by Elia Wilkinson Peattie
Will you come with me into the chamber of memory and lift your eyes to
the painted windows where the figures and scenes of childhood appear?
Perhaps by looking with kindly eyes at those from out my past, long
wished-for visions of your own youth will appear to heal the wounds from
which you suffer, and to quiet your stormy and restless heart.
YOUNG people believe very little that they hear about the
compensations of growing old, and of living over again in memory the
events of the past. Yet there really are these com-pensations and
pleasures, and although they are not so vivid and breathless as the
pleasures of youth, they have some-thing delicate and fine about them
that must be experienced to be appreciated.
Few of us would exchange our memories for those of others. They
have become a part of our personality, and we could not part with them
without losing something of ourselves. Neither would we part with our
own particular childhood, which, however difficult it may have been at
times, seems to each of us more significant than the childhood of any
one else. I can run over in my mind certain incidents of my childhood
as if they were chapters in a much-loved book, and when I am wakeful at
night, or bored by a long journey, or waiting for some one in the
railway-station, I take them out and go over them again.
Nor is my book of memories without its illustrations. I can see
little villages, and a great city, and forests and planted fields, and
familiar faces; and all have this advantage: they are not fixed and
without motion, like the pictures in the ordinary book. People are
walking up the streets of the village, the trees are tossing, the tall
wheat and corn in the fields salute me. I can smell the odour of the
gathered hay, and the faces in my dream-book smile at me.
Of all of these memories I like best the one in the pine forest.
I was at that age when children think of their parents as being
all-powerful. I could hardly have imagined any circumstances, however
adverse, that my father could not have met with his strength and wisdom
and skill. All children have such a period of hero-worship, I suppose,
when their father stands out from the rest of the world as the best and
most powerful man living. So, feeling as I did, I was made happier than
I can say when my father decided, because I was looking pale and had a
poor appetite, to take me out of school for a while, and carry me with
him on a driving trip. We lived in Michigan, where there were, in the
days of which I am writing, not many railroads; and when my father,
who was attorney for a number of wholesale mercantile firms in Detroit,
used to go about the country collecting money due, adjusting claims,
and so on, he had no choice but to drive.
And over what roads! Now it was a strip of corduroy, now a piece of
well-graded elevation with clay subsoil and gravel surface, now a
neglected stretch full of dangerous holes; and worst of all, running
through the great forests, long pieces of road from which the stumps
had been only partly extracted, and where the sunlight barely
penetrated. Here the soaked earth became little less than a quagmire.
But father was too well used to hard journeys to fear them, and I
felt that, in going with him, I was safe from all possible harm. The
journey had all the allurement of an adventure, for we would not know
from day to day where we should eat our meals or sleep at night. So, to
provide against trouble, we carried father's old red-and-blue-checked
army blankets, a bag of feed for Sheridan, the horse, plenty of bread,
bacon, jam, coffee and prepared cream; and we hung pails of pure water
and buttermilk from the rear of our buggy.
We had been out two weeks without failing once to eat at a proper
table or to sleep in a comfortable bed. Sometimes we put up at the
stark-looking hotels that loomed, raw and uninviting, in the larger
towns; sometimes we had the pleasure of being welcomed at a little inn,
where the host showed us a personal hospitality; but oftener we were
forced to make ourselves "paying guests" at some house. We cared
nothing whether we slept in the spare rooms of a fine frame "residence"
or crept into bed beneath the eaves of the attic in a log cabin. I had
begun to feel that our journey would be almost too tame and
comfortable, when one night something really happened.
Father lost his bearings. He was hoping to reach the town of
Gratiot by nightfall, and he attempted to make a short cut. To do this
he turned into a road that wound through a magnificent forest, at first
of oak and butternut, ironwood and beech, then of densely growing
pines. When we entered the wood it was twilight, but no sooner were we
well within the shadow of these sombre trees than we were plunged in
darkness, and within half an hour this darkness deepened, so that we
could see nothing — not even the horse.
"The sun doesn't get in here the year round," said father, trying
his best to guide the horse through the mire. So deep was the mud that
it seemed as if it literally sucked at the legs of the horse and the
wheels of the buggy, and I began to wonder if we should really be
swallowed, and to fear that we had met with a difficulty that even my
father could not overcome. I can hardly make plain what a tragic
thought that was! The horse began to give out sighs and groans, and in
the intervals of his struggles to get on, I could feel him trembling.
There was a note of anxiety in father's voice as he called out, with
all the authority and cheer he could command, to poor Sheridan. The
wind was rising, and the long sobs of the pines made cold shivers run
up my spine. My teeth chattered, partly from cold, but more from
"What are we going to do?" I asked, my voice quivering with tears.
"Well, we aren't going to cry, whatever else we do!" answered
father, rather sharply. He snatched the lighted lantern from its place
on the dashboard and leaped out into the road. I could hear him
floundering round in that terrible mire and soothing the horse. The
next thing I realised was that the horse was unhitched, that father had
— for the first time during our journey — laid the lash across
Sheridan's back, and that, with a leap of indignation, the horse had
reached the firm ground of the roadside. Father called out to him to
stand still, and a moment later I found myself being swung from the
buggy into father's arms. He staggered along, plunging and almost
falling, and presently I, too, stood beneath the giant pines.
"One journey more," said father, "for our supper, and then we'll
bivouac right here."
Now that I was away from the buggy that was so familiar to me, and
that seemed like a little movable piece of home, I felt, as I had not
felt before, the vastness of the solitude. Above me in the rising wind
tossed the tops of the singing trees; about me stretched the soft
blackness; and beneath the dense, interlaced branches it was almost as
calm and still as in a room. I could see that the clouds were breaking
and the stars beginning to come out, and that comforted me a little.
Father was keeping up a stream of cheerful talk.
"Now, sir," he was saying to Sheridan, "stand still while I get
this harness off you. I'll tie you and blanket you, and you can lie or
stand as you please. Here's your nose-bag, with some good supper in it,
and if you don't have drink, it's not my fault. Anyway, it isn't so
long since you got a good nip at the creek."
I was watching by the faint light of the lantern, and noticing how
unnatural father and Sheridan looked. They seemed to be blocked out in
a rude kind of way, like some wooden toys I had at home.
"Here we are," said father, "like Robinson Crusoes. It was hard
luck for Robinson, not having his little girl along. He'd have had her
to pick up sticks and twigs to make a fire, and that would have been a
great help to him."
Father began breaking fallen branches over his knee, and I groped
round and filled my arms again and again with little fagots. So after a
few minutes we had a fine fire crackling in a place where it could not
catch the branches of the trees. Father had scraped the needles of the
pines together in such a way that a bare rim of earth was left all
around the fire, so that it could not spread along the ground; and
presently the coffee-pot was over the fire and bacon was sizzling in
the frying-pan. The good, hearty odours came out to mingle with the
delicious scent of the pines, and I, setting out our dishes, began to
feel a happiness different from anything I had ever known.
Pioneers and wanderers and soldiers have joys of their own — joys
of which I had heard often enough, for there had been more stories told
than read in our house. But now for the first time I knew what my
grandmother and my uncles had meant when they told me about the way
they had come into the wilderness, and about the great happiness and
freedom of those first days. I, too, felt this freedom, and it seemed
to me as if I never again wanted walls to close in on me. All my fear
was gone, and I felt wild and glad. I could not believe that I was only
a little girl. I felt taller even than my father.
Father's mood was like mine in a way. He had memories to add to
his emotion, but then, on the other hand, he lacked the sense of
discovery I had, for he had known often such feelings as were coming to
me for the first time. When he was a young man he had been a colporteur
for the American Bible Society among the Lake Superior Indians, and in
that way had earned part of the money for his course at the University
of Michigan; afterward he had gone with other gold-seekers to Pike's
Peak, and had crossed the plains with oxen, in the company of many
other adventurers; then, when President Lincoln called for troops, he
had returned to enlist with the Michigan men, and had served more than
three years with McClellan and Grant.
So, naturally, there was nothing he did not know about making
himself comfortable in the open. He knew all the sorrow and all the joy
of the homeless man, and now, as he cooked, he began to sing the old
songs — "Marching Through Georgia," and "Bury Me Not on the Lone
Prairie," and "In the Prison Cell I Sit." He had been in a Southern
prison after the Battle of the Wilderness, and so he knew how to sing
that song with particular feeling.
I had heard war stories all my life, though usually father told
such tales in a half-joking way, as if to make light of everything he
had gone through. But now, as we ate there under the tossing pines, and
the wild chorus in the treetops swelled like a rising sea, the spirit
of the old days came over him. He was a good "stump speaker," and he
knew how to make a story come to life, and never did all his simple
natural gifts show themselves better than on this night, when he dwelt
on his old campaigns.
For the first time I was to look into the heart of a kindly
natured man, forced by terrible necessity to go through the dread
experience of war. I gained an idea of the unspeakable homesickness of
the man who leaves his family to an unimagined fate, and sacrifices
years in the service of his country. I saw that the mere foregoing of
roof and bed is an indescribable distress; I learned something of what
the palpitant anxiety before a battle must be, and the quaking fear at
the first rattle of bullets, and the half-mad rush of determination
with which men force valour into their faltering hearts; I was made to
know something of the blight of war — the horror of the battlefield,
the waste of bounty, the ruin of homes.
Then, rising above this, came stories of devotion, of brotherhood,
of service on the long, desolate marches, of courage to the death of
those who fought for a cause. I began to see wherein lay the highest
joy of the soldier, and of how little account he held himself, if the
principle for which he fought could be preserved. I heard for the first
time the wonderful words of Lincoln at Gettysburg, and learned to
repeat a part of them.
I was only eight, it is true, but emotion has no age, and I
understood then as well as I ever could, what heroism and devotion and
self-forgetfulness mean. I understood, too, the meaning of the words
"our country," and my heart warmed to it, as in the older times the
hearts of boys and girls warmed to the name of their king. The new
knowledge was so beautiful that I thought then, and I think now, that
nothing could have served as so fit an accompaniment to it as the
shouting of those pines. They sang like heroes, and in their swaying
gave me fleeting glimpses of the stars, unbelievably brilliant in the
dusky purple sky, and half-obscured now and then by drifting clouds.
By and by we lay down, not far apart, each rolled in an army
blanket, frayed with service. Our feet were to the fire — for it was
so that soldiers lay, my father said — and our heads rested on mounds
Sometimes in the night I felt my father's hand resting lightly on
my shoulders to see that I was covered, but in my dreams he ceased to
be my father and became my comrade, and I was a drummer boy, — I had
seen the play, "The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock," — marching
forward, with set teeth, in the face of battle.
Whatever could redeem war and make it glorious seemed to flood my
soul. All that was highest, all that was noble in that dreadful
conflict came to me in my sleep — to me, the child who had been born
when my father was at "the front." I had a strange baptism of the
spirit. I discovered sorrow and courage, singing trees and stars. I was
never again to think that the fireside and fireside thoughts made up
the whole of life.
My father lies with other soldiers by the Pacific; the forest sings
no more; the old army blankets have disappeared; the memories of the
terrible war are fading, — happily fading, — but they all live again,
sometimes, in my memory, and I am once more a child, with thoughts as
proud and fierce and beautiful as Valkyries.
AMONG the pictures that I see when I look back into the past, is
the one where I, a sullen, egotistic person nine years old, stood quite
alone in the world. To he sure, there were father and mother in the
house, and there were the other children, and not one among them knew I
was alone. The world certainly would not have regarded me as friendless
or orphaned. There was nothing in my mere appearance, as I started away
to school in my clean ginghams, with my well-brushed hair, and
embroidered school-bag, to lead any one to suppose that I was a
castaway. Yet I was — I had discovered this fact, hidden though it
might be from others.
I was no longer loved. Father and mother loved the other children;
but not me. I might come home at night, fairly bursting with important
news about what had happened in class or among my friends, and try to
relate my little histories. But did mother listen? Not at all. She
would nod like a mandarin while I talked, or go on turning the leaves
of her book, or writing her letter. What I said was of no importance to
Father was even less interested. He frankly told me to keep still,
and went on with the accounts in which he was so absurdly interested,
or examined "papers" — stupid-looking things done on legal cap, which
he brought home with him from the office. No one kissed me when I
started away in the morning; no one kissed me when I came home at
night. I went to bed unkissed. I felt myself to be a lonely and
misunderstood child — perhaps even an adopted one.
Why, I knew a little girl who, when she went up to her room at
night, found the bedclothes turned back, and the shade drawn, and a
screen placed so as to keep off drafts. And her mother brushed her hair
twenty minutes by the clock each night, to make it glossy; and then she
sat by her bed and sang softly till the girl fell asleep.
I not only had to open my own bed, but the beds for the other
children, and although I sometimes felt my mother's hand tucking in the
bedclothes round me, she never stooped and kissed me on the brow and
said, "Bless you, my child." No one, in all my experience, had said,
"Bless you, my child." When the girl I have spoken of came into the
room, her mother reached out her arms and said, before everybody,
"Here comes my dear little girl." When I came into a room, I was
usually told to do something for somebody. It was "Please see if the
fire needs more wood," or "Let the cat in, please," or "I'd like you to
weed the pansy bed before supper-time."
In these circumstances, life hardly seemed worth living. I decided
that I had made a mistake in choosing my family. It did not appreciate
me, and it failed to make my young life glad. I knew my young life
ought to be glad. And it was not. It was drab, as drab as Toot's old
Toot was "our coloured boy." That is the way we described him.
Father had brought him home from the war, and had sent him to school,
and then apprenticed him to a miller. Toot did "chores" for his board
and clothes, but was soon to be his own man, and to be paid money by
the miller, and to marry Tulula Darthula Jones, a nice coloured girl
who lived with the Cutlers.
The time had been when Toot had been my self-appointed slave.
Almost my first recollections were of his carrying me out to see the
train pass, and saying, "Toot, toot!" in imitation of the locomotive;
so, although he had rather a splendid name, I called him "Toot," and
the whole town followed my example. Yes, the time had been when Toot
saw me safe to school, and slipped little red apples into my pocket,
and took me out while he milked the cow, and told me stories and sang
me plantation songs. Now, when he passed, he only nodded. When I spoke
to him about his not giving me any more apples, he said:
"Ah reckon they're your pa's apples, missy. Why, fo' goodness'
sake, don' yo' he'p yo'se'f?"
But I did not want to help myself. I wanted to be helped — not
because I was lazy, but because I wanted to be adored. I was really a
sort of fairy princess, — misplaced, of course, in a stupid republic,
— and I wanted life conducted on a fairy-princess basis. It was a game
I wished to play, but it was one I could not play alone, and not a soul
could I find who seemed inclined to play it with me.
Well, things went from bad to worse. I decided that if mother no
longer loved me, I would no longer tell her things. So I did not. I got
a hundred in spelling for twelve days running, and did not tell her! I
broke Edna Grantham's mother's water-pitcher, and kept the fact a
secret. The secret was, indeed, as sharp-edged as the pieces of the
broken pitcher had been; I cried under the bedclothes, thinking how
sorry Mrs. Grantham had been, and that mother really ought to know.
Only what was the use? I no longer looked to her to help me out of my
I had no need now to have father and mother tell me to hurry up and
finish my chatter, for I kept all that happened to myself. I had a new
"intimate friend," and did not so much as mention her. I wrote a poem
and showed it to my teacher, but not to my uninterested parents. And
when I climbed the stairs at night to my room, I swelled with
loneliness and anguish and resentment, and the hot tears came to my
eyes as I heard father and mother laughing and talking together and
paying no attention to my misery. I could hear Toot, who used to be
making all sorts of little presents for me, whistling as he brought in
the wood and water, and then "cleaned up" to go to see his Tulula,
with never a thought of me. And I said to myself that the best thing I
could do was to grow up and get away from a place where I was no longer
No one noticed my sufferings further than sometimes to say
impatiently, "What makes you act so strange, child?" And to that, of
course, I answered nothing, for what I had to say would not, I felt, be
One morning in June I left home with my resentment burning fiercely
within me. I had not cared for the things we had for breakfast, for I
was half-ill with fretting and with the closeness of the day, but my
lack of appetite had been passed by with the remark that any one was
likely not to have an appetite on such a close day. But I was so
languid, and so averse to taking up the usual round of things, that I
begged mother to let me stay at home. She shook her head decidedly.
"You've been out of school too many days already this term," she
said. "Run along now, or you'll he late!"
"Please — " I began, for my head really was whirling, although,
quite as much, perhaps, from my perversity as from any other cause.
Mother turned on me one of her "lastword" glances.
"Go to school without another word," she said, quietly.
I knew that quiet tone, and I went. And now I was sure that all was
over between my parents and myself. I began to wonder if I need really
wait till I was grown up before leaving home. So miserably absorbed was
I in thinking of this, and in pitying myself with a consuming pity,
that everything at school seemed to pass like the shadow of a dream. I
blundered in whatever I tried to do, was sharply scolded for not
hearing the teacher until she had spoken my name three times, and was
holding on to myself desperately in my effort to keep back a flood of
tears, when I became aware that something was happening.
There suddenly was a perfect silence in the room — the sort of
silence that makes the heart beat too fast. The mist swimming before me
did not, I perceived, come from my own eyes, but from the changing
colour of the air, the usual transparency of which was being tinged
with yellow. The sultriness of the day was deepening, and seemed to
carry a threat with it.
"Something is going to happen," thought I, and over the whole room
spread the same conviction. Electric currents seemed to snap from one
consciousness to another. We dropped our books, and turned our eyes
toward the western windows, to look upon a changed world. It was as if
we peered through yellow glass. In the sky soft-looking, tawny clouds
came tumbling along like playful cats — or tigers. A moment later we
saw that they were not playful, but angry; they stretched out claws,
and snarled as they did so. One claw reached the tall chimneys of the
schoolhouse, another tapped at the cupola, one was thrust through the
wall near where I sat.
Then it grew black, and there was a bellowing all about us, so that
the commands of the teacher and the screams of the children barely
could be heard. I knew little or nothing. My shoulder was stinging,
something had hit me on the side of the head, my eyes were full of dust
and mortar, and my feet were carrying me with the others along the
corridor, down the two flights of wide stairs. I do not think we pushed
each other or were reckless. My recollection is only of many shadowy
figures flying on with sure feet out of the building that seemed to be
falling in upon us.
Presently we were out on the landing before the door, with one more
flight of steps before us, that reached to the street. Something so
strong that it might not be denied gathered me up in invisible arms,
whirled me round once or twice and dropped me, not ungently, in the
middle of the road. And then, as I struggled to my knees and, wiping
the dust from my eyes, looked up, I saw dozens of others being lifted
in the same way, and blown off into the yard or the street. The larger
ones were trying to hold on to the smaller, and the teachers were
endeavouring to keep the children from going out of the building, but
their efforts were of no avail. The children came on, and were blown
about like leaves.
Then I saw what looked like a high yellow wall advancing upon me
— a roaring and fearsome mass of driven dust, sticks, debris. It came
over me that my own home might be there, in strips and fragments, to
beat me down and kill me; and with the thought came a swift little
vision out of my geography of the Arabs in a sand-storm on the desert.
I gathered up my fluttering dress skirt, held it tight about my head,
and lay flat upon the ground.
It seemed as if a long time passed, a time in which I knew very
little except that I was fighting for my breath as I never had fought
for anything. There were more hurts and bruises now, but they did not
matter. Just to draw my own breath in my own way seemed to be the only
thing in the world that was of any account. And then there was a shaft
of flame, an ear-splitting roar, and the rain was upon us in sheets,
in streams, in visible rivers.
I imagined that it would last a long time, and wondered in a daze
how I could get home in a rain like that — for I should have to face
it. I could see that in a few seconds the gutters had begun to race,
the road where I lay was a stream, and then — then the rain ceased.
Never was anything so astonishing. The sky came out blue, tattered rags
of cloud raced across it, and I had time to conclude that, whipped and
almost breathless though I was, I was still alive.
And then I saw a curious sight. Down the street in every direction
came rushing hatless men and women. Here and there a wild-eyed horse
was being lashed along. All the town was coming. They were in their
work clothes, in their slippers, in their wrappers — they were in
anything and everything. Some of them sobbed as they ran, some called
aloud names that I knew. They were fathers and mothers looking for
And who was that — that woman with a white face, with hair falling
about her shoulders, where it had fallen as she ran — that woman whose
breath came between her teeth strangely and who called my name over and
over, bleatingly, as a mother sheep calls its lamb? At first I did not
recognise her, and then, at last, I knew. And that creature with the
rolling eyes and the curious ash-coloured face who, mumbling something
over and over in his throat, came for me, and snatched me up and wiped
my face free of mud, and felt of me here and there with trembling hands
— who was he?
And breaking out of the crowd of men who had come running from the
street of stores and offices, was another strange being, with a sort
of battle light in his eyes, who, seeing me, gathered me to him and
bore me away toward home. Looking back, I could see the woman I knew
following, leaning on the arm of the boy with the rolling eyes, whose
eyes had ceased to roll, and who was quite recognisable now as Toot.
A happiness that was almost as terrible as sorrow welled up in my
heart. I did not weep, or laugh, or talk. All I had experienced had
carried me beyond mere excitement into exultation. I exulted in life,
in love. My conceit and sulkiness died in that storm, as did many
another thing. I was alive. I was loved. I said it over and over to
myself silently, in "my heart's deep core," while mother washed me with
trembling hands in my own dear room, bound up my hurts, braided my
hair, and put me, in a fresh night-dress, into my bed. I do not recall
that we talked to each other, but in every caress of her hands as she
worked I felt the unspoken assurances of a love such as I had not
Father had gone running back to the school to see if he could be of
any assistance to his neighbours, and had taken Toot with him, but they
were back presently to say that beyond a few sharp injuries and broken
bones, no harm had been done to the children. It was considered
miraculous that no one had been killed or seriously injured, and I
noticed that father's voice trembled as he told of it, and that mother
could not answer, and that Toot sobbed like a big silly boy.
Then as we talked together, behold, a second storm was upon us — a
sharp black blast of wind and rain, not terrifying, like the other, but
with an "I've-come-to-spend-the-day" sort of aspect.
But no one seemed to mind very much. I was carried down to the
sitting-room. Toot busied himself coming and going on this errand and
on that, fastening the doors, closing the windows, running out to see
to the animals, and coming back again. Father and mother set the table.
They kept close together; and now and then they looked over at me,
without saying anything, but with shining eyes.
The storm died down to a quiet rain. From the roof of the porch the
drops fell in silver strings, like beads. Then the sun came out and
turned them into shining crystal. The birds began to sing again, and
when we threw open the windows delicious odours of fresh earth and
flowering shrub greeted us. Mother began to sing as she worked. And I
sank softly to sleep, thrilled with the marvels of the world — not of
the tempest, but of the peace.
The sweet familiarity of the faces and the walls and the furniture
and the garden was like a blessing. There was not a chair there that I
would have exchanged for any other chair — not a tree that I would
have parted with — not a custom of that simple, busy place that I
would have changed. I knew now all my stupidity — and my good fortune.
WHEN I look back upon the village where I lived as a child, I
cannot remember that there were any divisions in our society. This
group went to the Congregational church, and that to the Presbyterian,
but each family felt itself to be as good as any other, and even if,
ordinarily, some of them withdrew themselves in mild exclusiveness, on
all occasions of public celebration, or when in trouble, we stood
together in the pleasantest and most unaffected democracy.
There were only the "Bad Madigans" outside the pale.
The facts about the Bad Madigans were, no doubt, serious enough,
but the fiction was even more appalling. As to facts, the father drank,
the mother followed suit, the appearance of the house — a ramshackle
old place beyond the fair-grounds — was a scandal; the children could
not be got to go to school for any length of time, and, when they were
there, each class in which they were put felt itself to be in disgrace,
and the dislike focused upon the intruders, sent them, sullen and
hateful, back to their lair. And, indeed, the Madigan house seemed
little more than a lair. It had been rather a fine house once, and had
been built for the occupancy of the man who owned the fairgrounds; but
he choosing finally to live in the village, had permitted the house to
fall into decay, until only a family with no sense of order or
self-respect would think of occupying it.
When there occurred one of the rare burglaries in the village,
when anything was missing from a clothes-line, or a calf or pig
disappeared, it was generally laid to the Madigans. Unaccounted-for
fires were supposed to be their doing; they were accorded
responsibility for vicious practical jokes; and it was generally felt
that before we were through with them they would commit some
When, as sometimes happened, I had met one of the Bad Madigans on
the road, or down on the village street, my heart had beaten as if I
was face to face with a company of banditti; but I cannot say that this
excitement was caused by aversion alone. The truth was, the Bad
Madigans fascinated me. They stood out from all the others, proudly and
disdainfully like Robin Hood and his band, and I could not get over the
idea that they said: "Fetch me yonder bow!" to each other; or, "Go
slaughter me a ten-tined buck!" I felt that they were fortunate in not
being held down to hours like the rest of us. Out of bed at six-thirty,
at table by seven, tidying bedroom at seven-thirty, dusting
sitting-room at eight, on way to school at eight-thirty, was not for
"the likes of them!" Only we, slaves of respectability and of an
inordinate appetite for order, suffered such monotony and drabness to
rule. I knew the Madigan boys could go fishing whenever they pleased,
that the Madigan girls picked the blackberries before any one else
could get out to them, that every member of the family could pack up
and go picnicking for days at a time, and that any stray horse was
likely to be ridden bareback, within an inch of its life, by the
younger members of the family.
Only once however, did I have a chance to meet one of these modern
Visigoths face to face, and the feelings aroused by that incident
remained the darling secret of my youth. I dared tell no one, and I
longed, yet feared, to have the experience repeated. But it never was!
It happened in this way:
On a certain Sunday afternoon in May, my father and mother and I
went to Emmons' Woods. To reach Emmons' Woods, you went out the back
door, past the pump and the currant bushes, then down the path to the
chicken-houses, and so on, by way of the woodpile, to the south gate.
After that, you went west toward the clover meadows, past the house
where the Crazy Lady lived — here, if you were alone, you ran — and
then, reaching the verge of the woods, you took your choice of climbing
a seven-rail fence or of walking a quarter of a mile till you came to
the bars. The latter was much better for the lace on a Sunday
Once in Emmons' Woods, there was enchantment. An eagle might come
— or a blue heron. There had been bears in Emmons' Woods — bears with
rolling eyes and red mouths from which their tongues lolled. There was
one place for pinky trillium, and another for gentians; one for tawny
adders' tongues, and another for yellow Dutchman's breeches. In the
sap-starting season, the maples dripped their luscious sap into little
wooden cups; later, partridges nested in the sun-burned grass. There
was no lake or river, but there was a pond, swarming with a vivacious
population, and on the hard-baked clay of the pond beach the green
beetles aired their splendid changeable silks and sandpipers hopped
It was, curiously enough, easier to run than to walk in Emmons'
Woods, and even more natural to dance than to run. One became
acquainted with squirrels, established intimacies with chipmunks, and
was on some sort of civil relation with blackbirds. And, oh, the
tossing green of the young willows, where the lilac distance melted
into the pale blue of the sky! And, oh, the budding of the maples and
the fringing of the oaks; and, oh, the blossoming of the tulip trees
and the garnering of the chestnuts! And then, the wriggling things in
the grass; the procession of ants; the coquetries of the robins; and
the Beyond, deepening, deepening into the forest where it was safe only
for the woodsmen to go.
