The boys had their own beliefs about the different animals, and one of these concerned the inappeasable ferocity of the zebra. I do not know why the zebra should have had this repute, for he certainly never did anything to deserve it; but, for the matter of that, he was like all the other animals. Bears were not much esteemed, but they would have been if they could have been really seen hugging anybody to death. It was always hoped that some of the fiercest animals would get away and have to be hunted down, and retaken after they had killed a lot of dogs. If the elephants, some of them, had gone crazy, it would have been something, for then they would have roamed up and down the turnpike smashing buggies and wagons, and had to be shot with the six-pound cannon that was used to celebrate the Fourth of July with.
Another thing that was against the show was that the animals were fed after it was out, and you could not see the tigers tearing their prey when the great lumps of beef were thrown them. There was somehow not so much chance of hooking into a show as a circus, because the seats did not go all round, and you could be seen under the cages as soon as you got in under the canvas. I never heard of a boy that hooked into a show; perhaps nobody ever tried.
A show had the same kind of smell as a circus, up to a certain point, and then its smell began to be different. Both smelt of tan-bark or saw-dust and trodden grass, and both smelt of lemonade and cigars; but after that a show had its own smell of animals. I have found in later life that this is a very offensive smell on a hot day; but I do not believe a boy ever thinks so; for him it is just a different smell from a circus smell. There were two other reasons why a show was not as much fun as a circus, and one was that it was thought instructive, and fellows went who were not allowed to go to circuses. But the great reason of all was that you could not have an animal show of your own as you could a circus. You could not get the animals; and no boy living could act a camel, or a Royal Bengal tiger, or an elephant so as to look the least like one.
Of course you could have negro shows, and the boys often had them; but they were not much fun, and you were always getting the black on your shirt-sleeves.
HIGHDAYS AND HOLIDAYS.
THE greatest day of all in the Boy's Town was Christmas. In that part of the West the boys had never even heard of Thanksgiving, and their elders knew of it only as a festival of far-off New England. Christmas was the day that was kept in all churches and families, whether they were Methodists or Episcopalians, Baptists or Universalists, Catholics or Protestants; and among boys of whatever persuasion it was kept in a fashion that I suppose may have survived from the early pioneer times, when the means of expressing joy were few and primitive. On Christmas eve, before the church-bells began to ring in the day, the boys began to celebrate it with guns and pistols, with shooting-crackers and torpedoes; and they never stopped as long as their ammunition lasted. A fellow hardly ever had more than a bit to spend, and after he had paid ten cents for a pack of crackers, he had only two cents and a half for powder; and if he wanted his pleasure to last, he had to be careful. Of course he wanted his pleasure to last, but he would rather have had no pleasure at all than be careful, and most of the boys woke Christmas morning empty-handed, unless they had burst their pistols the night before; then they had a little powder left, and could go pretty well into the forenoon if they could find some other boy who had shot off his powder but had a whole pistol left. Lots of fellows' pistols got out of order without bursting, and that saved powder; but generally a fellow kept putting in bigger and bigger loads till his pistol blew to pieces. There were all sorts of pistols; but the commonest was one that the boys called a Christmas-crack; it was of brass, and when it burst the barrel curled up like a dandelion stem when you split it and put it in water. A Christmas-crack in that shape was a trophy; but of course the little boys did not have pistols; they had to put up with shooting-crackers, or maybe just torpedoes. Even then the big boys would get to fire them off on one pretext or another. Some fellows would hold a cracker in their hands till it exploded; nearly everybody had burned thumbs, and some of the boys had their faces blackened with powder. Now and then a fellow who was nearly grown up would set off a whole pack of crackers in a barrel; it seemed almost incredible to the little boys.
It was glorious, and I do not think any of the boys felt that there was anything out of keeping in their way of celebrating the day, for I do not think they knew why they were celebrating it, or, if they knew, they never thought. It was simply a holiday, and was to be treated like a holiday. After all, perhaps there are just as strange things done by grown people in honor of the loving and lowly Saviour of Men; but we will not enter upon that question. When they had burst their pistols or fired off their crackers, the boys sometimes huddled into the back part of the Catholic church and watched the service, awed by the dim altar lights, the rising smoke of incense, and the grimness of the sacristan, an old German, who stood near to keep order among them. They knew the fellows who were helping the priest; one of them was the boy who stood on his head till he had to have it shaved; they would have liked to mock him then and there for wearing a petticoat, and most of them had the bitterest scorn and hate for Catholics in their hearts; but they were afraid of the sacristan, and they behaved very well as long as they were in the church; but as soon as they got out they whooped and yelled, and stoned the sacristan when he ran after them.
My boy would have liked to do all that too, just to be with the crowd, but at home he had been taught to believe that Catholics were as good as anybody, and that you must respect everybody's religion. His father and the priest were friendly acquaintances, and in a dim way he knew that his father had sometimes taken the Catholics' part in his paper when the prejudice against foreigners ran high. He liked to go to the Catholic church, though he was afraid of the painted figure that hung full length on the wooden crucifix, with the blood-drops under the thorns on its forehead, and the red wound in its side. He was afraid of it as something both dead and alive; he could not keep his eyes away from the awful, beautiful, suffering face, and the body that seemed to twist in agony, and the hands and feet so cruelly nailed to the cross.
But he never connected the thought of that anguish with Christmas. His head was too full of St. Nicholas, who came down the chimney, and filled your stockings; the day belonged to St. Nicholas. The first thing when you woke you tried to catch everybody, and you caught a person if you said "Christmas Gift!" before he or she did; and then the person you caught had to give you a present. Nobody ever said "Merry Christmas!" as people do now; and I do not know where the custom of saying "Christmas Gift" came from. It seems more sordid and greedy than it really was; the pleasure was to see who could say it first; and the boys did not care for what they got if they beat, any more than they cared for what they won in fighting eggs at Easter.
At New-Year's the great thing was to sit up and watch the old year out; but the little boys could not have kept awake even if their mothers had let them. In some families, perhaps of Dutch origin, the day was kept instead of Christmas, but for most of the fellows it was a dull time. You had spent all your money at Christmas, and very likely burst your pistol, anyway. It was some consolation to be out of school, which did not keep on New-Year's; and if it was cold you could have fires on the ice; or, anyway, you could have fires on the river-bank, or down by the shore, where there was always plenty of drift-wood.
But New-Year's could not begin to compare with Easter. All the boys' mothers colored eggs for them at Easter; I do not believe there was a mother in the Boy's Town mean enough not to. By Easter Day, in that Southern region, the new grass was well started, and grass gave a beautiful yellow color to the eggs boiled with it. Onions colored them a soft, pale green, and logwood, black; but the most esteemed egg of all was a calico-egg. You got a piece of new calico from your mother, or maybe some of your aunts, and you got somebody (most likely your grandmother, if she was on a visit at the time) to sew an egg up in it; and when the egg was boiled it came out all over the pattern of the calico. My boy's brother once had a calico-egg that seemed to my boy a more beautiful piece of color than any Titian he has seen since; it was kept in a bureau-drawer till nobody could stand the smell. But most Easter eggs never outlasted Easter Day. As soon as the fellows were done breakfast they ran out of the house and began to fight eggs with the other fellows. They struck the little ends of the eggs together, and if your egg broke another fellow's egg, then you had a right to it. Sometimes an egg was so hard that it would break every other egg in the street; and generally when a little fellow lost his egg, he began to cry and went into the house. This did not prove him a cry-baby; it was allowable, like crying when you stumped your toe. I think this custom of fighting eggs came from the Pennsylvania Germans, to whom the Boy's Town probably owed its Protestant observance of Easter. There was nothing religious in the way the boys kept it, any more than there was in their way of keeping Christmas.
I do not think they distinguished between it and All-Fool's Day in character or dignity. About the best thing you could do then was to write April Fool on a piece of paper and pin it to a fellow's back, or maybe a girl's, if she was a big girl, and stuck-up, or anything. I do not suppose there is a boy now living who is silly enough to play this trick on anybody, or mean enough to fill an old hat with rocks and brickbats, and dare a fellow to kick it; but in the Boy's Town there were some boys who did this; and then the fellow had to kick the hat, or else come under the shame of having taken a dare. Most of the April-foolings were harmless enough, like saying, "Oh, see that flock of wild-geese flying over!" and "What have you got on the back of your coat!" and holloing "April Fool!" as soon as the person did it. Sometimes a crowd of boys got a bit with a hole in it, and tied a string in it, and laid it on the sidewalk, and then hid in a cellar, and when anybody stooped to pick it up, they pulled it in. That was the greatest fun, especially if the person was stingy; but the difficulty was to get the bit, whether it had a hole in it or not.
From the first of April till the first of May was a long stretch of days, and you never heard any one talk about a May Party till April Fool was over. Then there always began to be talk of a May Party, and who was going to be invited. It was the big girls that always intended to have it, and it was understood at once who was going to be the Queen. At least the boys had no question, for there was one girl in every school whom all the boys felt to be the most beautiful; but probably there was a good deal of rivalry and heart-burning among the girls themselves. Very likely it was this that kept a May Party from hardly ever coming to anything but the talk. Besides the Queen, there were certain little girls who were to be Lambs; I think there were Maids of Honor, too; but I am not sure. The Lambs had to keep very close to the Queen's person, and to wait upon her; and there were boys who had to hold the tassels of the banners which the big boys carried. These boys had to wear white pantaloons, and shoes and stockings, and very likely gloves, and to suffer the jeers of the other fellows who were not in the procession. The May Party was a girl's affair altogether, though the boys were expected to help; and so there were distinctions made that the boys never dreamed of in their rude republic, where one fellow was as good as another, and the lowest-down boy in town could make himself master if he was bold and strong enough. The boys did not understand those distinctions, and nothing of them remained in their minds after the moment; but the girls understood them, and probably they were taught at home to feel the difference between themselves and other girls, and to believe themselves of finer clay. At any rate, the May Party was apt to be poisoned at its source by questions of class; and I think it might have been in the talk about precedence, and who should be what, that my boy first heard that such and such a girl's father was a mechanic, and that it was somehow dishonorable to be a mechanic. He did not know why, and he has never since known why, but the girls then knew why, and the women seem to know now. He was asked to be one of the boys who held the banner-tassels, and he felt this a great compliment somehow, though he was so young that he had afterwards only the vaguest remembrance of marching in the procession, and going to a raw and chilly grove somewhere, and having untimely lemonade and cake. Yet these might have been the associations of some wholly different occasion.
No aristocratic reserves marred the glory of Fourth of July. My boy was quite a well-grown boy before he noticed that there were ever any clouds in the sky except when it was going to rain. At all other times, especially in summer, it seemed to him that the sky was perfectly blue, from horizon to horizon; and it certainly was so on the Fourth of July. He usually got up pretty early, and began firing off torpedoes and shooting-crackers, just as at Christmas. Everybody in town had been wakened by the salutes fired from the six-pounder on the river-bank, and by the noise of guns and pistols; and right after breakfast you heard that the Butler Guards were out, and you ran up to the court-house yard with the other fellows to see if it was true. It was not true, just yet, perhaps, but it came true during the forenoon, and in the meantime the court-house yard was a scene of festive preparation. There was going to be an oration and a public dinner, and they were already setting the tables under the locust-trees. There may have been some charge for this dinner, but the boys never knew of that, or had any question of the bounty that seemed free as the air of the summer day.
High Street was thronged with people, mostly country-jakes who had come to town with their wagons and buggies for the celebration. The young fellows and their girls were walking along hand in hand, eating gingerbread, and here and there a farmer had already begun his spree, and was whooping up and down the sidewalk unmolested by authority. The boys did not think it at all out of the way for him to be in that state; they took it as they took the preparations for the public dinner, and no sense of the shame and sorrow it meant penetrated their tough ignorance of life. He interested them because, after the regular town drunkards, he was a novelty; but, otherwise, he did not move them. By and by they would see him taken charge of by his friends and more or less brought under control; though if you had the time to follow him up you could see him wanting to fight his friends and trying to get away from them. Whiskey was freely made and sold and drunk in that time and that region; but it must not be imagined that there was no struggle against intemperance. The boys did not know it, but there was a very strenuous fight in the community against the drunkenness that was so frequent; and there were perhaps more people who were wholly abstinent then than there are now. The forces of good and evil were more openly arrayed against each other among people whose passions were strong and still somewhat primitive; and those who touched not, tasted not, handled not, far outnumbered those who looked upon the wine when it was red. The pity for the boys was that they saw the drunkards every day, and the temperance men only now and then; and out of the group of boys who were my boy's friends, many kindly fellows came to know how strong drink could rage, how it could bite like the serpent, and sting like an adder.
