The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley
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The Complete Works of
James Whitcomb Riley
IN TEN VOLUMES
Including Poems and Prose Sketches, many
of which have not heretofore been
published; an authentic Biography, an
elaborate Index and numerous
Illustrations in color from Paintings
JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
ECCENTRIC MR CLARK
"THE BOY FROM ZEENY"
WHERE IS MARY ALICE SMITH?
THE OLD MAN
THE GILDED ROLL
A WILD IRISHMAN
A CALLER FROM BOONE
THE OLD SOLDIER'S STORY
DIALECT IN LITERATURE
The Complete Works
of James Whitcomb Riley
ECCENTRIC MR. CLARK
All who knew Mr. Clark intimately, casually,
or by sight alone, smiled always, meeting
him, and thought, "What an odd man he is!" Not
that there was anything extremely or ridiculously
obtrusive in Mr. Clark's peculiarities either of
feature, dress, or deportment, by which a graded
estimate of his really quaint character might aptly be
given; but rather, perhaps, it was the curious
combination of all these things that had gained
for Mr. Clark the transient celebrity of being a
very eccentric man.
And Mr. Clark, of all the odd inhabitants of the
busy metropolis in which he lived, seemed least
conscious of the fact of his local prominence. True
it was that when familiarly addressed as "Clark,
old boy," by sportive individuals he never recollected
having seen before, he would oftentimes stare
blankly in return, and with evident embarrassment;
but as these actions may have been attributable to
weak eyes, or to the confusion consequent upon
being publicly recognized by the quondam associates
of bacchanalian hours, the suggestive facts only
served to throw his eccentricities in new relief.
And in the minds of many, that Mr. Clark was somewhat given to
dissipation, there was but little
doubt; for, although in no way, and at no time,
derelict in the rigid duties imposed upon him as
an accountant in a wholesale liquor house on South
John Street, a grand majority of friends had long
ago conceded that a certain puffiness of flesh and
a soiled-like pallor of complexion were in nowise
the legitimate result of over-application simply in
the counting-room of the establishment in which he
found employment; but as to the complicity of Mr.
Clark's direct associates in this belief, it is only
justice to the gentleman to state that by them
he was held above all such suspicion, from the
gray-haired senior of the firm, down to the pink-
nosed porter of the warerooms, who, upon every
available occasion, would point out the eccentric
Mr. Clark as "the on'y man in the biznez 'at never
sunk a 'thief' er drunk a drop o' 'goods' o' any
kind, under no consideration!"
And Mr. Clark himself, when playfully
approached on the subject, would quietly assert that
never, under any circumstances, had the taste of
intoxicating liquors passed his lips, though at such
asseverations it was a noticeable fact that Mr.
Clark's complexion invariably grew more sultry
than its wont, and that his eyes, forever moist, grew
dewier, and that his lips and tongue would seem
covertly entering upon some lush conspiracy, which
in its incipiency he would be forced to smother with
his hastily drawn handkerchief. Then the eccentric
Mr. Clark would laugh nervously, and pouncing
on some subject so vividly unlike the one just
preceding it as to daze the listener, he would ripple
ahead with a tide of eloquence that positively
overflowed and washed away all remembrance of the
In point of age Mr. Clark might have been thirty,
thirty-five, or even forty years, were one to venture
an opinion solely by outward appearance and under
certain circumstances and surroundings. As, for
example, when a dozen years ago the writer of this
sketch rode twenty miles in a freight-caboose with
Mr. Clark as the only other passenger, he seemed
in age at first not less than thirty-five; but on
opening a conversation with him, in which he joined
with wonderful vivacity, a nearer view, and a
prolonged and studious one as well, revealed the rather
curious fact that, at the very limit of all allowable
supposition, his age could not possibly have exceeded
What it was in the man that struck me as
eccentric at that time I have never been wholly
able to define, but I recall accurately the most
trivial occurrences of our meeting and the very
subject-matter of our conversation. I even remember
the very words in which he declined a drink
from my traveling-flask--for "It's a raw day," I
said, by way of gratuitous excuse for offering it.
"Yes," he said, smilingly motioning the temptation
aside; "it is a raw day; but you're rather young in
years to be doctoring the weather--at least you'd
better change the treatment--they'll all be raw days
for you after a while!" I confess that I even
felt an inward pity for the man as I laughingly
drained his health and returned the flask to my
valise. But when I asked him, ten minutes later,
the nature of the business in which he was engaged,
and he handed me, in response and without comment,
the card of a wholesale liquor house, with
his own name in crimson letters struck diagonally
across the surface, I winked naively to myself and
thought "Ah-ha!" And as if reading my very
musings, he said: "Why, certainly, I carry a full
line of samples; but, my dear young friend, don't
imagine for a minute that I refuse your brand on
that account. You can rest assured that I have
nothing better in my cases. Whisky is whisky
wherever it is found, and there is no 'best'
whisky--not in all the world!"
Truly, I thought, this is an odd source for the
emanation of temperance sentiments--then said
aloud: "And yet you engage in a business you
dislike! Traffic in an article that you yourself
condemn! Do I understand you?"
"Might there not be such a thing," he said
quietly, "as inheriting a business--the same as
inheriting an appetite? However, one advances by
gradations: I shall SELL no more. This is my last
trip on the road in that capacity: I am coming in
now to take charge of the firm's books. Would be
glad to have you call on me any time you're in the
city. Good-by." And, as he swung off the slowly
moving train, now entering the city, and I stood
watching him from the open door of the caboose
as he rapidly walked down a suburban street, I
was positive his gait was anything but steady--that
the step--the figure--the whole air of the man was
that of one then laboring under the effects of
I have always liked peculiar people; no matter
where I met them, no matter who they were; if
once impressed with an eccentricity of character
which I have reason to believe purely unaffected, I
never quite forget the person, name or place of
our first meeting, or where the interesting party
may be found again. And so it was in the customary
order of things that, during hasty visits to the
city, I often called on the eccentric Mr. Clark, and,
as he had promised on our first acquaintance, he
seemed always glad to see and welcome me in his
new office. The more I knew of him the more I
liked him, but I think I never fully understood him.
No one seemed to know him quite so well as that.
Once I had a little private talk regarding him with
the senior partner of the firm for which he worked.
Mr. Clark, just prior to my call, had gone to lunch--
would be back in half an hour. Would I wait there
in the office until his return? Certainly. And the
chatty senior entertained me:--Queer fellow--Mr.
Clark!--as his father was before him. Used to be
a member of the firm--his father; in fact, founded
the business--made a fortune at it--failed, for an
unfortunate reason, and went "up the flume." Paid
every dollar that he owed, however, sacrificing the
very home that sheltered his wife and children--
but never rallied. He had quite a family, then?
Oh, yes; had a family--not a large one, but a
bright one--only they all seemed more or less
unfortunate. The father was unfortunate--very; and
died so, leaving his wife and two boys--the older
son much like the father--splendid business
capacities, but lacked will--couldn't resist some things
--even weaker than the father in that regard, and
died at half his age.
But the younger brother--our Mr. Clark--
remained, and he was sterling--"straight goods" in
all respects. Lived with his mother--was her
sole support. A proud woman, Mrs. Clark--
a proud woman, with a broken spirit--withdrawn
entirely from the world, and had been
so for years and years. The Clarks, as had been
mentioned, were all peculiar--even the younger Mr.
Clark, our friend, I had doubtless noticed was an
odd genius, but he had stamina--something solid
about him, for all his eccentricities--could be relied
on. Had been with the house there since a boy
of twelve--took him for the father's sake; had never
missed a day's time in any line of work that ever
had been given in his charge--was weakly-looking,
too. Had worked his way from the cellar up--from
the least pay to the highest--had saved enough to
buy and pay for a comfortable house for his mother
and himself, and, still a lad, maintained the
expense of companion, attendant and maid servant for
the mother. Yet, with all this burden on his
shoulders, the boy had worried through some way, with
a jolly smile and a good word for every one. "A
boy, sir," the enthusiastic senior concluded--"a boy,
sir, that never was a boy, and never had a taste of
genuine boyhood in his life--no more than he ever
took a taste of whisky, and you couldn't get that
in him with a funnel!"
At this juncture Mr. Clark himself appeared, and
in a particularly happy frame of mind. For an
hour the delighted senior and myself sat laughing at
the fellow's quaint conceits and witty sayings, the
conversation at last breaking up with an abrupt
proposition from Mr. Clark that I remain in the
city overnight and accompany him to the theater,
an invitation I rather eagerly accepted. Mr. Clark,
thanking me, and pivoting himself around on his
high stool, with a mechanical "Good afternoon!"
was at once submerged in his books, while the senior,
following me out and stepping into a carriage that
stood waiting for him at the curb, waved me adieu,
and was driven away. I turned my steps up the
street, but remembering that my friend had fixed no
place to meet me in the evening, I stepped back into
the storeroom and again pushed open the glass door
of the office.
Mr. Clark still sat on the high stool at his desk,
his back toward the door, and his ledger spread out
"Mr. Clark!" I called.
He made no answer.