On this particular Sunday one of us was requested not to squeal and
run about, and to remember that we wore our best shoes and need not
mess them unnecessarily. It was hard to be reminded just when the
dance was getting into my feet, but I tried to have Sunday manners, and
went along in the still woods, wondering why the purple colours
disappeared as we came on and what had been distance became nearness.
There was a beautiful, aching vagueness over everything, and it was not
strange that father, who had stretched himself on the moss, and mother,
who was reading Godey's Ladies' Book, should presently both of them be
nodding. So, that being a well-established fact — I established it by
hanging over them and staring at their eyelids — it seemed a good time
for me to let the dance out of my toes. Still careful of my fresh linen
frock, and remembering about the best shoes, I went on, demurely, down
the green alleys of the wood. Now I stepped on patches of sunshine, now
in pools of shadow. I thought of how naughty I was to run away like
this, and of what a mistake people made who said I was a good, quiet,
child. I knew that I looked sad and prim, but I really hated my sadness
and primness and goodness, and longed to let out all the interesting,
wild, naughty thoughts there were in me. I wanted to act as if I were
bewitched, and to tear up vines and wind them about me, to shriek to
the echoes, and to scold back at the squirrels. I wanted to take off my
clothes and rush into the pond, and swim like a fish, or wriggle like a
pollywog. I wanted to climb trees and drop from them; and, most of all
— oh, with what longing — did I wish to lift myself above the earth
and fly into the bland blue air!
I came to a hollow where there was a wonderful greenness over
everything, and I said to myself that I would be bewitched at last. I
would dance and whirl and call till, perhaps, some kind of a creature
as wild and wicked and wonderful as I, would come out of the woods and
join me. So I forgot about the fresh linen frock, and wreathed myself
with wild grape-vine; I cared nothing for my fresh braids and wound
trillium in my hair; and I ceased to remember my new shoes, and whirled
around and around in the leafy mould, singing and shouting.
I grew madder and madder. I seemed not to be myself at all, but
some sort of a wood creature; and just when the trees were looking
larger than ever they did before, and the sky higher up, a girl came
running down from a sort of embankment where a tornado had made a path
for itself and had hurled some great chestnuts and oaks in a tumbled
mass. The girl came leaping down the steep sides of this place, her
arms outspread, her feet bare, her dress no more than a rag the colour
of the tree-trunks. She had on a torn green jacket, which made her seem
more than ever like some one who had just stepped out of a hollow tree,
and, to my unspeakable happiness, she joined me in my dance.
I shall never forget how beautiful she was, with her wild tangle of
dark hair, and her deep blue eyes and ripe lips. Her cheeks were
flaming red, and her limbs strong and brown. She did not merely shout
and sing; she whistled, and made calls like the birds, and cawed like a
crow, and chittered like a squirrel, and around and around the two of
us danced, crazy as dervishes with the beauty of the spring and the joy
of being free.
By and by we were so tired we had to stop, and then we sat down
panting and looked at each other. At that we laughed, long and
foolishly, but, after a time, it occurred to us that we had many
questions to ask.
"How did you get here?" I asked the girl.
"I was walking my lone," she said, speaking her words as if there
was a rich thick quality to them, "and I heard you screeling."
"Won't you get lost, alone like that?"
"I can't get lost, "she sighed. "I 'd like to, but I can't."
"Where do you live?"
"Beyant the fair-grounds."
"You're not — not Norah Madigan?"
She leaned back and clasped her hands behind her head. Then she
smiled at me teasingly.
"I am that," she said, showing her perfect teeth.
I caught my breath with a sharp gasp. Ought I to turn back to my
parents? Had I been so naughty that I had called the naughtiest girl
in the whole county out to me?
But I could not bring myself to leave her. She was leaning forward
and looking at me now with mocking eyes.
"Are you afraid?" she demanded.
"Afraid of what?" I asked, knowing quite well what she meant.
"Of me?" she retorted.
At that second an agreeable truth overtook me. I leaned forward,
too, and put my hand on hers.
"Why, I like you!" I cried. She began laughing again, but this time
there was no mockery in it. She ran her fingers over the embroidery on
my linen frock, she examined the lace on my petticoat, looked at the
bows on my shoes, and played delicately with the locket dangling from
the slender chain around my neck.
"Do you know — other girls?" she almost whispered. I nodded.
"Lots and lots of 'em," I said. "Don't you?"
She shook her head in wistful denial.
"Us Madigans," she said, "keeps to ourselves." She said it so
haughtily that for a moment I was almost persuaded into thinking that
they lived their solitary lives from choice. But, glancing up at her, I
saw a blush that covered her face, and there were tears in her eyes.
"Well, anyway," said I quickly, "we know each other."
"Yes," she cried, "we do that!"
She got up, then, and ran to a great tree from which a stout
grape-vine was swinging, and pulling at it with her strong arms, she
soon had it made into a practical swing.
"Come!" she called — "come, let's swing together!"
She helped me to balance myself on the rope-like vine, and, placing
her feet outside of mine, showed me how to "work up" till we were
sweeping with a fine momentum through the air. We shrieked with
excitement, and urged each other on to more and more frantic exertions.
We were like two birds, but to birds flying is no novelty. With us it
was, which made us happier than birds. But I, for my part, was no more
delighted with my swift flights through the air than I was with the
shining eyes and flashing teeth of the girl opposite me. I liked her
strength, and the way in which her body bent and swayed. Once more, she
seemed like a wood-child — a wild, mad, gay creature from the tree. I
felt as if I had drawn a playmate from elf-land, and I liked her a
thousand times better than those proper little girls who came to see me
of a Saturday afternoon.
Well, there we were, rocking and screaming, and telling each other
that we were hawks, and that we were flying high over the world, when
the anxious and austere voice of my mother broke upon our ears. We
tried to stop, but that was not such an easy matter to do, and as we
twisted and writhed, to bring our grape-vine swing to a standstill,
there was a slow rending and breaking which struck terror to our souls.
"Jump!" commanded Norah — "jump! the vine's breaking!" We leaped
at the same moment, she safely. My foot caught in a stout tendril, and
I fell headlong, scraping my forehead on the ground and tearing a
triangular rent in the pretty, new frock. Mother came running forward,
and the expression on her face was far from being the one I liked to
"What have you been doing?" she demanded. "I thought you were
getting old enough and sensible enough to take care of yourself!"
I must have been a depressing sight, viewed with the eyes of a
careful mother. Blood and mould mingled on my face, my dress needed a
laundress as badly as a dress could, and my shoes were scratched and
"And who is this girl?" asked mother. I had become conscious that
Norah was at my feet, wiping off my shoes with her queer little brown
"It's a new friend of mine," gasped I, beginning to see that I must
lose her, and hoping the lump in my throat wouldn't get any bigger than
"What is her name?" asked mother. I had no time to answer. The girl
"I'm Norah Madigan," she said. Her tone was respectful, and, maybe,
sad. At any rate, it had a curious sound. "Norah Mad-i-gan?" asked
mother doubtfully, stringing out the word.
"Yessum," said a low voice. "Good-bye, mum."
"Oh, Norah!" cried I, a strange pain stabbing my heart. "Come to
see me — "
But my mother's voice broke in, firm and kind.
"Good-bye, Norah," said she.
I saw Norah turn and run up among the trees, almost as swiftly and
silently as a hare. Once, she turned to look back. I was watching, and
caught the chance to wave my hand to her.
"Come!" commanded mother, and we went back to where father was
"What do you think!" said mother. "I found the child playing with
one of the Bad Madigans. Isn't she a sight!"
The lump in my throat swelled to a terrible size; something buzzed
in my ears, and I heard some one weeping. For a second or two I didn't
realise that it was myself.
"Well, never mind, dear," said mother's voice soothingly. "The
frock will wash, and the tear will mend, and the shoes will black. Yes,
and the scratches will heal."
"It isn't that," I sobbed. "Oh, oh, it isn't that!"
"What is it, then, for goodness sake?" asked mother.
But I would not tell. I could not tell. How could I say that the
daughter of the Bad Madigans was the first real and satisfying playmate
I had ever had?
AS I remember the boys and girls who grew up with me, I think of
them as artists, or actors, or travellers, or rich merchants. Each of
us, by the time we were half through grammar school, had selected a
career. So far as I recollect, this career had very little to do with
our abilities. We merely chose something that suited us. Our energy and
our vanity crystallised into particular shapes. There was a sort of
religion abroad in the West at that time that a person could do almost
anything he set out to do. The older people, as well as the children,
had an idea that the world was theirs — they all were Monte Cristos
in that respect.
