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Page 31


The bell in the cupola called us from our beds at the first
streak of dawn. The clang awoke me with a start, my
sleep having been all the more profound from its delay in
coming. For a minute or two I could not imagine where
or what I was, and even when the knowledge finally crept
through my brain, and I had thrust my spare legs out from
under the bedclothes, I mechanically kept my head bent
down lest it should bump against the rafters in my garret
at home. Penrose, who was already half dressed, seemed
to notice this; there was a mocking smile on his handsome
lips, but he said nothing. The other boys set up such a
clatter that I was overlooked, and put on my clothes with
less embarrassment than I had taken them off.

We then went down-stairs to a large shed — an appendage
to the kitchen — at the back of the house. There
was a pump in the corner, and some eight or ten tin washbasins
ranged side by side in a broad, shallow trough. Four
endless towels, of coarse texture, revolved on rollers, and
there was much pushing and hustling among the boys who
came from the basins with bent, dripping faces, and extended,
dripping hands. Towards the end of the ablutions,
as the dry spots became rare, the revolution of the towels
increased, and the last-comers painfully dried themselves
along the edges.

There was a fire in the school-room, but the atmosphere
was chilly, and the dust raised by the broom lay upon the


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desks. My neighbor Caruthers, however, had taken his seat,
and was absorbed in the construction of a geometrical diagram.
I made a covert examination of him as I took my
place beside him. His features were plain, and by no means
intellectual, and I saw that his hands were large and hard,
showing that he was used to labor. I afterwards learned
that he was actually a carpenter, and that he paid for his
winter's instruction by the summer's earnings at his trade.
He was patient, plodding, and conscientious in his studies.
His progress, indeed, was slow, but what he once acquired
was never lost. In the course of time a quiet, friendly understanding
sprang up between us; perhaps we recognized
a similar need of exertion and self-reliance.

After breakfast the business of the school commenced
in earnest with me. Dr. Dymond, with some disqualifications,
had nevertheless correctly chosen his vocation. Looking
back to him now, I can see that his attainments were
very superficial, but he had at least a smattering of every
possible science, a clear and attractive way of presenting
what he knew, and great skill in concealing his deficiencies.
Though he was rather strict and exacting towards the
school, in its collective character, his manner was usually
friendly and encouraging towards the individual pupils.
He thus preserved a creditable amount of discipline, without
provoking impatience or insubordination. He was very
fond of discoursing to us, sometimes for an hour at a time,
upon any subject which happened temporarily to interest
him; and if the regular order of study was thereby interrupted,
I have no doubt we were gainers in the end. He
had the knack of exciting a desire for knowledge, which is
a still more important quality in a teacher than that of imparting
it. In my own case, I know, what had before been
a vague ambition took definite form and purpose under the
stimulus of his encouragement.

With the exception of Miss Hitchcock, there was no regular
assistant. One of the oldest pupils took charge of a


Page 33
dozen of the youngest scholars, in consideration (as was
surmised in the school) of being received as a boarder
without pay. Mrs. Dymond — or Mother Dymond, as the
boys called her — was rarely seen, unless a scholar happened
to fall sick, when she invariably made her appearance
with a bowl of hot gruel or herb-tea. She was a mild,
phlegmatic creature, with weak eyes, very little hair on week-days,
and an elaborate cap and false front on Sundays. She
had no children.

My first timidity on entering the school was considerably
alleviated by the discovery that I was not behind any of
the scholars of my age in the most important branches.
Dr. Dymond commended my reading, chirography, and
grammar, and gave me great delight by placing me in the
“composition” class. I had a blank book for my exercises,
which were first written on a slate and then carefully copied
in black and white. The mysteries of amplification, condensation,
and transposition fascinated me. I don't know
in how many ways I recorded the fact that “Peter, the
ploughman, ardently loved Mary, the beautiful shepherdess.”
I drew the stock comparisons between darkness and
adversity, sunshine and prosperity, plunged into antithesis,
and clipped away pleonasms with a boldness which astonished
myself. Penrose was in the same class. I thought,
but it may have been fancy, that his lip curled a little when
I went forward with him to the recitation. He looked at me
gravely and steadily when my turn came; I felt his eye,
and my voice wavered at the commencement. It seemed
that we should never become acquainted. I was too timid
to make the least advance, though attracted, in spite of myself,
by his proud beauty; and he retained the same air of
haughty indifference. At night we lay down silently side
by side, and it was not until the fourth morning that he addressed
a single word to me. I heard the bell, but lingered
for one sweet, warm minute longer. Perhaps he thought
me asleep; for he leaned over the bed, took me by the


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shoulder, and said, “Get up!” I was so startled that I
sprang out of bed at one bound.

