowledge. That which a man does proclaims that which he thinks or in his thoughtlessness finds him out.

Of course, when the man had learned this, he said at first, quite wrongly, that his school days were wasted. He said that what he had called his education was all a mistake—that it was vanity only and wholly worthless. But, as he went on gaining ever more and more Knowledge from the thing that he was doing, and, through that thing, of many other things, he came to understand that his school days were not wasted but very well spent indeed. He came to see that what he had called education was not a mistake. He came to understand that what was wrong was this: he had considered his education complete, finished, when he had only been prepared to begin. He had considered his schooling as an end to be gained when it was only a means to the end. He had considered his learning as wealth to hold when it was capital to invest. He had mistaken the thoughts that he received from others for Knowledge when they were given him only to inspire and to help him in acquiring Knowledge.

And then, of this knowledge of Knowledge gained by the man from his Occupation, there was born in him a mighty passion, a burning desire. It was the passion for Knowledge. It was the desire to know. To know the thing that he had found to do was not enough. He determined to use that knowledge to gain Knowledge of many other things. He felt within himself a new strength stirring—the strength of thought. He saw that knowledge of things led ever to more knowledge, even as link to link in a golden chain. One end of the chain he held in his Occupation; the other was somewhere, far beyond his sight, hidden in the mists that shroud the Infinite Fact, fast to the mighty secret of Life itself. Link by link, he determined to follow the chain. From knowing things to knowledge of other things he would go even until he held in his grip the last link—until he held the key to the riddle—until he knew the answer to the sum of Life.

And facts—cold, uncompromising, all powerful, unanswerable facts—should give him this mastering knowledge of Life. For him there should be no sentiment to deceive, no illusion to beguile, no fancy to lead astray. As resistlessly as the winter, with snowflake upon snowflake, had buried all the delightful vagaries of summer, so this man, in his passion for Knowledge, would have buried all the charming inconsistencies, the beautiful inaccuracies, the lovely pretenses of Life. The illusions, the sentiment, the fancies, the poetry of Life, he would have buried under the icy sameness of his facts, even as the flowers and grasses were hidden under winter's shroud of snow. But he could not. Under the snow, summer still lived. Under the cold facts of Life, the tender sentiments, the fond fancies, the dear illusions have strength even as the flowers and grasses.

I do not know what it was that brought it about. It does not matter what it was. Perhaps it was the sight of some boys coasting down a little hill, on a side street, near where the man lived at this time: perhaps it was a group of children who, on their way home from school, were waging a merry snow fight: or, perhaps, it was the man's own effort to acquire Knowledge: or, it may be, that his brain was weary, that the way of Knowledge seemed over long, that the links in the golden chain were many and passed all too slowly through his hand—I do not know—but, whatever it was that did it, the man, as he sat before his fire that winter evening with a too solid and substantial book, slipped away from his grown up world of facts back into the no less real world of childhood, back into his Yesterdays—to a school day in his Yesterdays.

Once again he made his way in the morning to the little schoolhouse that stood half way up a long hill, in the edge of a bit of timber, nearly two miles from his home. The yard, beaten smooth and hard by many bare and childish feet, was separated from the timber by a rail fence but was left open in front to any stray horses or cattle that, wandering down the road, might be tempted to rest a while in the shade of a great tree that stood near the center of the little clearing. The stumps of the other forest beauties that had once, like this tree, tossed their branches in the sunlight were still holding the places that God had given them and made fine seats for the girls or bases for the boys when they played ball at recess or noon. And often, when the shouting youngsters had been called from their sports by the rapping of the teacher's ruler at the door and only the busy hum of their childish voices came floating through the open windows, a venturesome squirrel or a saucy chipmunk would creep stealthily along the fence, stopping now and then to sit bolt upright with tail in air to look and listen. Then suddenly, at sight of a laughing face at the window or the appearance of some boy who had gained the coveted permission to get a bucket of water, the little visitor would whisk away again like a flash and, with a warning chatter to his mate, would seek safety among the leaves and branches of the forest only to reappear once more when all was quiet until, at last, made bold by many trials, he would leap from the fence and scamper across the yard to take possession of the tallest stump as though he himself were a schoolboy. Sometimes a crow, after carefully watching the place for a little while from a safe position on the fence across the road, would fly quietly down to look for choice bits dropped from the dinner baskets of the children. Or again, a long, lazy, black snake would crawl across the yard to search for the little mice that lived in the foundation of the house and in the corners of the fence. Or, perhaps, a chicken hawk, that had been sailing on outstretched wings in ever narrowing circles, would drop from the blue sky to claim his share of the plunder only to be frightened away again by the sound of the teacher's voice raised in sharp rebuke of some mischievous urchin.

The schoolhouse was not a large building nor was it, in the least, imposing. It was built of wood with a foundation of rough stone and there were heavy shutters which were always carefully closed at night to keep out the tramps who might seek a lodging place within. And there was a woodshed, too, where the boys romped upon rainy days and where was fought many a schoolboy battle for youthful love and honor. The building had once been painted white but the storm and sunshine of many months had worn away the paint, and there remained only the dark, weather stained, boards save beneath the cornice and the window ledge where one might still find traces of its former glory. The chimney, too, was old and some of the bricks had crumbled and fallen from the top which made it look ragged against the sky. And the steps and threshold were worn very thin—very, very, thin.

Wearied with his passion for Knowledge; tired of his cold facts; hungering in his heart for a bit of wholesome sentiment as one in winter hungers for the summer flowers; the man who sat before his fire that night, with a too heavy and substantial book, crossed once more with childish feet the worn threshold of the old schoolhouse and stood within the entry where hung the hats and dinner baskets of his mates. They looked very familiar to him—those hats—and, as he saw them in his memory, each offered mute testimony to its owner's disposition and rank in childhood's world. There were broad brimmed straws that belonged to the patient, plodding, boys and caps that seemed made to set far back on the heads of the boisterous lads. There was the old slouch felt of the poor boy who did chores for his board and the brimless hat of the bully of the school. There were the trim sailors of the good little boys and the head gear of his own particular chum. And there—the man who sought Knowledge only in facts smiled at the fire and a fond light came into his eyes while his too solid and substantial hook slipped unheeded to the floor—there was a sunbonnet of blue checkered gingham hanging by its long strings from a hook near the window.

With fast beating heart, the boy saw that the next hook was vacant and placing his own well worn straw beside the bonnet he wondered if she would know whose hat it was. And then once more, with reluctant hand, the seeker of Knowledge, in his Yesterdays, pushed open the door leading to the one room in the building and, with a sigh of regret, passed from the bright sunlight of boyish freedom to the shadow of his childish task.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse