Part 2 out of 4
garden beds. Alas, yes! There is no light without its shadow, no
joy without its sorrow tagging after. It isn't all marbles and play
in the gladsome springtide. Bub has not only to spade up the garden
- there is some sense in that - but he has to dig up the flower
beds, and help his mother set out her footy, trifling plants.
The robins have come back, our robins that nest each spring in the
old seek-no-further. To the boy grunting over the spading-fork
presents himself Cock Robin. "How about it? Hey? All right? Hey?"
he seems to ask, cocking his head, and flipping out the curt
inquiries with tail-jerks. Glad of any excuse to stop work, the
boy stands statue-still, while Mr. Robin drags from the upturned
clods the long, elastic fish-worms, and then with a brief "Chip!"
flashes out of sight. Be right still now. Don't move. Here he
comes again, and his wife with him. They fly down, he all eager
and alert to wait upon her, she whining and scolding. She doesn't
think it's much of a place for worms. And there's that boy yonder.
He's up to some devilment or other, she just knows. She oughtn't
to have come away and left those eggs. They'll get cold now, she
just knows they will. Anything might happen to them when she 's
away, and then he 'll be to blame, for he coaxed her. He knows she
told him she didn't want to come. But he would have it. For half
a cent she'd go back right now. And, Heavens above! Is he going
to be all 'day picking up a few little worms?
She cannot finish her sentences for her gulps, for he is tamping
down in her insides the reluctant angleworms that do not want to
die, two or three writhing in his bill at once, until he looks like
Jove's eagle with its mouth full of thunderbolts. And all the time
he is chip-chipping and flirting his tail, and saying: "How's that?
All right? Hey? Here's another. How's that? All right? Hey?
Open now. Like that? Here's one.
Oh, a beaut! Here's two fat ones? Great? Hey? Here y' go. Touch
the spot? Hey? More? Sure Mike. Lots of 'em. Wide now. Boss.
Hey? Wait a second - yes, honey. In a second. . . . I got him.
Here's the kind you like. Oh, yes, do. Do take one more. Oh, you
"D' ye think I'm made o' rubber?" she snaps at him. "I know I'll
have indigestion, and you'll be to bla - Mercy land! Them eggs!"
and she gathers up her skirts and flits. He escorts her gallantly,
but returns to pick a few for himself, and to cock his head
knowingly at the boy, as much as to say: "Man of family, by Ned.
Or - or soon will be. Oh, yes, any minute now, any minute."
And if I remember rightly, he even winks at the boy with a wink whose
full significance the boy does not learn till many years after when
it dawns upon him that it meant: "You got to make allowances for 'em.
Especially at such a time. All upset, you know, and worried. Oh,
yes. You got to; you got to make allowances for 'em."
Day by day the air grows balmier and softer on the cheek. Out in
the garden, ranks of yellow-green pikes stand stiffly at "Present.
Hump!" and rosettes of the same color crumple through the warm soil,
unconsciously preparing for a soul tragedy. For an evening will
come when a covered dish will be upon the supper-table, and when
the cover is taken off, a subtle fragrance will betray, if the sense
of sight do not, that the chopped-up lettuces and onions are in a
marsh of cider vinegar, demanding to be eaten. And your big sister
will squall out in comic distress: "Oh, ma! You are too mean for
anything! Why did you have 'em tonight? I told you Mr. Dellabaugh
was going to call, and you know how I love spring onions! Well, I
don't care. I'm just going to, anyhow."
Things come with such a rush now, it is hard to tell what happens
in its proper order. The apple-trees blossom out like pop-corn
over the hot coals. The Japan quince repeats its farfamed imitation
of the Burning Bush of Moses; the flowering currants are strung with
knobs of vivid yellow fringe; the dead grass from the front yard,
the sticks and stalks and old tomato vines, the bits of rag and the
old bones that Guess has gnawed upon are burning in the alley, and
the tormented smoke is darting this way and that, trying to get out
from under the wind that seeks to flatten it to the ground. All
this is spring, and - and yet it isn't. The word is not yet spoken
that sets us free to live the outdoor life; we are yet prisoners and
captives of the house.
But, one day in school, the heat that yesterday was nice and cozy
becomes too dry and baking for endurance. The young ones come in
from recess red, not with the brilliant glow of winter, but a sort
of scalded red. They juke their heads forward to escape their
collars' moist embrace; they reach their hands back of them to pull
their clinging winter underwear away. They fan themselves with
joggerfies, and puff out: "Phew!" and look pleadingly at the shut
windows. One boy, bolder than his fellows, moans with a suffering
lament: "Miss Daniels, cain't we have the windows open? It's awful
hot!" Frightful dangers lurk in draughts. Fresh air will kill
folks. So, not until the afternoon is the prayer answered. Then
the outer world, so long excluded, enters once more the school-room
life. The mellifluous crowing of distant roosters, the rhythmic
creaking of a thirsty pump, the rumble of a loaded wagon, the
clinking of hammers at the blacksmith shop, the whistle of No. 3
away below town, all blend together in the soft spring air into one
Winter's alert activity is gone. Who cares for grades and standings
now? The girls, that always are so smart, gape lazily, and stare
at vacancy wishing . . . . They don't know what they wish, but if
He had a lot of money, why, then they could help the poor, and all
like that, and have a new dress every day.
James Sackett - his real name is Jim Bag, but teacher calls him
James Sackett - has his face set toward: "A farmer sold 16 2-3 bu.
wheat for 66 7-8 c. per bu.; 19 2-9 bu. oats for," etc., etc., but
his soul is far away in Cummins's woods, where there is a robbers'
cave that he, and Chuck Higgins, and Bunt Rogers, and Turkey-egg
McLaughlin are going to dig Saturday afternoons when the chores
are done. They are going to - Here Miss Daniels should slip up
behind him and snap his ear, but she, too, is far away in spirit.
Her beau is coming after supper to take her buggy-riding. She
wonders. . . . She wonders. . . . Will she have to teach again next
fall? She wonders. . . .
Wait. Wait but a moment. A subtle change is coming.
The rim of the revolving year has a brighter and a darker half, a
joyous and a somber half, Autumnal splendors cannot cheer the
melancholy that we feel when summer goes from us, but when summer
comes again the heart leaps up in glee to meet it. Wait but a
moment now. Wait.
The distant woodland swims in an amethystine haze. A long and
fluting note, honey-sweet as it were blown upon a bottle, comes to
us from far. It is the turtle-dove. The blood beats in our ears.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
So gentle it can scarce be felt, a waft of air blows over us, the
first sweet breath of summer. A veil of faint and subtle perfume
drifts around us. The vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
And evermore as its enchantment is cast about us we are as once we
were when first we came beneath its spell; we are by the smokehouse
at the old home place; we stand in shoes whose copper toes wink and
glitter in the sunlight, a gingham apron sways in the soft breeze,
and on the green, upspringing turf dances the shadow of a tasseled
cap. Life was all before us then. Please God, it is not all behind
us now. Please God, our best and wisest days are yet to come the
days when we shall do the work that is worthy of us. Dear one,
mother of my children here and Yonder - and Yonder - the best and
wisest days are yet to come. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come
It is agreed by all, I think, that the two happiest periods in a
man's life are his boyhood and about ten years from now. We are
exactly in the position described in the hymn:
"Lo! On a narrow neck of land
'Twixt two unbounded seas we stand,
And cast a wishful eye."*
*[I am told, on good authority, that this last line of the three
belongs to another hymn. As it is just what I want to say, I'm
going to let it stand as it is.]
If I remember right, the hymn went to the tune of "Ariel," and I can
see John Snodgrass, the precentor, sneaking a furtive C from his
pitch-pipe, finding E flat and then sol, and standing up to lead the
singing, paddling the air gently with: Down, left, sing. Well, no
matter about that now. What I am trying to get at, is that we have
all a lost Eden in the past and a Paradise Regained in the future.
'Twixt two unbounded seas of happiness we stand on the narrow and
arid sand-spit of the present and cast a wishful eye. In hot weather
particularly the wishful eye, when directed toward the lost Eden of
boyhood, lights on and lingers near the Old Swimming-hole.
I suppose boys do grow up into a reasonable enjoyment of their
faculties in big seaside cities and on inland farms where there is
no accessible body of water larger than a wash-tub, but I prefer to
believe that the majority of our adult male population in youth went
in swimming in the river up above the dam, where the big sycamore
spread out its roots a-purpose for them to climb out on without
muddying their feet. Some, I suppose, went in at the Copperas Banks
below town, where the current had dug a hole that was "over head and
hands," but that was pretty far and almost too handy for the boys
from across the tracks.
The wash-tub fellows will have to be left out of it entirely. It
was an inferior, low-grade Eden they had anyhow, and if they lost it,
why, they 're not out very much that I can see. And I rather pity
the boys that lived by the sea. They had a good time in their way,
I suppose, with sailboats and things, but the ocean is a poor excuse
for a swimming-hole. They say salt-water is easier to swim in; kind
of bears you up more. Maybe so, but I never could see it; and even
so, if it does, that slight advantage is more than made up for by
the manifold disadvantages entailed. First place, there's the tide
to figure on. If it was high tide last Wednesday at half-past ten
in the morning, what time will it be high tide today? A boy can't
always go when he wants to, and it is no fun to trudge away down to
the beach only to find half a mile of soft, gawmy mud between him
and the water. And he can't go in wherever it is deep enough and
nobody lives near. People own the beach away out under water, and
where he is allowed to go in may be a perfect submarine jungle of
eel-grass or bottomed with millions of razor-edged barnacles that
rip the soles of his feet into bleeding rags. Then, too, when one
swims, more or less water gets into one's nose and mouth. River-water
may not be exactly what a fastidious person would choose to drink
habitually, but there is this in its favor as compared with sea-water:
it will stay down after it is swallowed; also, it doesn't gum up your
hair; also, if you want to take a cake of soap with you, all you have
to look out for is that you don't lose the soap. Nobody tries to
use toilet soap in sea-water more than once.
And surf-bathing! If there is a bigger swindle than surf-bathing,
the United States Postal authorities haven't heard of it yet. It is
all very well for the women. They can hang on to the ropes and
squeal at the big waves and have a perfectly lovely time. Some of
the really daring ones crouch down till they actually get their
shoulder-blades wet. You have to see that for yourself to believe
it, but it is as true as I am sitting here. They do so - some of
them. But good land! There's no swimming in surf-bathing, no fun
for a man. The water is all bouncing up and down. One second it
is over head and hands, and the next second it is about to your
knees, with a malicious undertow tickling your feet and tugging at
your ankles; and growling: "Aw, you think you're some, don't you?
Yes. Well, for half a cent wouldn't take you out and drown you,." And
I don't like the looks of that boat patrolling up and down between
the ropes and the raft. It is too suggestive, too like the skeleton
at the banquet, too blunt a reminder that maybe what the undertow
growls is not all a bluff.
Another drawback to the ocean as a swimming-hole is that the
distances are all wrong. If you want to go to the other side of the
"crick" you must take a steamboat. There is no such thing as
bundling up your clothes and holding them out of water with one hand
while you swim with the other, perhaps dropping your knife or
necktie in transit. I have never been on the other side of the
"crick" even on a steamboat, but I am pretty sure that there are no
yellow-hammers' nests over there or watermelon patches. There were
above the dam. At the seaside they give you as an objective point
a raft, anchored at what seems only a little distance from where it
gets deep enough to swim in, but which turns out to be a mighty far
ways when the water bounces so. When you get there, blowing like
a quarter-horse and weighing nine tons as you lift yourself out,
there is nothing to do but let your feet hang over while you get
rested enough to swim back. It wasn't like that above the dam.
I tell you the ocean is altogether too big. Some profess to admire
it on that account, but it is my belief that they do it to be in
style. I admit that on a bright, blowy day, when you can sit and
watch the shining sails far out on the horizon's rim, it does look
right nice, but I account for it in this way: it puts you in mind
of some of these expensive oil paintings, and that makes you think
it is kind of high class. And another thing: It recalls the picture
in the joggerfy that proved the earth was round because the hull of
a ship disappears before the sails, as it would if the ship was
going over a hill. You sweep your eye along where the sky and water
meet, and it seems you can note the curvature of the earth. Maybe
it is that, and maybe it is all in your own eye. I am not saying.
There are good points, too, about the sea on a clear night when the
moon is full; or when there is no moon, and the phosphorescence in
the water shows, as if mermaids' children were playing with
blue-tipped matches. I like to see it when a gale is blowing, and
the white caps race. Yes, and when it is a flat calm, with here and
there a tiny cat's-paw crinkling the water into gray-green crepe.
And also when - but there! it is no use cataloguing all kinds of
weather and all hours of the day and night. What I don't approve of
in the ocean is its everlasting bigness. It is so discouraging. It
makes a body seem so no-account and insignificant. You come away
feeling meaner than a sheep-killing dog. "Oh, what's the use?"
you say to yourself. "What's the use of my breaking my neck to do
anything or be anybody? Before I was born - before History began
- before any foot of being that could be called a man trod these
sands, the waves beat thus the pulse of time. When I am gone - when
all that man has made, that seems so firm and everlasting, shall
have crumbled into the earth, whence it sprang, this wave, so
momentary and so eternal, shall still surge up the slanting beach,
and trail its lacy mantle in retreat . . . . O spare me a little,
that I may recover my strength before I go hence, and be no more
And that's no way for a man to feel. He ought to be confident and
sure of himself. If he hasn't yet done all that he laid out to do,
he should feel that it is in him to do it, and that he will before
the time comes for him to go, and that when it is done it shall be
It is the ocean's everlasting bigness that makes it so cold to swim
in. At the seaside bathing pavilions they have a blackboard whereon
they chalk up "70" or "72" or whatever they think folks will like.
They never say in so many words that a man went down into the water
and held a thermometer in it long enough to get the true temperature,
but they lead you to believe it. All I have to say is that they
must have very optimistic thermometers. I just wish some of these
poor little seashore boys could have a chance to try the Old
Swimming-hole up above the dam. Certainly along about early
going-barefoot time the water is a little cool, but you take it in
the middle of August - ah, I tell you! When you come out of the
water then you don't have to run up and down to get your blood in
circulation or pile the warm sand on yourself or hunt for the
steam-room. Only thing is, if you stay in all day, as you want to,
it thins your blood, and you get the "fever 'n' ager." But you can
stay in as long as you want to, that 's the point, without your
lips turning the color of a chicken's gizzard.
And there's this about the Old Swimming-hole, or there was in my
day: There were no women and girls fussing around aid squalling:
"Now, you stop splashin' water on me! Quit it now! Quee-yut!"
I don't think t looks right for women folks to have anything to do
with water in large quantities. On a sail-boat, now, they are the
very - but perhaps we had better not go into that. At a picnic,
indeed, trey used to take off their shoes and stockings and paddle
their feet in the water, but that was as much as ever they did.
They never thought of going in swimming. Even at the seashore, now
when Woman is so emancipated, they go bathing not swimming. I don't
like to see a woman swim any more than I like to see a woman smoke
a cigar. And for the same reason. It is more fun than she is
entitled to. A woman's place is home minding the baby, and cooking
the meals. Nothing would do her but she had to be born a woman,
she had the same liberty of choice that we men had. Very well, I
say, let her take the consequencies.
It is only natural, then, that she should refuse to let her boys go
swimming. She pays off her grudge that way. Just because she can't
go herself she is bound the they shan't either. She says they will
get drowned, but we know about that. It is only an excuse to keep
them from having a little fun. She has to say something. They
won't get drowned. Why, the idea! They haven't the least intention
of any such thing.
"Well, but Robbie, supposing you couldn't help yourself?"
"How couldn't help myself?"
"Why, get the cramps. Suppose you got the cramps, then what?"
"Aw, pshaw! Cramps nothin'! They hain't no sich of a thing. And,
anyhow, if I did get 'em, wouldn't jist kick 'em right out. This way."
"Now, Robbie, you know you did have a terrible cramp in your foot
just only the other night. Don't you remember?"
"Aw, that! That ain't nothin'. That ain't the cramps that drownds
people. Didn't I tell you wouldn't fist kick it right out? That's what
they all do when they git the cramps. But they don't nobody git 'em
now no more."
"I don't want you to go in the water and get drowned. You know you
This is too much. Oh, this is rank injustice! Worse yet, it is bad
"How 'm I ever goin' to learn if you don't let me go to learn?"
"Well, you can't go, and that's the end of it."
Isn't that just like a woman? Perfectly unreasonable! Dear! dear!
"Now, Ma, listen here. S'posin' we was all goin' some place on a
steamboat, me and you and Pa and the baby and all of us, and - "
"That won't ever happen, I guess."
"CAN'T YOU LET ME TELL YOU? And s'posin' the boat was to sink, and
I could swim and save you from drown - "
"You're not going swimming, and that's all there is about it."
"Other boys' mas lets them go. I don't see why I can't go."
"Ma, won't you let me go? I won't get drowned, hope to die if I do.
Ma, won't you let me go? Ma! Ma-a! - Maw-ah!"
"Stop yelling at me that way. Good land! Do you think I'm deaf?"
"Won't you let me go? Please, won't you let - "
"No, I won't. I told you I wouldn't, and I mean it. You might as
well make up your mind to stay at home, for you're - not - going.
Hush up now. This instant, sir! Robbie, do you hear me? Stop
crying. Great baby! wouldn't be ashamed to cry that way, as big as you
Mean old Ma! Guess she'd cry too'f she could see the other kids that
waited for him to go and ask her - if she could see them moving off,
tired of waiting. They're 'most up to Lincoln Avenue.
"Oooooooooooo-hoo - hoo - hoo - hoohoooooooooo-ah! I wanna gow-ooooo."
"Did you hoe that corn your father told you to?"
"Oooooooooooo-hoo-hoo-hoo-oooooooo! I wanna gow-ooooooo."
"Robbie! Did you hoe that corn?"
The last boy, the one with the stone-bruise on his heel, limps around
the corner. They have all the fun. His ma won't let him go barefoot
because it spreads his feet.
"Robbie! Answer me."
"Did you hoe that corn your father told you to?"
"All of it? Did you hoe all of it?"
" Prett' near all of it." Well begun is half done. One hill is a
good beginning, and half done is pretty nearly all.
"Go and finish it."
"I will if you'll let me go swimmin'."
It flashes upon him that even now by running he can catch up with
the other fellows. He can finishing the hoeing when he gets back.
"You'll do it anyhow, and you're not going swimming. Now, that's
the end of it. You march out to that garden this minute, or I'll
take a stick to you. And don't let me hear another whimper out of
you. Robbie! Come back here and shut that door properly. I shall
tell your father how you have acted. wouldn't be ashamed - I'd be
ashamed to show temper that way."
It says for children to obey their parents, but if more boys minded
their mothers there would be fewer able to swim. While I shrink
with horror from even seeming to encourage dropping the hoe when the
sewing-machine gets to going good, by its thunderous spinning
throwing up an impervious wall of sound to conceal retreat into the
back alley, across the street, up the alley back of Alexander's, and
so on up to Fountain Avenue in time to catch up with the gang, still
I regard swimming as an exercise of the extremest value in the
development of the growing boy. It builds up every muscle. It is
particularly beneficial to the lungs. To have a good pair of lungs
is the same thing as having a good constitution. It is nice to have
a healthy boy, and it is nice to have an obedient boy, but if one
must choose which he will have - that's a very difficult question.
I think it should be left to the casuists. Nevertheless, now is the
boy's only chance to grow. He will have abundant opportunities to
In the last analysis there are two ways of acquiring the art of
swimming, the sudden way and the slow way. I have never personally
known anybody that learned in the sudden way, but I have heard enough
about it to describe it. It it's the quickest known method. One day
the boy its among the gibbering white monkeys at the river's edge,
content to splash in the water that comes but half way to his
crouching knees. The next day he swims with the big boys as bold as
any of them. In the meantime his daddy has taken him out in a boat,
out where it is deep - Oh! Ain't it deep there? - and thrown him
overboard. The boat is kept far enough away to be out of the boy's
reach and yet near enough to be right there in case anything happens.
(I like that "in case anything happens." It sounds so cheerful.)
It being what Aristotle defines as "a ground-hog case," the boy
learns to swim immediately. He has to.
It seems reasonable that he should. But still and all, I don't just
fancy it. Once when a badly scared man grabbed me by the arms in
deep water I had the fear of drowning take hold of my soul, and it
isn't a nice feeling at all. Somehow when I hear folks praising up
this method of teaching a child to swim, I seem to hear the little
fellow's screams that he doesn't want to be thrown into the water.
I can see him clinging to his father for protection, and finding that
heart hard and unpitying. I can see his fingernails whiten with his
clutch on anything that gives a hand-hold. His father strips off
his grip, at first with boisterous laughter, and then with hot anger
at the little fool. He calls him a cry-baby, and slaps his mouth for
him, to stop his noise. The little body sprawls in the air and
strikes with a loud splash, and the child's gargling cry is strangled
by the water whitened by his mad clawings. I can see his head come
up, his eyes bulging, and his face distorted with the awful fear that
is ours by the inheritance of ages. He will sink and come up again,
not three times, but a hundred times. Eventually he will win safe
to shore, panting and trembling, his little heart knocking against
his ribs, it is true, but lord of the water from that time forth.
It is a very fine method, yes . . . but . . . well, if it was
my boy I had just as lief he tarried with the little white monkeys
at the river's edge. Let him squeal and crouch and splash and learn
how to half drown the other fellow by shooting water at him with the
heel of his hand. Let him alone. He will be watching the others
swim. He will edge out a little farther and kick up his heels while
with his hands he holds on the ground. He will edge out a little
farther still and try to keep his feet on the bottom and swim with
his hands. Be patient in his attempt to combine the two methods of
travel. He is not the only one that fears to be one thing or the
other, and regards a mixture of both as the safest way to get along.
No, I cannot say that I wholly approve of the sudden method of
learning to swim. It has the advantange of lumping all the scares
of a lifetime into one and having it over with, and yet I don't
suppose the scare of being thrown into the water by one's daddy is
really greater than being ducked in mid-stream by some hulking,
cackle-voiced big boy. It seems greater though, I suppose, because
a fellow cannot very well relieve his feelings by throwing stones
at his daddy and bawling: "Goldarn you anyhow, you - you big stuff!
I'll get hunk with you, now you see if I don't!" Here would be just
the place to make the little boy tie knots in the big boy's
shirt-sleeves, soak the knots in water, and pound them between stones.
But that is kind of common, I think. They told about it at the
swimming-hole above the dam, but nobody was mean enough to do it.
Maybe they did it down at the Copperas Banks below town. The boys
from across the tracks went there, a race apart, whom we feared, and
who hated us, if the legend chalked up on the fences "DAMB THE
PRODESTANCE," meant anything.
Under the slow method of learning to swim one had leisure to
observe the different fashions - dog-fashion and cow-fashion,
steamboat-fashion, and such. The little kids and beginners swam
dog-fashion, which on that account was considered contemptible. The
fellow was sneered at that screwed up his face as if in a cloud of
suffocating dust, and fought the water with noise and fury, putting
forth enough energy to carry him a mile, and actually going about
two feet if he were headed down stream. Scientific men say that
the use of the limbs, first on one side and then on the other, is
instinctive to all creatures of the monkey tribe. That is the way
they do in an emergency, since that is the way to scramble up among
the tree limbs. I know that it is the easiest way to swim, and the
least effective. When the arms are extended together in the breast
stroke, it is as much superior to dogfashion as man is superior to
the ape. I have always thought that to swim thus with steady and
deliberate arm action, the water parting at the chin and rising just
to the root of the underlip, was the most dignified and manly
attitude the human being could put himself in. Cow-fashion was a
burlesque of this, and the swimmer reared out of water with each
stroke, creating tidal waves. It was thought to be vastly comic.
Steamboat-fashion was where a fellow swam on his back, keeping his
body up by a gentle, secret paddling motion with his hands, while
with his feet he lashed the water into foam, like some river
stern-wheeler. If he could cry: "Hoo! hoo! hoo!" in hoarse falsetto
to mimic the whistle, it was an added charm.
It was a red-headed boy from across the tracks on his good behavior
at the swimming-hole above the dam that I first saw swim
hand-over-hand, or "sailor-fashion" as we called it, rightly or
wrongly, I know not. I can hear now the crisp, staccato little
smack his hand gave the water as he reached forward.
It has ever since been my envy and despair. It is so knowing, so
"sporty." I class it with being able to wear a pink-barred shirt
front with a diamond-cluster pin in it; with having my clothes so
nobby and stylish that one thread more of modishness would be beyond
the human power to endure; with being genuinely fond of horseracing;
with being a first-class poker player, I mean a really first-class
one; with being able to swallow a drink of whisky as if I liked it
instead of having to choke it down with a shudder; with knowing truly
great men like Fitzsimmons, or whoever it is that is great now, so
as to be able to slap him on the back and say: "Why, hello! Bob, old
boy, how are you?" with being delighted with the company of actors,
instead of finding them as thin as tissue-paper - what wouldn't I
give if I could be like that? My life has been a sad one. But I
might find some comfort in it yet if I coin only get that natty
little spat on the water when I lunge forward swimming overhand.
We used to think the Old Swimming-hole was a bully place, but I
know better now. The sycamore leaned well out over the water, and
there was a trapeze on the branch that grew parallel with the shore,
but the water near it was never deep enough to dive into. And that
is another occasion of humiliation. I can't dive worth a cent.
When I go down to the slip behind Fulton Market - they sell fish at
Fulton Market; just follow your nose and you can't miss it - and
see the rows of little white monkeys doing nothing but diving, I
realize that the Old Swimming-hole with all its beauties, its green
leafiness, its clean, long grass to lie upon while drying in the
sun, or to pull out and bite off the tender, chrome-yellow ends,
was but a provincial, country-fake affair. There were no watermelon
rinds there, no broken berry-baskets, no orange peel, no nothing.
All the fish in it were just common live ones. And there was no
diving. But at the real, proper city swimming-place all the little
white monkeys can dive. Each is gibbering and shrieking: "Hey,
Chim-meel Chimmee! Hey, Chim-mee! Chimmee! Hey, CHIM-MEEEE!
How'ss t 'iss?" crossing himself and tipping over head first,
coming up so as to "lay his hair," giving a shaking snort to clear
his nose and mouth of water, regaining the ladder with three
overhand strokes (every one of them with that natty little spat
that I can't get), climbing up to the string-piece and running for
Chimmy, red-eyed, shivering, and dripping, to ask: "How wass Cat?"
And I can't dive for a cent - that is, I can't dive from a great
elevation. I set my teeth and vow I just will dive from ten feet
above the water, and every time it gets down to a poor, picayune
dive off the lowest round of the ladder. I blame my early education
for it. I was taught to be careful about pitching myself head
foremost on rocks and broken bottles. I used to think it was a fine
swimming-hole, and that I was having a grand, good time, well worth
any ordinary licking; but now that I have traveled around and seen
things, I know that it was a poor, provincial, country-jake affair
after all. The first time I swam across and back without "letting
down" it was certainly an immense place, but when I went back there
a year ago last summer - why, pshaw! it wasn't anything at all. It
was a dry summer, I admit, but not as dry as all that. A poor,
pitiful, provincial, two-for-a cent - and yet . . . and yet . . .
And yet I sat there after I had dressed, and mused upon the former
things - the life that was, but never could be again; the Eden
before whose gate was a flaming sword turning every way. The night
was still and moonless. The Milky Way slanted across the dark dome
above. It was far from the street lamps that greened among the
leafy maples in the silent streets. Gushes of air stirred the
fluttering sycamore, and whispered in the tall larches that marched
down the boundary line of the Blymire property. The last group of
swimmers had turned into the road from around the clump of willows
at the end of the pasture. The boy that is always the last one had
nearly caught up with the others, for the velvet pat of his bare
feet in the deep dust was slowing. Their eager chatter softened and
softened, until it blended with the sounds of night that verge on
silence, the fall of a leaf, the up-springing of a trodden tuft of
grass, the sleepy twitter of a dreaming bird, and the shrilling of
locusts patiently turning a creaking wheel. I heard the thump of
hoofs and buggy wheels booming in the covered bridge, and a shudder
came upon me that was not all the chill of falling dew. Again I
was a little boy, standing in a circle of my fellows and staring at
something pale, stretched out upon the ground. Ben Snyder had
dived for It and found It and brought It up and laid It on the long,
clean grass. Some one had said we ought to get a barrel and roll
It on the barrel, but there was none there. And then some one said:
"No, it was against the law to touch anything like That before the
Coroner came." So, though we wished that something might be done,
we were glad the law stepped in and stringently forbade us touching
what our flesh crept to think of touching. No longer existed for
us the boy that had the spy-glass and the "Swiss Family Robinson."
Something cold and terrible had taken his place, something that
could not see, and yet looked upward with unwinking eyes. The
gloom deepened, and the dew began to fall. We could hear the boy
that ran for the doctor whimpering a long way off. We wanted to
go home, and yet we dared not. Something might get us. And we
could not leave That alone in the dark with It's eyes wide open.
The locusts in the grass turned and turned their creaking wheel,
and the wind whispered in the tall larches. We heard the thump of
hoofs and wheels booming in the covered bridge. It was the doctor,
come too late. He put his head down to It's bosom (the cold
trickled down our backs), and then he said it was too late. If we
had known enough, he said, we might have saved him. We slunk away.
It was very lonesome. We kept together, and spoke low. We
stopped to hearken for a moment outside the house where the boy had
lived that had the spy-glass and the 'Swiss Family Robinson." Some
one had told his mother. And then, with a great and terrible fear
within us, we ran each to his own home, swiftly and silently. We
knew now why mother did not want us to go swimming.
But the next afternoon when Chuck Grove whistled in our back alley
and held up two fingers, I dropped the hoe and went with him. It
was bright daylight then, and that is different from the night.
THE FIREMEN'S TOURNAMENT
It isn't only Christmas that comes but once a year and when it
comes it brings good cheer; it's any festival that is worth a hill
of beans, High School Commencement, Fourth of July, Sunday-school
excursion, Election' bonfire, Thanksgiving Day (a nice day and one
whereon you can eat roast turkey till you can't choke down another
bite, and pumpkin-pie, and cranberry sauce. Tell you!) - but about
the best in the whole lot, and something the city folks don't have,
is Firemen's Tournament. That comes once a year, generally about
the time for putting up tomatoes.
The first that most of us know about it is when we see the bills
up, telling how much excursion rates will be to our town from
Ostrander and Mt. Victory, and Wapatomica, and New Berlin,
and Foster's, and Caledonia, and Mechanicsburg - all the towns
around on both the railroads. But before that there was the
Citizens' Committee, and then the Executive Committee, and the
Finance Committee, and the Committee on Press and Publicity, and
Printing and Prizes, and Decorations and Badges, and Music, and
Reception to Firemen, and Reception to Guests - as many committees
as there are nails in the fence from your house to mine. And these
committees come around and tell you that we want to show the folks
that we've got public spirit in our town, some spunk, some git-up
to us. We want our town to contrast favorably with Caledonia where
they had the Tournament last year. We want to put it all over the
Caledonia people (they think they're so smart), and we can do it,
too, if everybody will take a-holt and help. Well, we want all we
can get. We expect a pretty generous offer from you, for one. Man
that has as pretty and tasty got-up store as you have, and does the
business that you do, ought to show his appreciation of the town
and try to help along . . . . Oh, anything you're a mind to give.
'Most anything comes in handy for prizes. But what we principally
need is cash, ready cash. You see, there's a good deal of expense
attached to an enterprise of this character. So many little things
you wouldn't think of, that you've just got to have. But laws!
you'll make it all back and more, too. We cackleate there'll be,
at the very least, ten thousand people in town that day, and it's
just naturally bound to be that some of them will do their trading.
Thank you very much. that's very handsome of you. Good day.
(What are you growling about? Lucky to get five cents out of
The Ladies' Aid of Center Street M. E., has secured the store-room
recently vacated by Rouse & Meyers, and is going to serve a dinner
that day for the benefit of the Carpet Fund of their church and
about time, too, I say. I like to broke my neck there a week ago
last Sunday night, when our minister was away. Caught my foot in a
hole in the carpet, and a little more and wouldn't have gone
headlong. So, it's: "Why, I've been meaning for more than a year,
to call on you, Mrs. -- . Mrs. -- (Let me look at my list. Oh,
yes) Mrs. Cooper, but we've had so much sickness at home - you
know my husband's father is staying with us at present, and he's
been in very poor health all winter -and when it hasn't been
sickness, it's been company. You know how it is. And it seemed
as if I - just - could - not make out to get up your way. What a
pretty little place you have! So cozy! I was just saying to Mrs.
Thorpe here, it was so seldom you saw a really pretty residence
in this part of town. We think that up on the hill, where we
reside, you know, is about the handsomest . . . . Yes, there are a
great many wealthy people live up there. The Quackenbushes are
enormously wealthy. I was saying to Mrs. Quackenbush only the
other day that I thought the hill people were almost too exclusive
. . . . Yes, it is a perfectly lovely day . . . . Er - er -
We're soliciting for the Firemen's Tournament - well, not for the
Tournament exactly, but the Ladies' Aid are going to give a
dinner that day for the Carpet Fund and we thought perhaps you
'd like to help along . . . . Oh, any little thing, a boiled ham or
- . . . Well, we shall want some cake, but we'd druther - or, at
least, rawther - have something more substantial, don't you know,
pie or pickles or jelly, don't you know. And will you bring it
or shall I send Michael with the carriage for it? . . . . Oh,
thank you! If you would. It would be so much appreciated. So
sorry we couldn't make a longer stay, but now that we've found
the way . . . . Yes, that's very true. Well, good-afternoon."
The lady of the house watches them as Michael inquires: "Whur
next, mum?" and bangs the door of the carriage. Then she turns
and says to herself: "Huh!" Mrs. Thorpe is that instant observing:
"Did you notice that crayon enlargement she had hanging up?
Wouldn't it kill you?" To which the other lady responds: "Well,
between you and I, Mrs. Thorpe, if I couldn't have a real
hand-painted picture I wouldn't have nothing at all."
The lady of the house bakes a cake. She'll show them a thing or
two in the cake line. And while it is in the oven what does that
little dev -, that provoking Freddie, do but see if he can't jump
across the kitchen in two jumps. Fall? What cake wouldn't fall?
Of course it falls. But it is too late now to bake another, and if
they don't like it, they know what they can do. She doesn't know
that she's under any obligation to them.
Mrs. John Van Meter hears Freddie say off the little speech his
mother taught him - Oh, you may be sure she'd be there as large as
life, taking charge of everything, just as if she had been one of
the workers, when, to my certain knowledge, she hadn't been to
one of the committee meetings, not a one. I declare I don't know
what Mr. Craddock is thinking of to let her boss every body around
the way she does - and she smiles and says: "It's all right. It's
just lovely. Tell your mamma Mrs. Van Meter is ever and ever so
much obliged to her. Isn't he a dear boy?" And when he is gone,
she says: "What are we ever going to do with all this cake? It
seems as if everybody has sent cake. And whatever possessed that
woman to attempt a cake, I - can't imagine. Ts! ts! ts! H-well.