As for me, I had decided to be an orator.
At the time of making this decision, I was nine years of age,
decidedly thin and long drawn out, with two brown braids down my back,
and a terrific shyness which I occasionally overcame with such a
magnificent splurge that those who were not acquainted with my
peculiarities probably thought me a shamefully assertive child.
I based my oratorical aspirations upon my having taken the prize a
number of times in Sunday-school for learning the most New Testament
verses, and upon the fact that I always could make myself heard to the
farthest corner of the room. I also felt that I had a great message to
deliver to the world when I got around it, though in this, I was in no
way different from several of my friends. I had noticed a number of
things in the world that were not quite right, and which I thought
needed attention, and I believed that if I were quite good and studied
elocution, in a little while I should be able to set my part of the
world right, and perhaps even extend my influence to adjoining
Meantime I practised terrible vocal exercises, chiefly consisting
of a raucous "caw" something like a crow's favourite remark, and
advocated by my teacher in elocution for no reason that I can now
remember; and I stood before the glass for hours at a time making
grimaces so as to acquire the "actor's face," till my frightened little
sisters implored me to turn back into myself again.
It was a great day for me when I was asked to participate in the
Harvest Home Festival at our church on Thanksgiving Day. I looked upon
it as the beginning of my career, and bought crimping papers so that my
hair could be properly fluted. Of course, I wanted a new dress for the
occasion, and I spent several days in planning the kind of a one I
thought best suited to such a memorable event. I even picked out the
particular lace pattern I wanted for the ruffles. This was before I
submitted the proposition to Mother, however. When I told her about it
she said she could see no use in getting a new dress and going to all
the trouble of making it when my white one with the green harps was
This was such an unusual dress and had gone through so many
vicissitudes, that I really was devotedly attached to it. It had, in
the beginning, belonged to my Aunt Bess, and in the days of its first
glory had been a sheer Irish linen lawn, with tiny green harps on it
at agreeable intervals. But in the course of time, it had to be sent
to the wash-tub, and then, behold, all the little lovely harps followed
the example of the harp that "once through Tara's hall the soul of
music shed," and disappeared! Only vague, dirty, yellow reminders of
their beauty remained, not to decorate, but to disfigure the fine
Aunt Bess, naturally enough, felt irritated, and she gave the goods
to mother, saying that she might be able to boil the yellow stains out
of it and make me a dress. I had gone about many a time, like love amid
the ruins, in the fragments of Aunt Bess's splendour, and I was not
happy in the thought of dangling these dimmed reminders of Ireland's
past around with me. But mother said she thought I'd have a really
truly white Sunday best dress out of it by the time she was through
with it. So she prepared a strong solution of sodium and things, and
boiled the breadths, and every little green harp came dancing back as
if awaiting the hand of a new Dublin poet. The green of them was even
more charming than it had been at first, and I, as happy as if I had
acquired the golden harp for which I then vaguely longed, went to
Sunday-school all that summer in this miraculous dress of
now-you-see-them-and-now-you-don't, and became so used to being asked
if I were Irish that my heart exulted when I found that I might —
fractionally — claim to be, and that one of the Fenian martyrs had
been an ancestor. For a year, even, after that discovery of the Fenian
martyr, ancestors were a favorite study of mine.
Well, though the dress became something more than familiar to the
eyes of my associates, I was so attached to it that I felt no
objection to wearing it on the great occasion; and, that being settled,
all that remained was to select the piece which was to reveal my
talents to a hitherto unappreciative — or, perhaps I should say,
unsuspecting — group of friends and relatives. It seemed to me that I
knew better than my teacher (who had agreed to select the pieces for
her pupils) possibly could what sort of a thing best represented my
talents, and so, after some thought, I selected "Antony and Cleopatra,"
and as I lagged along the too-familiar road to school, avoiding the
companionship of my acquaintances, I repeated:
I am dying, Egypt, dying! Ebbs the crimson life-tide fast, And
the dark Plutonian shadows Gather on the evening blast.
Sometimes I grew so impassioned, so heedless of all save my mimic
sorrow and the swing of the purple lines, that I could not bring
myself to modify my voice, and the passers-by heard my shrill tones
As for thee, star-eyed Egyptian! Glorious sorceress of the Nile!
Light the path to Stygian horrors With the splendour of thy smile.
I wiped dishes to the rhythm of such phrases as "scarred and
veteran legions," and laced my shoes to the music of "Though no
glittering guards surround me."
Confident that no one could fail to see the beauty of these lines,
or the propriety of the identification of myself with Antony, I called
upon my Sunday-school teacher, Miss Goss, to report. I never had
thought of Miss Goss as a blithe spirit. She was associated in my mind
with numerous solemn occasions, and I was surprised to find that on
this day she unexpectedly developed a trait of breaking into nervous
laughter. I had got as far as "Should the base plebeian rabble — "
when Miss Goss broke down in what I could not but regard as a fit of
giggles, and I ceased abruptly.
She pulled herself together after a moment or two, and said if I
would follow her to the library she thought she could find something —
here she hesitated, to conclude with, "more within the understanding of
the other children." I saw that she thought my feelings were hurt, and
as I passed a mirror I feared she had some reason to think so. My face
was uncommonly flushed, and a look of indignation had crept, somehow,
even into my braids, which, having been plaited too tightly, stuck out
in crooks and kinks from the side of my head. Incidentally, I was
horrified to notice how thin I was — thin, even for a dying Antony —
and my frock was so outgrown that it hardly covered my knees.
"Ridiculous!" I said under my breath, as I confronted this miserable
figure — so shamefully insignificant for the vicarious emotions which
it had been housing. "Ridiculous!"
I hated Miss Goss, and must have shown it in my stony stare, for
she put her arm around me and said it was a pity I had been to all the
trouble to learn a poem which was — well, a trifle too — too old —
but that she hoped to find something equally "pretty" for me to speak.
At the use of that adjective in connection with William Lytle's lines,
I wrenched away from her grasp and stood in what I was pleased to think
a haughty calm, awaiting her directions.
She took from the shelves a little volume of Whittier, bound in
calf, handling it as tenderly as if it were a priceless possession.
Some pressed violets dropped out as she opened it, and she replaced
them with devotional fingers. After some time she decided upon a lyric
lament entitled "Eva." I was asked to run over the verses, and found
them remarkably easy to learn; fatally impossible to forget. I
presently arose and with an impish betrayal of the poverty of rhyme and
the plethora of sentiment, repeated the thing relentlessly.
O for faith like thine, sweet Eva, Lighting all the solemn reevah
[river], And the blessings of the poor, Wafting to the heavenly shoor
"I do think," said Miss Goss gently, "that if you tried, my child,
you might manage the rhymes just a little better."
"But if you're born in Michigan," I protested, "how can you
possibly make 'Eva' rhyme with 'never' and 'believer'?"
"Perhaps it is a little hard," Miss Goss agreed, and still clinging
to her Whittier, she exhumed "The Pumpkin," which she thought
precisely fitted for our Harvest Home festival. This was quite another
thing from "Eva," and I saw that only hours of study would fix it in my
mind. I went to my home, therefore, with "The Pumpkin" delicately
transcribed in Miss Goss's running hand, and I tried to get some
comfort from the foreign allusions glittering through Whittier's kindly
verse. As the days went by I came to have a certain fondness for those
O — fruit loved of boyhood! — the old days recalling, When wood
grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling! When wild, ugly
faces we carved in the skin, Glaring out through the dark with a
candle within! When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in
tune, Our chair a broad pumpkin — our lantern the moon, Telling
tales of the fairy who travelled like steam In a pumpkin-shell coach,
with two rats for her team!
On all sides this poem was considered very fitting, and I went to
the festival with that comfortable feeling one has when one is moving
with the majority and is wearing one's best clothes.
I sat rigid with expectancy while my schoolmates spoke their
"pieces" and sang their songs. With frozen faces they faced each other
in dialogues, lost their quavering voices, and stumbled down the stairs
in their anguish of spirit. I pitied them, and thought how lucky it was
that my memory never failed me, and that my voice carried so well that
I could arouse even old Elder Waite from his slumbers.
Then my turn came. My crimps were beautiful; the green harps danced
on my freshly-ironed frock, and I had on my new chain and locket. I
relied upon a sort of mechanism in me to say:
O greenly and fair in the lands of the sun, The vines of the gourd
and the rich melon run.
In this seemly manner Whittier's ode to the pumpkin began. I meant
to go on to verses which I knew would de-light my audience — to
references to the "crook-necks" ripening under the Sep-tember sun; and
to Thanksgiving gath-erings at which all smiled at the reun-ion of
friends and the bounty of the board.
What moistens the lip and brightens the eye! What calls back the
past like the rich pumpkin pie!
I was sure these lines would meet with approval, and having "come
down to the popular taste," I was prepared to do my best to please.