"Mr. Clark!" I called again, in an elevated key.
He did not stir.
I paused a moment, then went over to him, letting
my hand drop lightly on his arm.
Still no response. I only felt the shoulder heave,
as with a long-drawn quavering sigh, then heard the
regular though labored breathing of a weary man
I had not the heart to waken him; but lifting the
still moistened pen from his unconscious fingers, I
wrote where I might be found at eight that evening,
folded and addressed the note, and laying it on
the open page before him, turned quietly away.
"Poor man!" I mused compassionately, with a
touch of youthful sentiment affecting me.--"Poor
man! Working himself into his very grave, and
with never a sign or murmur of complaint--worn
and weighed down with the burden of his work, and
yet with a nobleness of spirit and resolve that still
conceals behind glad smiles and laughing words
the cares that lie so heavily upon him!"
The long afternoon went by at last, and evening
came; and, as promptly as my note requested, the
jovial Mr. Clark appeared, laughing heartily, as
we walked off down the street, at my explanation
of the reason I had written my desires instead of
verbally addressing him; and laughing still louder
when I told him of my fears that he was overworking
"Oh, no, my friend," he answered gaily;
"there's no occasion for anxiety on that account.--
But the fact is, old man," he went on, half apologetically,
"the fact is, I haven't been so overworked,
of late, as over-wakeful. There's something in the
night I think, that does it. Do you know that the
night is a great mystery to me--a great mystery!
And it seems to be growing on me all the time.
There's the trouble. The night to me is like some
vast incomprehensible being. When I write the
name 'night' I instinctively write it with a capital.
And I like my night deep, and dark, and swarthy,
don't you know. Now some like clear and starry
nights, but they're too pale for me--too weak and
fragile altogether! They're popular with the
masses, of course, these blue-eyed, golden-haired,
'moonlight-on-the-lake' nights; but, somehow, I
don't 'stand in' with them. My favorite night is
the pronounced brunette--the darker the better. To-
night is one of my kind, and she's growing more
and more like it all the time. If it were not for
depriving you of the theater, I'd rather just drift
off now in the deepening gloom till swallowed up
in it--lost utterly. Come with me, anyhow!"
"Gladly," I answered, catching something of his
own enthusiasm; "I myself prefer it to the play."
"I heartily congratulate you on your taste," he
said, diving violently for my hand and wringing it.
"Oh, it's going to be grimly glorious!--a depth of
darkness one can wade out into, and knead in his
hands like dough!" And he laughed, himself, at
this grotesque conceit.
And so we walked--for hours. Our talk--or,
rather, my friend's talk--lulled and soothed at last
into a calmer flow, almost solemn in its tone, and
yet fretted with an occasional wildness of utterance
Half consciously I had been led by my companion,
who for an hour had been drawing closer to me
as we walked. His arm, thrust through my own,
clung almost affectionately. We were now in some
strange suburb of the city, evidently, too, in a low
quarter, for from the windows of such business
rooms and shops as bore any evidence of respectability
the lights had been turned out and the doors
locked for the night. Only a gruesome green light
was blazing in a little drug-store just opposite,
while at our left, as we turned the corner, a tumble-
down saloon sent out on the night a mingled
sound of clicking billiard-balls, discordant voices,
the harsher rasping of a violin, together with the
sullen plunkings of a banjo.
"I must leave you here for a minute," said my
friend, abruptly breaking a long silence, and loosening
my arm. "The druggist over there is a patron
of our house, and I am reminded of a little business
I have with him. He is about closing, too, and
I'll see him now, as I may not be down this way
again soon. No; you wait here for me--right here,"
and he playfully but firmly pushed me back, ran
across the street, and entered the store. Through
the open door I saw him shake hands with the man
who stood behind the counter, and stand talking
in the same position for some minutes--both still
clasping hands, as it seemed; but as I mechanically
bent with closer scrutiny, the druggist seemed to be
examining the hand of Mr. Clark and working at
it, as though picking at a splinter in the palm--I
I could not quite determine what was being done,
for a glass show-case blurred an otherwise clear
view of the arms of both from the elbows down.
Then they came forward, Mr. Clark arranging his
cuffs, and the druggist wrapping up some minute
article he took from an upper show-case, and handing
it to my friend, who placed it in the pocket of
his vest and turned away. At this moment my
attention was withdrawn by an extra tumult of jeers
and harsh laughter in the saloon, from the door of
which, even as my friend turned from the door
opposite, a drunken woman reeled, and staggering
round the corner as my friend came up, fell
violently forward on the pavement, not ten steps in
our advance. Instinctively, we both sprang to her
aid, and bending over the senseless figure, peered
curiously at the bruised and bleeding features. My
friend was trembling with excitement. He clutched
wildly at the limp form, trying, but vainly, to lift the
woman to her feet. "Why don't you take hold of
her?" he whispered hoarsely. "Help me with her--
quick! quick! Lift her up!" I obeyed without a
word, though with a shudder of aversion as a drop
of hot red blood stung me on the hand.
"Now draw her arm about your shoulder--this
way--and hold it so! And now your other arm
around her waist--quick, man, quick, as you yourself
will want God's arm about you when you fail!
Now, come!" And with no other word we hurried
with our burden up the empty darkness of the
I was utterly bewildered with it all, but something
kept me silent. And so we hurried on, and on, and
on, our course directed by my now wholly reticent
companion. Where he was going, what his purpose
was, I could not but vaguely surmise. I only recognized
that his intentions were humane, which fact
was emphasized by the extreme caution he took to
avoid the two or three late pedestrians that passed
us on our way as we stood crowded in concealment
--once behind a low shed, once in an entry-way;
and once, at the distant rattle of a police whistle,
we hurried through the blackness of a narrow alley
into the silent street beyond. And on up this we
passed, until at last we paused at the gateway of a
cottage on our left. On to the door of that we went,
my friend first violently jerking the bell, then opening
the door with a night-key, and with me lifting
the still senseless woman through the hall into a
dimly lighted room upon the right, and laying her
upon a clean white bed that glimmered in the corner.
He reached and turned the gas on in a flaring jet,
and as he did so, "This is my home," he whispered,
"and this woman is--my mother!" He flung himself
upon his knees beside her as he spoke. He laid
his quivering lips against the white hair and the
ruddy wound upon the brow; then dappled with his
kisses the pale face, and stroked and petted and
caressed the faded hands. "O God!" he moaned, "if
I might only weep!"
The steps of some one coming down the stairs
aroused him. He stepped quickly to the door, and
threw it open. It was a woman servant. He
simply pointed to the form upon the bed.
"Oh, sir!" exclaimed the frightened woman,
"what has happened? What has happened to my
poor dear mistress?"
"Why did you let her leave the house?"
"She sent me away, sir. I never dreamed that
she was going out again. She told me she was very
sleepy and wanted to retire, and I helped her to
undress before I went. But she ain't bad hurt, is
she?" she continued, stooping over the still figure
and tenderly smoothing back the disheveled hair.
--"It's only the cheek bruised and the forehead cut
a little--it's the blood that makes it look like a bad
hurt. See, when I bathe it, it is not a bad hurt, sir.
She's just been--she's just worn out, poor thing--
and she's asleep--that's all."
He made no answer to the woman's speech, but
turned toward me. "Five doors from here," he
said, "and to your left as you go out, you will find
the residence of Dr. Worrel. Go to him for me, and
tell him he is wanted here at once. Tell him my
mother is much worse. He will understand. I
would go myself, but must see about arranging for
your comfort upon your return, for you will not
leave me till broad daylight--you must not!" I
bowed in silent acceptance of his wishes, and turned
upon my errand.
Fortunately, the doctor was at home, and
returned at once with me to my friend, where, after a
careful examination of his patient, he assured the
anxious son that the wounds were only slight, and
that her unconscious condition was simply "the result
of over-stimulation, perhaps," as he delicately
put it. She would doubtless waken in her usual
rational state--an occurrence really more to be
feared than desired, since her peculiar sensitiveness
might feel too keenly the unfortunate happening.
"Anyway," he continued, "I will call early in the
morning, and, in the event of her awakening before
that time, I will leave a sedative with Mary, with
directions she will attend to. She will remain here
at her side. And as to yourself, Mr. Clark," the
doctor went on in an anxious tone, as he marked the
haggard face and hollow eyes, "I insist that you
retire. You must rest, sir--worrying for the past
week as you have been doing is telling on you
painfully. You need rest--and you must take it."
"And I will," said Mr. Clark submissively.
Stooping again, he clasped the sleeping face between
his hands and kissed it tenderly. "Good night!" I
heard him whisper--"good night-good night!" He
turned, and motioning for me to follow, opened the
door--"Doctor, good night! Good night, Mary!"
He led the way to his own room up-stairs. "And
now, my friend," he said, as he waved me to an easy
chair, "I have but two other favors to ask of you:
The first is, that you talk to me, or read to me, or
tell me fairy tales, or riddles--anything, so that you
keep it up incessantly, and never leave off till you
find me fast asleep. Then in the next room you
will find a comfortable bed. Leave me sleeping
here, and you sleep there. And the second favor,"
he continued, with a slow smile and an affected air
of great deliberation--"oh, well, I'll not ask the
second favor of you now. I'll keep it for you till
to-morrow." And as he turned laughingly away and
paced three or four times across the room, in his
step, his gait, the general carriage of the figure, I
was curiously reminded of the time, years before,
that I had watched him from the door of the caboose,
as he walked up the suburban street till the
movement of the train had hidden him from view.
"Well, what will you do?" he asked, as he wheeled
a cozy-cushioned lounge close beside my chair, and
removing his coat, flung himself languidly down.--
"Will you talk or read to me?"
"I will read," I said, as I picked up a book to
begin my vigil.
"Hold just a minute, then," he said, drawing a
card and pencil from his vest.--"I may want to
jot down a note or two.--Now, go ahead."
I had been reading in a low voice steadily for
perhaps an hour, my companion never stirring from
his first position, but although my eyes were never
lifted from the book, I knew by the occasional sound
of his pencil that he had not yet dropped asleep.
And so, without a pause, I read monotonously on.
At last he turned heavily. I paused. With his eyes
closed he groped his hand across my knees and
grasped my own. "Go on with the reading," he
said drowsily--"Guess I'm going to sleep now--but
you go right on with the story.--Good night!" His
hand fumbled lingeringly a moment, then was withdrawn
and folded with the other on his breast.
I read on in a lower tone an hour longer, then
paused again to look at my companion. He was
sleeping heavily, and although the features in their
repose appeared unusually pale, a wholesome perspiration,
as it seemed, pervaded all the face, while the
breathing, though labored, was regular. I bent
above him to lower the pillow for his head, and the
movement half aroused him, as I thought at first,
for he muttered something as though impatiently;
but listening to catch his mutterings, I knew that
he was dreaming. "It's what killed father," I heard
him say. "And it's what killed Tom," he went on,
in a smothered voice; "killed both--killed both! It
shan't kill me; I swear it. I could bottle it--case
after case--and never touch a drop. If you never
take the first drink, you'll never want it. Mother
taught me that. What made her ever take the first?
Mother! mother! When I get to be a man, I'll
buy her all the fine things she used to have when
father was alive. Maybe I can buy back the old
home, with the roses up the walk and the sunshine
slanting in the hall."
And so the sleeper murmured on. Sometimes
the voice was thick and discordant, sometimes low
and clear and tuneful as a child's. "Never touch
whisky!" he went on, almost harshly. "Never--
never! Drop in the street first. I did. The doctor
will come then, and he knows what you want. Not
whisky.--Medicine; the kind that makes you warm
again--makes you want to live; but don't ever dare
touch whisky. Let other people drink it if they
want it. Sell it to them; they'll get it anyhow; but
don't you touch it! It killed your father, it killed
Tom, and--oh!--mother! mother! mother!" Tears
actually teemed from underneath the sleeper's lids,
and glittered down the pallid and distorted features.
"There's a medicine that's good for you when you
want whisky," he went on.--"When you are weak,
and everybody else is strong--and always when the
flagstones give way beneath your feet, and the long
street undulates and wavers as you walk; why,
that's a sign for you to take that medicine--and
take it quick! Oh, it will warm you till the little
pale blue streaks in your white hands will bulge out
again with tingling blood, and it will start up from
its stagnant pools and leap from vein to vein till it
reaches your being's furthest height and droops and
falls and folds down over icy brow and face like a
soft veil moistened with pure warmth. Ah! it is
so deliriously sweet and restful!"
I heard a moaning in the room below, and then
steps on the stairs, and a tapping at the door. It
was Mary. Mrs. Clark had awakened and was
crying for her son. "But we must not waken him," I
said. "Give Mrs. Clark the medicine the doctor left
for her--that will quiet her."
"But she won't take it, sir. She won't do
anything at all for me--and if Mr. Clark could only
come to her, for just a minute, she would--"
The woman's speech was broken by a shrill cry
in the hall, and then the thud of naked feet on the
stairway. "I want my boy--my boy!" wailed the
hysterical woman from without.
"Go to your mistress--quick," I said sternly,
pushing the maid from the room.--"Take her back;
I will come down to your assistance in a moment."
Then I turned hastily to see if the sleeper had been
disturbed by the woman's cries; but all was peaceful
with him yet; and so, throwing a coverlet over
him, I drew the door to silently and went below.
I found the wretched mother in an almost frenzied
state, and her increasing violence alarmed
me so that I thought it best to summon the physician
again; and bidding the servant not to leave
her for an instant, I hurried for the help so badly
needed. This time the doctor was long delayed,
although he joined me with all possible haste, and
with all speed accompanied me back to the unhappy
home. Entering the door, our ears were greeted
with a shriek that came piercing down the hall till
the very echoes shuddered as with fear. It was the
patient's voice shrilling from the sleeper's room up
stairs:--"O God! My boy! my boy! I want my
boy, and he will not waken for me!" An instant
later we were both upon the scene.
The woman in her frenzy had broken from the
servant to find her son. And she had found him.
She had wound her arms about him, and had
dragged his still sleeping form upon the floor. He
would not waken, even though she gripped him to
her heart and shrieked her very soul out in his ears.
He would not waken. The face, though whiter
than her own, betokened only utter rest and peace.
We drew her, limp and voiceless, from his side.
"We are too late," the doctor whispered, lifting with
his finger one of the closed lids, and letting it drop
to again.--"See here!" He had been feeling at the
wrist; and, as he spoke, he slipped the sleeve up,
bared the sleeper's arm. From the wrist to elbow it
was livid purple, and pitted and scarred with minute
wounds--some scarcely scaled as yet with clotted
"In heaven's name, what does it all mean?" I
"Morphine," said the doctor, "and the
hypodermic. And here," he exclaimed, lifting the other
hand--"here is a folded card with your name at the
I snatched it from him, and I read, written in
faint but rounded characters:
"I like to hear your voice. It sounds kind. It is
like a far-off tune. To drop asleep, though, as I
am doing now, is sweeter music--but read on.--I
have taken something to make me sleep, and by
mistake I have taken too much; but you will read
right on. Now, mind you, this is not suicide, as
God listens to the whisper of this pencil as I write!
I did it by mistake. For years and years I have
taken the same thing. This time I took too much--
much more than I meant to--but I am glad. This
is the second favor I would ask: Go to my employers
to-morrow, show them this handwriting, and
say I know for my sake they will take charge of
my affairs and administer all my estate in the best
way suited to my mother's needs. Good-by, my
friend--I can only say 'good night' to you when I
shall take your hand an instant later and turn away
Through tears I read it all, and ending with his
name in full, I turned and looked down on the face
of this man that I had learned to love, and the
full measure of his needed rest was with him; and
the rainy day that glowered and drabbled at the
eastern window of the room was as drearily stared
back at by a hopeless woman's dull demented eyes.
But a few miles from the city here, and on the
sloping banks of the stream noted more for its
plenitude of "chubs" and "shiners" than the gamier
two- and four-pound bass for which, in season, so
many credulous anglers flock and lie in wait, stands
a country residence, so convenient to the stream,
and so inviting in its pleasant exterior and
comfortable surroundings--barn, dairy, and spring-
house--that the weary, sunburned, and disheartened
fisherman, out from the dusty town for a day of
recreation, is often wont to seek its hospitality.
The house in style of architecture is something of
a departure from the typical farmhouse, being
designed and fashioned with no regard to symmetry
or proportion, but rather, as is suggested, built to
conform to the matter-of-fact and most sensible
ideas of its owner, who, if it pleased him, would
have small windows where large ones ought to be,
and vice versa, whether they balanced properly to
the eye or not. And chimneys--he would have as
many as he wanted, and no two alike, in either
height or size. And if he wanted the front of the
house turned from all possible view, as though
abashed at any chance of public scrutiny, why, that
was his affair and not the public's; and, with like
perversity, if he chose to thrust his kitchen under the public's
very nose, what should the generally
fagged-out, half-famished representative of that
dignified public do but reel in his dead minnow,
shoulder his fishing-rod, clamber over the back
fence of the old farmhouse and inquire within, or
jog back to the city, inwardly anathematizing that
particular locality or the whole rural district
in general. That is just the way that farmhouse
looked to the writer of this sketch one week ago--
so individual it seemed--so liberal, and yet so
independent. It wasn't even weather-boarded, but,
instead, was covered smoothly with cement,
as though the plasterers had come while the folks
were visiting, and so, unable to get at the interior,
had just plastered the outside.
I am more than glad that I was hungry enough,
and weary enough, and wise enough to take the
house at its first suggestion; for, putting away my
fishing-tackle for the morning, at least, I went up
the sloping bank, crossed the dusty road, and
confidently clambered over the fence.
Not even a growling dog to intimate that I was
trespassing. All was open--gracious-looking--pastoral.
The sward beneath my feet was velvet-like
in elasticity, and the scarce visible path I followed
through it led promptly to the open kitchen door.
From within I heard a woman singing some old
ballad in an undertone, while at the threshold a
trim, white-spurred rooster stood poised on one foot,
curving his glossy neck and cocking his wattled
head as though to catch the meaning of the words.
I paused. It was a scene I felt restrained from
breaking in upon, nor would I have, but for the
sound of a strong male voice coming around the
corner of the house:
Turning, I saw a rough-looking but kindly
featured man of sixty-five, evidently the owner of the
I returned his salutation with some confusion
and much deference. "I must really beg your pardon
for this intrusion," I began, "but I have been
tiring myself out fishing, and your home here looked
so pleasant--and I felt so thirsty--and--"
"Want a drink, I reckon," said the old man,
turning abruptly toward the kitchen door, then pausing
as suddenly, with a backward motion of his thumb
--"jest follow the path here down to the little
brick--that's the spring--and you'll find 'at you've
come to the right place fer drinkin'-worter! Hold
on a minute tel I get you a tumbler--there's nothin'
down there but a tin."
"Then don't trouble yourself any further," I
said, heartily, "for I'd rather drink from a tin cup
than a goblet of pure gold."
"And so'd I," said the old man, reflectively,
turning mechanically, and following me down the path.
" 'Druther drink out of a tin--er jest a fruit-can
with the top knocked off--er--er--er a gourd," he
added in a zestful, reminiscent tone of voice, that
so heightened my impatient thirst that I reached
the spring-house fairly in a run.
"Well-sir!" exclaimed my host, in evident
delight, as I stood dipping my nose in the second
cupful of the cool, revivifying liquid, and peering in a
congratulatory kind of way at the blurred and rubicund
reflection of my features in the bottom of the
cup, "well-sir, blame-don! ef it don't do a feller
good to see you enjoyin' of it thataway! But don't
you drink too much o' the worter!--'cause there's
some sweet milk over there in one o' them crocks,
maybe; and ef you'll jest, kind o' keerful-like, lift
off the led of that third one, say, over there to
yer left, and dip you out a tinful er two o' that,
w'y, it'll do you good to drink it, and it'll do me
good to see you at it-- But hold up!--hold up!"
he called, abruptly, as, nowise loath, I bent above
the vessel designated. "Hold yer hosses fer a second!
Here's Marthy; let her git it fer ye."
If I was at first surprised and confused, meeting
the master of the house, I was wholly startled and
chagrined in my present position before its mistress.
But as I arose, and stammered, in my confusion,
some incoherent apology, I was again reassured and
put at greater ease by the comprehensive and
forgiving smile the woman gave me, as I yielded her
my place, and, with lifted hat, awaited her further
"I came just in time, sir," she said, half
laughingly, as with strong, bare arms she reached across
the gurgling trough and replaced the lid that I had
partially removed.--"I came just in time, I see, to
prevent father from having you dip into the morning's-
milk, which, of course, has scarcely a veil of
cream over the face of it as yet. But men, as you
are doubtless willing to admit," she went on jocularly,
"don't know about these things. You must
pardon father, as much for his well-meaning ignorance
of such matters, as for this cup of cream,
which I am sure you will better relish."
She arose, still smiling, with her eyes turned
frankly on my own. And I must be excused when
I confess that as I bowed my thanks, taking the
proffered cup and lifting it to my lips, I stared
with an uncommon interest and pleasure at the
She was a woman of certainly not less than forty
years of age. But the figure, and the rounded grace
and fulness of it, together with the features and the
eyes, completed as fine a specimen of physical and
mental health as ever it has been my fortune to
meet; there was something so full of purpose and
resolve--something so wholesome, too, about the
character--something so womanly--I might almost
say manly, and would, but for the petty prejudice
maybe occasioned by the trivial fact of a locket
having dropped from her bosom as she knelt; and
that trinket still dangles in my memory even as it
then dangled and dropped back to its concealment
in her breast as she arose. But her face, by no
means handsome in the common sense of the word,
was marked with a breadth and strength of outline
and expression that approached the heroic--a face
that once seen is forever fixed in memory--a personage
once met one must know more of. And so it
was, that an hour later, as I strolled with the old
man about his farm, looking, to all intents, with the
profoundest interest at his Devonshires, Shorthorns,
Jerseys, and the like, I lured from him something
of an outline of his daughter's history.
"There're no better girl 'n Marthy!" he said,
mechanically answering some ingenious allusion to
her worth. "And yit," he went on reflectively,
stooping from his seat in the barn door and with
his open jack-knife picking up a little chip with the
point of the blade--"and yit--you wouldn't believe
it--but Marthy was the oldest o' three daughters,
and hed--I may say--hed more advantages o' marryin'--
and yit, as I was jest goin' to say, she's the
very one 'at didn't marry. Hed every advantage--
Marthy did. W'y, we even hed her educated--her
mother was a-livin' then--and we was well enough
fixed to afford the educatin' of her, mother allus
contended--and we was--besides, it was Marthy's
notion, too, and you know how women is thataway
when they git their head set. So we sent Marthy
down to Indianop'lus, and got her books and put
her in school there, and paid fer her keepin' and
ever'thing; and she jest--well, you may say, lived
there stiddy fer better'n four year. O' course
she'd git back ever' once-an-a-while, but her visits
was allus, some-way-another, onsatisfactory-like,
'cause, you see, Marthy was allus my favorite, and
I'd allus laughed and told her 'at the other girls
could git marrid ef they wanted, but SHE was goin'
to be the 'nest-egg' of our family, and 'slong as I
lived I wanted her at home with me. And she'd
laugh and contend 'at she'd as li'f be an old maid as
not, and never expected to marry, ner didn't want
"But she had me sceart onc't, though! Come
out from the city one time, durin' the army, with
a peart-lookin' young feller in blue clothes and gilt
straps on his shoulders. Young lieutenant he was
--name o' Morris. Was layin' in camp there in the
city som'er's. I disremember which camp it was
now adzackly--but anyway, it 'peared like he had
plenty o' time to go and come, fer from that time
on he kep' on a-comin'--ever' time Marthy 'ud
come home, he'd come, too; and I got to noticin' 'at
Marthy come home a good 'eal more'n she used to
afore Morris first brought her. And blame' ef the
thing didn't git to worryin' me! And onc't I spoke
to mother about it, and told her ef I thought the
feller wanted to marry Marthy I'd jest stop his
comin' right then and there. But mother she sort o'
smiled and said somepin' 'bout men a-never seein'
through nothin'; and when I ast her what she meant,
w'y, she ups and tells me 'at Morris didn't keer
nothin' fer Marthy, ner Marthy fer Morris, and
then went on to tell me that Morris was kind o'
aidgin' up to'rds Annie--she was next to Marthy,
you know, in p'int of years and experience, but
ever'body allus said 'at Annie was the purtiest one
o' the whole three of 'em. And so when mother
told me 'at the signs p'inted to'rds Annie, w'y, of course, I
hedn't no particular objections to that,
'cause Morris was of good fambly enough it turned
out, and, in fact, was as stirrin' a young feller as
ever I' want fer a son-in-law, and so I hed nothin'
more to say--ner they wasn't no occasion to say
nothin', 'cause right along about then I begin to
notice 'at Marthy quit comin' home so much, and
Morris kep' a-comin' more.
"Tel finally, one time he was out here all by
hisself, 'long about dusk, come out here where
I was feedin', and ast me, all at onct, and in
a straightfor'ard way, ef he couldn't marry
Annie; and, some-way-another, blame' ef it didn't
make me happy as him when I told him yes!
You see that thing proved, pine-blank, 'at he wasn't
a-fishin' round fer Marthy. Well-sir, as luck would
hev it, Marthy got home about a half-hour later,
and I'll give you my word I was never so glad to
see the girl in my life! It was foolish in me, I
reckon, but when I see her drivin' up the lane--
it was purt' nigh dark then, but I could see her
through the open winder from where I was sittin'
at the supper-table, and so I jest quietly excused
myself, p'lite-like, as a feller will, you know, when
they's comp'ny round, and slipped off and met her
jest as she was about to git out to open the barn
gate. 'Hold up, Marthy,' says I; 'set right where
you air; I'll open the gate fer you, and I'll do
anything else fer you in the world 'at you want me to!'
" 'W'y, what's pleased YOU so?' she says,
laughin', as she druv through slow-like and a-ticklin' my nose
with the cracker of the buggy-whip.--'What's
" 'Guess,' says I, jerkin' the gate to, and turnin' to
lift her out.
" 'The new peanner's come?' says she, eager-like.
" 'Yer new peanner's come,' says I, 'but that's
" 'Strawberries for supper?' says she.
" 'Strawberries fer supper,' says I; 'but that
"Jest then Morris's hoss whinnied in the barn,
and she glanced up quick and smilin' and says,
'Somebody come to see somebody?'
" 'You're a-gittin' warm,' says I.
" 'Somebody come to see ME?' she says, anxious-like.
" 'No,' says I, 'and I'm glad of it--fer this one
'at's come wants to git married, and o' course I
wouldn't harber in my house no young feller 'at
was a-layin' round fer a chance to steal away the
"Nest-egg," ' says I, laughin'.