Oh, put it somewhere. Maybe we can work it off on the country
people. Mrs. Filkins, your coffee smells PERfectly grand!
Perfectly grand. Do you think we'll have spoons enough?"
The Tournament prizes are exhibited in the windows of the leading
furniture emporium at the corner of Main and Center, each with a
card attached bearing the name of the donor in distinctly legible
characters. Old man Hagerman has been mowing all the rag-weed and
cuckle-burrs along the line of march, and the lawns have had an
unusual amount of shaving and sprinkling. Out near the end of
Center Street, the grandstand has been going up, tiers of seats
rising from each curb line. The street has been rolled and
sprinkled and scraped until it is in fine condition for a
running track. Why don't you pick up that pebble and throw it
over into the lot? Suppose some runner should slip on that stone
and fall and hurt himself, you'd be to blame.
The day before the Tournament, they hang the banner:
"WELCOME VOLUNTEER FIREMEN"
from Case's drugstore across to the Furniture Emporium. Along
the line of march you may see the man of the house up on a
step-ladder against the front porch, with his hands full of drapery
and his mouth full of tacks. His wife is backing toward the geranium
bed to get a good view, cocking her head on one side.
" How 'v vif?" he asks as well as he can for the tacks.
"Little higher. Oh, not so much. Down a little. Whope! that's
. . . . Oh, plague take the firemen! Just look at that! Mercy!
The man of the house can't turn his head.
"Oh, I wouldn't have had it happen for I don't know what! Ts! Ts!
Ts! That lovely silverleaf geranium that Mrs. Pritchard give me
a slip of. Broke right off! Oh, my! My! My! Do you s'pose it'd
grow if I was to stick it into the ground just as it is with all them
buds on it?"
The man of the house lets one end of the drapery go and empties his
mouth of tacks into his disengaged hand.
"I don't know. Ow! jabbed right into my gum! But I can tell you
this: If you think I'm going to stick up on this ladder all morning
while you carry on about some fool old geranium that you can just
as well fuss with when I'm gone, why, you're mighty much mistaken."
"Well, you needn't take my head off. I feel awful about that
"Well, why don't you look where you're going? Is this right?"
"Yes, I told you. I wish now I'd done it myself. I can't ask you
to do a thing about the house but there's a row raised right away."
People that don't want to go to the trouble of tacking up these
alphabet flags on the edge of the veranda eaves (it takes fourteen
of them to spell "WELCOME FIREMEN"), say they think a handsome flag
-- a really handsome one, not one of these twenty-five centers -
is as pretty and rich looking a decoration as a body can put up.
Tents are raised in the vacant lots along Center Street, and
counters knocked together for the sale of ice-cold lemonade, lemo,
lemo, lemo, made in the shade, with a spade, by an old maid, lemo,
lemo. Here y' are now, gents, gitch nice cool drink, on'y five a
glass. There is even the hook for the ice-cream candy man to throw
the taffy over when he pulls it. I like to watch him. It makes me
dribble at the mouth to think about it.
The man that sells the squawking toys and the rubber balloons
on sticks is in town. All he can say is:," Fi' cent." He will blow
up the balloons tomorrow morning. The men with the black-velvet
covered shields, all stuck full of "souvenirs," are here, and the
men with the little canes. I guess we'll have a big crowd if it
doesn't rain. What does the paper say about the weather?
The boys have been playing a new game for some time past, but
it is only this evening that you notice it. The way of it is this:
You take an express-wagon - it has to have real wheels: these
sawed-out wheels are too baby - and you tie a long rope to the
tongue and fix loops on the rope, so that the boys can put each a
loop over his shoulder. (You want a good many boys.) And you
get big, long, thick pieces of rag and you take and tie them so as
to make a big, big, long piece, about as long as from here to 'way
over there. And you lay this in the wagon, kind of in folds like.
Then you go up to where they water the horses and two of you go
at the back end of the wagon and the rest put the loops over their
shoulders, and one boy says, "Are you ready ?" and he has a
Fourth of July pistol and he shoots off a cap. And when you hear
that, you run like the dickens and the two boys behind the wagon
let out the hose (the big, long, thick piece of rag) and fix it so it
lies about straight on the ground. And when you have run as far
as the hose will reach, the boy with the Fourth of July pistol says:
"Twenty-eight and two-fifths," and that's the game. And the kids
don't like for big folks to stand and watch them, because they
always make fun so.
In other towns they have Boys' Companies organized strictly for
Tournament purposes. There was talk of having one here. Mat.
King, the assistant chief, was all for having one so that we could
compete in what he calls "the juveline contests," but it fell
Along about sun-up you hear the big farm-wagons clattering into
town, chairs in the wagon bed, and Paw, and Maw, and Mary
Elizabeth, and Martin Luther, and all the family, clean down to
Teedy, the baby. He's named after Theodore Roosevelt, and they
have the letter home now, framed and hanging up over the organ.
But for all the wagon is so full, there is room for a big basket
covered with a red-ended towel. (Seems to me I smell fried chicken,
I just thought I'dt see if you'd bite. You've formed your notions
of country people from "The Old Homestead" and these by-gosh-Mirandy
novels. The real farmers, nowadays, drive into town in double-seated
carriages with matched bays, curried so that you can see to comb
your hair in their glossy sides. The single rigs sparkle in the sun,
conveying young men and young women of such clean-cut, high-bred
features as to make us wonder. And yet I don't know why we should
wonder, either. They all come from good old stock. The young
fellows run a little too strongly to patent-leather shoes and their
horses are almost too skittish for my liking, but the girls are all
right. If their clothes set better than you thought they would, why,
you must remember that they subscribe for the very same fashion
magazines that you do, and there is such a thing as a mail-order
business in this country, even if you aren't aware of it.
All the little boys in town are out with their baskets chanting sadly:
PEANUTS? FIVE A BAG
You 'll hear that all day long.
But there isn't much going on before the excursion trains come in.
Then things begin to hop. The grand marshal and his aides gallop
through the streets as if they were going for the doctor. The
trains of ten and fifteen coaches pile up in the railroad yard,
and the yardmaster nearly goes out of his mind. People are so
anxious to get out of the cars, in which they have been packed
and jammed for hours, that they don't mind a little thing like
being run over by a switching engine. Every platform is just one
solid chunk of summer hats and babies and red shirts and alto horns.
They have been nearly five hours coming fifty miles. Stopped at
every station and sidetracked for all the regular trains. Such a
time! Lots of fun, though. The fellows got out and pulled flowers,
and seed cucumbers, and things and threw them at folks. You never
saw such cut-ups as they are. Pretty good singers, too. Good
part of the way, they sung "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean," and
"How Can I Bear to Leave Thee," nice and slow, you know, a good
deal of tenor and not much bass, and plenty of these" minor chords."
(Yes, I know, some people call them "barber-shop chords," but I
think "minor" is a nicer name.)
The band played "Hiawatha" eighteen times. One old fellow got
on at Huntsville, and he says, to Joe Bangs (that's the leader),
"Shay," he says, "play 'Turkey in er Straw,' won't you? Aw, go on.
Play it. Thass goof feller. Go on."
Joe, he never heard of the tune. Don't you know it? Goes like this:
. . . No, that ain't it. That's "Gray Eagle." Funny, I can't
think how that tune starts. Well, no matter. They played an
arrangement that had "Old Zip Coon" in it.
"Naw," he says, "tha' ain' it 't all. Go on. Play it. Play 'Turkey
in er Straw.' Ah, ye don't know it. Thass reason. Betch don' know
it. Don' know 'Turkey in er Straw!' Ho! Caw seff ml-m' sishn.
Ho! You - you - you ain' no m'sishn. You - you you're zis bluff."
Only about half-past eight, too. Think of that! So early in the
morning. Ah me! That's one of the sad features of such an occasion.
If there is anything more magnificent than a firemen's parade, I
don't know what it is. The varnished woodwork on the apparatus
looks as if it had just come out of the shop and every bit of bright
work glitters fit to strike you blind. You take, now, a nice
hose-reel painted white and striped into panels with a fine red
line, every other panel fruits and flowers, and every other panel a
piece of looking-glass shaped like a cut of pie and; I tell you, it
looks gay. That's what it does. It looks gay. Some of the
hook-and-ladder trucks are just one mass of golden-rod and hydrangeas,
and some of them are all fixed with this red-white-and-blue paper
rope, sort of chenille effect, or more like a feather boa. Everybody
has on white cotton gloves, and those entitled to carry speaking
trumpets have bouquets in the bells of them, salvias, and golden-rod,
and nasturtiums, and marigolds, and all such.
The Wapatomicas always have a dog up on top of their wagon. First
off, you would think it didn't help out much, it is such a forlorn
looking little fice; but this dog, I want you to know, waked up the
folks late one night, 'way 'long about ten or eleven o'clock, barking
at a fire. Saved the town, as you might say. And after that, the
fire-boys took him for a mascot. I guess he didn't belong to anybody
before. And another wagon has a chair on it, and in that chair the
cutest little girl you almost eyer saw, hair all frizzed at the ends,
and a wide blue sash and her white frock starched as stiff as a
milk-pail. Everybody says: "Aw, ain't she just too sweet ?"
The Caledonias have tried to make quite a splurge this year. They
walk four abreast, with their arms locked, and their white gloves on
each other's shoulders. Their truck has on it what they call "an
allegorical figure." There is a kind of a business (looks to me
like it is the axle and wheels of a toy wagon, stood up on end and
covered with white paper muslin and a string tied around the middle)
that is supposed to be an hour-glass. Then there is a scythe covered
with cotton batting, and then a man in a bath-robe (I saw the figure
of the goods when the wind blew it open) also covered with white
cotton batting. The man has a wig and beard of wicking. First, I
thought it was Santa Claus, and then I saw the scythe and knew it
must be old Father Time. The hour-glass puzzled me no little though.
The man has cotton batting wings. One of them is a little wabbly,
but what can you expect from Caledonia? They're always trying to
butt the bull off the bridge. They're jealous of our town. Oh,
they stooped to all the mean, underhanded tricks you ever heard of
to get the canning factory to go to their place instead of here.
But we know a thing or two ourselves. Yes, we got the canning
factory, all right, all right.
Did you notice how neat and trim our boys looked? None of this
flub-dub of scarlet shirts with a big white monogram on the breast,
or these fawn-colored suits with querlycues of braid all over. They
spot very easily. And did you notice how the Caledonias had long,
lean men walking with short, fat men, and nobody keeping step? Our
boys were all carefully graded and matched, and their dark blue
uniforms with just the neat nickel badge, I think, presented the
best appearance of all. And I'll tell you another thing. They'll
put it all over the Caledonias this afternoon. They won't let 'em
get a smell.
Don't you like the fife-and-drum corps? The fifes set my teeth
on edge, but I could follow the drums all day with their:
Tucket a brum, brum brum-brum, tuck-all de brum
Tucket a brum-brum, tuck-all de brum-brum-brum
Tucket a blip-blip-blip-blip, tucka tuck-all de brum,
Tucket a brum-brum, tuck-all de brum-brum-brum!
Part of the time the drummers click their sticks together instead
of hitting the drum-head. That's what makes it sound so nice. I
wish I could play the snare-drum.
In the Mechanicsburg band is a boy about fourteen years old, a
muscular, sturdy chunk of a lad. He walks with his heels down,
his calves bulged out behind, his head up, and the regular, proper
swagger of a bandsman. He hasn't any uniform, but he's all right.
He plays a solo B part, and he and the other solo cornet spell each
other. On the repeat of every strain my boy rests, and rubs his
lips with his forefinger, while he looks at the populace with
bright, expectant eyes. When he blows, he scowls, and brings the
cushion of muscle on the point of his chin clear up to his under
lip, and he draws his breath through the corners of his mouth.
He's the real thing. Bright boy, too, I judge, the kind that has
a quick answer for everybody, like: "Aw, go chase yerself," or
"Go on, yeh big stiff." Watch him on the countermarch when they
pass the Radnor cornet band. The Radnors broke up the Mechanicsburg
band last year and they're going to try to do it again this year.
