Vandemark's Folly
by Herbert Quick
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I A Flat Dutch Turnip Begins Its Career. II I Learn and Do Some Teaching. III I See the World, and Suffer a Great Loss. IV I Become a Sailor, and Find a Clue. V The End of a Long Quest. VI I Become Cow Vandemark. VII Adventure on the Old Ridge Road. VIII My Load Receives an Embarrassing Addition. IX The Grove of Destiny. X The Grove of Destiny Does Its Work. XI In Defense of the Proprieties. XII Hell Slew, Alias Vandemark's Folly. XIII The Plow Weds the Sod. XIV I Become a Bandit and a Terror. XV I Save a Treasure, and Start a Feud. XVI The Fewkeses in Clover at Blue-grass Manor. XVII I Receive a Proposal—and Accept. XVIII Rowena's Way Out—The Prairie Fire. XIX Gowdy Acknowledges His Son. XX Just as Grandma Thorndyke Expected.


The work of writing the history of this township—I mean Vandemark Township, Monterey County, State of Iowa—has been turned over to me. I have been asked to do this I guess because I was the first settler in the township; it was named after me; I live on my own farm—the oldest farm operated by the original settler in this part of the country; I know the history of these thirty-six square miles of land and also of the wonderful swarming of peoples which made the prairies over; and the agent of the Excelsior County History Company of Chicago, having heard of me as an authority on local history, has asked me to write this part of their new History of Monterey County for which they are now canvassing for subscribers. I can never write this as it ought to be written, and for an old farmer with no learning to try to do it may seem impudent, but some time a great genius may come up who will put on paper the strange and splendid story of Iowa, of Monterey County, and of Vandemark Township; and when he does write this, the greatest history ever written, he may find such adventures as mine of some use to him. Those who lived this history are already few in number, are fast passing away and will soon be gone. I lived it, and so did my neighbors and old companions and friends. So here I begin.

The above was my first introduction to this history; and just here, after I had written a nice fat pile of manuscript, this work came mighty close to coming to an end.

I suppose every person is more or less of a fool, but at my age any man ought to be able to keep himself from being gulled by the traveling swindlers who go traipsing about the country selling lightning rods, books, and trying by every means in their power to get the name of honest and propertied men on the dotted line. Just now I began tearing up the opening pages of my History of Vandemark Township, and should have thrown them in the base-burner if it had not been for my granddaughter, Gertrude.

The agent of the Excelsior County History Company called and asked me how I was getting along with the history, and when I showed him what I have written, he changed the subject and began urging me to subscribe for a lot of copies when it is printed, and especially, to make a contract for having my picture in it. He tried to charge me two hundred seventy-five dollars for a steel engraving, and said I could keep the plate and have others made from it. Then I saw through him. He never wanted my history of the township. He just wanted to swindle me into buying a lot of copies to give away, and he wanted most to bamboozle me into having a picture made, not half so good as I can get for a few dollars a dozen at any good photographer's, and pay him the price of a good team of horses for it. He thought he could gull old Jake Vandemark! If I would pay for it, I could get printed in the book a few of my remarks on the history of the township, and my two-hundred-and-seventy-five-dollar picture. Others would write about something else, and get their pictures in. In that way this smooth scoundrel would make thousands of dollars out of people's vanity—and he expected me to be one of them! If I can put him in jail I'll do it—or I would if it were not for posting myself as a fool.

"Look here," I said, after he had told me what a splendid thing it would be to have my picture in the book so future generations could see what a big man I was. "Do you want what I know about the history of Vandemark Township in your book, or are you just out after my money?"

"Well," he said, "if, after you've written twenty or thirty pages, and haven't got any nearer Vandemark Township than a canal-boat, somewhere east of Syracuse, New York, in 1850, I'll need some money if I print the whole story—judging of its length by that. Of course, the publication of the book must be financed."

"There's the door!" I said, and pointed to it.

He went out like a shot, and Gertrude, who was on the front porch, came flying in to see what he was running from. I was just opening the stove door. In fact I had put some scraps of paper in; but there was no fire.

"Why, grandpa," she cried, "what's the matter? What's this manuscript you're destroying? Tell me about it!"

"Give it to me!" I shouted; but she sat down with it and began reading. I rushed out, and was gone an hour. When I came back, she had pasted the pages together, and was still reading them. She came to me and put her arms about my neck and kissed me; and finally coaxed me into telling her all about the disgraceful affair.

Well, the result of it all was that she has convinced me of the fact that I had better go on with the history. She says that these county-history promoters are all slippery people, but that if I can finish the history as I have begun, it may be well worth while.

"There are publishers," she said, "who do actually print such things. Maybe a real publisher will want this. I know a publisher who may be glad to get it. And, anyhow, it is a shame for all your experiences to be lost to the world. It's very interesting as far as you've got. Go on with it; and if no publisher wants to print it now, we'll give the manuscript to the Public Library in Monterey Centre, and maybe, long after both of us are dead and gone, some historian will find it and have it printed. Some time it will be found precious. Write it, grandpa, for my sake! We can make a wonderful story of it."

"We?" I said.

"You, I mean, of course," she replied; "but, if you really want me to do it, I will type it for you, and maybe do a little editing. Maybe you'll let me do a little footnote once in a while, so my name will go into it with yours. I'd be awfully proud, grandpa."

"It'll take a lot of time," I said.

"And you can spare the time as well as not," she answered.

"You all think because I don't go into the field with a team any more," I objected, "that I don't amount to anything on the farm; but I tell you that what I do in the way of chores and planning, practically amounts to a man's work."

"Of course it does," she admitted, though between you and me it wasn't so. "But any man can do the chores, and the planning you can do still—and nobody can write the History of Vandemark Township but Jacobus Teunis Vandemark. You owe it to the West, and to the world."

So, here I begin the second time. I have been bothered up to now by feeling that I have not been making much progress; but now there will be no need for me to skip anything. I begin, just as that canvassing rascal said, a long way from Vandemark Township, and many years ago in point of time; but I am afloat with my prow toward the setting sun on that wonderful ribbon of water which led to the West. I was caught in the current. Nobody could live along the Erie Canal in those days without feeling the suck of the forests, and catching a breath now and then of the prairie winds. So all this really belongs in the history.





My name is Jacobus Teunis Vandemark. I usually sign J.T. Vandemark; and up to a few years ago I thought as much as could be that my first name was Jacob; but my granddaughter Gertrude, who is strong on family histories, looked up my baptismal record in an old Dutch Reformed church in Ulster County, New York, came home and began teasing me to change to Jacobus. At first I would not give up to what I thought just her silly taste for a name she thought more stylish than plain old Jacob; but she sent back to New York and got a certified copy of the record. So I had to knuckle under. Jacobus is in law my name just as much as Teunis, and both of them, I understand, used to be pretty common names among the Vandemarks, Brosses, Kuyckendalls, Westfalls and other Dutch families for generations. It makes very little difference after all, for most of the neighbors call me Old Jake Vandemark, and some of the very oldest settlers still call me Cow Vandemark, because I came into the county driving three or four yoke of cows—which make just as good draught cattle as oxen, being smarter but not so powerful. This nickname is gall and wormwood to Gertrude, but I can't quite hold with her whims on the subject of names. She spells the old surname van der Marck—a little v and a little d with an r run in, the first two syllables written like separate words, and then the big M for Mark with a c before the k. But she will know better when she gets older and has more judgment. Just now she is all worked up over the family history on which she began laboring when she went east to Vassar and joined the Daughters of the American Revolution. She has tried to coax me to adopt "van der Marck" as my signature, but it would not jibe with the name of the township if I did; and anyhow it would seem like straining a little after style to change a name that has been a household word hereabouts since there were any households. The neighbors would never understand it, anyhow; and would think I felt above them. Nothing loses a man his standing among us farmers like putting on style.

I was born of Dutch parents in Ulster County, New York, on July 27, 1838. It is the only anniversary I can keep track of, and the only reason why I remember it is because on that day, except when it came on a Sunday, I have sown my turnips ever since 1855. Everybody knows the old rhyme:

"On the twenty-seventh of July Sow your turnips, wet or dry."

And wet or dry, my parents in Ulster County, long, long ago, sowed their little red turnip on that date.

I often wonder what sort of dwelling it was, and whether the July heat was not pretty hard on my poor mother. I think of this every birthday. I guess a habit of mind has grown up which I shall never break off; the moment I begin sowing turnips I think of my mother bringing forth her only child in the heat of dog-days, and of the sweat of suffering on her forehead as she listened to my first cry. She is more familiar to me, and really dearer in this imaginary scene than in almost any real memory I have of her.