I noticed that young Thornton, though a very imp of mischief
towards the other boys, never dared to play the least
prank upon Penrose. Something had happened between
the two, during a previous term, but what it was, none except
themselves knew. No one, I was told, could cope
with Penrose in muscular strength, yet there was nothing
of the bully about him. He was respected, without being
popular; his isolation, unlike that of Caruthers, had something
offensive about it. I was a little vexed with myself
that he usurped so prominent a place in my thoughts: but
so it was.

Charley Rand took on the ways of the school at the
start, and was at home in every respect before two days
were over. I could not so easily adapt myself to the new
circumstances, but slowly and awkwardly put off my first
painful feeling of embarrassment. Fortunately, before the
week was over, another new scholar was introduced, and
he served at least to turn the attention of the school away
from me. I was older than he by three days' experience,
— a fact which gave me a pleasant increase of confidence.
Nevertheless, the time wore away very slowly; months
seemed to have intervened since my parting with my
mother, and I was quite excited with the prospect of
returning, when the school was dismissed, early on Saturday

“Oh, Charley!” I cried, as we passed over the ridge
beyond Honeybrook, and Dr. Dymond's school sank out of
sight, “only think! in an hour we shall be at home.”

“If 't was n't for the better grub I shall get, Godfrey,
I 'd as lief stay over Sunday with the boys,” said he. He
had already dropped the familiar “Jack,” but this shocked
me less than his indifference to the homestead, where, I
knew, he was always petted and indulged. It was not
long before I, in turn, learned to call him “Rand.”


Page 35

He continually detained me by stopping to search for
chestnuts in the edges of the groves, or to throw stones at
the squirrels scampering along the top-rails of the fences.
Finally I grew impatient, and hurried forward alone, for
the houses of our little village were in sight, and I knew
mother would be expecting me every moment. I felt sure
that I should see her face at the window, and considered a
moment whether I should not jump into the next field and
cross it to the rear of our garden, so as to take her by surprise.
I gave up this plan, and entered by the front-door,
but I still had my surprise, for she had not expected me so

“Well, mother, have you been very lonely?” I asked,
as soon as the first joyous greeting was over.

“No, Johnny, not more than I expected; but it 's nice
to have you back again. I 'll just see to the kitchen, and
then you must tell me everything.”

She bustled out, but came back presently with red
cheeks and sparkling eyes, moved her chair beside mine,
and said, “Now” —

I gave the week's history, from beginning to end, my
mother every now and then lifting up her hands and saying,
“You don't say so!” I concealed only my own feelings
of strangeness and embarrassment, which it was mortifying
enough to confess to myself. The account I gave
of the studies upon which I had entered was highly satisfactory
to my poor mother, and I have no doubt that the
pride she felt, or foresaw she should feel, in my advancement,
helped her thenceforth to bear her self-imposed sacrifice.
My description of Miss Hitchcock's singular questions
and phrenological remarks seemed to afford her great
pleasure, and I am sure that the picture which I drew of
Dr. Dymond's erudition must have been overwhelming.

“I 'm glad I 've sent you, Johnny!” she exclaimed when
I had finished. “It seems to be the right place, and I
don't begrudge the money a bit, if it helps to make a man


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of you. I 've been more troubled this week on your account
than my own. Some boarding-schools are rough places for
a boy like you, that has n't been knocked about and made
to fight his way. I was afraid I 'd kept you too long at
home, maybe, but I guess you 're not spoiled yet, — are

“No, indeed, mother!” I cried, jumping up to smooth
one of her puffs. How glad I was of the bit of boyish
swagger which had so happily deceived her.

We had “short cakes” and currant-jam for supper that
night. How cosy and delightful it was, to be sure! I had
brought along the book in which my exercises in composition
were written, and read them aloud, every one. Poor
mother must have been bewildered by the transpositions;
perhaps she wondered what upon earth it all meant; but
she said, “And did you do all that yourself?” with an air
of serious admiration which made my heart glow. After
supper, Neighbor Niles came in, and I must read the
exercises all over again for her benefit, my mother every
now and then nodding to her and whispering, “All his
own doing.”