The musicians blow themselves the color of a huckleberry, and the
drummers grit their teeth, and try to pound holes in their
sheep-skins. Aha! It's the Radnor band got rattled in its time
this year. Went all to pieces. The boy snatches, a rest. "Yah!"
he squawks. "Didge ever get left?" and picks up the tune again. I
wish I could play the cornet. Wouldn't play solo B or I wouldn't
play any - Ooooooooh! Did you see that? Took that stick by the
other end from the knob and slung it away, 'way up in the air,
whirling like sixty, and caught it when it came down and never
missed a step. Look at him juggle it from hand to hand, over his
shoulder, and behind his back, and under one leg, whirling so fast
that you can hardly see it, and all in perfect step. Whope! I
thought he was going to drop it that time but he didn't. That's
something you don't see in the cities. There, all the drum-major
does with his stick is just to point it the way the band is to go.
I like our fashion the best. Geeminentally! Look at that! I bet
it went up in the air forty feet if it went an inch. I wish I was
a drummajor. I guess I'd sooner be a drum-major than anything else.
Oh, well, detective - that's different.
Let's go farther along. Don't get too near the judges' stand. I
know. It's the best place to see the finish of an event, but I've
been to Firemen's Tournament before. You let me pick out the seats.
Up close to the judges' stand is all right till you come to the
'wet races." What? Oh, you wait and see. Fun? Well, I should
say so. Hope they'll clear all those boys off the rail. Here!
Get down off that rail. Think we can see through you? You're thin,
but you're not thin enough for that. Yes, I mean you, and don't
you give me any of your impudence either. Look at those women out
there. Right spang in the way of the scraper. Isn't that a woman
all over? A woman and a hen, I don't know which is - Well, hel-lo!
Where'd you come from? How's all the folks? Where's Lizzie?
Didn't she come with you? Aw, isn't that too bad? Scalding hot!
Ts! Ts! Ts! Seems as if they made preserving kettles apurpose so's
they'd tip up when you go to pour anything . . . . Why, I guess we
can. Move over a little, Charley. Can you squeeze in? That's all
right. Pretty thick around here, isn't it? There's the band
starting up. About time, I think. Teedle-eedle umtum, teedle-eedle,
um-tum. "Hiawatha,"of course. What other tune is there on earth?
I've got so I know almost all of it.
First is - let me see the program. First is what Mat. King calls
"the juveline contest." It says here: "Run with truck carrying
three ladders one hundred yards. Take fifteen-foot ladder from
truck, raise it against structure" - that's the judges' stand -
"and boy ascend. Time to be taken when climber grasps top rung of
ladder." They're off. That pistol-shot started them. Why can't
people sit down? See just as well if they did. New Berlin's, I
guess. Pretty good. He's hanging out the slate with the time on
it. Eighteen and four-fifths. Oh, no, never in the world. Here's
the Mt. Victory boys. See that light-haired boy. Go it, towhead!
Ah, they've got the ladder crooked. Eighteen. That's not so bad
. . . . Oh, quit your fooling. He's nothing of the kind. Honestly?
What! that old skeezicks? Who to, for pity's sake? Well, I thought
he was a confirmed old bachelor, if anybody ever was. Well, sir,
that just goes to show that any man, I don't care who he is, can
get married if he - Who were those? Are those the Caledonia
juveniles? I don't think much of 'em, do you? Seventeen and
two-fifths. I wouldn't have thought it. So their team gets the
first prize. Well, we weren't in that.
What's next? "First prize, silver water-set, donated by Hon.
William Krouse." Since when did old Bill Krouse get to be
"Honorable?" Yes, well, don't talk to me about Bill Krouse. I
know him and his whole connection and there isn't an honest hair -
"Association trophy will also be competed for." Oh, that's the
goldlined loving cup we saw in the window. Our boys have won
it twice and the Caledonias have won it twice. If we get it this
time, it will be ours for keeps. "Run with truck one hundred and
fifty yards; take twenty-five foot ladder," and so forth and so
forth, Dan O'Brien's the boy for scaling ladders. He was going to
enlist in the Boer War, he hates the English so. Down on them
the worst way. And say, what do you think? Last year, at
Caledonia, he won the first prize for individual ladder scaling.
And what do you suppose the first prize was? A picture of Queen
Victoria. Isn't that Caledonia all over? there's a kind of
rivalry between our boys and the Caledonias.
Here they come now. Those are the Caledonian. Tell by the truck
. . . . Do you think so? I don't think they're anything so very
much. Nix. You'll never do it. Look at the way they run with
their heads up. That shows they're all winded. Look at the clumsy
way they got the ladder off the wagon. Blap! The judge thought it
was coming through the boards on him. Oh, pretty good, pretty good,
but you just wait till you see our boys. Look at the fool hanging
there on the ladder waiting till the time is announced. Isn't that
Caledonia all over? Yah! Come down! Come down! What is it?
Twenty-five seconds. What's the record? Twenty-four and four-fifths?
Oh, well, it isn't so bad for Caledonia, but you just wait and see
what our boys do. Hear those yaps from Caledonia yell! If there's
anything I despise it is for a man to whoop and holler and make a
public spectacle of himself. Who's this? Oh, the Radnors.
They're out of it. Look at them. Pulling every which way. That
ladder's too straight up and down. Twenty-seven and two-fifths.
What did I tell you? . . . What time does your train go? Well,
why don't you and your wife come take supper with us? Why didn't
you look us up noon-time? . . . I could have told you better than
that. (They went to the Ladies' Aid dinner.) Well, we shan't have
much, I expect, but we'll try and scrape up something more filling
than layer-cake. The idea of expecting to feed hungry people on
layer-cake! It's an imposition . . . . I didn't notice which
one it was. Doesn't matter any way. Only twenty-eight. Ah, here
are our boys. They've got blue silk running-breeches on. Well,
maybe it is sateen. Let the women folks alone for knowing sateen
from silk a mile off. How much a yard did you say it was? Notice
the way they start with their hands on the ground, just like the
pictures on the sporting page of the Sunday newspapers. Here they
come. Oh, I hope they'll win. That's Charley Rodehaver in front.
Run! Oh, why don't you run? Come on! Come on! Come on! Come
on! COME ON! COME ON! COME O - O-oh! See Dan skip up that
ladder! Go it, Dan! Go it, old boy! Hooray-ay! Hooray-ay, ay!
What's the time? Twenty-four! Twenty- four flat! BROKE THE
RECORD! Hooray-ay-ay! Where's Caledonia now? Where's Caledonia
now? Oh, I'm so glad our boys won. There goes the Caledonia chief.
I'll bet he feels like thirty cents, Spanish. Ya-a-a-ah! Ya-a-a-ah!
Where's Caledonia now? They can't beat that, the other fellows
can't, and it's our trophy for keeps . . . . Oh, some crank in the
next row. "Wouldn't I please sit down and not obstruct the view."
Guess he comes from Caledonia. Looks like it. You stand up, too,
why don't you? Those planks are terribly hard . . . . I didn't
notice. Yes, that wasn't so bad. Twenty-five and two-fifths. But
it's our trophy. There goes Dan now. Hey, Dan! Good boy, Dan!
Wave your handkerchief at him. Hooray-ay-ay! Good boy, Dan!
Next is a wet race. Now look out. Let's see what the program
says: "Run seventy-five yards to structure, on top of which an
empty barrel has been placed with spout outlet near top. Barrel
to be filled with water by means of buckets from reservoir" -
That big tin-lined box opposite is the reservoir. They are filling
it now with a hose attached to the water-plug yonder - "until water
issues from spout." What are they all laughing at? Which one? Oh,
but isn't she mad? Talk about a wet hen. Why, Charley, the hose
got away from the man that was filling the reservoir and the lady
was splashed. Why don't you use your eyes and see what's going on
and not be bothering me to tell you? Ip! There it goes again. Oh,
ho! ho! ho! hee! hee! didn't I tell you it would be fun? See it
run out of his sleeves . . . . I always get to coughing when I laugh
as hard as that. Oh, dear me! Makes the tears come.
These are the fellows from Luxora. Oh, the clumsy things! Let
the ladder get away from them, and it fell and hit that man in the
second row right on the head. Hope it didn't hurt him much. See
'em scurry with the water buckets. Aw, get a move on! Get a move!
Why, what makes them so slow? "Water, water!" Well, I should think
as much. Not for themselves though. Those fellows at the bottom
of the ladder are catching it, aren't they? Oh, pshaw, they don't
mind it. They get it worse than that at a real fire when they aren't
half so well fixed for it. Why, is there no bottom to that barrel
at all? Why, look! . . . Say, the judge forgot to close the valve.
There's a hose connected with the bottom of the barrel to run the
water off after each trial and he's forgotten to - . . . Well,
isn't that too bad! All that work for nothing. I suppose they'll
let them try it over again . . . . That man must have got a pretty
hard rap. They're carrying him out. His head's all bloody . . . .
Wapatomicas, I guess. Yes, Wapatomicas. I hope the valve's closed
this time. Whope! did you see that? One fellow got hit with a
water bucket and it was about half-full. It's running out of the
spout. Yes, and it's falling on those people right where you wanted
to sit. Hear the girls squeal. Talk about your fun. I don't want
any better fun than this. Look at 'em come down the ladder just
holding the sides with their hands. They couldn't do that if the
ladder was dry.
Ah, here's our crowd. Come on! Come on! Come on! COME ON! Oh,
don't be so slow with those buckets! Aren't they fine? Say, they
don't care if they do spill a drop or two. Why. Why, what are
they coming down for? It isn't running out of the spout yet. Come
back! COME BACK! Oh, pshaw! Just threw it away by being in too
much of a hurry. That judge looks funny, doesn't he, with a rubber
overcoat on and the sun shining? See, he's telling them: "One bucket
more." They'll let 'em have another trial, of course . . . . No?
Oh, that's an outrage. That' s not fair. The Caledonias will get
it now. . . . Yes, sir, they did get it. Oh, well, accidents will
happen. What? "Where's Caledonia now?" Well, they got it by a
fluke. What say? . . . Well only for - Oh, pshaw! Now, don't
tell me that because I was there and - Well, I say they didn't
. . . . I know better, they didn't . . . . Oh, shut up. You don't
know what you're talking about. I tell you - Now, Mary, don't you
interfere. I'm not quarreling. I'm just telling this gentleman
back of me that - Well, all right, if you're going to cry. If
there was any fouling done it was the Caledonias that did it, though.
The next is where they "run three hundred feet from the judges'
stand, raise ladder, hose company to couple to hydrant, break
coupling in hose and put on nozzle, scale ladder, and fill
twenty-five gallon barrel." Only the Caledonias. and our boys are
entered in this. Now we'll see which is the best. All right, Mary,
I won't say a word . . . . Say, for country-jakes, those Caledonias
didn't do so badly. I give them that much. Look at the water fly!
I'll bet those folks near the judges' stand wish they'd brought
their umbrellas. Now you see why these are the best seats, don't
you? I told you I'd been to Firemen's Tournaments before. What?
You'll have to talk louder than that if you want me to hear with
all this noise . . . . Oh, that'll be all right. They'll be so
hungry they won't notice it.
Here, be careful how you wabble that hose around. Good thing
they turned the water off at the plug just when they did or we'd
have been - Here's our company. Where's Caledonia now? Eh?
Pretty work! Pretty work! Say, do you know that hose full of
water's heavy? Now watch Riley. Riley's the one that's got the
nozzle. Always up to some monkeyshine. Ah! See him? See him?
Oh, is n"t he soaking them? Oh-ho! Ho! Ho! ha! ha! hee-hee! Yip.
Blame clumsy fool! . . . P-too! Yes, in my mouth and in my
ears and down the back of my neck. All over. Running out of my
sleeves. Everything I got on is just ruined. Completely ruined.
Come on. Let's go home. There's nothing more to see, much.
Aw, come on. Well, stay if you want to, but I'm going home, and
get some dry clothes on me. You get me to go to another Firemen's
Tournament and you'll know it. Look at that monkey from Caledonia
laughing at me. For half a cent I'd go up and smack his face for
him . . . . Aw, let up on your "Where's Caledonia now?" Give us
a rest. Well, are you coming, you folks? . . . Kind of a fizzle
this year, wasn't it?
However, after supper, with dry clothes on, it isn't so bad. The
streets are packed. All the firemen are parading and shouting:
"Who? Who? Who are we?" The Caledonias got one more prize than
our boys. Well, why shouldn't they? Entered in three more events.
I don't see as that's anything to brag of or to carry brooms
about. All the fife-and-drum corps are out, and the bands are all
playing "Hiawatha" at once, but not together. Not all either.
There's one band in front of Hofmeyer's playing "Oh, Happy Day!
That Fixed my Choce." That's funny: to play a hymn-tune in front
of a beer-saloon. Hofmeyer seems to think it's all right. He's
inviting them in to have something. "Took the hint?" I don't
understand . . . . Oh, is that so? I didn't know there were other
words to that tune.
See that woman with four little ones. Her husband's carrying two
more. "I want to go howm. Why cain't we gow howm? I do' want to
gow howm pretty soon. I want to gow na-ow!" Eh, Mary, how would
you like to lug them around all day and then stand up in the cars
all the way home?
Well, good-by. Hope you had a nice time. Give my regards to all
the folks. Don't be in such a rush, my friend . . . . Oh, did you
see? It must be the man that got hit on the head with the ladder.
Taking him home on a stretcher. Gee! That's tough. Skull
fractured, eh? Dear! Dear! I hear they have been keeping company
a long time, and were to have been married soon. No wonder she
cried and took on so. Poor girl! Yes, it's the women that suffer
. . . . Oh, quite a day for accidents. I didn't mind, though,
after I had changed my clothes. I took some quinine, and I guess
I'll be all right. Lucky you got a seat. Well, you're off at last.
Good-by. Remember me to all. Good-by.
Well, thank goodness, that's over. Another ten minutes of them
and wouldn't have - Well, Mary, what else could I do but ask them
home after he told me what they didn't have to eat at the Ladies'
Aid? . . . It was all right. Plenty good enough. Better than
they have at home and I'll bet on it. The table looked beautiful.
I'm glad the Tournament doesn't come but once a year. I'm about
ready to drop.
THE DEVOURING ELEMENT
Mr. Silverstone was gloomily considering whether he had not better
blow out the lights in the New York One Price Clothing Store, and
lock up for the night. Kerosene was fifteen cents a gallon, and
not a customer had been in since supper-time. Business was "ofle,
The streets were empty. There were lights only in the barber shop
where one patron was being lathered while two mandolins and a guitar
gave a correct imitation of two house-flies and a bluebottle in
Riley's where, in default of other occupation, Mr. Riley was counting
up; in Oesterle's, where a hot discussion was going on as to whether
Christopher Columbus was a Dutchman or a Dago, and in Miller's, where
Tom Ball was telling Tony, who impassively wiped the perforated brass
plate let into the top of the bar, that he, Tom Ball, "coul' lick em
man ill Logan coun'y."
Lamps shone in every parlor, where little girls labored with:
"And one and two, three and one and two, three," occasionally
coming out to look at the clock to see if the hour was any nearer
being up than it was five minutes ago. They also shone in
sitting-rooms, where boys looked fiercely at "X2 +2Xy+y2," mothers
placidly darned stockings, and fathers, Weekly Examiner in hand,
patiently struggled to disengage from "boiler-plate" and bogus news
about people snatched from the jaws of death by the timely use of
Dr. McKinnon's Healing Extract of Timothy and Red-top, items of real
news, such as who was sick and what ailed them, who cut his foot with
the ax while splitting stove-wood, and where the cake sale by the
Rector's Aid of Grace P.E. would be held next week.
At the prayer-meeting, Uncle Billy Nicholson was giving in his
experience and had just got to that part about: "Sometimes on the
mountaintop, and sometimes in the valley, but still, nevertheless
- " when, all of a sudden, something happened,
The mandolins stopped with a jerk. Mr. Riley stood tranced at:
"And ten is thirty-five." Mr. Ball was stricken dumb in the
celebration of his own great physical powers. The crowd in Oesterle's
forgot Columbus, and were as men beholding a ghost. The drowsy
congregation sat up rigid, and Mr. Silverstone gave a guilty start.
He had been thinking of that very thing!
The next instant, front doors were wrenched open, and the street
echoed with the sound of windows being raised. Fathers and sons
rushed out on the front porch, followed by little girls, to whom
any excuse to stop practising was like a plank to a drowning man.
They had heard aright. Up by the Soldiers' Monument fell the
clump of tired feet, and upon the air floated the wild alarm of -.
"FIRE! Pooh-ha! FIRE! Poof! FIRE!"
Mat King, the assistant chief, kicked off his slippers, and swiftly
laced up his shoes, grabbed his speaking-trumpet and his helmet,
and tore out of the house. If he could only get to the engine-house
before Charley Lomax, the chief! But Charley was the lone customer
in the barber's char. With the lather on one side of his face, he
clapped on his hat and broke for the firebell, four doors below.
"Where's it at?"
"FIRE! Pooh-ha! FIRE! Sm-poohl Fi- (gulp) - FIRE!"
"It's Linc Hoover. Hay, Linc! Where's the fire?"
"FIRE! Pooh-ha! FIRE! ha, ha! FIRE!"
"Hay, Linc! Where's it at? Tell me and I'll run. Hay! Where's
"FIRE! Swope's be - (gulp) Swope's barn. FIRE!"
"Which Swope? Henry or the old man?"
"FIRE! Pooh! J. K. Swope. Whoo-ha, whooh-ha! Out out on West
End Avenue. Poof!"
The news thus being passed, the fresher runners scampered ahead,
bawling: "FOY-URRR' FOY-URRR! and Linc, the hero, slowed down,
gasping for breath and spitting cotton.
"Whew!" he whistled, gustily, his arms dropping and his whole
frame collapsing. "Gee! I'm 'bout tuckered. Sm-pooh! Sm-pooh!
Run all th' way f'm - sm-ha, sm-ha! - run all th' way f'm - mouth's
all stuck together - p'too! ha! Pooh! Fm West End Avenue and
Swo - Swope's. Gee! I'm hot's flitter."
"Keep y' coat on when you're all of a prespiration, that way.
How'd it ketch ?"
"Ount know. 'S comin' by there an' I - whoof! I smelt smoke and -
Gosh! I'm all out o' breath - an' I looked an' I je-e-est could see
a light - wisht I had a drink o' somepin' to rench mum mouth out.
Whew! Oh, laws! An' it was Swope's barn and I run in an' opened
the door, didn't stop to knock or nung, an' I hollered out: 'Yib
barn's afire!' an' he run out in his sockfeet, an' he says: 'My Lord!'
he says. 'Linc,' he says, 'run git the ingine an' I putt." Linc drew
in a long, tremulous breath like a man that has looked on sorrow.
"Why 'n't you - "
"Betchy 't was tramps," interrupted a bystander. "Git in the
haymow an' think they got to have their blamed old pipe a-goin' -"
"Cigarettes, more likely," said another. "More darn devilment
comes from cigarettes -"
"Why'n't you - "
"Ount know nung 'bout tramps," said Linc. "All I seen was the
fire. I was a-comin' long a-past there an' I smelt the smoke an'
thinks I - What say?"
"Why'n't you telefoam down?"
Linc, the hero, shrunk a foot. "I gosh!" he admitted, "I never
"Jist'a' telefoamed, you could 'a' saved yourself all that - "
"Ain't they weltin' the daylights out o' that bell? All foolishness!
Now they're ringin' the number -- one, two, three, four. Yes, sir,
that's up in the West End. You goin'? Come on, then."
"No, Frank, I can't let you go. You've got your lessons to get.
Well, now, mother, make up your mind if you're comin' along. Cora,
what on earth are you doing out here in the night air with nothing
around you? Now, you mosey right back into that parlor, and don't
you make a move off that piano-stool till your hour's up. Do you
hear me? No. Frank. I told you once you couldn't go and that ends
it. Stop your whining! I can't have you running hither and yon all
hours of the night, and we not know where you are. Well, hurry up,
then, mother. Take him in with you. Oh, just throw a shawl over
your head. Nobody 'll see you, or if they do they won't care."
The apparatus trundles by, the bells on the trucks tolling sadly as
the striking gear on the rear axle engages the cam. A hurrying
throng scuffles by in the gloom. The tolling grows fainter, the
"Good land! Is she going to be all night? Wish 't I hadn't
proposed it. That's the worst of taking a woman anyplace. Fuss
and fiddle by the hour in front of the looking-glass. Em! (Be all
over by the time we get there) Oh, Em! Em! . . . EM! (Holler
my head offl) EM! . . . . "Well, why don't you answer me? Well, I
didn't hear you. How much long - Oh, I know about your 'minute.'
'Hour' you mean . . . . Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Conklin? Hello, Fred.
Pleased to meet you, Miss Shoemaker. Yes, I saw in the paper you
were visiting your sister. This your first visit to our little burg?
Yes, we think it's quite a place. You see, we're trying to make your
stay as interesting as possible . . . . Oh, no, not altogether on your
account. No, no. Ha! Ha-ha-ha! Hum! ah! . . . Well, yes, if she
ever gets done primping up. Oh, there you are. Miss Shoemaker, let
me make you acquainted with my wife. Now, you girls'll have to get
a move on if you want to see anything."
The male escorts grasp the ladies' arms and shove them ahead, that
being the only way if you are ever going to get any place. The women
gasp and pant and make a great to-do.
"Ooh! Wait till I get my breath. Will! Weeull! Don't go so
fay-ust! Oooh! I can't stand it. Oh, well, you're a man."
But when they turn the corner that gives them a good view of the
blaze, fluttering great puffs of flame, and hear the steady crackle
and snapping, as it were, of a great popper full of pop-corn, they,
too, catch the infection, and run with a loud swashing and slatting
of skirts, giggling and squealing about their hair coming down.
In the waving orange glare the crowd is seen, shifting and moving.
It seems impossible for the onlookers to remain constant in one
spot. The chief, Charley Lomax, is gesticulating with wide arm
movements. He puts his speaking-trumpet to his mouth.
"Yoffemoffemoffemoffemoffi" he says.
"Wha-at?" the men halloo back.
"What'd he say?"
"Search me. John, you run over and ask him what he wants. Or,
no; I'll go myself."
"Why in Sam Hill didn't you come sooner?" demands the angry chief.
"Well, why in Sam Hill don't you talk so 's a body can understand
you? 'Yoffemoffemoffemoffem.' Who can make sense out o' that?"
"The hose ain't long enough to reach from here to the hydrant.
You 'n' some more of 'em run down t' th' house an' git that other
"Aw, say, Chief! Look here. I'm awful busy right now. Can't
somebody else go?"
"You go an' do what I tell you to, and don't gimme none o' your
(Too dag-gon bossy and dictatorial, that Charley Lomax is. Getting
'most too big for his breeches. Never mind. there's going to be a
fire election week from Tuesday. See whether he'll be chief next
year or not. Sending a man away from the fire right at the most
"I'll go, Chief, wommetoo," puts in jumbo Lee, all in a huddle
of words. "Ije slivsnot. Aw ri. Mon Jim. Shoonmeansmore of
'em go gitth'otherreel."