But the temperance men made a show on the Fourth of July as well as the drunkards, and the Sons of Temperance walked in the procession with the Masons and the Odd-Fellows. Sometimes they got hold of a whole Fourth, and then there was nothing but a temperance picnic in the Sycamore Grove, which the boys took part in as Sunday-school scholars. It was not gay; there was no good reason why it should leave the boys with the feeling of having been cheated out of their holiday, but it did. A boy's Fourth of July seemed to end about four o'clock, anyhow. After that, he began to feel gloomy, no matter what sort of a time he had. That was the way he felt after almost any holiday.
Market-day was a highday in the Boy's Town, and it would be hard to say whether it was more so in summer than in winter. In summer, the market opened about four or five o'clock in the morning, and by this hour my boy's father was off twice a week with his market-basket on his arm. All the people did their marketing in the same way; but it was a surprise for my boy, when he became old enough to go once with his father, to find the other boys' fathers at market too. He held on by his father's hand, and ran by his side past the lines of wagons that stretched sometimes from the bridge to the court-house, in the dim morning light. The market-house, where the German butchers in their white aprons were standing behind their meat-blocks, was lit up with candles in sconces, that shone upon festoons of sausage and cuts of steak dangling from the hooks behind them; but without, all was in a vague obscurity, broken only by the lanterns in the farmers' wagons. There was a market-master, who rang a bell to open the market, and if anybody bought or sold anything before the tap of that bell, he would be fined. People would walk along the line of wagons, where the butter and eggs, apples and peaches and melons, were piled up inside near the tail-boards, and stop where they saw something they wanted, and stand near so as to lay hands on it the moment the bell rang. My boy remembered stopping that morning by the wagon of some nice old Quaker ladies, who used to come to his house, and whom his father stood chatting with till the bell rang. They probably had an understanding with him about the rolls of fragrant butter which he instantly lifted into his basket. But if you came long after the bell rang, you had to take what you could get.
There was a smell of cantaloupes in the air, along the line of wagons, that morning, and so it must have been towards the end of the summer. After the nights began to lengthen and to be too cold for the farmers to sleep in their wagons, as they did in summer on the market eves, the market time was changed to midday. Then it was fun to count the wagons on both sides of the street clear to where they frayed off into wood-wagons, and to see the great heaps of apples and cabbages, and potatoes and turnips, and all the other fruits and vegetables which abounded in that fertile country. There was a great variety of poultry for sale, and from time to time the air would be startled with the clamor of fowls transferred from the coops where they had been softly crr-crring in soliloquy to the hand of a purchaser who walked off with them and patiently waited for their well-grounded alarm to die away. All the time the market-master was making his rounds; and if he saw a pound roll of butter that he thought was under weight, he would weigh it with his steelyards, and if it was too light he would seize it. My boy once saw a confiscation of this sort with such terror as he would now, perhaps, witness an execution.
MUSTERS AND ELECTIONS.
THE Butler Guards were the finest military company in the world. I do not believe there was a fellow in the Boy's Town who ever even tried to imagine a more splendid body of troops: when they talked of them, as they did a great deal, it was simply to revel in the recognition of their perfection. I forget just what their uniform was, but there were white pantaloons in it, and a tuft of white-and-red cockerel plumes that almost covered the front of the hat, and swayed when the soldier walked, and blew in the wind. I think the coat was gray, and the skirts were buttoned back with buff, but I will not be sure of this; and somehow I cannot say how the officers differed from the privates in dress; it was impossible for them to be more magnificent. They walked backwards in front of the platoons, with their swords drawn, and held in their white-gloved hands at hilt and point, and kept holloing, "Shoulder-r-r—arms! Carry—arms! Present—arms!" and then faced round, and walked a few steps forward, till they could think of something else to make the soldiers do.
Every boy intended to belong to the Butler Guards when he grew up; and he would have given anything to be the drummer or the marker. These were both boys, and they were just as much dressed up as the Guards themselves, only they had caps instead of hats with plumes. It was strange that the other fellows somehow did not know who these boys were; but they never knew, or at least my boy never knew. They thought more of the marker than of the drummer; for the marker carried a little flag, and when the officers holloed out, "By the left flank—left! Wheel!" he set his flag against his shoulder, and stood marking time with his feet till the soldiers all got by him, and then he ran up to the front rank, with the flag fluttering behind him. The fellows used to wonder how he got to be marker, and to plan how they could get to be markers in other companies, if not in the Butler Guards. There were other companies that used to come to town on the Fourth of July and Muster Day, from smaller places round about; and some of them had richer uniforms: one company had blue coats with gold epaulets, and gold braid going down in loops on the sides of their legs; all the soldiers, of course, had braid straight down the outer seams of their pantaloons. One Muster Day, a captain of one of the country companies came home with my boy's father to dinner; he was in full uniform, and he put his plumed helmet down on the entry table just like any other hat.
There was a company of Germans, or Dutchmen, as the boys always called them; and the boys believed that they each had hay in his right shoe, and straw in his left, because a Dutchman was too dumb, as the boys said for stupid, to know his feet apart any other way; and that the Dutch officers had to call out to the men when they were marching, "Up mit de hay-foot, down mit de straw-foot—links, links, links!" (Left, left, left!) But the boys honored even these imperfect intelligences so much in their quality of soldiers that they would any of them have been proud to be marker in the Dutch company; and they followed the Dutchmen round in their march as fondly as any other body of troops. Of course, school let out when there was a regular muster, and the boys gave the whole day to it; but I do not know just when the Muster Day came. They fired the cannon a good deal on the river-bank, and they must have camped somewhere near the town, though no recollection of tents remained in my boy's mind. He believed with the rest of the boys that the right way to fire the cannon was to get it so hot you need not touch it off, but just keep your thumb on the touch-hole, and take it away when you wanted the cannon to go off. Once he saw the soldiers ram the piece full of dog-fennel on top of the usual charge, and then he expected the cannon to burst. But it only roared away as usual.
The boys had their own ideas of what that cannon could do if aptly fired into a force of British, or Bridish, as they called them. They wished there could be a war with England, just to see; and their national feeling was kept hot by the presence of veterans of the War of 1812 at all the celebrations. One of the boys had a grandfather who had been in the Revolutionary War, and when he died the Butler Guards fired a salute over his grave. It was secret sorrow and sometimes open shame to my boy that his grandfather should be an Englishman, and that even his father should have been a year old when he came to this country; but on his mother's side he could boast a grandfather and a great-grandfather who had taken part, however briefly or obscurely, in both the wars against Great Britain. He hated just as much as any of the boys, or perhaps more, to be the Bridish when they were playing war, and he longed as truly as any of them to march against the hereditary, or half-hereditary, enemy.
Playing war was one of the regular plays, and the sides were always Americans and Bridish, and the Bridish always got whipped. But this was a different thing, and a far less serious thing, than having a company. The boys began to have companies after every muster, of course; but sometimes they began to have them for no external reason. Very likely they would start having a company from just finding a rooster's tail-feather, and begin making plumes at once. It was easy to make a plume: you picked up a lot of feathers that the hens and geese had dropped; and you whittled a pine stick, and bound the feathers in spirals around it with white thread. That was a first-rate plume, but the uniform offered the same difficulties as the circus dress, and you could not do anything towards it by rolling up your pantaloons. It was pretty easy to make swords out of laths, but guns again were hard to realize. Some fellows had little toy guns left over from Christmas, but they were considered rather babyish, and any kind of stick was better; the right kind of a gun for a boy's company was a wooden gun, such as some of the big boys had, with the barrel painted different from the stock. The little fellows never had any such guns, and if the question of uniform could have been got over, this question of arms would still have remained. In these troubles the fellows' mothers had to suffer almost as much as the fellows themselves, the fellows teased them so much for bits of finery that they thought they could turn to account in eking out a uniform. Once it came to quite a lot of fellows getting their mothers to ask their fathers if they would buy them some little soldier-hats that one of the hatters had laid in, perhaps after a muster, when he knew the boys would begin recruiting. My boy was by when his mother asked his father, and stood with his heart in his mouth, while the question was argued; it was decided against him, both because his father hated the tomfoolery of the thing, and because he would not have the child honor any semblance of soldiering, even such a feeble image of it as a boys' company could present. But, after all, a paper chapeau, with a panache of slitted paper, was no bad soldier-hat; it went far to constitute a whole uniform; and it was this that the boys devolved upon at last. It was the only company they ever really got together, for everybody wanted to be captain and lieutenant, just as they wanted to be clown and ring-master in a circus. I cannot understand how my boy came to hold either office; perhaps the fellows found that the only way to keep the company together was to take turn-about; but, at any rate, he was marshalling his forces near his grandfather's gate one evening when his grandfather came home to tea. The old Methodist class-leader, who had been born and brought up a Quaker, stared at the poor little apparition in horror. Then he caught the paper chapeau from the boy's head, and, saying "Dear me! Dear me!" trampled it under foot. It was an awful moment, and in his hot and bitter heart the boy, who was put to shame before all his fellows, did not know whether to order them to attack his grandfather in a body, or to engage him in single combat with his own lath-sword. In the end he did neither; his grandfather walked on into tea, and the boy was left with a wound that was sore till he grew old enough to know how true and brave a man his grandfather was in a cause where so many warlike hearts wanted courage.
It was already the time of the Mexican war, when that part of the West at least was crazed with a dream of the conquest which was to carry slavery wherever the flag of freedom went. The volunteers were mustered in at the Boy's Town; and the boys, who understood that they were real soldiers, and were going to a war where they might get killed, suffered a disappointment from the plain blue of their uniform and the simplicity of their caps, which had not the sign of a feather in them. It was a consolation to know that they were going to fight the Mexicans; not so much consolation as if it had been the Bridish, though still something. The boys were proud of them, and they did not realize that most of these poor fellows were just country-jakes. Somehow they effaced even the Butler Guards in their fancy, though the Guards paraded with them, in all their splendor, as escort.
But this civic satisfaction was alloyed for my boy by the consciousness that both his father and his grandfather abhorred the war that the volunteers were going to. His grandfather, as an Abolitionist, and his father, as a Henry Clay Whig, had both been opposed to the annexation of Texas (which the boy heard talked of without knowing in the least what annexation meant), and they were both of the mind that the war growing out of it was wanton and wicked. His father wrote against it in every number of his paper, and made himself hated among its friends, who were the large majority in the Boy's Town. My boy could not help feeling that his father was little better than a Mexican, and whilst his filial love was hurt by things that he heard to his disadvantage, he was not sure that he was not rightly hated. It gave him a trouble of mind that was not wholly appeased by some pieces of poetry that he used to hear his father reading and quoting at that time, with huge enjoyment. The pieces were called "The Biglow Papers," and his father read them out of a Boston newspaper, and thought them the wisest and wittiest things that ever were. The boy always remembered how he recited the lines—
"Ez fur war, I call it murder— There ye hev it plain and flat; 'N I don't want to go no furder Then my Testament fur that. God hez said so plump and fairly: It's as long as it is broad; And ye'll hev to git up airly, Ef ye want to take in God."
He thought this fine, too, but still, it seemed to him, in the narrow little world where a child dwells, that his father and his grandfather were about the only people there were who did not wish the Mexicans whipped, and he felt secretly guilty for them before the other boys.
It was all the harder to bear because, up to this time, there had been no shadow of difference about politics between him and the boys he went with. They were Whig boys, and nearly all the fellows in the Boy's Town seemed to be Whigs. There must have been some Locofoco boys, of course, for my boy and his friends used to advance, on their side, the position that
"Democrats Eat dead rats!"
The counter-argument that
"Whigs Eat dead pigs!"
had no force in a pork-raising country like that; but it was urged, and there must have been Democratic boys to urge it. Still, they must have been few in number, or else my boy did not know them. At any rate, they had no club, and the Whig boys always had a club. They had a Henry Clay Club in 1844, and they had Buckeye Clubs whenever there was an election for governor, and they had clubs at every exciting town or county or district election. The business of a Whig club among the boys was to raise ash flag-poles, in honor of Henry Clay's home at Ashland, and to learn the Whig songs and go about singing them. You had to have a wagon, too, and some of the club pulled while the others rode; it could be such a wagon as you went walnutting with; and you had to wear strands of buckeyes round your neck. Then you were a real Whig boy, and you had a right to throw fire-balls and roll tar-barrels for the bonfires on election nights.
I do not know why there should have been so many empty tar-barrels in the Boy's Town, or what they used so much tar for; but there were barrels enough to celebrate all the Whig victories that the boys ever heard of, and more, too; the boys did not always wait for the victories, but celebrated every election with bonfires, in the faith that it would turn out right.