"Marthy had riz up in the buggy by this time,
but as I helt up my hands to her, she sort o' drawed
back a minute, and says, all serious-like and kind o'
" 'Is it ANNIE?'
"I nodded. 'Yes,' says I, 'and what's more, I've
give my consent, and mother's give hern--the thing's
all settled. Come, jump out and run in and be
happy with the rest of us!' and I helt out my hands
ag'in, but she didn't 'pear to take no heed. She was kind o'
pale, too, I thought, and swallered a
time er two like as ef she couldn't speak plain.
" 'Who is the man?' she ast.
" 'Who--who's the man,' I says, a-gittin' kind o'
out o' patience with the girl.--'W'y, you know who
it is, o' course.--It's Morris,' says I. 'Come, jump
down! Don't you see I'm waitin' fer ye?'
" 'Then take me,' she says; and blame-don! ef
the girl didn't keel right over in my arms as limber
as a rag! Clean fainted away! Honest! Jest the
excitement, I reckon, o' breakin' it to her so suddent-
like--'cause she liked Annie, I've sometimes
thought, better'n even she did her own mother.
Didn't go half so hard with her when her other
sister married. Yes-sir!" said the old man, by way
of sweeping conclusion, as he rose to his feet--
"Marthy's the on'y one of 'em 'at never married--
both the others is gone--Morris went all through
the army and got back safe and sound--'s livin' in
Idyho, and doin' fust-rate. Sends me a letter ever'
now and then. Got three little chunks o' grandchildren
out there, and I never laid eyes on one
of 'em. You see, I'm a-gittin' to be quite a middle-
aged man--in fact, a very middle-aged man, you
might say. Sence mother died, which has be'n--
lem-me-see--mother's be'n dead som'er's in the
neighberhood o' ten years.--Sence mother died I've
be'n a-gittin' more and more o' MARTHY'S notion--
that is,--you couldn't ever hire ME to marry nobody!
and them has allus be'n and still is the 'Nest-egg's'
views! Listen! That's her a-callin' fer us now. You must sort
o' overlook the freedom, but I told
Marthy you'd promised to take dinner with us to-
day, and it 'ud never do to disappoint her now.
Come on." And ah! it would have made the soul
of you either rapturously glad or madly envious to
see how meekly I consented.
I am always thinking that I never tasted coffee
till that day; I am always thinking of the crisp and
steaming rolls, ored over with the molten gold
that hinted of the clover-fields, and the bees that
had not yet permitted the honey of the bloom and
the white blood of the stalk to be divorced; I am
thinking that the young and tender pullet we happy
three discussed was a near and dear relative of the
gay patrician rooster that I first caught peering so
inquisitively in at the kitchen door; and I am
always--always thinking of "The Nest-egg."
"THE BOY FROM ZEENY"
His advent in our little country town was at
once abrupt and novel. Why he came, when
he came, or how he came, we boys never knew. My
first remembrance of him is of his sudden appearance
in the midst of a game of "Ant'ny-over," in
which a dozen boys besides myself were most
enthusiastically engaged. The scene of the exciting
contest was the center of the main street of the
town, the elevation over which we tossed the ball
being the skeleton remains of a grand triumphal
arch, left as a sort of cadaverous reminder of some
recent political demonstration. Although I recall
the boy's external appearance upon that occasion
with some vagueness, I vividly remember that his
trousers were much too large and long, and that
his heavy, flapping coat was buttonless, and very
badly worn and damaged at the sleeves and elbows.
I remember, too, with even more distinctness, the
hat he wore; it was a high, silk, bell-crowned hat--
a man's hat and a veritable "plug"--not a new and
shiny "plug," by any means, but still of dignity and
gloss enough to furnish a noticeable contrast to the
other appurtenances of its wearer's wardrobe. In
fact, it was through this latter article of dress that the
general attention of the crowd came at last to
be drawn particularly to its unfortunate possessor,
who, evidently directed by an old-time instinct, had
mechanically thrust the inverted "castor" under a
falling ball, and the ball, being made of yarn
wrapped tightly over a green walnut, and dropping
from an uncommon height, had gone through the
hat like a round shot.
Naturally enough much merriment was occasioned
by the singular mishap, and the victim of
the odd occurrence seemed himself inclined to join
in the boisterous laughter and make the most of
his ridiculous misfortune. He pulled the hat back
over his tousled head, and with the flapping crown
of it still clinging by one frayed hinge, he capered
through a grotesquely executed jig that made the
clamorous crowd about him howl again.
"Wo! what a hat!" cried Billy Kinzey, derisively,
and with a palpably rancorous twinge of envy in
his heart; for Billy was the bad boy of our town,
and would doubtless have enjoyed the strange boy's
sudden notoriety in thus being able to convert
disaster into positive fun. "Wo! what a hat!"
reiterated Billy, making a feint to knock it from the
boy's head as the still capering figure pirouetted
The boy's eye caught the motion, and he whirled
suddenly in a backward course and danced past his
reviler again, this time much nearer than before.
"Better try it," he said, in a low, half-laughing
tone that no one heard but Billy and myself. He
was out of range in an instant, still laughing as he
"Durn him!" said Billy, with stifling anger,
clutching his fist and leaving one knuckle protruding
in a very wicked-looking manner.--"Durn him! He
better not sass me! He's afeard to come past here
ag'in and say that! I'll knock his durn ole stove-
pipe in the middle o' nex' week!"
"You will, hey?" queried a revolving voice, as
the boy twirled past again--this time so near that
Billy felt his taunting breath blown in his face.
"Yes, I 'will, hey'!" said Billy, viciously; and
with a side-sweeping, flat-handed lick that sounded
like striking a rusty sheet of tin, the crownless
"plug" went spinning into the gutter, while, as
suddenly, the assaulted little stranger, with a peculiarly
pallid smile about his lips and an electric glitter
in his eye, adroitly flung his left hand forward,
smiting his insulter such a blow in the region of the
brow that the unguarded Billy went tumbling
backward, his plucky assailant prancing wildly
around his prostrate form.
"Oh! come and see me!" snarled the strange boy,
in a contemptuous tone, cocking his fists up in a
scientific manner, and dropping into a stoop-
shouldered swagger that would have driven envy into
the heart of a bullying hack-driver. "Git the bloke
on his pins!" he sneered, turning to the crowd.--
"S'pose I'm goin' to hit a man w'en he's down?"
But his antagonist needed no such assistance.
Stung with his unlooked-for downfall, bleeding
from the first blow ever given him by mortal boy,
and goaded to absolute frenzy by the taunts of his
swaggering enemy, Billy sprang to his feet, and a
moment later had succeeded in closing with the
boy in a rough-and-tumble fight, in which his
adversary was at a disadvantage, being considerably
smaller, hampered, too, with his loose, unbuttoned
coat and baggy trousers. But, for all that, he did
some very efficient work in the way of a deft and
telling blow or two upon the nose of his overpowering
foe, who sat astride his wriggling body, but
wholly unable to get in a lick.
"Durn you!" said Billy, with his hand gripping
the boy's throat, "holler 'nough!"
"Holler nothin'!" gurgled the boy, with his eyes
fairly starting from his head.
"Oh, let him up, Billy," called a compassionate
voice from the excited crowd.
"Holler 'nough and I will," said Billy, in a tragic
whisper in the boy's ear. "Durn ye! holler 'Calf-rope!' "
The boy only shook his head, trembled convulsively,
let fall his eyelids, and lay limp and, to all
The startled Billy loosed his hold, rose half-way
to his feet, then fiercely pounced again at his rival.
But it was too late.--The ruse had succeeded,
and the boy was once more on his feet.
"You fight like a dog!" said the strange boy, in
a tone of infinite contempt--"and you AIR a dog!
Put up yer props like a man and come at me, and
I'll meller yer head till yer mother won't know
you! Come on! I dare you!"
This time, as Billy started forward at the
challenge, I regret to say that in his passion he snatched
up from the street a broken buggy-spoke, before
which warlike weapon the strange boy was forced
warily to retreat. Step by step he gave way, and
step by step his threatening foe advanced. I think,
perhaps, part of the strange boy's purpose in thus
retreating was to arm himself with one of the "ax-
handles" that protruded from a churn standing in
front of a grocery, toward which he slowly backed
across the sidewalk. However that may be, it is
evident he took no note of an open cellar-way that
lay behind him, over the brink of which he deliberately
backed, throwing up his hands as he disappeared.
We heard a heavy fall, but heard no cry. Some
loungers in the grocery, attracted by the clamor of
the throng without, came to the door inquiringly;
one man, learning what had happened, peered down
the stairway of the cellar, and called to ask the boy
if he was hurt, which query was answered an instant
later by the appearance of the boy himself, his face
far whiter than his shirt, and his lips trembling,
but his teeth clenched.
"Guess I broke my arm ag'in," he said, briefly, as
the man leaned over and helped him up the steps,
the boy sweeping his keen eyes searchingly over the
faces of the crowd. "It's the RIGHT arm, though,"
he continued, glancing at the injured member dangling
helplessly at his side--"THIS-'UN'S all right yet!"
and as he spoke he jerked from the man's assistance,
wheeled round, and an instant later, as a
buggy-spoke went hurtling through the air, he
slapped the bewildered face of Billy with his open
hand. "Dam' coward!" he said.