I do not remember Ulster County at all. My first memory of my mother is of a time when we lived in a little town the name and location of which I forget; but it was by a great river which must have been the Hudson I guess. She had made me a little cap with a visor and I was very proud of it and of myself. I picked up a lump of earth in the road and threw it over a stone fence, covered with vines that were red with autumn leaves—woodbine or poison-ivy I suppose. I felt very big, and ran on ahead of my mother until she called to me to stop for fear of my falling into the water. We had come down to the big river. I could hardly see the other side of it. The whole scene now grows misty and dim; but I remember a boat coming to the shore, and out of it stepped John Rucker.

Whether he was then kind or cross to me or to my mother I can not remember. Probably my mind was too young to notice any difference less than that between love and cruelty. I know I was happy; and it seems to me that the chief reason of my joy was the new cap and the fact that my heart swelled and I was proud of myself. I do not believe that I was more than three years old. All this may be partly a dream; but I think not.

John Rucker was no dream. He was my mother's second husband; and by the time I was five years old, and had begun to go to one little school after another as we moved about, John Rucker had become the dark cloud in my life. He paid little attention to me, but I recollect that by the time we had settled ourselves at Tempe I was afraid of him. Two or three times he whipped me, but no more severely than was the custom among parents. Other little boys were whipped just as hard, and still were not afraid of their fathers. I think now that I was afraid of him because my mother was. I can not tell how he looked then, except that he was a tall stooped man with a yellowish beard all over his face and talked in a sort of whine to others, and in a sharp domineering way to my mother. To me he scarcely ever spoke at all. At Tempe he had some sort of a shop in which he put up a dark-colored liquid—a patent medicine—which he sold by traveling about the country. I remember that he used to complain of lack of money and of the expense of keeping me; and that my mother made clothes for people in the village.

Tempe was a little village near the Erie Canal somewhere between Rome and Syracuse. There was a dam and water-power in Tempe or near there, which, I think, was the overflow from a reservoir built as a water-supply for the Erie Canal—but I am not sure. I can not find Tempe on the map; but many names have been changed since those days. I think it was farther west than Canastota, but I am not sure—it was a long time ago.


Once, for some reason of his own, and when he had got some money in an unexpected way, Rucker took my mother and me to Oneida for an outing. My mother and I camped by the roadside while Rucker went somewhere to a place where a lot of strangers were starting a colony of Free Lovers. After he returned he told my mother that we had been invited to join the colony, and argued that it would be a good thing for us all; but my mother got very mad at him, and started to walk home leading me by the hand. She sobbed and cried as we walked along, especially after it grew late in the afternoon and Rucker had not overtaken us with the horse and democrat wagon. She seemed insulted, and broken-hearted; and was angry for the only time I remember. When we at last heard the wagon clattering along behind us in the woods, we sat down on a big rock by the side of the road, and Rucker meanly pretended not to see us until he had driven on almost out of sight. My mother would not let me call out to him; and I stood shaking my fist at the wagon as it went on past us, and feeling for the first time that I should like to kill John Rucker. Finally he stopped and made us follow on until we overtook him, my mother crying and Rucker sneering at both of us. This must have been when I was nine or ten years old. The books say that the Oneida Community was established there in 1847, when I was nine.

Long before this I had been put out by John Rucker to work in a factory in Tempe. It was a cotton mill run, I think, by the water-power I have mentioned. We lived in a log house on a side-hill across the road and above the cotton mill. We had no laws in those days against child labor or long hours. In the winter I worked by candle-light for two hours before breakfast. We went to work at five—I did this when I was six years old—and worked until seven, when we had half an hour for breakfast. As I lived farther from the mill than most of the children who were enslaved there, my breakfast-time was very short. At half past seven we began again and worked until noon, when we had an hour for dinner. At one o'clock we took up work once more and quit at half past five for supper. At six we began our last trick and worked until eight—thirteen hours of actual labor.

I began this so young and did so much of it that I feel sure my growth was stunted by it—I never grew above five feet seven, though my mother was a good-sized woman, and she told me that my father was six feet tall—and my children are all tall. Maybe I should never have been tall anyhow, as the Dutch are usually broad rather than long. Of course this life was hard. I was very little when I began watching machines and tending spindles, and used to cry sometimes because I was so tired. I almost forgot what it was to play; and when I got home at night I staggered with sleepiness.

My mother used to undress me and put me to bed, when she was not pressed with her own work; and even then she used to come and kiss me and see that I had not kicked the quilt off before she lay down for her short sleep. I remember once or twice waking up and feeling her tears on my face, while she whispered "My poor baby!" or other loving and motherly words over me. When John Rucker went off on his peddling trips she would take me out of the factory for a few days and send me to school. The teachers understood the case, and did all they could to help me in spite of my irregular attendance; so that I learned to read after a fashion, and as for arithmetic, I seemed to understand that naturally. I was a poor writer, though; and until I was grown I never could actually write much more than my name. I could always make a stagger at a letter when I had to by printing with a pen or pencil, and when I did not see my mother all day on account of her work and mine, I used to print out a letter sometimes and leave it in a hollow apple-tree which stood before the house. We called this our post-office. I am not complaining, though, of my lack of education. I have had a right good chance in life, and have no reason to complain—except that I wish I could have had a little more time to play and to be with my mother. It was she, though, that had the hard time.

By this time I had begun to understand why John Rucker was always so cross and cruel to my mother. He was disappointed because he had supposed when he married her that she had property. My father had died while a lawsuit for the purpose of settling his father's estate was pending, and Rucker had thought, and so had my mother, that this lawsuit would soon be ended, and that she would have the property, his share of which had been left to her by my father's will. I have never known why the law stood in my mother's way, or why it was at last that Rucker gave up all hope and vented his spite on my mother and on me. I do not blame him for feeling put out, for property is property after all, but to abuse me and my mother shows what a bad man he was. Sometimes he used to call me a damned little beggar. The first time he did that my mother looked at him with a kind of lost look as if all the happiness in life were gone. After that, even when a letter came from the lawyers who were looking after the case, holding out hope, and always asking for money, and Rucker for a day or so was quite chipper and affectionate to my mother in a sickening sort of sneaking way, her spirits never rose so far as I could see. I suppose she was what might be called a broken-hearted woman.

This went on until I was thirteen years old. I was little and not very strong, and had a cough, caused, perhaps, by the hard steady work, and the lint in the air of the factory. There were a good many cases every year of the working people there going into declines and dying of consumption; so my mother had taken me out of the factory every time Rucker went away, and tried to make me play. It was so in all the factories in those days, I guess. I did not feel like playing, and had no playmates; but I used to go down by the canal and watch the boats go back and forth. Sometimes the captains of the boats would ask me if I didn't want a job driving; but I scarcely knew what they meant. I must have been a very backward child, and I surely was a scared and conquered one. I used to sit on a stump by the tow-path, and so close to it that the boys driving the mules or horses drawing the boats could almost strike me with their whips, which they often tried to do as they went by. Then I would scuttle back into the brush and hide. There was a lock just below, but I seldom went to it because all the drivers were egged on to fight each other during the delay at the locks, and the canallers would have been sure to set them on me for the fun of seeing a fight.

On the most eventful evening of my life, perhaps. I sat on this stump, watching a boat which, after passing me, was slowing down and stopping. I heard the captain swearing at some one, and saw him come ashore and start back along the tow-path toward me as if looking for something. He was a tall man whom I had seen pass at other times, and I was wondering whether he would speak to me or not, when I felt somebody's hand snatch at my collar, and a whip came down over my thin shirt with a cut which as I write I seem to feel yet. It was John Rucker, coming home when we were not expecting him, and mad at finding me out of the factory.

"I'll learn yeh to steal my time!" he was saying. "I'll learn your mother to lie to me about your workin'. A great lubber like you traipsin' around idle, and my woman bringin' a doctor's bill on me by workin' night an' day to make up your wages to me—and lyin' to her husband! I'll track you by the blood! Take that—and that—and that!"

I had never resisted him: and even now I only tried to wiggle away from him. He held me with one hand, though; and at every pause in his scolding he cut me with the whip. Weeks after the welts on my back and shoulders turned dark along the line of the whip, and greenish at the edges. I did not cry. I felt numbed with fright and rage. Suddenly, however, the tall canal-boat captain, coming back along the tow-path, put in his oar by striking the whip out of John Rucker's hand; and snatched me away from him.

"I'll have the law on you!" snarled Rucker.

"The devil you will!" said the captain.

"I'll put you through!" screamed Rucker.

The captain eased himself forward by advancing his left foot, and with his right fist he smashed Rucker somewhere about the face. Rucker went down, and the captain picked up the whip, and carefully laying Rucker on his face stripped up his shirt and revenged me, lash for lash; and counting each cut stopped when he reached ten.

"I guess that's the number," said he, taking a look at my bloody back; "but for fear of fallin' short, here's another!" And he drew the whip back, and brought it down with a quick, sharp, terrible whistle that proved its force. "Now," said he, "you've got somethin' to put me through fer!"

Then he started back toward the boat, after picking up a clevis which it seems the driver-boy had dropped. I looked at Rucker a moment wondering what to do. He was slowly getting on his feet, groaning, bloody of face and back, miserable and pitiable. But when he saw me his look of hatred drove out of my mind my first impulse to help him. I turned and ran after the captain. That worthy never looked at me; but when he reached the boat he said to some one on board: "Bill, I call you to bear witness that I refused Bubby here a chance to run away."

"Ay, ay, sir," responded a voice from the boat.

The captain took me gently by the hand and helped me over the gunwale.

"Get out o' here," he shouted, "an' go back to your lovin' father!"

I sought to obey, but he winked at me and motioned me into the little cabin forward.

"An' now, my buck," said he, "that you've stowed yourself away and got so far from home that to put you ashore would be to maroon you in the wilderness, do you want to take a job as driver? That boy I've got lives in Salina, and we'll take you on if you feel like a life on the ocean wave. Can you drive?"

"I do' know!" said I.

"Have you ever worked?" he asked.

"I've worked ever since I was six," I answered.

"Would you like to work for me?" said he.

I looked him in the face for a moment, and answered confidently, "Yes."

"It's a whack," said he. "Maybe we'd better doctor that back o' your'n a little, and git yeh heartened up for duty."

And so, before I knew it, I was whisked off into a new life.



I lay in a bunk in one of the two little forward cabins next the stable, shivering and sobbing, a pitiful picture of misery, I suppose, as any one ever saw. I began bawling as soon as the captain commenced putting arnica on my back—partly because it smarted so, and partly because he was so very gentle about it; although all the time he was swearing at John Rucker and wishing he had skinned him alive, as he pretty nearly did. To feel a gentle hand on my shredded back, and to be babied a little bit—these things seemed to break my heart almost, though while Rucker was flogging me I bore it without a cry or a tear. The captain dressed my back, and said, "There, there, Bubby!" and went away, leaving me alone.

I could hear the ripple of the water against the side of the boat, and once in a while a gentle lift as we passed another boat; but there was nothing much in these things to cheer me up. I was leaving John Rucker behind, it was true, but I was also getting farther and farther from my mother every minute. What would she do without me? What should I do without her? I should be free of the slavery of the factory; but I did not think of that. I should have been glad to the bottom of my heart if I could have blotted out of my life all this new tragedy and gone back to the looms and spindles. The factory seemed an awful place now that I was free, but it was familiar; and being free was awful, too; but I never once thought of going back. I knew I could learn to drive the horses, and I knew I should stay with the captain who had flogged John Rucker. I who had never thought of running away was just as much committed to the new life as if I had planned for it for years. Inside my spirit I suppose I had been running away every time I had gone down and watched the boats float by; and something stronger than my conscious will floated me along, also. I fought myself to keep from crying; but I never thought of running up on deck, jumping ashore and going home, as I could easily have done at any time within an hour of boarding the boat. I buried my face in the dirty pillow with no pillow-case on it, and filled my mouth with the patchwork quilt. It seemed as though I should die of weeping. My breath came in long spasmodic draughts, as much deeper and bitterer than sighs as sighs are sadder and more pitiful than laughter. My whipped back pained and smarted me, but that was not what made me cry so dreadfully; I was in the depths of despair; I was humiliated; I was suffering from injustice; I had lost my mother—and at this thought my breath almost refused to come at all. Presently I opened my eyes and found the captain throwing water in my face. He never mentioned it afterward; but I suppose I had fainted away. Then I went to sleep, and when I awoke it was dark and I did not know where I was, and screamed. The captain himself quieted me for a few minutes, and I dropped off to sleep again. He had moved me without my knowing it, from the drivers' cabin forward to his own. But I must not spend our time on these things.

The captain's name was Eben Sproule. He had been a farmer and sawmill man, and still had a farm between Herkimer and Little Falls on the Mohawk River. He owned his boat, and seemed to be doing very well with her. The other driver was a boy named Asa—I forget his other name. We called him Ace. He lived at Salina, or Salt Point, which is now a part of Syracuse; and was always, in his talk to me, daring the captain to discharge him, and threatening to get a job in the salt Works at Salina if ever he quit the canal. He seemed to think this would spite Captain Sproule very much. I expected him to leave the boat when we reached Syracuse; but he never did, and I think he kept on driving after I quit. Our wages cost the boat twenty dollars a month—ten dollars each—and the two hands we carried must have brought the pay-roll up to about seventy a month besides our board. We always had four horses, two in the stable forward, and two pulling the boat. We plied through to Buffalo, and back to Albany, carrying farm products, hides, wool, wheat, other grain, and such things as potash, pearlash, staves, shingles, and salt from Syracuse, and sometimes a good deal of meat; and what the railway people call "way-freight" between all the places along the route. Our boat was much slower than the packets and the passenger boats which had relays of horses at stations and went pretty fast, and had good cabins for the passengers, too, and cooks and stewards, serving fine meals; while all our cooking was done by the captain or one of our hands, though sometimes we carried a cook.

Bill, the man who answered "Ay, ay, sir!" when the captain asked him to witness that he had refused me passage on the boat, was a salt-water sailor who had signed on with the boat while drunk at Albany and now said he was going to Buffalo to try sailing on the Lakes. The other man was a green Irishman called Paddy, though I suppose that was not his name. He was good only as a human derrick or crane. We used to look upon all Irishmen as jokes in those days, and I suppose they realized it. Paddy used to sing Irish comeallyes on the deck as we moved along through the country; and usually got knocked down by a low bridge at least once a day as he sang, or sat dreaming in silence. Bill despised Paddy because he was a landsman, and used to drown Paddy's Irish songs with his sailor's chanties roared out at the top of his voice. And mingled with us on the boat would be country people traveling to or from town, pedlers, parties going to the stopping-places of the passenger boats, people loading and unloading freight, drovers with live stock for the market, and all sorts of queer characters and odd fish who haunted the canal as waterside characters infest the water-front of ports. If I could live that strange life over again I might learn more about it; but I saw very little meaning in it then. That is always the way, I guess. We must get away from a type of life or we can't see it plainly. That has been the way as to our old prairie life in Iowa. It is only within the past few years that I have begun to see a little more of what it meant. It was not long though until even I began to feel the West calling to me with a thousand voices which echoed back and forth along the Erie Canal, and swelled to a chorus at the western gateway, Buffalo.


Captain Sproule had carried me aft from the drivers' cabin to his own while I was in a half-unconscious condition, and out of pure pity, I suppose; but that was the last soft treatment I ever got from him. He came into the cabin just as I was thinking of getting up, and sternly ordered me forward to my own cabin. I had nothing to carry, and it was very little trouble to move. We were moored to the bank just then taking on or discharging freight, and Ace was in the cabin to receive me.

"That upper bunk's your'n," he said. "No greenhorn gits my bunk away from me!"

I stood mute. Ace glared at me defiantly.

"Can you fight?" he asked.

"I do' know," I was obliged to answer.

"Then you can't," said Ace, with bitter contempt. "I can lick you with one hand tied behind me!"

He drew back his fist as if to strike me, and I wonder that I did not run from the cabin and jump ashore, but I stood my ground, more from stupor and what we Dutch call dumbness than anything else. Ace let his fist fall and looked me over with more respect. He was a slender boy, hard as a whip-lash, wiry and dark. He was no taller than I, and not so heavy; but he had come to have brass and confidence from the life he lived. As a matter of fact, he was not so old as I, but had grown faster; and was nothing like as strong after I had got my muscles hardened, as was proved many a time.

"You'll make a great out of it on the canal," he said.

"What?" said I.

"A boy that can't fight," said he, "don't last long drivin'. I've had sixteen fights this month!"

A bell sounded on deck, and we heard the voice of Bill calling us to breakfast. Ace yelled to me to come on, and all hands including the captain gathered on deck forward, where we had coffee, good home-made bread bought from a farmer's wife, fried cakes, boiled potatoes, and plenty of salt pork, finishing with pie. All the cook had to do was to boil potatoes, cook eggs when we had them and make coffee; for the most of our victuals we bought as we passed through the country. The captain had a basket of potatoes or apples on the deck which he used as cash carriers. He would put a piece of money in a potato and throw it to whoever on shore had anything to sell, and the goods, if they could be safely thrown, would come whirling over to be caught by some of us on deck. We got many a nice chicken or loaf of bread or other good victuals in that way; and we lived on the fat of the land. All sorts of berries and fruit, milk, butter, eggs, cakes, pies and the like came to the canal without any care on our part; everything was cheap, and every meal was a feast. This first breakfast was a trial, but I made a noble meal of it. The sailor, Bill, pretended to believe that I had killed a man on shore and had gone to sea to escape the gallows. Ace and Paddy to frighten me, I suppose, talked about the dangers and difficulties of the driver's life; while the captain gave all of us stern looks over his meal and looked fiercely at me as if to deny that he had ever been kind. When the meal was over he ordered Ace to the tow-path, and told him to take me along and show me how to drive.

"Here," he snapped at me, "is where we make a spoon or spoil a horn. Go 'long with you!"

Ace climbed on the back of one of the horses. I looked up wondering what I was to do.

"You'll walk," said Ace; "an' keep your eyes skinned."

So we started off. Each horse leaned into the collar, and slowly the hundred tons or so of dead weight started through the water. The team knew that it was of no use to surge against the load to get it started, as horses do with a wagon; but they pulled steadily and slowly, gradually getting the boat under way, and soon it was moving along with the team at a brisk walk, and with less labor than a hundredth part of the weight would have called for on land. I have always believed in inland waterways for carrying the heavy freight of this nation; because the easiest and cheapest way to transport anything is to put it in the water and float it. This lesson I learned when Ace whipped up Dolly and Jack and took our craft off toward Syracuse.

It was a hard day for me. We were passing boats all the time, and we had to make speed to keep craft which had no right to pass us from getting by, especially just before reaching a lock. To allow another boat to steal our lockage from us was a disgrace; and many of the fights between the driver boys grew out of the rights oL passing by and the struggle to avoid delays at the locks. Sometimes such affairs were not settled by the boys on the tow-path—they fought off the skirmishes; the real battles were between the captains or members of the crews.

If there were rules I don't know now what they were, and nobody paid much attention to them. Of course we let the passenger boats pass whenever they overtook us, unless we could beat them into a lock. We delayed them then by laying our boat out into the middle of the canal and quarreling until we reached the lock; under cover maybe of some pretended mistake. Our laying the boat out to shut off a passing rival was dangerous to the slow boat, for the reason that a collision meant that the strongly-built stem-end of the boat coming up from behind could crush the weaker stern of the obstructing craft. Such are some of the things I had to learn.


The passing of us by a packet brought me my first grief. She came up behind us with her horses at the full trot. Their boat was down the canal a hundred yards or so at the end of the tow-line; and just before the boat itself drew even with ours she was laid over by her steersman to the opposite side of the ditch, her horses were checked so as to let her line so slacken as to drop down under our boat, her horses were whipped up by a sneering boy on a tall bay steed, her team went outside ours on the tow-path, and the passage was made. They made, as was always the case, a moving loop of their line, one end hauled by the packet, and the other by the team. I was keeping my eye skinned to see how the thing was done, when the tow-line of the packet came by, tripped me up and threw me into the canal, from which I was fished out by Bill as our boat came along. There was actual danger in this unless the steersman happened to be really steering, and laid the boat off so as to miss me.

Captain Sproule gazed at me in disgust. Ace laughed loudly away out ahead on the horse. Bill said that if it had been in the middle of the ocean I never would have been shamed by being hauled up on deck. He was sorry for my sake, as I never would live this thing down.

"Go change your clothes," said the captain, "and try not to be such a lummox next time."

I had no change of clothes, and therefore, I took the first opportunity to get out on the tow-path, wet as I was, and begin again to learn my first trade. It was a lively occupation. There were some four thousand boats on the Erie Canal at that time, or an average of ten boats to the mile. I suppose there were from six to eight thousand boys driving then on the "Grand Canal" alone, as it was called. More than half of these boys were orphans, and it was not a good place for any boy, no matter how many parents or guardians he might have. Five hundred or more convicts in the New York State Penitentiary were men who, as I learned from a missionary who came aboard to pray with us, sing hymns and exhort us to a better life, had been canal-boat drivers. The boys were at the mercy of their captains, and were often cheated out of their wages. There were stories of young boys sick with cholera, when that disease was raging, or with other diseases, being thrown off the boats and allowed to live or die as luck might determine. There were hardship, danger and oppression in the driver's life; and every sort of vice was like an open book before him as soon as he came to understand it—which, at first, I did not. If my mother knew, as I suppose she did, what sort of occupation I had entered upon, I do not see how she could have been anything but miserable as she thought of me—though she realized keenly from what I had escaped.

Back on the tow-path, I was earning the contempt of Ace by dodging every issue, like a candidate for office. I learned quickly to snub the boat by means of a rope and the numerous snubbing-posts along the canal. This was necessary in stopping, in entering locks, and in rounding some curves; and my first glimmer of courage came from the fact that I seemed to know at once how this was to be done—the line to be passed twice about the post, and so managed as to slip around it with a great deal of friction so as to bring her to.


I was afraid of the other drivers, however, and I was afraid of Ace. He drove me like a Simon Legree. He ordered me to fight other drivers, and when I refused, he took the fights off my hands or avoided them as the case might require. He flicked at my bare feet with his whip. When we were delayed by taking on or discharging freight, he would try to corner me and throw me into the canal. He made me do all the work of taking care of our bunks, and cuffed my ears whenever he got a chance. He made me do his share as well as my own of the labor of cleaning the stables, and feeding and caring for the horses, sitting by and giving orders with a comical exaggeration of the manner of Captain Sproule. In short, he was hazing me unmercifully—as every one on the boat knew, though some of the things he did to me I do not think the captain would have permitted if he had known about them.

I was more miserable with the cruelty and tyranny of Ace than I had been at home; for this was a constant misery, night and day, and got worse every minute. He ruled even what I ate and drank. When I took anything at meal-times, I would first glance at him, and if he looked forbidding or shook his head, I did not eat the forbidden thing. I knew on that voyage from Syracuse to Buffalo exactly what servitude means. No slave was ever more systematically cruelized[1], no convict ever more brutishly abused—unless his oppressor may have been more ingenious than Ace. He took my coverlets at night. He starved me by making me afraid to eat. He worked, me as hard as the amount of labor permitted. He committed abominable crimes against my privacy and the delicacy of my feelings—and all the time I could not rebel. I could only think of running away from the boat, and was nearly at the point of doing so, when he crowded me too far one day, and pushed me to the point of one of those frenzied revolts for which the Dutch are famous.

[1] The author insists that "cruelized" is the exact word to express his meaning, and will consent to no change.—G.v.d.M.

A little girl peeking at me from an orchard beside the tow-path tossed me an apple—a nice, red juicy apple. I caught it, and put it in my pocket. That evening we tied up at a landing and were delayed for an hour or so taking on freight. I slipped into the stable to eat my apple, knowing that Ace would pound me if he learned that I had kept anything from him, whether he really wanted it or not. Suddenly I grew sick with terror, as I saw him coming in at the door. He saw what I was doing, and glared at me vengefully. He actually turned white with rage at this breach of his authority, and came at me with set teeth and doubled fists. "Give me that apple, damn yeh!" he cried. "You sneakin' skunk, you, I'll larn ye to eat my apples!"

He snatched at the apple, and was too successful; for before he reached it I opened my hand in obedience to his onslaught; and the apple rolled in the manure and litter of the stable, and was soiled and befouled.

"Throwin' my apple in the manure, will yeh!" he yelled. "I'll larn ye! Pick that apple up!"

I reached for it with trembling hand, and held it out to him.

"It ain't fit for anything but the hogs!" he yelled. "Eat it, hog!"

I looked at the filthy thing, and raised my hand to my mouth; but before I touched it with my lips a great change came over me. I trembled still more, now; but it was not with fear. I suddenly felt that if I could kill Ace, I would be willing to die. I was willing to die trying to kill him. I could not get away from him because he was between me and the door, but now suddenly I did not want to get away. I wanted to get at him. I threw the apple down.

"Pick that apple up and eat it," he said in a low tone, looking me straight in the eye, "or I'll pound you till you can't walk."

"I won't," said I.

Ace rushed at me, and as he rushed, he struck me in the face. I went down, and he piled on me, hitting me as he could. I liked the feel of his blows; it was good to realize that they did not hurt me half so much as his abuse had done. I did not know how to fight, but I grappled with him fiercely. I reached for his hair, and he tried to bite my thumb, actually getting it in his mouth, but I jerked it aside and caught his cheek in my grip, my thumb inside the cheek-pouch, and my fingers outside. I felt a hot thrill of joy as my nails sank into his cheek inside and out, and he cringed. I held him at arm's length, helpless, and with his head drawn all askew; and still keeping my unfair hold, I rolled him over, and coming on top of him, thrust the other thumb in the other side of his mouth, frenziedly trying to rip his cheeks, and pounding his head on the deck. We rolled back into the corner, where he jerked my thumbs from his mouth, now bleeding at the corners, and desperately tried to roll me. My hand came into touch with a horseshoe on the stable floor, which I picked up, and filled with joy at the consciousness that I was stronger than he, I began beating him over the face and head with it, with no thought of anything but killing him. He turned over on his face and began trying to shield his head with his arms, at which I tore like a crazy boy, beating at arms, head, hands and neck with the dull horseshoe, and screaming, "I'll kill you! I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"

In the meantime, it gradually dawned on Ace that he was licked, and he began yelling, "Enough! Enough!" which according to the rules of the game entitled him to be let alone; but I knew nothing about the rules of the game. I saw the blood spurting from one or two cuts in his scalp. I felt it warm and slimy on my hands, and I rained my blows on him, madly and blindly, but with cruel effect after all. I did not see the captain when he came in. I only felt his grip on my right arm, as he seized it and snatched the horseshoe from me. I did not hear what he said, though I heard him saying something. When he caught both my hands, I threw myself down on the cowering Ace and tried to bite him. When he lifted me up I kicked the prostrate Ace in the face as a parting remembrance. When he stood me up in the corner of the stable and asked me what in hell I was doing, I broke away from him and threw myself on the staggering Ace with all the fury of a bulldog. And when Bill came and helped the captain hold me, I was crying like a baby, and deaf to all commands. I struggled to get at Ace until they took him away; and then I collapsed and had a miserable time of it while my anger was cooling.

"I thought Ace would crowd the mourners too hard," said the captain. "Now, Jake," said he, "will you behave?"

There was no need to ask me. A baby could have held me then.

"Don't you know," said the captain, "that you ortn't to pound a feller with a horseshoe? Do you always act like this when you fight?"

"I never had a fight before," I sobbed.

"Well, you won't have another with Ace," said the captain. "You damned near killed him. And next time fight fair!"

That night I drove alone, which I had been doing now for some time, taking my regular trick; and when we tied up at some place west of Lockport, I went to my bunk expecting to find Ace ready to renew his tyrannies, and determined to resist to the death. He was lying in the lower bunk asleep, and his bandaged head looked rather pitiful. For all that my anger flamed up again as I looked at him. I shook him roughly by the shoulder. He awakened with a moan.

"Get out of that bunk!" I commanded.

"Let me alone," he whimpered, but he got out as I told him to do.

"Climb into that upper bunk," I said.

He looked at me a moment, and climbed up. I turned in, in the lower bunk, but I could not sleep. I was boss! It was Ace now who would be the underling. It was not a cold night; but pretty soon I thought of the quilts in the upper berth, and imitating Ace's cruelty, I called up to him fiercely, awakening him again. "Throw down that quilt," I said, "I want it."

"You let me alone," whimpered Ace, but the quilt was thrown down on the deck, where I let it lie. Ace lay there, breathing occasionally with a long quivering sigh—the most pitiful thing a child ever does—and we were both children, remember, put in a most unchildlike position. I dropped asleep, but soon awakened. It had grown cold, and I reached for the quilt; but something prompted me to reach up and see whether Ace was still there. He lay there asleep, and, as I could feel, cold. I picked up the quilt, threw it over him, tucked him in as my mother used to tuck me in,—thinking of her as I did it—and went back to my bunk. I was sorry I had cut Ace's head, and had already begun to forget how cruelly he had used me. I seemed to feel his blood on my hands, and got up and washed them. The thought of Ace's bandages, and the vision of wounds under them filled me with remorse—but I was boss! Finally I dropped asleep, and awoke to find that Ace had got up ahead of me. I was embarrassed by my new authority; and sorry for what I had been obliged to do to get it; but I was a new boy from that day.

It never pays to be a slave. It never benefits a man or a people to submit to tyranny. A slave is a man forgotten of God. That fight against slavery was a beautiful, a joyful thing to me, with all its penalties of compassion and guilty feeling afterward. I think the best thing a man or boy can do is to find out how far and to whom he is a slave, and fight that servitude tooth and nail as I fought Ace. It would make this a different world.



The strange thing to me about my fight with Ace was that nobody thought of such a thing as punishing me for it. I was free to fight or not as I pleased. I needed to be free more than anything else, and I wanted plenty of good food and fresh air. All these I got, for Captain Sproule, while stern and strict with us, enforced only those rules which were for the good of the boat, and these seemed like perfect liberty to me—after I whipped Ace. As for my old tyrant, he recovered his spirits very soon, and took the place of an underling quite contentedly. I suppose he had been used to it. I ruled in a manner much milder than his. I had never learned to swear—or to use harder words than gosh, and blast, and dang where the others swore the most fearful oaths as a matter of ordinary talk. I made a rule that Ace must quit swearing; and slapped him up to a peak a few times for not obeying—which was really a hard thing for him to do while driving; and when he was in a quarrel I always overlooked his cursing, because he could not fight successfully unless he had the right to work himself up into a passion by calling names and swearing.

As for myself I walked and rode erect and felt my limbs as light as feathers, as compared with their leaden weight when I lived at Tempe and worked in the factory. Soon I took on my share of the fighting as a matter of course. I did it as a rule without anger and found that beyond a bloody nose or a scratched face, these fights did not amount to much. I was small for my age, and like most runts I was stronger than I looked, and gave many a driver boy a bad surprise. I never was whipped, though I was pummeled severely at times. When the fight grew warm enough I began to see red, and to cry like a baby, boring in and clinching in a mad sort of way; and these young roughs knew that a boy who fought and cried at the same time had to be killed before he would say enough. So I never said enough; and in my second year I found I had quite a reputation as a fighter—but I never got any joy out of it.

If I could have forgotten my wish to see my mother it would have been in many ways a pleasant life to me. I was never tired of the new and strange things I saw—new regions, new countries. I was amazed at the Montezuma Marsh, with its queer trade of selling flags, for chair seats and the like—and I was almost eaten alive by the mosquitoes while passing through it. Our boat floated along through the flags, the horses on a tow-path just wide enough to enable the teams to pass, with bog on one side and canal on the other, water birds whistling and calling, frogs croaking, and water-lilies dotting every open pool. My spirits soared as I passed spots where the view was not shut off by the reeds, and I could look out over the great expanse of flags, just as my heart rose when I first looked upon the Iowa prairies. The Fairport level gave me another thrill—an embankment a hundred feet high with the canal on the top of it, a part of a seventeen-mile level, like a river on a hilltop.

We were a happy crew, here. Ace was quite recovered from our temporary difference of opinion—for I was treating him better than he expected. He used to sing merrily a song which was a real canal-chantey, one of the several I heard, the words of which ran like this:

"Come, sailors, landsmen, one and all, And I'll sing you the dangers of the raging canawl; For I've been at the mercy of the winds and the waves, And I'm one of the merry fellows what expects a watery grave.

"We left Albiany about the break of day; As near as I can remember, 'twas the second day of May; We depended on our driver, though he was very small, Although we knew the dangers of the raging canawl."

The rest of it I forget; but I remember that after Bill had sung one of his chanties, like "Messmates hear a brother sailor sing the dangers of the seas," or, "We sailed from the Downs and fair Plymouth town," telling how

"To our surprise, The storms did arise, Attended by winds and loud thunder; Our mainmast being tall Overboard she did fall, And five of our best men fell under,"

Ace would pipe up about the dangers of the raging canal; and finally this encouraged Paddy to fill in with some song like this:

"In Dublin City, where I was born, On Stephen's Green, where I die forlorn; 'Twas there I learned the baking trade, And 'twas there they called me the Roving Blade."

All the rest of the story was of a hanging. No wonder it was hard sometimes for an Irishman to reverence the law. They sang of hanging and things leading up to it from their childhood. I remember, too, how the boys of Iowa used to sing a song celebrating the deeds of the James boys of Missouri—and about the same time we had troubles with horse-thieves. There is a good deal of power in songs and verses, whether there's much truth in poetry or not.


I am spending too much time on this part of my life, if it were my life only which were concerned; but the Erie Canal, and the gaps through the Alleghany Mountains, are a part of the history of Vandemark Township. The west was on the road, then, floating down the Ohio, wagoning or riding on horseback through mountain passes, boating it up the Mississippi and Missouri, sailing up the Lakes, swarming along the Erie Canal. Not only was Iowa on the road, spending a year, two years, a generation, two generations on the way and getting a sort of wandering and gipsy strain in her blood, but all the West, and even a part of Canada was moving. We once had on board from Lockport west, a party of emigrants from England to Ontario. They had come by ship from England to New York, by steamboat to Albany and canal to Lockport; and for some reason had to take a deck trip from Lockport to Buffalo, paying Captain Sproule a good price for passage. Their English dialect was so broad that I could not understand it; and I abandoned to Ace the company of their little girl who was one of a family of five—father, mother, and two boys, besides the daughter. I suppose that their descendants are in Ontario yet, or scattered out on the prairies of Western Canada. Just so the people of the canals and roads are in Iowa, and in Vandemark Township.