“It 's a deal for a boy o' his age,” said Neighbor Niles;
“though, for my part, I 've got so little book-larnin', that I
can't make head nor tail of it. Neither my old man nor
my boys takes to sich things. Brother Dan'l, — him that
went out to the backwoods, you know, comin' ten year next
spring, — he writ some verses once't on the death of 'Lijah
Sykes, cousin by the mother's side, that was — but I disremember
'em, only the beginnin': —

“Little did his parents think, and little did his parents know,
That he should so soon be called for to go.”
If Dan'l 'd ha' had proper schoolin', he might ha' been the
schollard o' the fam'ly. When Johnny gits a little furder,
I should n't wonder if he could write somethin' about my
Becky Jane, — somethin' short and takin', that we could


Page 37
have cut on her tombstone. You know it costs three cents
a letter.”

“Think of that, Johnny!” cried my mother, triumphantly:
“if you could do that, now! Why, people would
read it long after you and I are dead and gone!”

My ambition was instantly kindled to produce, in the
course of time, a “short and takin'” elegy on Becky Jane.
This was my first glimpse of a possible immortality. I
looked forward to the day when my fame should be established
in every household of the Cross-Keys, to be freshly
revived whenever there was a funeral, and the inscriptions
on the tombstones were dutifully read. Perhaps, even, I
might be heard of in Honeybrook, and down the Philadelphia
road as far as Snedikersville! There was no end
to the conceit in my abilities which took possession of me;
I doubt whether it has ever since then been so powerful.
When I went into the garden the next morning, I looked
with contempt at the little corner behind the snowball-bush.
What a boy I had been but a few weeks ago! — and
now I was a man, or the next thing to it. I instinctively
straightened myself in my new boots, and felt either cheek
carefully, in the hope of finding a nascent down; but, alas!
none was perceptible. Bob Simmons told me in confidence,
the last time we met, that the hostler at the Cross-Keys had
shaved both him and Jackson Reanor, and had predicted
that he would soon have a beard. I must wait another
year, I feared, for this evidence of approaching manhood.

Bob, I found, was not to commence his apprenticeship
until early in the spring. I longed to see him and talk
over my school experiences, but I was not thoughtless
enough to leave mother during my first Sunday at home,
especially as I saw that the dear little woman was becoming
more and more reconciled to the change. The day
was passed in a grateful quiet, and we went early to bed,
in order that I might rise by daybreak, and be ready to
join Charley Rand.


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Thus week after week of the new life went by, until the
pangs of change were conquered to both of us. I began to
put forth new shoots, like a young tree that has been taken
from a barren hill-side and set in the deep, mellow soil of a
garden. My progress for a time was astonishing, for all
the baffled desires of my later childhood became so many
impelling forces. Mother soon ceased to be the oracle she
had once been; but I think she felt this (if, indeed, she
was aware of it) as one joy the more. Her hope was to
look up to and be guided by me. She possessed simply
the power of enduring adverse circumstances, not the
energy necessary to transform them. In my advancement
she saw her own release from a maternal responsibility,
always oppressive, though so patiently and cheerfully borne.

The books I required were an item which had been overlooked
in her estimate of the expenses, and we had many
long and anxious consultations on this subject. I procured
a second-hand geometry, at half-price, from Walton, the
young man who taught for his board, and so got on with
my mathematics; but there seemed no hope of my being
able to join the Latin class, for which three new books were
required, at the start. By Christmas, however, mother
raised the necessary funds, having obtained, as I afterwards
discovered, a small advance upon the annual interest of the
fifteen hundred dollars, which was not due until April. This
money had been placed in the hands of her brother-in-law,
Mr. Amos Woolley, a grocer, in Reading, for investment.
She had never before asked for any part of the sum in advance,
and I suspect it was not obtained without some difficulty.

Dr. Dymond was too old a teacher to let his preferences
be noticed by the scholars, but I knew that both he and
Miss Hitchcock were kindly disposed towards me. He was
fond of relating anecdotes of Franklin, Ledyard, Fulton,
and other noted men who had risen from obscurity, and inciting
his pupils to imitate them. Whatever fame the latter


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might achieve would of course be reflected upon him and his
school. The older boys — who were mostly plodding youths
of limited means, ambitious of culture — were also friendly
and encouraging, and I associated almost exclusively with
them. The pranks of the younger ones were no longer
formidable, since there was so little opportunity of their
practical application to me. I had spirit enough to resent
imposition, and my standing as a scholar prevented me from
becoming a butt suitable for torment: so, upon the whole,
I was tolerably happy and satisfied, even without the existence
of an intimate friendship. My childish faith in the
truth and goodness of everybody had not yet been shaken.