Then the man caught him, and drew him back,
and the crowd closed in between the combatants,
following, as the boy with the broken arm was
hurried down street to the doctor's office, where the
door was immediately closed on the rabble and all
the mystery within--not an utter mystery, either,
for three or four enterprising and sagacious boys
slipped off from the crowd that thronged in front,
and climbing by a roundabout way and over a high
board fence into the back yard, secretly posted
themselves at the blinded window in the rear of the little
one-roomed office and breathlessly awaited news
"They got him laid out on the settee," whispered
a venturous boy who had leaned a board against
the window-sill and climbed into a position
commanding the enviable advantage of a broken window-
pane. "I kin see him through a hole in the
curtain. Keep still!
"They got his coat off, and his sleeve rolled up,"
whispered the boy, in continuation--"and the doctor's
a-givin' him some medicine in a tumbler. Now
he's a-pullin' his arm. Gee-mun-nee! I kin hear the
"Hain't he a-cryin'?" queried a milk-faced boy,
with very large blue eyes and fine white hair, and
a grieved expression as he spoke.--"Hain't he
"Well, he hain't!" said the boy in the window,
with unconscious admiration. "Listen!
"I heerd him thist tell 'em 'at it wasn't the first
time his arm was broke. Now keep still!" and
the boy in the window again bent his ear to the
"He says both his arm's be'n broke," continued
the boy in the window--"says this-'un 'at's broke
now's be'n broke two times 'fore this time."
"Dog-gone! hain't he a funny feller!" said the
milk-faced boy, with his big eyes lifted wistfully
to the boy in the window.
"He says onc't his pap broke his arm w'en he was
whippin' him," whispered the boy in the window.
"Bet his pa's a wicked man!" said the milk-faced
boy, in a dreamy, speculative way--"s'pect he's a
drunkard, er somepin'!"
"Keep still," said the boy at the window; "they're
tryin' to git him to tell his pap's name and his, and
he won't do it, 'cause he says his pap comes and
steals him ever' time he finds out where he is."
The milk-faced boy drew a long, quavering
breath and gazed suspiciously round the high board
fence of the enclosure.
"He says his pap used to keep a liberty-stable
in Zeeny--in Ohio som'er's,--but he daresn't stay
round THERE no more, 'cause he broke up there, and
had to skedaddle er they'd clean him out! He says
he hain't got no mother, ner no brothers, ner no
sisters, ner no nothin'--on'y," the boy in the window
added, with a very dry and painful swallow, "he
says he hain't got nothin' on'y thist the clothes on
"Yes, and I bet," broke in the milk-faced boy,
abruptly, with his thin lips compressed, and his
big eyes fixed on space--"yes, and I bet he kin lick
Billy Kinzey, ef his arm IS broke!"
At this juncture, some one inside coming to raise
the window, the boy at the broken pane leaped to
the ground, and, flocking at his heels, his frightened
comrades bobbed one by one over the horizon of the
high fence and were gone in an instant.
So it was the hero of this sketch came to be
known as "The Boy from Zeeny."
The Boy from Zeeny, though evidently predisposed
to novel and disastrous happenings, for once,
at least, had come upon a streak of better fortune;
for the doctor, it appeared, had someway taken a
fancy to him, and had offered him an asylum at
his own home and hearth--the compensation stipulated,
and suggested by the boy himself, being a
conscientious and efficient service in the doctor's
stable. Even with his broken arm splinted and
bandaged and supported in a sling, The Boy from
Zeeny could daily be seen loping the doctor's spirited
horse up the back alley from the stable to the office,
with the utter confidence and careless grace
of a Bedouin. When, at last, the injured arm was
wholly well again, the daring feats of horsemanship
of which the boy was capable were listened to with
incredulity by the "good" boys of the village school,
who never played "hooky" on long summer afternoons,
and, in consequence, never had a chance of
witnessing The Boy from Zeeny loping up to the
"swimmin'-hole," a mile from town, barebacked,
with nothing but a halter, and his face turned
toward the horse's tail. In fact The Boy from
Zeeny displayed such a versatility of accomplishments,
and those, too, of a character but faintly
represented in the average boy of the country town,
that, for all the admiration their possessor evoked,
an equal envy was aroused in many a youthful
"The boys in this town's down on you!" said
a cross-eyed, freckled-faced boy, one day, to The
Boy from Zeeny.
The Boy from Zeeny was sitting in the alley
window of the hayloft of the doctor's stable, and
the cross-eyed boy had paused below, and, with his
noward-looking eyes upturned, stood waiting the
effect of this intelligence.
"What do I care for the boys in this town?" said
The Boy from Zeeny.
"The boys in this town," repeated the cross-eyed
boy, with a slow, prophetic flourish of his head--
"the boys in this town says 'cause you come from
Zeeny and blacked Billy Kinzey's eye, 'at you think
you're goin' to run things round here! And you'll
find out you ain't the bosst o' this town!" and the
cross-eyed boy shook his head again with dire foreboding.
"Looky here, Cocky!" said The Boy from Zeeny,
trying to focus a direct gaze on the boy's delusive
eyes, "w'y don't you talk straight out from the
shoulder? I reckon 'the boys in this town,' as you
call 'em, didn't send YOU round here to tell me what
THEY was goin' to do! But ef you want to take it
up fer 'em, and got any sand to back you, jest say it,
and I'll come down there and knock them durn
twisted eyes o' yourn straight ag'in!"
"Yes, you will!" muttered the cross-eyed boy,
with dubious articulation, glancing uneasily up the
"What?" growled The Boy from Zeeny, thrusting
one dangling leg farther out the window, supporting
his weight by the palms of his hands, and poised as
though about to spring--"what 'id you say?"
"Didn't say nothin'," said the cross-eyed boy,
feebly; and then, as a sudden and most bewildering
smile lighted up his defective eyes, he exclaimed:
"Oh, I tell you what le's do! Le's me and you
git up a show in your stable, and don't let none o'
the other boys be in it! I kin turn a handspring
like you, and purt' nigh walk on my hands; and
you kin p'form on the slack-rope--and spraddle
out like the 'inja-rubber man'--and hold a pitch-
fork on yer chin-and stand up on a horse 'ithout
a-holdin'--and--and--Oh! ever'thing!" And as the
cross-eyed boy breathlessly concluded this list of
strong attractions, he had The Boy from Zeeny so
thoroughly inoculated with the enterprise that he
warmly closed with the proposition, and the preparations
and the practise for the show were at once
Three hours later, an extremely cross-eyed boy,
with the freckles of his face thrown into vivid relief
by an intense pallor, rushed pantingly into the
doctor's office with the fateful intelligence that The
Boy from Zeeny had "fell and broke his arm ag'in."
And this time, as it seemed, the hapless boy had
surpassed the seriousness of all former fractures,
this last being of a compound nature, and very
painful in the setting, and tedious in recovery; the
recovery, too, being anything but perfect, since it
left the movement of the elbow somewhat restricted,
and threw the little fellow's arm into an unnatural
position, with the palm of the hand turned forward
as he walked. But for all that, the use of it was,
to all appearances, little impaired.
Doubtless it was through such interludes from
rough service as these accidents afforded that The
Boy from Zeeny had acquired the meager education
he possessed. The doctor's wife, who had from the
first been kind to him, grew to like him very much.
Through her gentle and considerate interest he was
stimulated to study by the occasional present of a
simple volume. Oftentimes the good woman would
devote an hour to his instruction in the mysteries of
the book's orthography and rhetoric.
Nor was The Boy from Zeeny a dull pupil, nor
was he an ungrateful one. He was quick to learn,
and never prouder than when a mastered lesson
gained for him the approbation of his patient instructor.
The history of The Boy from Zeeny, such as had
been gathered by the doctor and his wife, was
corroborative in outline with the brief hint of it
communicated to the curious listeners at the rear
window of the doctor's office on the memorable day
of the boy's first appearance in the town. He was
without family, save a harsh, unfeeling father, who,
from every evidence, must have neglected and
abused the child most shamefully, the circumstantial
proof of this fact being evidenced in the boy's
frank acknowledgment that he had repeatedly "run
away" from him, and his still firm resolve to keep
his name a secret, lest he might thereby be traced
to his present security and fall once more into the
hands of his unnatural parent.
Certain it was that the feelings of all who knew
the lad's story showed hearty sympathy with him,
and when one morning it was rumored that The Boy
from Zeeny had mysteriously disappeared, and the
rumor rapidly developed into an unquestionable
fact, there was a universal sense of regret in the
little town, which in turn resolved itself into positive
indignation when it was learned from the doctor
that an explanation, printed in red keel on the
back of a fragment of circus-poster, had been
found folded and tucked away an the buckle-strap
of his horse's bridle. The somewhat remarkable
communication, in sprawling capitals, ran thus:
"PAPS GOT ME AGIN. I HAF TO GO. DAM HIM. DOC TEL
HER TO KEEP MY BOOCKS. GOOD BY. I FED OLE CHARLY. I
FED HIM OTES AND HA AN CORN. HE WONT NEED NO MORE FER
A WEAK. AN BRAND TO. DOC TEL HER GOOD BY."