Buffalo was a marvel to me. It was the biggest town I had ever seen, and was full of sailors, emigrants, ships, waterside characters and trade; and I could see, feel, taste, smell, and hear the West everywhere. I was by this time on the canal almost at my ease as a driver; but here I flocked by myself like Cunningham's bull, instead of mingling with the crowds of boys whom I found here passing a day or so in idleness, while the captains and hands amused themselves as sailors do in port, and the boats made contracts for east-bound freight, and took it on. Whenever I could I attached myself to Captain Sproule like a lost dog, not thinking that perhaps he would not care to be tagged around by a child like me; and thus I saw things that should not have been seen by a boy, or by any one else—things that I never forgot, and that afterward had an influence on me at a critical time in my life. There were days spent in grog-shops, there were quarrels and brawls, and some fights, drunken men calling themselves and one another horrible names and bragging of their vices, women and men living in a terrible imitation of pleasure. I have often wondered as I have seen my boys brought up cleanly and taught steady and industrious lives in a settled community, how they would look upon the things I saw and lived through, and how well they could have stood the things that were ready to drag me down to the worst vices and crimes. I moved through all this in a sort of daze, as if it did not concern me, not even thinking much less of Captain Sproule for his doings, some of which I did not even understand: for remember I was a very backward boy for my age. This was probably a good thing for me—a very good thing. There are things in the Bible which children read without knowing their meaning, and are not harmed by them. I was harmed by what I saw in the book of life now opened to me, but not so much as one might think.


One evening, in a water-front saloon, Captain Sproule and another man—a fellow who was a shipper of freight, as I remember—spent an hour or so with two women whose bad language and painted faces would have told their story to any older person; but to me they were just acquaintances of the captain, and that was all. After a while the four left the saloon together, and I followed, as I followed the captain everywhere.

"That young one had better be sent to bed," said the captain's friend, pointing to me.

"Better go back to the boat, Jake," said the captain, laughing in a tipsy sort of way.

"I don't know where it is," said I; "it's been towed off somewhere."

"That's so," said the captain, "I've got to hunt it up myself—or stay all night in a tavern. Wal, come along. I'll be going home early."

The other man gave a sort of sarcastic laugh. "Bring up your boys as you like, Cap'n," said he. "He'll come to it anyhow in a year or so by himself, I guess."

"I'm going home early," said the captain.

"Course you be," said the woman, seizing the captain's arm. "Come on, Bubby!"

There were more drinks where we went, and other women like those in our party. I could not understand why they behaved in so wild and immodest a manner, but thought dimly that it was the liquor. In the meantime I grew very sleepy, being worn out by a day of excitement and wonder; and sitting down in a corner of the room, I lopped over on the soft carpet and went to sleep. The last I heard was the sound of an accordion played by a negro who had been invited in, and the scuff of feet as they danced, with loud and broken speech, much of which was quite blind to me. Anyhow, I lost myself for a long time, as I felt, when some one shook me gently by the shoulder and woke me up. I thought I was at home, in my attic bed, and that it was my mother awakening me to go to work in the factory.

"Ma," I said. "Is that you, ma!"

A woman was bending over me, her breasts almost falling from the low-cut red dress she wore. She was painted and powdered like the rest, and her face looked drawn and pale over her scarlet gown. As I pronounced the name I always called my mother, I seem to remember that her expression changed from the wild and reckless look I was becoming used to, to something like what I had always seen in my mother's eyes.

"Who you driving for, Johnny?" she asked.

"Captain Sproule," said I. "Where is he?" For on looking about I saw that there was no one there but this woman and myself.

"He'll be back after a while," said she. "Poor young one! Come with me and get a good sleep."

I was numb with sleep, and staggered when I stood up; and she put her arm around me as we moved toward the door, where we were met by two men, canallers or sailors, by their looks, who stopped her with drunken greetings.

"Ketchin' em young, Sally," said one of them. "Wot will the world come to, Jack, when younkers like this get a-goin'? Drop the baby, Sally, and come along o' me!"

The woman looked at him a moment steadily.

"Let me go," said she; "I don't want anything to do with you."

"Don't, eh?" said he. "Git away, Bub, an' let your betters have way."

I clung closer to her side, and looked at him rather defiantly. He drew back his flat hand to slap me over; but the woman pulled me behind her, and faced him, with a drawn knife in her hand. He made as if to take it from her; but his companion held him back.

"Do you want six inches o' cold steel in your liver?" he asked. "Let her be. There's plenty o' others."

"My money is jest as good's any one else's," said the first. "Jest as good's any one else's;" and began wrangling with his friend.

The woman pushed me before her and we went up-stairs to a bedroom, the door of which she closed and locked. She said nothing about what had taken place below, and I at once made up my mind that it had been some sort of joke.

"You oughtn't to sleep on that floor," said she, "You'll take your death o' cold. Lay down here, and have a good comfortable nap. I'll see that Captain Sproule finds you."

I started to lie down in my clothes. "Take off them clothes," said she, as if astonished. "Do you think I want my bed all dirtied up with 'em?" And she began undressing me as if I had been a baby. She was so tender and motherly about it that I permitted her to strip me to my shirt, and then turned in. The bed was soft, and sleep began to come back to me. I saw my new friend preparing for bed, and presently I awoke to find her lying by me, and holding me in her arms: I heard her sitheing[2], and I was sure she was crying. This woke me up, and I lay wondering if there was anything I could do for her, but I said nothing. Pretty soon there came a loud rap at the door, and a woman asked to be let in.

[2] The writer insists that "sitheing" is quite a different thing from sighing, being a long-drawn, quivering sigh. In this I think he is correct.—G.v.d.M.

"What do you want?" asked my friend, getting out of bed as if scared, and beginning to put on her clothes, I hustled out and began dressing—a very short job with me. In the meantime the woman at the door grew louder and more commanding in her demand, so much so, that before she was fully dressed, my strange friend opened the door, and there stood a great fleshy woman, wearing a lot of jewelry; red-faced, and very angry. I can't remember much that was said; but I remember that the fat woman kept saying, "What do you mean? What do you mean? I want you to understand that my guests have their rights. One man's money is as good as another's," and the like. "Whose brat is this?" she finally asked, pointing at me.

"He's driving for a man with money," said my friend sarcastically.

"Who you driving for, Johnny?" she asked; and I told her.

"Captain Sproule is down-stairs," said she. "He's looking for you. Go on down! And as for you, Madam, you get out of my house, and don't come back until you can please my visitors—you knife-drawin' hussy!"

I went down to the room where the captain had left me; and just as he had begun making some sly blind jokes at my expense, the woman who had befriended me came down, followed by the fat virago, cursing her and ordering her out.

"Don't let 'em hurt her!" said I. "She's a good woman. She put me to bed, and was good to me. Don't let 'em hurt her!"

We all went out together, the captain asking me what I meant; and then went on walking beside the woman, whom he called Sally, and trying to understand the case. I heard her say, "Mine would be about that size if he had lived. I s'pose every woman must be a darned fool once in a while!" The rest of the case I did not understand very well; but I knew that she went to a tavern where we all spent the night, and that the captain seemed very thoughtful when we went to bed at last—the second time for me. When we finally pulled out of Buffalo for the East, Sally was on the boat—not a very uncommon thing in those days; but the captain was very good and respectful to her until we reached a little village two or three days' journey eastward, when Sally got off the boat after kissing me good-by and telling me to be good, and try to grow up and be a good man; and went off on a country road as if she knew where she was going.

"Where did Sally go?" I asked of Captain Sproule.

"Home," said he; "and may God have mercy on her soul!"


I looked forward more longingly than ever to the time when I should be able to drop off the boat at Tempe, and run up to see my mother; and I fixed it up with Captain Sproule so that when we made our return trip I was to be allowed to stop over a day with her, and taking a fast boat catch up with our own craft farther east. I was proud of the fact that I had two good suits of clothes, a good hat and boots, and money in my pocket. I expected to turn my money out on the table and leave it with her. I thought a good deal of my meeting with John Rucker, and hoped fervently that I should find him absent on one of his peddling trips, in which case I meant to stay over night with my mother; and I seriously pondered the matter as to whether or not I should fight Rucker if he attacked me, as I expected he might; and Ace and I had many talks as to the best way for me to fight him, if I should decide on such a course. Ace was quite sure I could best Rucker; but I did not share this confidence. A fight with a boy was quite a different thing from a battle with a man, even though he might be a coward as I was sure Rucker was.

This proposed visit became the greatest thing in my life, a great adventure, as we glided back from Buffalo, past the locks at Lockport, where there was much fighting; past lock after lock, where the lock-tenders tried to sell magic oils, balsams and liniments for man and beast and once in a while did so; and to whom Ace became a customer for hair-oil; after using which he sought the attention of girls by the canal side, and also those who might be passengers on our boat, or members of the emigrant families which crowded the boats going west; past the hill at Palmyra, from which Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, claimed to have dug the gold plates of the Book of Mormon; past the Fairport level and embankment; for three days floating so untroubled along the Rochester level without a single lock; through the Montezuma Marsh again; and then in a short time would come Tempe, and maybe my great meeting with Rucker, my longed-for visit to my mother. And then Captain Sproule got a contract for a cargo of salt to Buffalo, and we turned westward again! It would be late in the fall before we returned; but I should have more money then, and should be stronger and a better fighter.