Jumbo isn't a member of the fire department, though he is wild to
join. He isn't old enough. He is six feet one inch, weighs 180,
and won't be sixteen till the 5th of next February. Nobody ever
saw him when he wasn't eating. They say he clips his words so
as to save time for eating. He takes a cracker out of his pocket,
shoves it in his mouth whole, jams his hat down till his ears stick
out, and, with his companions, tears down the road, seemingly
propelled as much by his elbows as by his legs. Why, under the
combined strain of growing and running, he doesn't part a seam
somewhere is a dark mystery.
Crash! The roof of the barn caves in and reveals what we had not
before suspected, that Platt's barn, on the other side of the alley,
is afire too. Say! This is getting interesting. The wind is
setting directly toward Swope's house. It has been so terribly dry
this last month or so that the house will go like powder if it ever
catches. Why, I think Swope has a well and cistern both. Used
to have, anyway, before they put the water-works in, and the board
of health condemned the wells. Say! There was a put-up job if
there ever was one. Why, sure! Sure he had stock in the water
works. Doc. Muzzey? I guess, yes . . . . Pity they ever
traded off the hand-engine. They got a light-running
hook-and-ladder truck. Won two prizes at the tournament, just
with that truck. But if they had that hand-engine now though!
"Up with her! Down with her!" Have that fire out in no time!
They're not trying to save the barns. They're a dead loss. What
little water they can get from the cisterns and wells around -
hasn't it been dry? - they are using to try to save Swope's house,
and the one next to it. Is that where Lonny Wheeler lives? I
knew it was up this way somewhere. Don't he look ridiculous,
sitting up there a-straddle of his ridgepole, with a tin-cup? A
tin-cup, if you please. Over this way a little. See better.
They're wetting down the roof. Line of fellows passing buckets to
the ladder, and a line up the ladder. What big sparks those are!
Puts you in mind of Fourth of July. How the roof steams! Must be
hot up there.
A universal indrawn breath from all spectators proclaims their
horror. One of the men on the roof missed his footing and slipped,
rolling over and over till he reached the roof of the porch, where
he spread-eagled for a fall. The women begin to moan. Some poor
fellow gone to his death. Or, if he be so lucky as to miss death
itself, he is doomed to languish all his days a helpless cripple.
Like enough the sole support of an aged mother; or perhaps his
wife is sitting up for him at home now, tiptoeing into the bedroom
every little while to look at the sleeping children. That's
generally the way of it. Who is there so free and foot-loose that,
if harm befall him, some woman will not go mourning all her days?
It must take the heart out of brave men to think what their women
folk must suffer, mothers and wives and - Who? Dan O'Brien? Oh,
he'll be all right. He'll light on his feet like a cat. I believe
that boy is made of India rubber. He never gets hurt. Why, one
time - Ah! There he goes now up the ladder as if nothing had
happened. Hooray-ayayay! Hooray-ay-ay-ay! I thought he'd broken
his neck as sure as shooting.
Wandering about one cannot fail to encounter what the gallant
fire-laddies have rescued from the devouring element. There is
the piano with a deep scratch across the upper part, and the top
lid hanging by one hinge. It caught in the door, and the boys
were kind of in a hurry. There is the parlor carpet, plucked up by
the roots, as it were; and two tubs, the washboard and a bag of
clothes-pins; a stuffed chair, with three casters gone, the
coffee-pot, a crayon enlargement, a winter overcoat, a blanket, a
pile of old dresses, the screw-driver and a paper of tacks in the
colander, the couch with a triangular rip in the cover, the
coal-scuttle, a pile of dishes, the ax and wood-saw, a fancy
pillow, the sewing-machine with the top gone, the wash-boiler,
the basket of dirty clothes, with the stove-shaker and the parlor
clock in together, and a heap of books, all spraddled and sprawled
every which way. Upon this pitiful mound sits Mrs. Swope with her
baby sound asleep upon her bosom. She mingles her tears with the
sustaining tea that Mrs. Farley has made for her. Swope, still in
his socks and with his wife's shoulder-cape upon him, caught up
somehow, is trying to soothe her. He is as mad as a hornet, and
doesn't dare to show it. All this furniture he had insured. It
was all old stuff their folks had given them. If the gallant
fire-laddies had been as discreet as they were zealous, they would
have let the furniture go, and Swope and his wife would have had an
entire, brand-new outfit. As it is, who can ever make that junk
look like anything any more?
What's this coming up the road? Jumbo Lee and his friends with
the other hose-reel. Now they will connect it with the hydrant,
and have water a-plenty to save the house. Now the fellows are
coming down from the ladder. Cistern's empty, I suppose. The
other reel didn't come any too soon. How the roof steams! Or is
"Don't stand around here with that reel! Up to that water-plug.
Farther up the street. Front o' Cummins's."
Jumbo crams another cracker into his mouth and speeds away,
hunching the patient, unresenting air with his elbows.
Ah! See - that little flicker of flame on the roof! Do, for pity's
sake, hurry up with that connection! The roof is really burning.
See? They are trying to chop away the burning place. But there's
another! And another!
A-a-ah! Hooray-ay! Connection's made! Now you'll see something.
Out of the way there! One side! One side! Up you go! . . .
Wha-at? Is that the best they can do? Why, it won't run out of
the nozzle at all when it's up on the roof. Not a drop.
Feeble little dribble when it's on the ground-level. There's your
water-works for you. It is a good long way from the fire-plug I
know, but there ought to be more pressure than that. Oh, pshaw!
If we only had the old hand-engine! "Up with her! Down with her!"
Have that fire out in no time. The house will have to go now.
Somebody in the second story is rescuing property from the devouring
element. He has just tossed out a wash-bowl and pitcher. Luckily
they both fell on the sod and rolled apart. He takes down the
roller-shade and flings it out. The lace curtains follow. They
catch on the edge of the veranda roof, and languidly wave there as
for some holiday. Bed-clothes issue and pillows hurtle out. What's
he doing now? No use. No use. You can't get the mattress out of
that window. A waste-paper basket, a rag rug, a brush and comb - as
fast as his hands can fly he's throwing out things.
The women began to whimper.
"Oh, the poor man! The roof will fall in on him! He'll smother to
death! Oh, why doesn't somebody go tell him to come away? Not
you! Don't you think of such a trick! Oh, why does he risk his life
for a lot of trash I wouldn't have around the house?"
The smoke oozes out of the open window. It must be choking in there.
For a long time no jettison of household goods appears. Perhaps
the man, whoever he is, has seen his peril and fled while yet it was
possible to flee. Ah, but suppose he has been overcome and lies
there huddled in a heap, never to rouse again? Is there none to
save him? Is there none? Ah! A couple of collars and a magazine
flutter out into the light! He is still there. He is still alive.
Plague take the idiot! Why doesn't he come down out of that?
But no! He will do it himself. The Chief rushes gallantly into the
burning building and disappears up the dark stair.
Desperate measures are now to be resorted to. On the lawn a line
of men forms. They bend their necks, cowering before the fierce
glow, but daring it, and prepared to face it at even closer range.
You are to witness now an exhibition of that heroism which is
commoner with us than we think, that spirit of do and dare which
mocks at danger and even welcomes pain. It is a far finer sentiment
than the cold-hearted calculation which looks ahead, and figures
out first whether it is worth while or not.
The men dash forward in the withering heat. With frantic haste
they fix the hook into the lattice-work beneath the porch and
"Yo hee! Yo hee!"
The thick rope tautens as the firemen lay their weight to it. You
can almost see the bristling fibers stand up on it.
"Yo hee! Yo hee!"
With a splintering crash the timber parts, and a piece of
lattice-work is dragged away.
Another sortie and another. Bit by bit the porch is ripped and
torn to rubbish. You smile. It seems so futile. What are these
kindlings saved when the whole house is burning? Is this what
you call heroism? Yet the charge at Balaklava was not more futile.
It had even less of commonsense, less of hope of benefit to mankind
to back it and inspire it. Heroism is an instinct, not a thoughtout
policy. Its quality is the same, in two-ounce samples or in
The weather-boarding slips down in a sparkling fall. The joists
and stringers, all outlined and gemmed with coals, are, as it
were, a golden grille, through which the world may look unhindered
in upon the holy place of home, heretofore conventually private.
There stands the family altar, pitifully grotesque amid the ruinous
splendor of the destroying fire, the tea-kettle upon it proudly
flaunting its steamy plume. What? Is a common cooking-stove an
altar? Yes, verily, in lineal descent. Examine an ancient altar
and you will see its sacrificial stone scored and guttered to catch
the dripping from the roasting meat. Who is the priestess, after
an order older than Melchisedec's, but she that ministers to us
that most comfortable sacrament, wherein we are made partakers not
alone of the outward and visible food which we do carnally press
with our teeth, but also of that inward and spiritual sustenance,
the patient and enduring love of wife and mother, without which
there can be no such thing as home? All other sacraments wherein
men break the bread of amity together are but copies of this pattern,
the Blessed Sacrament of the Household Altar, the first and primal
one of all, the one that shall perdure, please God! throughout all
ages of ages.
The flames die down. The timbers sink together with a softer
fall. The air grows chill. We fetch a sigh. We cannot bear to
look at that mute figure of the priestess seated on the sordid heap
of broken furniture, her sleeping baby pressed against her breast,
her gaze fixed - but seeing naught - upon her ruined temple. We
do not like to think upon such things. We do not like to think at
all. Is there nothing more to laugh at?
The firemen, having all borrowed the makings of a cigarette from
each other, put on their hats and coats, left on the hook-and-ladder
truck in the custody of a trusted member. The apparatus trundles
off, the bells dolorously tolling as the striking gear on the rear
axle engages the cam.
Who is this weeping man approaches, supported by two friends, that
comfort him with: "All right, Tom. You done noble," uttered in
pacifying if not convincing tones? Heart-brokenly he cries: "I dull
le ver' bes' I knowed, now di' n't I? Charley? Billy, I dub bes'
I knowed how. An' nen he says to me - Oo-hoo-hoo-oooo-oo! He says
to me: 'Come ou' that, ye cussed fool!' Oo-oooo-hoo-hoo-oo-oo! Smf!
Lemme gi' amma ham hankshiff. Leg go my arm. Waw gi' amma hankshifp.
Oo-oo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo-oo! Fmf! I ash you as may wurl - I ash you
as may - man of world, is that - is that proper way address me?
Me! Know who I am? I'm Tom Ball. 'S who I am. I kill lick em
man ill Logan Coun'y. Ai' thasso? Hay? 'S aw ri. Mfi choose
stay up there, aw thas sec - aw thas second floor and rescue
fel-cizzen's propprop'ty from devouring em - from devouring emlement,
thas my bizless. Ai' tham my bizless, Charley? Ai' tham my bizless,
Billy? W'y, sure. Charley, you're goof feller. You too, Billy.
You're goof feller, too. Say. Wur-wur if Miller's is open yet?
'Spose it is? Charley; I dub bes' I knowed how, di'n't I, now?
Affor that Chief come up thas stairway and say me: 'Come ou' that,
ye cussed fool!' Aw say! 'Come ou' that - 'Called me fool, too!
"Hello, Dan! Hurt yourself any? (That's Dan O'Brien. Fell off the
roof.) Well, sir, I thought sure you'd broken your neck. You
don't know your luck. And let me tell you one thing, my bold bucko:
You'll do that just once too often. Now you mark."
The day before the Weekly Examiner goes to press, Mr. Swope hands
the editor a composition entitled: "A Card of Thanks," signed by
John K. and Amelia M. Swope, and addressed to the firemen and all
who showed by their many acts of kindness, and so forth and so on.
"Kind of help to fill up the paper," says Mr. Swope, covering his
"Sure," replies the editor. When Mr. Swope is good and gone, he
says: "Dog my riggin's if I didn't forget all about writing up
that fire. Been so busy here lately. Good thing he come in. Hay,
"Watch want?" from the composing-room.
"Got room for about two sticks more?"
"Yes, guess so. If it don't run over that."
A brief silence. Then:
"Is it 'had have,' or 'had of ?"
"What's the connection?"