Punctually, every Saturday afternoon, Charley and I returned
to the Cross-Keys, on foot when the weather was
good, and in Mr. Rand's “rockaway” when there was rain
or mud. For three weeks in succession the sleighing was
excellent, and then we had the delight of a ride both ways,
— once (shall I ever forget it?) packed in with the entire
Rand family, Emily, Charley, and myself on the front seat,
with our arms around each other to keep from tumbling off.
Emily was very gracious on this occasion; I suppose my
blue cap and gray jacket made a difference. She wore a
crimson merino dress, which I thought the loveliest thing I
had ever seen, and the yellow ringlets gushed out on either
side of her face, from under the warm woollen hood. We
went home in the twinkling of an eye, and I forgot my carpet-bag,
on reaching the front gate, but Charley flung it
into Niles's yard.

I find myself lingering on these little incidents of my
boyhood, — clinging to that free, careless, confident period,
as if reluctant to march forward into the region of disenchantments.
The experiences of boys differ perhaps as
widely as those of men, but they float on a narrow stream,
and, though some approach one bank and some the other,
the same features are visible to all. How different from
the open sea, where millions of keels pass and repass day


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and night, rarely touching the moving circles of each other's
horizons, — some sailing in belts of prosperous wind, between
the tracks of tempest, — some foundering alone, just
out of sight of the barks that would have flown to their rescue!
I must not forget that the details of my early history
are naturally more interesting to myself than to the reader,
and that he is no more likely to deduce the character of my
later fortunes from them than I was at the time. Even in
retrospect, we cannot always decipher the history of our
lives. The Child is Father of the Man, it is true: but few
sons are like their fathers.

The only circumstance which has left a marked impression
upon my memory occurred towards the close of the
winter. Both Dr. Dymond and Miss Hitchcock were
obliged to leave the school one afternoon, on account of
some important occurrence in Honeybrook, — I think a funeral,
though it may have been a wedding. Walton was
therefore placed at the central desk, on the platform, and
we were severely enjoined to preserve order during the absence
of the principal. We sat very quietly until the Doctor's
carriage was seen to drive away from the door, whereupon
Thornton, Rand, and a number of the other restless,
mischievous spirits began to perk up their heads, exchange
winks and grins, and betray other symptoms of revolt.
Walton knew what was coming: he was a meek, amiable
fellow, sweating under his responsibility, and evidently bewildered
as to the course he ought to pursue. He knit his
brows and tried to look very severe; but it was a pitiful sham,
which deceived nobody. Thornton, who had been dodging
about and whispering among his accomplices, immediately
imitated poor Walton's expression. The corrugation of his
brows was something preternatural. The others copied his
example, and the aspect of the school was most ludicrous.
Still, there had been no palpable violation of the rules, and
Walton was puzzled what to do. To notice the caricature
would be to acknowledge its correctness. He drew his left


Page 41
shoulder up against his ear and thrust his right hand into
his back hair, — a habit which was known to the school. A
dozen young scamps at once did the same thing, but with
extravagant contortions and grimaces.

The effect was irresistible. There was a rustling and
shaking of suppressed laughter from one end of the school-room
to the other — the first throes of an approaching
chaos. For the life of me, I could not help joining in it,
though sympathizing keenly with Walton's painful position.
His face flushed scarlet as he looked around the room; but
the next instant he became very pale, stood up, and after
one or two convulsive efforts to find a voice, — which was
very unsteady when it came, — addressed us.

“Boys,” said he, “you know this is n't right. I did n't
take Dr. Dymond's place of my own choice. I have n't got
his authority over you, but you 'd be orderly if he was here,
and he 's asked you to be it while he 's away. It 's his rule
you 're breaking, not mine. I can't force you to keep it,
but I can say you 're wrong in not doing it. I 'm here to
help any of you in your studies as far as I can, and I 'll attend
to that part faithfully if you 'll all do your share in
keeping order.”

He delivered these sentences slowly, making a long pause
between each. The scholars were profoundly silent and
attentive. Thornton and some of the others tried a few
additional winks and grimaces, but they met with no encouragement;
we were waiting to see what would come
next. When Walton finally sat down he had evidently little
hope that his words would produce much effect; and
indeed there was no certainty that the temporary quiet
would be long preserved.

We were all, therefore, not a little startled when Penrose
suddenly arose from his seat, and said, in a clear, firm
voice, — “I am sure I speak the sentiments of all my fellow-scholars,
Mr. Walton, when I say that we will keep


Page 42

The older boys nodded their assent and resumed their
studies. Thornton hung down his head, and seemed to
have quite lost his spirits for the rest of the day. But the
business of the school went on like clock-work. I don't
think we ever had so quiet an afternoon.