After a few seconds, when the golden pumpkins that lined the stage
had ceased to dance before my eyes, I thought I ought to begin to "get
hold of my audience." Of course, my memory would be giving me the
right words, and my facile tongue running along reliably, but I wished
to demonstrate that "ability" which was to bring me favour and fame. I
listened to my own words and was shivered into silence. I was talking
about "dark Plutonian shadows"; I was begging "Egypt" to let her arms
enfold me — I was, indeed, in the very thick of the forbidden poem. I
could hear my thin, aspiring voice reaching out over that paralysed
Though my scarred and veteran legions Bear their eagles high no
more; And my wrecked and scattered galleys Strew dark Actium's fatal
My tongue seemed frozen, or some kind of a ratchet at the base of
it had got out of order. For a moment — a moment can be the little
sister of eternity — I could say nothing. Then I found myself in the
clutches of the instinct for self-preservation. I felt it in me to stop
the giggles of the girls on the front seat; to take the patronising
smiles out of the tolerant eyes of the grown people. Maybe my voice
lost something of its piping insistence and was touched with genuine
feeling; perhaps some faint, faint spark of the divine fire which I
longed to fan into a flame did flicker in me for that one time. I had
the indescribable happiness of seeing the smiles die on the faces of my
elders, and of hearing the giggles of my friends cease.
I went to my seat amid what I was pleased to consider "thunders of
applause," and by way of acknowledgment, I spoke, with chastened
propriety, Whittier's ode to the pumpkin.
I cannot remember whether or not I was scolded. I'm afraid,
afterward, some people still laughed. As for me, oddly enough, my
oratorical aspirations died. I decided there were other careers better
fitted to one of my physique. So I had to go to the trouble of finding
another career; but just what it was I have forgotten.
IT is extraordinary, when you come to think of it, how very few
days, out of all the thousands that have passed, lift their heads from
the grey plain of the forgotten — like bowlders in a level stretch of
country. It is not alone the unimportant ones that are forgotten; but,
according to one's elders, many important ones have left no mark in the
memory. It seems to me, as I think it over, that it was the days that
affected the emotions that dwell with me, and I suppose all of us must
be the same in this respect.
Among those which I am never to forget is the day when Aunt
Cordelia came to visit us — my mother's aunt, she was — and when I
discovered evil, and tried to understand what the use of it was.
Great-aunt Cordelia was, as I often and often had been told, not
only much travelled, rich and handsome, but good also. She was, indeed,
an important personage in her own city, and it seemed to be regarded as
an evidence of unusual family fealty that she should go about, now and
then, briefly visiting all of her kinfolk to see how they fared in the
world. I ought to have looked forward to meeting her, but this, for
some perverse reason, I did not do. I wished I might run away and hide
somewhere till her visit was over. It annoyed me to have to clean up
the play-room on her account, and to help polish the silver, and to
comb out the fringe of the tea napkins. I liked to help in these tasks
ordinarily, but to do it for the purpose of coming up to a visiting —
and probably, a condescending — goddess, somehow made me cross.
Among other hardships, I had to take care of my little sister Julie
all day. I loved Julie. She had soft golden-brown curls fuzzing around
on her head, and mischievous brown eyes — warm, extra-human eyes.
There was a place in the back of her neck, just below the point of her
curls, which it was a privilege to kiss; and though she could not yet
talk, she had a throaty, beautiful little exclamation, which cannot be
spelled any more than a bird note, with which she greeted all the
things she liked — a flower, or a toy, or mother. But loving Julie as
she sat in mother's lap, and having to care for her all of a shining
Saturday, were two quite different things. As the hours wore along I
became bored with looking at the golden curls of my baby sister; I had
no inclination to kiss the "honey-spot" in the back of her neck; and
when she fretted from heat and teething and my perfunctory care, I grew
I knew mother was busy making custards and cakes for Aunt Cordelia,
and I longed to be in watching these pleasing operations. I thought —
but what does it matter what I thought? I was bad! I was so bad that I
was glad I was bad. Perhaps it was nerves. Maybe I really had taken
care of the baby too long. But however that may be, for the first time
in my life I enjoyed the consciousness of having a bad disposition —
or perhaps I ought to say that I felt a fiendish satisfaction in the
discovery that I had one.
Along in the middle of the afternoon three of the girls in the
neighbourhood came over to play. They had their dolls, and they wanted
to "keep house" in the "new part" of our home. We were living in a
roomy and comfortable "addition," which had, oddly enough, been built
before the building to which it was finally to serve as an annex. That
is to say, it had been the addition before there was anything to add it
to. By this time, however, the new house was getting a trifle old, as
it waited for the completion of its rather disproportionate splendours;
splendours which represented the ambitions rather than the achievements
of the family. It towered, large, square, imposing, with hints of M.
Mansard's grandiose architectural ideas in its style, in the very
centre of a village block of land. From the first, it exercised a sort
of "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls" effect upon me, and in a vague
way, at the back of my mind, floated the idea that when we passed from
our modest home into this commanding edifice, well-trained servants
mysteriously would appear, beautiful gowns would be found awaiting my
use in the closets, and father and mother would be able to take their
ease, something after the fashion of the "landed gentry" of whom I had
read in Scotch and English books. The ceilings of the new house were so
high, the sweep of the stairs so dramatic, the size of the
drawing-rooms so copious, that perhaps I hardly was to be blamed for
expecting a transformation scene.
But until this new life was realised, the clean, bare rooms made
the best of all possible play-rooms, and with the light streaming in
through the trees, and falling, delicately tinged with green, upon the
new floors, and with the scent of the new wood all about, it was a
place of indefinable enchantment. I was allowed to play there all I
pleased — except when I had Julie. There were unguarded windows and
yawning stairholes, and no steps as yet leading from the ground to the
great opening where the carved front door was some time to be. Instead,
there were planks, inclined at a steep angle, beneath which lay the
stones of which the foundation to the porch were to be made. Jagged
pieces of yet unhewn sandstone they were, with cruel edges.
But to-day when the girls said, "Oh, come!" my newly discovered
badness echoed their words. I wanted to go with them. So I went.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see father in the distance, but
I wouldn't look at him for fear he would be magnetised into turning my
way. The girls had gone up, and I followed, with Julie in my arms. Did
I hear father call to me to stop? He always said I did, but I think he
was mistaken. Perhaps I merely didn't wish to hear him. Anyway, I went
on, balancing myself as best I could. The other girls had reached the
top, and turned to look at us, and I knew they were afraid. I think
they would have held out their hands to help me, but I had both arms
clasped about Julie. So I staggered on, got almost to the top, then
seemed submerged beneath a wave of fears — mine and those of the girls
— and fell! As I went, I curled like a squirrel around Julie, and when
I struck, she was still in my grasp and on top of me. But she rolled
out of my relaxing clutch after that, and when father and mother came
running, she was lying on the stones. They thought she had fallen that
way, and as the breath had been fairly knocked out of her little body,
so that she was not crying, they were more frightened than ever, and
ran with her to the house, wild with apprehension.
As for me, I got up somehow and folowed. I decided no bones were
broken, but I was dizzy and faint, and aching from bruises. I saw my
little friends running down the plank and making off along the poplar
drive, white-faced and panting. I knew they thought Julie was dead and
that I'd be hung. I had the same idea.
When we got to the sitting-room I had a strange feeling of never
having seen it before. The tall stove, the green and oak ingrain
carpet, the green rep chairs, the what-not with its shells, the steel
engravings on the walls, seemed absolutely strange. I sat down and
counted the diamond-shaped figures on the oilcloth in front of the
stove; and after a long time I heard Julie cry, and mother say with
"Aside from a shaking up, I don't believe she's a bit the worse."
Then some one brought me a cupful of cold water and asked me if I
was hurt. I shook my head and would not speak. I then heard, in simple
and emphatic Anglo-Saxon the opinions of my father and mother about a
girl who would put her little sister's life in danger, and would
disobey her parents. And after that I was put in my mother's bedroom to
pass the rest of the day, and was told I needn't expect to come to the
table with the others.
I accepted my fate stoically, and being permitted to carry my own
chair into the room, I put it by the western window, which looked
across two miles of meadows waving in buckwheat, in clover and grass,
and sat there in a curious torpor of spirit. I was glad to be alone,
for I had discovered a new idea — the idea of sin. I wished to be left
to myself till I could think out what it meant. I believed I could do
that by night, and, after I had got to the root of the matter, I could
cast the whole ugly thing out of my soul and be good all the rest of
There was a large upholstered chair standing in front of me, and I
put my head down on the seat of that and thought and thought. My
thoughts reached so far that I grew frightened, and I was relieved when
I felt the little soft grey veils drawing about me which I knew meant
sleep. It seemed to me that I really ought to weep — that the
circumstances were such that I should weep. But sleep was sweeter than
tears, and not only the pain in my mind but the jar and bruise of my
body seemed to demand that oblivion. So I gave way to the impulse, and
the grey veils wrapped around and around me as a spider's web enwraps a
fly. And for hours I knew nothing.