It was a curious bit of composition--uncouth,
assuredly, and marred, maybe, with an unpardonable
profanity--but it served. In the silence and gloom
of the old stable, the doctor's fingers trembled as
he read, and the good wife's eyes, peering anxiously
above his heaving shoulder, filled and overflowed
I wish that it were in the veracious sequence of
this simple history to give this wayward boy back
to the hearts that loved him, and that still in memory
enshrine him with affectionate regard; but the
hapless lad--the little ragged twelve-year-old that
wandered out of nowhere into town, and wandered
into nowhere out again--never returned. Yet we
who knew him in those old days--we who were
children with him, and, in spite of boyish jealousy
and petty bickerings, admired the gallant spirit of
the lad--are continually meeting with reminders of
him; the last instance of which, in my own experience,
I can not refrain from offering here:
For years I have been a wanderer from the dear
old town of my nativity, but through all my
wanderings a gracious fate has always kept me somewhere
in its pleasant neighborhood, and, in consequence,
I often pay brief visits to the scenes of my
long-vanished boyhood. It was during such a visit,
but a few short years ago, that remembrances of
my lost youth were most forcibly recalled by the
progress of the county fair, which institution I
was permitted to attend through the kindness of an
old chum who drove me over in his buggy.
Although it was not the day for racing, we found
the track surrounded by a dense crowd of clamorous
and applauding people.
"What does it mean?" I asked my friend, as he
guided his horse in and out among the trees toward
the edge of the enclosure.
"It's Professor Andrus, I suspect," he answered,
rising in the buggy as he spoke, and peering eagerly
above the heads of the surging multitude.
"And who's Professor Andrus?" I asked, striking
a match against the tire of the now stationary buggy-
wheel, and lighting the stump of my cigar.
"Why, haven't you heard of the famous Professor?"
he answered, laughingly--immediately adding
in a serious tone: "Professor Andrus is the famous
'horse-tamer' who has been driving the country
absolutely wild here for two or three days. Stand up
here where you can see!" he went on, excitedly.
"Yonder he comes! Isn't that splendid?"
And it was.
Across the sea of heads, and facing toward us
down the track, I caught sight of a glossy span of
horses that in their perfect beauty of symmetry,
high heads and tossing manes looked as though
they were just prancing out of some Arabian dream.
The animals seemed nude of rein or harness, save
only a jeweled strap that crossed the breast of each,
together with a slender trace at either side connecting
with a jaunty little phaeton whose glittering
wheels slivered the sunshine into splinters as they
spun. Upon the narrow seat of the airy vehicle sat
the driver. No lines were wound about his hands
--no shout or lash to goad the horses to their telling
speed. They were simply directed and controlled
by the graceful motions of a long and slender whip
which waved slowly to and fro above their heads.
The great crowd cheered the master as he came. He
arose deliberately, took off his hat, and bowed. The
applause was deafening. Still standing, he whizzed
past us and was gone. But something in the manner
of the handsome fellow struck me with a strange
sense of familiarity. Was it the utter disregard of
fear that I saw on his face? Was it the keenness
of the eye and the perfect self-possession of the
man? Or was it--was it the peculiar way in which
the right arm had dropped to his side after his
salute to us while curving past us, and did I fancy,
for that reason, that the palm of his hand turned
forward as he stood?
"Clear the track, there!" came a far voice across
the ring.--"Don't cross there, in God's name! Drive
The warning evidently came too late. There was
an instant's breathless silence, then a far-away, pent-
sounding clash, then utter havoc in the crowd: The
ropes about the ring were broken over, and a tumultuous
tide of people poured across the ring, myself
borne on the very foremost wave.
"Jest the buggy smashed, that's all!" cried a voice.
"The hosses hain't hurt--ner the man."
The man referred to was the Professor. I caught
a glimpse of him as he rose from the grassy bank
where he had been flung. He was very pale, but
calm. An uncouth man brought him his silk hat
from where it had rolled in the dust.
"Wish you'd just take this handkerchief and
brush it off," said the Professor; "I guess I've broke
It was The Boy from Zeeny.
WHERE IS MARY ALICE SMITH?
she--has--gone--home!" It was the thin
mysterious voice of little Mary Alice Smith herself
that so often queried and responded as above--
every word accented with a sweet and eery intonation,
and a very gaiety of solemn earnestness that
baffled the cunning skill of all childish imitators. A
slender wisp of a girl she was, not more than ten
years in appearance, though her age had been
given to us as fourteen. The spindle ankles that
she so airily flourished from the sparse concealment
of a worn and shadowy calico skirt seemed scarce
a fraction more in girth than the slim blue-veined
wrists she tossed among the loose and ragged tresses
of her yellow hair, as she danced around the room.
She was, from the first, an object of curious and
most refreshing interest to our family--to us children
in particular--an interest, though years and
years have interposed to shroud it in the dull dust
of forgetfulness, that still remains vivid and bright
and beautiful. Whether an orphan child only, or
with a father that could thus lightly send her adrift,
I do not know now, nor do I care to ask, but I do
recall distinctly that on a raw bleak day in early
winter she was brought to us, from a wild country settlement, by
a reputed uncle--a gaunt round-
shouldered man, with deep eyes and sallow cheeks
and weedy-looking beard, as we curiously watched
him from the front window stolidly swinging this
little, blue-lipped, red-nosed waif over the muddy
wagon-wheel to father's arms, like so much country
produce. And even as the man resumed his seat
upon the thick board laid across the wagon, and
sat chewing a straw, with spasmodic noddings of
the head, as some brief further conference detained
him, I remember mother quickly lifting my sister
up from where we stood, folding and holding the
little form in unconscious counterpart of father and
the little girl without. And how we gathered round
her when father brought her in, and mother fixed
a cozy chair for her close to the blazing fire, and
untied the little summer hat, with its hectic
trimmings, together with the dismal green veil that had
been bound beneath it round the little tingling ears.
The hollow, pale blue eyes of the child followed
every motion with an alertness that suggested a
somewhat suspicious mind.
"Dave gimme that!" she said, her eyes proudly
following the hat as mother laid it on the pillow of
the bed. "Mustn't git it mussed up, sir! er you'll
have Dave in yer wool!" she continued warningly,
as our childish interest drew us to a nearer view of
the gaudy article in question.
Half awed, we shrank back to our first wonderment,
one of us, however, with the bravery to ask:
"Who's Dave?" reiterated the little voice half
scornfully.--"W'y, Dave's a great big boy! Dave
works on Barnes's place. And he kin purt' nigh
make a full hand, too. Dave's purt' nigh tall as
your pap! He's purt' nigh growed up--Dave is!
And--David--Mason--Jeffries," she continued,
jauntily teetering her head from left to right, and
for the first time introducing that peculiar deliberation
of accent and undulating utterance that we
afterward found to be her quaintest and most
then she broke abruptly into the merriest laughter,
and clapped her little palms together till they fairly
"And who's Mary Alice Smith?" clamored a
chorus of merry voices.
The elfish figure straightened haughtily in the
chair. Folding the slender arms tightly across her
breast, and tilting her wan face back with an
imperious air, she exclaimed sententiously, "W'y,
Mary Alice Smith is me--that's who Mary Alice
It was not long, however, before her usual bright
and infectious humor was restored, and we were
soon piloting the little stranger here and there about
the house, and laughing at the thousand funny little
things she said and did. The winding stairway in
the hall quite dazed her with delight. Up and down
she went a hundred times, it seemed. And she
would talk and whisper to herself, and oftentimes
would stop and nestle down and rest her pleased
face close against the steps and pat one softly with
her slender hand, peering curiously down at us
with half-averted eyes. And she counted them and
named them, every one, as she went up and down.
"I'm mighty glad I'm come to live in this-here
house," she said.
We asked her why.
"Oh, 'cause," she said, starting up the stairs again
by an entirely novel and original method of her
own--" 'cause Uncle Tomps ner Aunt 'Lizabeth
don't live here; and when they ever come here to
git their dinners, like they will ef you don't watch
out, w'y, then I kin slip out here on these-here
stairs and play like I was climbin' up to the Good
World where my mother is--that's why!"