Canal-boating was fast becoming a routine thing with me; and I must leave out all my adventures on that voyage to Buffalo, and back to Tempe. I do not remember them very clearly anyhow.

One thing happened which I must describe, because it is important. We were somewhere west of Jordan, when we met a packet boat going west. It was filled with passengers, and drew near to us with the sound of singing and musical instruments. It was crowded with emigrants always hopeful and merry, bound westward. Evidently the hold had not been able to take in all the household goods of the passengers, for there was a deck-load of these things, covered with tarpaulins.

I was sitting on the deck of our boat, wondering when I should join the western movement. When I got old enough, and had money enough, I was determined to go west and seek my fortune; for I always felt that canalling was, somehow, beneath what I wanted to do and become. The packet swept past us, giving me a good deal the same glimpse into a different sort of life that a deckhand on a freighter has when he gazes at a liner ablaze with lights and echoing with music.

On the deck of the packet sat a group of people who were listening to a tall stooped man, who seemed to be addressing them on some matter of interest. There was something familiar in his appearance; and I kept my eye on him as we went by.

As the boat passed swiftly astern, I saw that it was John Rucker.

He was better dressed than I had ever seen him; his beard was trimmed, and he was the center of his group. He was talking to a hunchback—a strange-looking person with a black beard. I wondered what had made such a change in Rucker; but I was overjoyed at the thought that he was off on a peddling trip, and that I should not meet him at home.

We floated along toward Tempe in a brighter world than I had known since the time when I felt my bosom swell at the wearing of the new cap my mother had made for me, the day when I, too young to be sad, had thrown the clod over the stone fence as we went down to the great river to meet John Rucker.


We tied up for the night some seven miles west of Tempe, but I could not sleep. I felt that I must see my mother that night, and so I trudged along the tow-path in the light of a young moon, which as I plodded on threw my shadow along the road before me. I walked treading on my own shadow, a very different boy from the one who had come over this same route sobbing himself almost into convulsions not many months before.

I was ready to swap canal repartee with any of the canallers. It had become my world. I felt myself a good deal of a man. I could see my mother's astonished look as she opened the door, and heard me in the gruffest voice I could command asking her if she could tell me where Mrs. Rucker lived—and yet, I felt anxious. Somehow a fear that all was not right grew in me; and when I reached the path leading up to the house I turned pale, I feel sure, to see that there was no light.

I tapped at the door; but there was no response. I felt for the key in the place where we used to leave it, but no key was there.

There were no curtains, and as I looked into a room with windows at the opposite side, I saw no furniture. The house was vacant. I went to the little leanto which was used as a summer kitchen, and tried a window which I knew how to open. It yielded to my old trick, and I crawled in. As I had guessed, the place was empty. I called to my mother, and was scared, I can't tell how much, at the echo of my voice in the deserted cabin. I ventured up the stairs, though I was mortally afraid, and found nothing save the litter of removal. I felt about the closet in my mother's bedroom, to find out if any of her clothes were there, half expecting that she would be where I wanted to find her even in the vacant house. Down in a corner I felt some small article, which I soon found was a worn-out shoe. With this, the only thing left to remember her by, I crawled out of the window, shut it carefully behind me—for I had been brought up to leave things as I found them—and stood alone, the most forlorn and deserted boy in America, as I truly believe.

The moon had gone down, and it was dark. There was frost on the dead grass, and I went out under the old apple-tree and sat down. What should I do? Where was my mother? She was the only one in the world whom I cared for or who loved me. She was gone, it was night, I was alone and hungry and cold and lost. Perhaps some of the neighbors might know where John Rucker had taken my mother—this thought came to me only after I had sat there until every house was dark. The people had all gone to bed. I tried to think of some neighbor to whom my mother might have told her destination when she moved; but I could recall none of that sort. She had been too unhappy, here in Tempe, to make friends. So I sat there shivering until morning, unwilling to go away, altogether bewildered, quite at my wits' end, steeped in despair. The world seemed too hard and tough for me.

In the morning I asked at every house if the people knew Mrs. Rucker, and where she had gone, but got no help. One woman knew her, and had employed her as a seamstress; but had found the house vacant the last time she had sent her work.

"Is she a relative of yours?" she asked.

"She is my—" I remember I stopped here and looked away a long time before I could finish the reply, "She is my mother."

"And where were you, my poor boy," said she, "when she moved?"

"I was away at work," I replied.

"Well," said she, "she left word for you somewhere, you may be sure of that. Where did you stay last night?"

"I sat under a tree," said I, "in the yard—up where we used to live."

"And where did you get breakfast?" she asked.

"I wasn't hungry," I answered. "I've been hunting for my mother since daylight."

"You poor child!" said she. "Come right into the kitchen and I'll get you some breakfast. Come in, and we'll find out how you can find your mother!"

While she got me the breakfast which I needed as badly as any meal I ever ate, she questioned me as to relatives, friends, habits, and everything which a good detective would want to know in forming a theory as to how a clue might be obtained. She suggested that I find every man in the village who had a team and did hauling, and ask each one if he had moved Mr. Rucker's family.

"Why didn't she write to you?" she finally queried.

"She didn't know where I was," I replied.

"Did she ever leave word for you anywhere," asked the woman, "before you ran away?"

"We had a place we called our post-office," I answered. "An old hollow apple-tree. We used to leave letters for each other in that. It is the tree I sat under all night."

"Look there," said the woman. "You'll find her! She wouldn't have gone without leaving a trace."

Without stopping to thank her for her breakfast and her sympathy, I ran at the top of my speed for the old apple-tree. I felt in the hollow—it seemed to be filled with nothing but leaves. Just as I was giving up, I touched something stiffer than an autumn leaf, and pulling it out found a letter, all discolored by wet and mold, but addressed to me in my mother's handwriting. I tore it open and read:

"My poor, wandering boy: We are going away—I don't know where. This only I know, we are going west to settle somewhere up the Lakes. The lawsuit is ended, and we got the money your father left me, and are going west to get a new and better start in the world. If you will write me at the post-office in Buffalo, I will inquire there for mail. I wonder if you will ever get this! I wonder if I shall ever see you again! I shall find some way to send word to you. Mr. Rucker says he knows the captain of the boat you work on, and can get his address for me in Syracuse—then I will write you. I am going very far away, and if you ever see this, and never see me again, keep it always, and whenever you see it remember that I would always have died willingly for you, and that I am going to build up for you a fortune which will give you a better life than I have lived. Be a good boy always. Oh, I don't want to go, but I have to!"

It was not signed. I read it slowly, because I was not very good at reading, and turned my eyes west—where my mother had gone. I had lost her! How could any one be found who had disappeared into that region which swallowed up thousands every month? I had no clue. I did not believe that Rucker would try to help her find me. She had been kidnaped away from me. I threw myself down on the dead grass, and found the worn-out shoe I had picked up in the closet. It had every curve of her foot—that foot which had taken so many weary steps for me. I put my forehead down upon it, and lay there a long time—so long that when I roused myself and went down to the canal, I had not sat on my old stump a minute when I saw Captain Sproule's boat approaching from the west. With a heavy heart I stepped aboard, carrying the worn-out shoe and the letter, which I have yet. The boat was the only home left me. It had become my world.



I was just past thirteen when I had my great wrestle with loneliness and desertion that night under the old apple-tree at Tempe; and the next three and a half years are not of much concern to the reader who is interested only in the history of Vandemark Township. I was just a growing boy, tussling, more alone than I should have been, and with no guidance or direction, with that problem of keeping soul and body together, which, after all, is the thing with which all of us are naturally obliged to cope all through our lives. I lived here and there, most of the time looking to Eben Sproule as a prop and support, as a boy must look to some one, or fall into bad and dangerous ways—and even then, maybe he will.

I was a backward boy, and this saved me from some deadfalls, I guess; and I had the Dutch hard mouth and a tendency to feel my ground and see how the land lay, which made me take so long to balk at any new vice or virtue that the impulse or temptation was sometimes past before I could get ready to embrace it. I guess there are some who may read this who have let chances for sinful joys go by while an inward debate went on in their own souls; and if they will only own up to it, found themselves afterward guiltily sorry for not falling from grace. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he," is Scripture, and must be true if rightly understood; but I wonder if it is as bad for one of us tardy people to regret not having sinned, as it would have been if he had been quicker and done so. I hardly think it can be as bad; for many a saint must have had such experiences—which really is thinking both right and wrong, and doing right, even if he did think wrong afterward.