When I awoke it was the close of day. Long tender shadows lay
across the fields, the sky had that wonderful clearness and kindness
which is like a human eye, and the soft wind puffing in at the window
was sweet with field fragrance. A glass of milk and a plate with two
slices of bread lay on the window sill by me, as if some one had placed
them there from the outside. I could hear birds settling down for the
night, and cheeping drowsily to each other. My cat came on the scene
and, seeing me, looked at me with serious, expanding eyes, twitched her
whiskers cynically, and passed on. Presently I heard the voices of my
family. They were re-entering the sitting-room. Supper was over —
supper, with its cold meats and shining jellies, its "floating island"
and its fig cake. I could hear a voice that was new to me. It was
deeper than my mother's, and its accent was different. It was the sort
of a voice that made you feel that its owner had talked with many
different kinds of people, and had contrived to hold her own with all
of them. I knew it belonged to Aunt Cordelia. And now that I was not to
see her, I felt my curiosity arising in me. I wanted to look at her,
and still more I wished to ask her about goodness. She was rich and
good! Was one the result of the other? And which came first? I dimly
perceived that if there had been more money in our house there would
have been more help, and I would not have been led into temptation —
baby would not have been left too long upon my hands. However, after a
few moments of self-pity, I rejected this thought. I knew I really was
to blame, and it occurred to me that I would add to my faults if I
tried to put the blame on anybody else.
Now that the first shock was over and that my sleep had refreshed
me, I began to see what terrible sorrow had been mine if the fall had
really injured Julie; and a sudden thought shook me. She might, after
all, have been hurt in some way that would show itself later on. I
yearned to look upon her, to see if all her sweetness and softness was
intact. It seemed to me that if I could not see her the rising grief in
me would break, and I would sob aloud. I didn't want to do that. I had
no notion to call any attention to myself whatever, but see the baby I
must. So, softly, and like a thief, I opened the door communicating
with the little dressingroom in which Julie's cradle stood. The curtain
had been drawn and it was almost dark, but I found my way to Julie's
bassinet. I could not quite see her, but the delicate odour of her
breath came up to me, and I found her little hand and slipped my finger
in it. It was gripped in a baby pressure, and I stood there enraptured,
feeling as if a flower had caressed me. I was thrilled through and
through with happiness, and with love for this little creature, whom my
selfishness might have destroyed. There was nothing in what had
happened during this moment or two when I stood by her side to assure
me that all was well with her; but I did so believe, and I said over
and over: "Thank you, God! Thank you, God!"
And now my tears began to flow. They came in a storm — a storm I
could not control, and I fled back to mother's room, and stood there
before the west window weeping as I never had wept before.
The quiet loveliness of the closing day had passed into the
splendour of the afterglow. Mighty wings as of bright angels, pink and
shining white, reached up over the sky. The vault was purple above me,
and paled to lilac, then to green of unimaginable tenderness. Now I
quenched my tears to look, and then I wept again, weeping no more for
sorrow and loneliness and shame than for gratitude and delight in
beauty. So fair a world! What had sin to do with it? I could not make
The shining wings grew paler, faded, then darkened; the melancholy
sound of cow-bells stole up from the common. The birds were still; a
low wind rustled the trees. I sat thinking my young "night thoughts" of
how marvellous it was for the sun to set, to rise, to keep its place in
heaven — of how wrapped about with mysteries we were. What if the
world should start to falling through space? Where would it land? Was
there even a bottom to the universe? "World without end" might mean
that there was neither an end to space nor yet to time. I shivered at
thought of such vastness. Suddenly light streamed about me, warm arms
"Mother!" I murmured, and slipped from the unknown to the dear
familiarity of her shoulder.
It was, I soon perceived, a silk-clad shoulder. Mother had on her
best dress; nay, she wore her coral pin and ear-rings. Her lace collar
was scented with Jockey Club, and her neck, into which I was burrowing,
had the indescribable something that was not quite odour, not all
softness, but was compounded of these and meant mother. She said little
to me as she drew me away and bathed my face, brushed and plaited my
hair, and put on my clean frock. But we felt happy together. I knew she
was as glad to forgive as I was to be forgiven.
In a little while she led me, blinking, into the light. A tall
stranger, a lady in prune-coloured silk, sat in the high-backed chair.
"This is my eldest girl, Aunt Cordelia," said my mother. I went
forward timidly, wondering if I were really going to be greeted by this
person who must have heard such terrible reports of me. I found myself
caught by the hands and drawn into the embrace of this new, grand
"Well, I've been wanting to see you," said the rich, kind voice.
"They say you look as I did at your age. They say you are like me!"
Like her — who was good! But no one referred to this difference or
said anything about my sins. When we were sorry, was evil, then,
forgotten and sin forgiven? A weight as of iron dropped from my spirit.
I sank with a sigh on the hassock at my aunt's feet. I was once more a
member of society.
IT was time to say good-bye.
I had been down to my little brother's grave and watered the sorrel
that grew on it — I thought it was sorrow, and so tended it; and I had
walked around the house and said good-bye to every window, and to the
robin's nest, and to my playhouse in the shed. I had put a clean ribbon
on the cat's neck, and kissed my doll, and given presents to my little
sisters. Now, shivering beneath my new grey jacket in the chill of the
May morning air, I stood ready to part with my mother. She was a little
flurried with having just ironed my pinafores and collars, and with
having put the last hook on my new Stuart plaid frock, and she looked
me over with rather an anxious eye. As for me, I thought my clothes
charming, and I loved the scarlet quill in my grey hat, and the set of
my new shoes. I hoped, above all, that no one would notice that I was
trembling and lay it down to fear.
Of course, I had been away before. It was not the first time I had
left everything to take care of itself. But this time I was going
alone, and that gave rather a different aspect to things. To go into
the country for a few days, or even to Detroit, in the company of a
watchful parent, might be called a "visit"; but to go alone, partly by
train and partly by stage, and to arrive by one's self, amounted to
"travel." I had an aunt who had travelled, and I felt this morning that
love of travel ran in the family. Probably even Aunt Cordelia had been
a trifle nervous, at first, when she started out for Hawaii, say, or
Mother and I were both fearful that the driver of the station 'bus
hadn't really understood that he was to call. First she would ask
father, and then I would ask him, if he was quite sure the man
understood, and father said that if the man could understand English at
all — and he supposed he could — he had understood that. Father was
right about it, too, for just when we — that is, mother and I — were
almost giving up, the 'bus horses swung in the big gate and came
pounding up the drive between the Lombardy poplars, which were out in
their yellow-green spring dress. They were a bay team with a yellow
harness which clinked splendidly with bone rings, and the 'bus was as
yellow as a pumpkin, and shaped not unlike one, so that I gave it my
instant approval. It was precisely the sort of vehicle in which I
would have chosen to go away. So absorbed was I in it that, though I
must have kissed mother, I have really no recollection of it; and it
was only when we were swinging out of the gate, and I looked back and
saw her standing in the door watching us, that a terrible pang came
over me, so that for one crazy moment I thought I was going to jump out
and run back to her.
But I held on to father's hand and turned my face away from home
with all the courage I could summon, and we went on through the town
and out across a lonely stretch of country to the railroad. For we were
an obstinate little town, and would not build up to the railroad
because the railroad had refused to run up to us. It was a new station
with a fine echo in it, and the man who called out the trains had a
beautiful voice for echoes. It was created to inspire them and to
encourage them, and I stood fascinated by the thunderous noises he was
making till father seized me by the hand and thrust me into the care of
the train conductor. They said something to each other in the sharp,
explosive way men have, and the conductor took me to a seat and told me
I was his girl for the time being, and to stay right there till he came
for me at my station.
What amazed me was that the car should be full of people. I could
not imagine where they all could be going. It was all very well for me,
who be-longed to a family of travellers — as witness Aunt Cordelia —
to be going on a journey, but for these others, these many, many
others, to be wandering around, heaven knows where, struck me as being
not right. It seemed to take somewhat from the glory of my adventure.
However, I noticed that most of them looked poor. Their clothes were
old and ugly; their faces not those of pleasure-seekers. It was very
difficult to imagine that they could afford a journey, which was, as I
believed, a great luxury. At first, the people looked to be all of a
sort, but after a little I began to see the differences, and to notice
that this one looked happy, and that one sad, and another as if he had
much to do and liked it, and several others as if they had very little
idea where they were going or why.
But I liked better to look from the windows and to see the world.
The houses seemed quite familiar and as if I had seen them often
before. I hardly could believe that I hadn't walked up those paths,
opened those doors and seated myself at the tables. I felt that if I
went in those houses I would know where everything was — just where
the dishes were kept, and the Bible, and the jam. It struck me that
houses were very much alike in the world, and that led to the thought
that people, too, were probably alike. So I forgot what the conductor
had said to me about keeping still, and I crossed over the aisle and
sat down beside a little girl who was regrettably young, but who looked
pleasant. Her mother and grandmother were sitting opposite, and they
smiled at me in a watery sort of way as if they thought a smile was
expected of them. I meant to talk to the little girl, but I saw she was
almost on the verge of tears, and it didn't take me long to discover
what was the matter. Her little pink hat was held on by an elastic
band, which, being put behind her ears and under her chin, was cutting
her cruelly. I knew by experience that if the band were placed in front
of her ears the tension would be lessened; so, with the most
benevolent intentions in the world, I inserted my fingers between the
rubber and her chubby cheeks, drew it out with nervous but friendly
fingers, somehow let go of it, and snap across her two red cheeks and
her pretty pug nose went the lacerating elastic, leaving a welt behind
"What do you mean, you bad girl?" cried the mother, taking me by
the shoulders with a sort of grip I had never felt before. "I never saw
such a child — never!"