Maybe the boys nowadays do not throw fire-balls, or know about them. They were made of cotton rags wound tight and sewed, and then soaked in turpentine. When a ball was lighted a boy caught it quickly up, and threw it, and it made a splendid streaming blaze through the air, and a thrilling whir as it flew. A boy had to be very nimble not to get burned, and a great many boys dropped the ball for every boy that threw it. I am not ready to say why these fire-balls did not set the Boy's Town on fire, and burn it down, but I know they never did. There was no law against them, and the boys were never disturbed in throwing them, any more than they were in building bonfires; and this shows, as much as anything, what a glorious town that was for boys. The way they used to build their bonfires was to set one tar-barrel on top of another, as high as the biggest boy could reach, and then drop a match into them; in a moment a dusky, smoky flame would burst from the top, and fly there like a crimson flag, while all the boys leaped and danced round it, and hurrahed for the Whig candidates. Sometimes they would tumble the blazing barrels over, and roll them up and down the street.
The reason why they wore buckeyes was that the buckeye was the emblem of Ohio, and Ohio, they knew, was a Whig state. I doubt if they knew that the local elections always went heavily against the Whigs; but perhaps they would not have cared. What they felt was a high public spirit, which had to express itself in some way. One night, out of pure zeal for the common good, they wished to mob the negro quarter of the town, because the "Dumb Negro" (a deaf-mute of color who was a very prominent personage in their eyes) was said to have hit a white boy. I believe the mob never came to anything. I only know that my boy ran a long way with the other fellows, and, when he gave out, had to come home alone through the dark, and was so afraid of ghosts that he would have been glad of the company of the lowest-down black boy in town.
There were always fights on election-day between well-known Whig and Democratic champions, which the boys somehow felt were as entirely for their entertainment as the circuses. My boy never had the heart to look on, but he shared the excitement of the affair, and rejoiced in the triumph of Whig principles in these contests as cordially as the hardiest witness. The fighting must have come from the drinking, which began as soon as the polls were opened, and went on all day and night with a devotion to principle which is now rarely seen. In fact, the politics of the Boy's Town seem to have been transacted with an eye single to the diversion of the boys; or if not that quite, they were marked by traits of a primitive civilization among the men. The traditions of a rude hospitality in the pioneer times still lingered, and once there was a Whig barbecue, which had all the profusion of a civic feast in mediaeval Italy. Every Whig family contributed loaves of bread and boiled hams; the Whig farmers brought in barrels of cider and wagon-loads of apples; there were heaps of pies and cakes; sheep were roasted whole, and young roast pigs, with oranges in their mouths, stood in the act of chasing one another over the long tables which were spread in one of the largest pork-houses, where every comer was freely welcome. I suppose boys, though, were not allowed at the dinner; all that my boy saw of the barbecue were the heaps of loaves and hams left over, that piled the floor in one of the rooms to the ceiling.
He remained an ardent Whig till his eleventh year, when his father left the party because the Whigs had nominated, as their candidate for president, General Taylor, who had won his distinction in the Mexican war, and was believed to be a friend of slavery, though afterwards he turned out otherwise. My boy then joined a Free-Soil club, and sang songs in support of Van Buren and Adams. His faith in the purity of the Whigs had been much shaken by their behavior in trying to make capital out of a war they condemned; and he had been bitterly disappointed by their preferring Taylor to Tom Corwin, the favorite of the anti-slavery Whigs. The "Biglow Papers" and their humor might not have moved him from his life-long allegiance, but the eloquence of Corwin's famous speech against the Mexican war had grounded him in principles which he could not afterwards forsake. He had spoken passages of that speech at school; he had warned our invading hosts of the vengeance that has waited upon the lust of conquest in all times, and has driven the conquerors back with trailing battle-flags. "So shall it be with yours!" he had declaimed. "You may carry them to the loftiest peaks of the Cordilleras; they may float in insolent triumph in the halls of Montezuma; but the weakest hand in Mexico, uplifted in prayer, can call down a power against you before which the iron hearts of your warriors shall be turned into ashes!" It must have been a terrible wrench for him to part from the Whig boys in politics, and the wrench must have been a sudden one at last; he was ashamed of his father for opposing the war, and then, all at once, he was proud of him for it, and was roaring out songs against Taylor as the hero of that war, and praising Little Van, whom he had hitherto despised as the "Fox of Kinderhook."