That first winter, I lived on Captain Sproule's farm, and had my board, washing and mending. His sister kept house for him, and his younger brother, Finley, managed the place summers, with such help in handling it as the captain had time to give when he passed the farm on his voyages. It was quite a stock farm, and here I learned something about the handling of cattle,—and in those days this meant breaking and working them. It was a hard winter, and there was so much work on the farm that I got only one month's schooling.

The teacher was a man named Lockwood. He kept telling us that we ought to read about farming, and study the business by which we expected to live; and this made a deep impression on me. Lockwood was a real teacher, and like all such worked without realizing it on stuff more lasting than steel or stone,—young, soft human beings. I did not see that there was much to study about as to driving on the canal; and when I told him that he said that the business of taking care of the horses and feeding them was something that ought to be closely studied if I expected to be a farmer. This looked reasonable to me; and I soon got to be one of those driver boys who were noted for the sleekness and fatness of their teams, and began getting the habit of studying any task I had to do. But I was more interested in cattle than anything else, and was sorry when spring came and we unmoored the old boat and pulled down to Albany for a cargo west. This summer was like the last, except that I was now a skilled driver, larger, stronger, and more confident than before.

I used to ask leave to go on ahead on some fast boat when we drew near to the Sproule farm, so I could spend a day or two at farm work, see the family, and better than this, I am afraid—for they were pretty good to me—look the cattle over, pet and feed the calves, colts and lambs, count the little pigs and generally enjoy myself. On these packet boats, too, I could talk with travelers, and try to strike the trail of John Rucker.

I had one never-failing subject of conversation with the Sproules and all my other acquaintances—how to find my mother. We went over the whole matter a thousand times. I had no post-office address, and my mother had depended on Rucker's getting Captain Sproule's address at Syracuse—which of course he had never meant to do—and had not asked me to inquire at any place for mail. I wrote letters to her at Buffalo as she had asked me to do in her letter, but they were returned unclaimed. It was plain that Rucker meant to give me the slip, and had done so. He could be relied upon to balk every effort my mother might make to find me. I inquired for letters at the post-offices in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany and Tempe at every chance, but finally gave up in despair.


I had only one hope, and that was to find the hump-backed man with the black beard—the man Rucker was talking to on the boat we had passed on our voyage eastward before I found my home deserted. This was a very slim chance, but it was all there was left. Captain Sproule had noticed him, and said he had seen him a great many times before. He was a land agent, who made it a business to get emigrants to go west, away up the lakes somewhere.

"If your stepfather had any money," said the captain, "you can bet that hunchback tried to bamboozle him into some land deal, and probably did. And if he did, he'll remember him and his name, and where he left the canal or the Lakes, and maybe where he located."

"I must watch for him," I said.

"We'll all watch for him," said the captain.

Paddy was not with us the next summer; but Bill was, and so was Ace, with whom I was now on the best of terms. We all agreed to keep our eyes peeled for a hunchback with a black beard. Bill said he'd spear him with a boathook as soon as he hove in sight for fear he'd get away. Ace was sure the hunchback was a witch[3] who had spirited off my folks; and looked upon the situation without much hope. He would agree to sing out if he saw this monster; but that was as far as he would promise to help me.

[3] "Witch" in American dialect is of the common gender. "Wizard" has no place in the vocabulary.—G.v.d.M.

The summer went by with no news and no hunchback; and that winter I stayed with an aunt of Captain Sproule's, taking care of her stock. I got five dollars a month, and my keep, but no schooling. She wanted me to stay the summer with her, and offered me what was almost a man's wages; which shows how strong I was getting, and how much of a farmer I was. I did stay and helped through the spring's work; but on Captain Sproule's second passing of Mrs. Fogg's farm, I joined him, not as a driver, but as a full hand. I kept thinking all the time of my mother, and felt that if I kept to the canal I surely should find some trace of her. In this I was doing what any detective would have done; for everything sooner or later passed through the Erie Canal—news, goods and passengers. But I had little hope when I thought of the flood which surged back and forth through this river of news, and of the little bit of a net with which I fished it for information.

All this time the stream of emigration and trade swelled, and swelled until it became a torrent. I thought at times that all the people in the world had gone crazy to move west. We took families, even neighborhoods, household goods, live stock, and all the time more and more people. They were talking about Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, and once in a while the word Iowa was heard; and one family astonished us by saying that they were going to Texas.

The Mormons had already made their great migration to Utah, and the Northwestern Trail across the plains to Oregon and to California took its quota of gold-seekers every year. John C. Fremont had crossed the continent to California, and caused me to read my first book, The Life of Kit Carson.

Bill, who never could speak in hard enough terms about sailing on the mud-puddle Lakes, which he had never done as yet, once went to Pittsburgh, meaning to go from there down the Ohio and up the Missouri. He had heard of the Missouri River fur-trade, and big wages on the steamboats carrying emigrants from St. Louis up-stream to Nebraska, Iowa and Dakota Territory, and bringing back furs and hides. But at Pittsburgh he was turned back by news of the outbreak of cholera at New Orleans, a disease which had struck us with terror along the canal two or three years before. That summer there were medicine pedlers working on all the boats, selling a kind of stuff they called "thieves' vinegar" which was claimed to be a medicine that was used in the old country somewhere by thieves who robbed the infected houses in safety, protected by this wonderful "vinegar"; and only told how it was made to save their lives when they were about to be hanged. A man offered me a bottle of this at Rochester, for five dollars, and finally came down to fifty cents. This made me think it was of no use, and I did not buy, though just before I had been wondering whether I had not better borrow the money of Captain Sproule; so I saved my money, which was getting to be a habit of mine.

California, the Rockies, the fur-trade, the Ohio Valley, the new cities up the Lakes and the new farms in the woods back of them, and some few tales of the prairies—all these voices of the West kept calling us more loudly and plainly every year, and every year I grew stronger and more confident of myself.

The third year I had made up my mind that I would get work on a passenger boat so as to be able to see and talk with more people who were going up and down the Lakes and the canal. I went from one to another as I met folks who were coming back from the West, and asked every one if he had known a man out west named John Rucker; but, though I found traces of two or three Ruckers in the course of the three years, it did not take long in each case to find out that it was not the man I hated so, and so much wanted to find. People used to point me out as the boy who was trying to find a man named Rucker; and two or three came to me and told me of men they had met who might be my man. I became known to many who traveled the canal as being engaged in some mysterious quest. I suppose I had an anxious and rather strange expression as I made my inquiries.

It took me two years to make up my mind to change to a passenger boat, so slow was I to alter my way of doing things. I have always been that way. My wife read Knickerbocker's History of New York after the children were grown up and she had more time for reading, and always told the children that she was positive their father must be descended from that ancient Dutchman[4] who took thirteen months to look the ground over before he began to put up that well-known church in Rotterdam of which he was the builder. After smoking over it to the tune of three hundred pounds of Virginia tobacco, after knocking his head—to jar his ideas loose, maybe—and breaking his pipe against every church in Holland and parts of France and Germany; after looking at the site of his church from every point of view—from land, from water, and from the air which he went up into by climbing other towers; this good old Dutch contractor and builder pulled off his coat and five pairs of breeches, and laid the corner-stone of the church. I think that this delay was a credit to him. Better be slow than sorry. The church was, according to my wife, a very good one; and if the man had jumped into the job on the first day of his contract it might have been a very bad one. So, when I used to take a good deal of time to turn myself before beginning any job, and my wife would say to one of the boys: "Just wait! He'll start to build that church after a while!" I always took it as a compliment. Finally I always did the thing, if after long study it seemed the right thing to do, or if some one else had not done it in the meantime; just as I finally told Captain Sproule that I expected to work on a passenger boat the next summer, and was told by him that he had sold his boat to a company, and was to be a passenger-boat captain himself the next summer; and would sign me on if I wanted to stay with him—which I did.

[4] Irving's impersonation of Homer must have nodded when he named this safe, sane and staunch worthy Hermanus Van Clattercop.—G.v.d.M.


I was getting pretty stocky now, and no longer feared anything I was likely to meet. I was well-known to the general run of canallers, and had very little fighting to do; once in a while a fellow would pick a fight with me because of some spite, frequently because I refused to drink with him, or because he was egged on to do it; and this year I was licked by three toughs in Batavia. They left me senseless because I would not say "enough." I was getting a good deal of reputation as a wrestler. I liked wrestling better than fighting; and though a smallish man always, like my fellow Iowan Farmer Burns, I have seldom found my master at this game. It is much more a matter of sleight than strength. A man must be cautious, wary, cool, his muscles always ready, as quick as a flash to meet any strain; but the main source of my success seemed to be my ability to use all the strength in every muscle of my body at any given instant, so as to overpower a much stronger opponent by pouring out on him so much power in a single burst of force that he was carried away and crushed. I have thrown over my head and to a distance of ten feet men seventy-five pounds heavier than I was. This is the only thing I ever did so well that I never met any one who could beat me.

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