An old woman with a face like a hen leaned over the back of the
"What's she done? What's she done?" she demanded. The mother told
her, as the grandmother comforted the hurt baby.
"Go back to your seat and stay there!" commanded the mother. "See
you don't come near here again!"
My lips trembled with the anguish I could hardly restrain. Never
had a noble soul been more misunderstood. Stupid beings! How dare they!
Yet, not to be liked by them — not to be understood! That was
unendurable. Would they listen to the gentle word that turneth away
wrath? I was inclined to think not. I was fairly panting under my load
of dismay and despondency, when a large man with an extraordinarily
clean appearance sat down opposite me. He was a study in grey — grey
suit, tie, socks, gloves, hat, top-coat — yes, and eyes! He leaned
"What do you think Aunt Ellen sent me last week?" he inquired.
We seemed to be old acquaintances, and in my second of perplexity I
decided that it was mere forgetfulness that made me unable to recall
just whom he was talking about. So I only said politely: "I don't
know, I'm sure, sir."
"Why, yes, you do!" he laughed. "Couldn't you guess? What should
Aunt Ellen send but some of that white maple sugar of hers; better than
ever, too. I've a pound of it along with me, and I'd be glad to pry off
a few pieces if you'd like to eat it. You always were so fond of Aunt
Ellen's maple sugar, you know."
The tone carried conviction. Of course I must have been fond of it;
indeed, upon reflection, I felt that I had been. By the time the man
was back with a parallelogram of the maple sugar in his hand, I was
convinced that he had spoken the truth.
"Aunt Ellen certainly is a dear," he went on. "I run down to see
her every time I get a chance. Same old rainbarrel! Same old beehives!
Same old well-sweep! Wouldn't trade them for any others in the world.
I like everything about the place — like the 'Old Man' that grows by
the gate; and the tomato trellis — nobody else treats tomatoes like
flowers; and the herb garden, and the cupboard with the little
wood-carvings in it that Uncle Ben made. You remember Uncle Ben? Been a
sailor — broke both legs — had 'em cut off — and sat around and
carved while Aunt Ellen taught school. Happy they were — no one
happier. Brought me up, you know. Didn't have a father or mother —
just gathered me in. Good sort, those. Uncle Ben's gone, but Aunt
Ellen's a mother to me yet. Thinks of me, travelling, travelling, never
putting my head down in the same bed two nights running; and here and
there and everywhere she overtakes me with little scraps out of home.
That's Aunt Ellen for you!"
As the delicious sugar melted on my tongue, the sorrows melted in
my soul, and I was just about to make some inquiries about Aunt Ellen,
whose personal qualities seemed to be growing clearer and clearer in my
mind, when my conductor came striding down the aisle.
"Where's my little girl?" he demanded heartily. "Ah, there she is,
just where I left her, in good company and eating maple sugar, as I
"Well, she hain't bin there all the time now, I ken tell ye that!"
cried the old woman with a face like a hen.
"Indeed, she ain't!" the other women joined in. "She's a
mischiefmakin' child, that's what she is!" said the mother. The little
girl was looking over her grandmother's shoulder, and she ran out a
very red, serpent-like tongue at me.
"She's a good girl, and almost as fond of Aunt Ellen as I am," said
the large man, finding my pocket, and putting a huge piece of maple
sugar in it.
The conductor, meantime, was gathering my things, and with a "Come
along, now! This is where you change," he led me from the car. I
glanced back once, and the hen-faced woman shook her withered brown
fist at me, and the large man waved and smiled. The conductor and I ran
as hard as we could, he carrying my light luggage, to a stage that
seemed to be waiting for us. He shouted some directions to the driver,
deposited me within, and ran back to his train. And I, alone again,
looked about me.
We were in the heart of a little town, and a number of men were
standing around while the horses took their fill at the
watering-trough. This accomplished, the driver checked up the horses,
mounted to his high seat, was joined by a heavy young man; two
gentlemen entered the inside of the coach, and we were off.
One of these gentlemen was very old. His silver hair hung on his
shoulders; he had a beautiful flowing heard which gleamed in the light,
the kindest of faces, lit with laughing blue eyes, and he leaned
forward on his heavy stick and seemed to mind the plunging of our
vehicle. The other man was middle-aged, dark, silent-looking, and, I
decided, rather like a king. We all rode in silence for a while, but by
and by the old man said kindly:
"Where are you going, my child?"
I told him.
"And whose daughter are you?" he inquired. I told him that with
pride. "I know people all through the state," he said, "but I don't
seem to remember that name."
"Don't you remember my father, sir?" I cried, anxiously, edging up
closer to him. "Not that great and good man! Why, Abraham Lincoln and
my father are the greatest men that ever lived!"
His head nodded strangely, as he lifted it and looked at me with
his laughing eye.
"It's a pity I don't know him, that being the case," he said
gently. "But, anyway, you're a lucky little girl."
"Yes," I sighed, "I am, indeed."
But my attention was taken by our approach to what I recognised as
an "estate." A great gate with high posts, flat on top, met my gaze,
and through this gateway I could see a drive and many beautiful trees.
A little boy was sitting on top of one of the posts, watching us, and I
thought I never had seen a place better adapted to viewing the passing
procession. I longed to be on the other gatepost, exchanging
confidences across the harmless gulf with this nice-looking boy, when,
most unexpectedly, the horses began to plunge. The next second the air
was filled with buzzing black objects.
"Bees!" said the king. It was the first word he had spoken, and a
true word it was. Swarming bees had settled in the road, and we had
driven unaware into the midst of them. The horses were distracted, and
made blindly for the gate, though they seemed much more likely to run
into the posts than to get through the gate, I thought. The boy seemed
to think this, too, for he shot backward, turned a somersault in. the
air, and disappeared from view.
"God bless me!" said the king.
The heavy young man on the front seat jumped from his place and
began beating away the bees and holding the horses by the bridles, and
in a few minutes we were on our way. The horses had been badly stung,
and the heavy young man looked rather bumpy. As for us, the king had
shut the stage door at the first approach of trouble, and we were
After this, we all felt quite well acquainted, and the old
gentleman told me some wonderful stories about going about among the
Indians and about the men in the lumber camps and the settlers on the
lake islands. Afterward I learned that he was a bishop, and a brave and
holy man whom it was a great honour to meet, but, at the time, I only
thought of how kind he was to pare apples for me and to tell me tales.
The king seldom spoke more than one word at a time, but he was kind,
too, in his way. Once he said, "Sleepy?" to me. And, again, "Hungry?"
He didn't look out at the landscape at all, and neither did the bishop.
But I ran from one side to the other, and the last of the journey I was
taken up between the driver and the heavy man on the high seat.
Presently we were in a little town with cottages almost hidden
among the trees. A blue stream ran through green fields, and the water
dashed over a dam. I could hear the song of the mill and the ripping of
"We're here!" said the driver.
The heavy man lifted me down, and my young uncle came running out
with his arms open to receive me. "What a traveller!" he said, kissing
"It's been a tremendously long and interesting journey," I said.
"Yes," he answered. "Ten miles by rail and ten by stage. I suppose
you've had a great many adventures!"
"Oh, yes!" I cried, and ached to tell them, but feared this was not
the place. I saw my uncle respectfully helping the bishop to alight,
and heard him inquiring for his health, and the bishop answering in
his kind, deep voice, and saying I was indeed a good traveller and saw
all there was to see — and a little more. The king shook hands with
me, and this time said two words: "Good luck." Uncle had no idea who he
was — no one had seen him before. Uncle didn't quite like his looks.
But I did. He was uncommon; he was different. I thought of all those
people in the train who had been so alike. And then I remembered what
unexpected differences they had shown, and turned to smile at my uncle.
"I should say I have had adventures!" I cried.
"We'll get home to your aunt," he said, "and then we'll hear all
We crossed a bridge above the roaring mill-race, went up a lane,
and entered Arcadia. That was the way it seemed to me. It was really a
cottage above a stream, where youth and love dwelt, and honour and
hospitality, and the little house was to be exchanged for a greater one
where — though youth departed — love and honour and hospitality were
still to dwell.
"Travel's a great thing," said my uncle, as he helped me off with
"Yes," I answered, solemnly, "it is a great privilege to see the
I still am of that opinion. I have seen some odd bits of it, and I
cannot understand why it is that other journeys have not quite come up
to that first one, when I heard of Aunt Ellen, and saw the boy turn the
surprised somersault, and was welcomed by two lovers in a little