"Why-ah. 'If the gallant fire-laddies, under the able direction of
Chief Charley Lomax, had of had a sufficiency of water with which
to cope with the devouring element - 'etc."
"'Had have,' I guess. I don't know."
"Guess you're right. Run it that way anyhow."
Only the other day, the man that in all this country knows better
than anybody else how a circus should be advertised, said (with
some sadness, I do believe) that it didn't pay any longer to put up
showbills; the money was better invested in newspaper advertising.
"It doesn't pay." Ah, me! How the commercial spirit of the age
plays whaley with the romance of existence! You shall not look.
long upon the showbill now that there is no money to be had from it.
"Youth's sweet-scented manuscript" is about to close, but ere it
does, let us turn back a little to the pages illuminated by the
glowing colors of the circus poster.
Saturday afternoon when we went by the enginehouse, its brick
wall fluttered with the rags and tatters of "Esther, the Beautiful
Queen," and the lecture on "The Republic: Will it Endure?" (Gee!
But that was exciting!) Sunday morning, after Sunday-school, there
was a sudden quickening among the boys. We stopped nibbling on the
edges of the lesson leaf and followed the crowd in scuttling haste.
Miraculously, over-night, the shabby wall had blossomed into
thralling splendor. What was Daniel in the Lions' Den, compared
with Herr Alexander in the same? Not, as the prophet is pictured,
in the farthest corner from the lions, and manifestly saying to
himself: "If I was only out of this!" But with his head right smack
dab in the lion's mouth. Right in it. Yes, sir.
"S' Posin'!" we gasped, all goggle-eyed, "jist s'posin' that there
lion was to shut his mouth! Ga-ash!"
The Golden Text? It faded before the lemon-and-scarlet glories of
the Golden Chariot. Drawn by sixteen dappled steeds, each with
his neck arching like a fish-hook and reined with fancy scalloped
reins, it occupied the center of the foreground. The band rode in
it, far more fortunate than our local band whose best was, Charley
Wells's depot 'bus. And nobler than all his fellows was the
bass-drummer. He had a canopy over him, a carved and golden canopy,
on whose top revolved a clown's head with its tongue stuck out. On
each quarter of this rococo shallop a golden circus-girl in short
skirts gaily skipped rope with a nubia or fascinator, or whatever
it is the women call the thing they wrap around their heads in cold
weather when they hang out the clothes. There were big pieces of
looking-glass let into the sides of the band-wagon, and every
decorator knows that when you put looking-glass on a thing it is
impossible to fix it so that it will be any finer.
Winding back and forth across the picture was the long train of
tableau-cars and animal cages, diminishing with distance until away,
'way up in the upper left-hand corner the hindmost van was all
immersed in the blue-and-yellow haze just this side of out-of-sight.
That with our own eyes we should behold the glories here set forth
we knew right well. Cruel Fortune might cheat us of the raptures
to be had inside the tents, but the street-parade was ours, for it
It seems to me that we did not linger so long before these pictures,
nor before those of the rare and costly animals, which, if we but
knew it, were the main reason why we were permitted to go (if we
did get to go). To look at these animals is improving to the mind,
and since we could not go alone, an older person had to accompany us,
and . . . and . . . I trust I make myself clear. But we didn't want
to improve our minds if it was a possible thing to avoid it. The
pictures of these animals were in the joggerfy book anyhow, though
not in colors, unless we had a box of paints. There can be no doubt
that the show-bill pictures of the menageries were in colors. I
seem to recollect that Mr. Galbraith, who kept the dry-goods store
across the street from the engine-house, was very much exercised in
his mind about the way one of these pictures was printed. It was
the counterfeit presentment of the Hip-po-pot-a-mus, or Behemoth of
Holy Writ. His objection to the hip - you know was not because its
open countenance was so fearsome, but because it was so red. Six
feet by two of flaming crimson across the street in the afternoon
sun made it necessary for him to take the goods to the back window
of the store to show to customers. He didn't like it a bit.
No. Neither before the large and expensive pictures of the
street-parade, nor the large and expensive wild beasts did we
linger. The swarm was thickest, sand the jabbering loudest, the
"O-o-oh's," the "M! Looky's" the "Geeminently's" shrillest, in
front of where the deeds of high emprise were set forth. Men
with their fists clenched on their breasts, and their neatly
slippered toes touching the backs of their heads, crashed through
paper-covered hoops beneath which horses madly coursed; they
flew through the air with the greatest of ease, the daring young
men on the flying; trapeze, or they posed in living pyramids.
And as the sons of men assembled themselves together, Satan came
also, the spirit I, that evermore denies.
"A-a-ah!" sneers his embodiment in one whose crackling voice
cannot make up its mind whether to be bass or treble, "A-a-ah,
to the show they down't do hay-uf what they is in the pitchers."
A chilling silence follows. A cold uneasiness strikes into all
the listeners. We are all made wretched by destructive criticism.
Let us alone in our ideals. Let us alone, can't you?
"Now . . . now," pursues the crackle-voiced Mephisto, pointing to
where Japanese jugglers defy the law of gravitation and other
experiences of daily life, "now, they cain't walk up no ladder
made out o' reel sharp swords."
"They can so walk up it," stoutly declares one boy. Hurrah! A
champion to the rescue! The others edge closer to him. They
"Nah, they cain't. How kin they? They'd cut their feet all to
"They kin so. I seen 'em do it. The time I went with Uncle
George I seen a man, a Japanee . . . . Yes, sharp. Cut paper with
'em. . . . A-a-ah, I did so. I guess I know what I seen an' what
The little boys breathe easier, but fearing another onslaught, make
all haste to call attention to the most fascinating one of all, the
picture of a little boy standing up on top of his daddy's head.
And, as if that weren't enough, his daddy is standing up on a
horse and the horse is going round the ring lickety-split. And,
as if these circumstances weren't sufficiently trying, that little
show-boy is standing on only one foot. The other is stuck up in
the air like five minutes to six, and he has hold of his toe with his
hand. I'll bet you can't do that just as you are on the ground, let
alone on your daddy's head, and him on a horse that's going like
sixty. Now you just try it once. Just try it. . . . Aa-ah! Told
you you couldn't.
Now, how the show-actors can do that looks very wonderful to you.
It really is very simple. I'll tell you about it. All show-actors
are born double-jointed. You have only two hip-joints. They have
four. And it's the same all over with them. Where you have only
one joint, they have two. So, you see, the wonder isn't how they
can bend themselves every which way, but how they can keep from
doubling up like a foot-rule.
And another thing. Every day they rub themselves all over with
snake-oil. Snakes are all limber and supple, and it stands to
reason that if you take and try out their oil, which is their
express essence, and then rub that into your skin, it will make
you supple and limber, too. I should think garter-snakes would do
all right, if you could catch enough of them, but they 're so
awfully scarce. Fishworms won't do. I tried 'em. There's no
grease in 'em at all. They just dry up.
And I suppose you know the reason why they stay on the horse's
back. They have rosin on their feet. Did you ever stand up on a
horse's back? I did. It was out to grandpap's, on old Tib. . . .
No, not very long. I didn't have any rosin on my feet. I was
going to put some on, but my Uncle Jimmy said: "Hay! What you
got there?" I told him. "Well," he says, "you jist mosey right
into the house and put that back in the fiddle-box where you got
it. Go on, now. And if I catch you foolin' with my things again,
I'll . . . . Well, I don't know what I will do to you." So I put
it back. Anyhow, I don't think rosin would have helped me stay on
a second longer, because old Tib, with an intelligence you wouldn't
have suspected in her, walked under the wagon-shed and calmly
scraped me off her back.
And did you ever try to walk the tight-rope? You take the
clothes-line and stretch it in the grape-arbor - better not make
it too high at first - and then you take the clothes-prop for a
balance-pole and go right ahead - er - er as far as you can. The
real reason why you fall off so is that you don't have chalk on
your shoes. Got to have lots of chalk. Then after you get used
to the rope wabbling so all-fired fast, you can do it like a mice.
And while I'm about it, I might as well tell you that if you ever
expect to amount to a hill of beans as a trapeze performer you
must have clear-starch with oil of cloves in it to rub on your
hands. Finest thing in the world. My mother wouldn't let me have
any. She said she couldn't have me messing around that way, I
blame her as much as anybody that I am not now a competent
performer on the trapeze.
I don't know that I had better go into details about the state of
mind boys are in from the time the bills are first put up until
after the circus has actually departed. I don't mean the boys that
get to go to everything that comes along, and that have pennies to
spend for candy, and all like that, whenever they ask for it. I
mean the regular, proper, natural boys, that used to be "Back Home,"
boys whose daddies tormented them with: "Well, we Il see - " that's
so exasperating! - or, "I wish you wouldn't tease, when you know
we can't spare the money just at present." A perfectly foolish
answer, that last. They had money to fritter away at the grocery,
and the butcher-shop, and the dry-goods store, but when it came to
a necessity of life, such as going to the circus, they let on they
couldn't afford it. A likely story.
"Only jist this little bit of a once. Aw, now, please. Please,
cain't I go? Aw now, I think you might. Aw now, woncha? Aw,
paw. I ain't been to a reely show for ever so long. Aw, the
Scripture pammerammer, that don't count. Aw, paw. Please
cain't I go? Aw, please!" And so forth and so on, with much more
of the same sort. No, I can't go into details. it's too terrible.
Even those of us whose daddies said plainly and positively: "Now,
I can't let you go. No, Willie. That's the end of it. You can't
go." Even those, I say, hoped against hope. It simply could not
be that what the human heart so ardently longed for should be
denied by a loving father. This same conviction applies to other
things, even when we are grown up. It is against nature and the
constituted scheme of things that we cannot have what we want so
badly. (And, in general, it may be said that we can have almost
anything we want, if we only want it hard enough. That's the
trouble with us. We don't want it hard enough.) We boys lay there
in the shade and pulled the long stalks of grass and nibbled off the
sweet, yellow ends, as we dramatized miracles that could happen just
as well as not, if they only would, consarn 'em! For instance, you
might be going along the street, not thinking of anything but how
much you wanted to go to the circus, and how sorry you were because
you hadn't the money, and your daddy wouldn't give you any; and
first thing you 'd know, you 'd stub your toe on something, and
you'd look down and there'd be a half a dollar that somebody had
lost - Gee! If it would only be that way! But we knew it wouldn't,
because only the other Sunday, Brother Longenecker had said: "The
age of miracles is past." So we had to give up all hopes. Oh, it's
terrible. Just terrible!
But some of the boys lay there in the grass with their hands under
their heads, looking up at the sky, and making little white spots
come in and out on the corners of their jaws, they had their teeth
set so hard, and were chewing so fiercely. You could almost hear
their minds creak, scheming, scheming, scheming. I suppose there
were ways for boys to make money in those times, but they always
fizzled out when you came to try them, to say nothing of the way
they broke into your day. Why, you had scarcely any time to play
in. You 'd go 'round to some neighbor's house with a magazine, and
you'd say: "Good afternoon, Mrs. Slaymaker. Do you want to subscribe
for this?" Just the way you had studied out you would say. And
she'd take it, and go sit down with it, and read it clear through
while you played with the dog, and then when she got all through
with it, and had read all the advertisements, she'd hand it back to
you and say: No, she didn't believe she would. They had so many
books and papers now that she didn't get a chance hardly to read in
any of them, let alone taking any new ornes. Were you getting many
new subscribers? _ Just commenced, eh? Well, she wished you all
the luck in the world. How was your ma? That's good. Did she
hear from your Uncle John's folks since they moved out to Kansas?
I have heard that there were boys who, under the dire necessity of
going to the circus, got together enough rags, old iron, and bottles
to make up the price, sold 'em, collected the money, and went. I
don't believe it. I don't believe it. We all had, hidden under
the back porch, our treasure-heap of rusty grates, cracked fire-pots,
broken griddles and lid-lifters, tub-hoops and pokers, but I do not
Back to Full Books