Then we hushed our laughter, and asked her
where her home was, and what it was like, and
why she didn't like her Uncle Tomps and Aunt
'Lizabeth, and if she wouldn't want to visit them
"Oh, yes," she artlessly answered in reply to the
concluding query; "I'll want to go back there lots
o' times; but not to see them! I'll--only--go--back
--there--to--see"--and here she was holding up
the little flared-out fingers of her left hand, and
with the index finger of the right touching their
pink tips in ordered notation with the accent of
every gleeful word--"I'll--only--go--back--there
--the--boy--fer--me!" And then she clapped her
hands again and laughed in that half-hysterical, half-
musical way of hers till we all joined in and made
the echoes of the old hall ring again. "And then,"
she went on, suddenly throwing out an imperative
gesture of silence--"and then, after I've been in this--
here house a long, long time, and you all gits so's
you like me awful--awful--awful well, then some
day you'll go in that room there--and that room
there--and in the kitchen--and out on the porch--
and down the cellar--and out in the smoke-house--
and the wood-house--and the loft--and all around
--oh, ever' place--and in here--and up the stairs--
and all them rooms up there--and you'll look behind
all the doors--and in all the cubboards--and under
all the beds--and then you'll look sorry-like, and
holler out, kind o' skeert, and you'll say: 'Where--
is--Mary--Alice--Smith?' And then you'll wait
and listen and hold yer breath; and then somepin' 'll
holler back, away fur off, and say: 'Oh--she--has
gone--home!' And then ever'thing'll be all still
ag'in, and you'll be afraid to holler any more--and
you dursn't play--and you can't laugh, and yer
throat'll thist hurt and hurt, like you been a-eatin'
too much calamus-root er somepin'!" And as the
little gipsy concluded her weird prophecy, with a
final flourish of her big pale eyes, we glanced
furtively at one another's awestruck faces, with a
superstitious dread of a vague indefinite disaster
most certainly awaiting us around some shadowy
corner of the future. Through all this speech she
had been slowly and silently groping up the winding
steps, her voice growing fainter and fainter,
and the littly pixy form fading, and wholly vanishing
at last around the spiral banister of the upper
landing. Then down to us from that alien recess
came the voice alone, touched with a tone as of
wild entreaty and despair: "Where--is--Mary--
Alice--Smith?" And then a long breathless pause,
in which our wide-eyed group below huddled still
closer, pale and mute. Then--far off and faint
and quavering with a tenderness of pathos that
dews the eyes of memory even now--came, like a
belated echo, the voice all desolate: "Oh--she--has
What a queer girl she was, and what a fascinating
influence she unconsciously exerted over us!
We never tired of her presence; but she, deprived
of ours by the many household tasks that she herself
assumed, so rigidly maintained and deftly executed,
seemed always just as happy when alone as
when in our boisterous, fun-loving company. Such
resources had Mary Alice Smith--such a wonderful
inventive fancy! She could talk to herself--a
favorite amusement, I might almost say a popular
amusement, of hers, since these monologues at times
would involve numberless characters, chipping in
from manifold quarters of a wholesale discussion,
and querying and exaggerating, agreeing and
controverting, till the dishes she was washing would
clash and clang excitedly in the general badinage.
Loaded with a pyramid of glistening cups and
saucers, she would improvise a gallant line of march
from the kitchen table to the pantry, heading an
imaginary procession, and whistling a fife-tune that
would stir your blood. Then she would trippingly
return, rippling her rosy fingers up and down the
keys of an imaginary portable piano, or stammering
flat-soled across the floor, chuffing and tooting like
a locomotive. And she would gravely propound to
herself the most intricate riddles--ponder thoughtfully
and in silence over them--hazard the most
ridiculous answers, and laugh derisively at her
own affected ignorance. She would guess again
and again, and assume the most gleeful surprise
upon at last giving the proper answer, and then
she would laugh jubilantly, and mockingly scout
herself with having given out "a fool-riddle" that
she could guess "with both eyes shut."
"Talk about riddles," she said abruptly to us,
one evening after supper, as we lingered watching
her clearing away the table--"talk about riddles,
Bet you don't know
'Riddle-cum, riddle-cum right!
Where was I last Saturd'y night?
The winds blow--the boughs did shake--
I saw the hole a fox did make!' "
Again we felt that indefinable thrill never
separate from the strange utterance, suggestive always
of some dark mystery, and fascinating and holding
the childish fancy in complete control.
"Bet you don't know this-'un neether:
'A holler-hearted father,
And a hump-back mother--
Three black orphants
All born together!' "
We were dumb.
"You can't guess nothin'!" she said half pityingly.
"W'y, them's easy as fallin' off a chunk! First-un's
a man named Fox, and he kilt his wife and chopped
her head off, and they was a man named Wright
lived in that neighberhood--and he was a-goin'
home--and it was Saturd'y night--and he was
a-comin' through the big woods--and they was a
storm--and Wright he clumb a tree to git out of
the rain, and while he was up there here come
along a man with a dead woman--and a pickax,
and a spade. And he drug the dead woman under
the same tree where Mr. Wright was--so ever'
time it 'ud lightnin', w'y, Wright he could look down
and see him a-diggin' a grave there to bury the
woman in. So Wright, he kep' still tel he got her
buried all right, you know, and went back home;
and then he clumb down and lit out fer town, and
waked up the constabul--and he got a supeeny and
went out to Fox's place, and had him jerked up
'fore the gran' jury. Then, when Fox was in
court and wanted to know where their proof was
that he kilt his wife, w'y, Wright he jumps up and
says that riddle to the judge and all the neighbers
that was there. And so when they got it all studied
out--w'y, they tuk old Fox out and hung him under
the same tree where he buried Mrs. Fox under. And
that's all o' that'n; and the other'n--I promised--
as she gave this rather ambiguous explanation of
the first riddle, with the mysterious comment on the
latter in conclusion, she shook her elfin tresses back
over her shoulders with a cunning toss of her head
and a glimmering twinkle of her pale bright eyes
that somewhat reminded us of the fairy godmother
And Mary Alice Smith was right, too, in her early
prognostications regarding the visits of her Uncle
Tomps and Aunt 'Lizabeth. Many times through
the winter they "jest dropped in," as Aunt 'Lizabeth
always expressed it, "to see how we was a-gittin' on
with Mary Alice." And once, "in court week,"
during a prolonged trial in which Uncle Tomps and
Aunt 'Lizabeth rather prominently figured, they
"jest dropped in" on us and settled down and dwelt
with us for the longest five days and nights we
children had ever in our lives experienced. Nor
was our long term of restraint from childish sports
relieved wholly by their absence, since Aunt 'Lizabeth
had taken Mary Alice back with them, saying
that "a good long visit to her dear old home--pore
as it was--would do the child good."
And then it was that we went about the house in
moody silence, the question, "Where--is--Mary--
Alice--Smith?" forever yearning at our lips for
utterance, and the still belated echo in the old hall
overhead forever answering, "Oh--she--has--gone
It was early spring when she returned. And
we were looking for her coming, and knew a week
beforehand the very day she would arrive--for had
not Aunt 'Lizabeth sent special word by Uncle
Tomps, who "had come to town to do his millin', and
git the latest war news, not to fail to jest drop in
and tell us that they was layin' off to send Mary
Alice in next Saturd'y."
Our little town, like every other village and
metropolis throughout the country at that time, was,
to the children at least, a scene of continuous
holiday and carnival. The nation's heart was
palpitating with the feverish pulse of war, and already
the still half-frozen clods of the common highway
were beaten into frosty dust by the tread of marshaled
men; and the shrill shriek of the fife, and
the hoarse boom and jar and rattling patter of the
drums stirred every breast with something of that
rapturous insanity of which true patriots and heroes
can alone be made.
But on the day--when Mary Alice Smith was
to return--what was all the gallant tumult of the
town to us? I remember how we ran far up
the street to welcome her--for afar off we had
recognized her elfish face and eager eyes peering
expectantly from behind the broad shoulders of a
handsome fellow mounted on a great high-stepping
horse that neighed and pranced excitedly as we ran
scurrying toward them.
"Whoo-ee!" she cried in perfect ecstasy, as we
paused in breathless admiration. "Clear--the--
O what a day that was! And how vain indeed
would be the attempt to detail here a tithe of its
glory, or our happiness in having back with us our
dear little girl, and her hysterical delight in seeing
us so warmly welcome to the full love of our childish
hearts the great, strong, round-faced, simple-
natured "David--Mason--Jeffries"! Long and
long ago we had learned to love him as we loved
the peasant hero of some fairy tale of Christian
Andersen's; but now that he was with us in most
wholesome and robust verity, our very souls seemed
scampering from our bodies to run to him and be
caught up and tossed and swung and dandled in
his gentle giant arms.
All that long delicious morning we were with
him. In his tender charge we were permitted to go
down among the tumult and the music of the
streets, his round good-humored face and big blue
eyes lit with a luster like our own. And happy
little Mary Alice Smith--how proud she was of
him! And how closely and how tenderly, through
all that golden morning, did the strong brown hand
clasp hers! A hundred times at least, as we promenaded
thus, she swung her head back jauntily to
whisper to us in that old mysterious way of hers
--guess!" But when he had returned us home, and
after dinner had started down the street alone, with
little Mary Alice clapping her hands after him
above the gate and laughing in a strange new voice,
and with the backs of her little fluttering hands
vainly striving to blot out the big tear-drops that
gathered in her eyes, we vaguely guessed the secret
she and David kept. That night at supper-time we
knew it fully. He had enlisted.
. . . . . . .
Among the list of "killed" at Rich Mountain,
Virginia, occurred the name of "Jeffries, David M."
We kept it from her as long as we could. At last
. . . . . . .
"It don't seem like no year ago to me!" Over
and over she had said these words. The face was
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