The fox was the emblem (totem) of the Democrats in the campaigns of 1840 and 1844; and in their processions they always had a fox chained to the hickory flag-poles which they carried round on their wagons, together with a cock, reconciled probably in a common terror. The Whigs always had the best processions; and one of the most signal days of my boy's life was the day he spent in following round a Henry Clay procession, where the different trades and industries were represented in the wagons. There were coopers, hatters, shoemakers, blacksmiths, bakers, tinners, and others, all hard at work; and from time to time they threw out to the crowd something they had made. My boy caught a tin cup, and if it had been of solid silver he could not have felt it a greater prize. He ran home to show it and leave it in safe-keeping, and then hurried back, so as to walk with the other boys abreast of a great platform on wheels, where an old woman sat spinning inside of a log-cabin, and a pioneer in a hunting-shirt stood at the door, with his long rifle in his hand. In the window sat a raccoon, which was the Whig emblem, and which, on all their banners, was painted with the legend, "That same old Coon!" to show that they had not changed at all since the great days when they elected the pioneer, General Harrison, president of the United States. Another proof of the fact was the barrel of hard-cider which lay under the cabin window.
AS there are no longer any Whig boys in the world, the coon can no longer be kept anywhere as a political emblem, I dare say. Even in my boy's time the boys kept coons just for the pleasure of it, and without meaning to elect Whig governors and presidents with them. I do not know how they got them—they traded for them, perhaps, with fellows in the country that had caught them, or perhaps their fathers bought them in market; some people thought they were very good to eat, and, like poultry and other things for the table, they may have been brought alive to market. But, anyhow, when a boy had a coon, he had to have a store-box turned open side down to keep it in, behind the house; and he had to have a little door in the box to pull the coon out through when he wanted to show it to other boys, or to look at it himself, which he did forty or fifty times a day, when he first got it. He had to have a small collar for the coon, and a little chain, because the coon would gnaw through a string in a minute. The coon himself never seemed to take much interest in keeping a coon, or to see much fun or sense in it. He liked to stay inside his box, where he had a bed of hay, and whenever the boy pulled him out, he did his best to bite the boy. He had no tricks; his temper was bad; and there was nothing about him except the rings round his tail and his political principles that anybody could care for. He never did anything but bite, and try to get away, or else run back into his box, which smelt, pretty soon, like an animal-show; he would not even let a fellow see him eat.
My boy's brother had a coon, which he kept a good while, at a time when there was no election, for the mere satisfaction of keeping a coon. During his captivity the coon bit his keeper repeatedly through the thumb, and upon the whole seemed to prefer him to any other food; I do not really know what coons eat in a wild state, but this captive coon tasted the blood of nearly that whole family of children. Besides biting and getting away, he never did the slightest thing worth remembering; as there was no election, he did not even take part in a Whig procession. He got away two or three times. The first thing his owner would know when he pulled the chain out was that there was no coon at the end of it, and then he would have to poke round the inside of the box pretty carefully with a stick, so as not to get bitten; after that he would have to see which tree the coon had gone up. It was usually the tall locust-tree in front of the house, and in about half a second all the boys in town would be there, telling the owner of the coon how to get him. Of course the only way was to climb for the coon, which would be out at the point of a high and slender limb, and would bite you awfully, even if the limb did not break under you, while the boys kept whooping and yelling and holloing out what to do, and Tip the dog just howled with excitement. I do not know how that coon was ever caught, but I know that the last time he got away he was not found during the day, but after nightfall he was discovered by moonlight in the locust-tree. His owner climbed for him, but the coon kept shifting about, and getting higher and higher, and at last he had to be left till morning. In the morning he was not there, nor anywhere.
It had been expected, perhaps, that Tip would watch him, and grab him if he came down, and Tip would have done it probably if he had kept awake. He was a dog of the greatest courage, and he was especially fond of hunting. He had been bitten oftener by that coon than anybody but the coon's owner, but he did not care for biting. He was always getting bitten by rats, but he was the greatest dog for rats that there almost ever was. The boys hunted rats with him at night, when they came out of the stables that backed down to the Hydraulic, for water; and a dog who liked above all things to lie asleep on the back-step, by day, and would no more think of chasing a pig out of the garden than he would think of sitting up all night with a coon, would get frantic about rats, and would perfectly wear himself out hunting them on land and in the water, and keep on after the boys themselves were tired. He was so fond of hunting, anyway, that the sight of a gun would drive him about crazy; he would lick the barrel all over, and wag his tail so hard that it would lift his hind-legs off the ground.
I do not know how he came into that family, but I believe he was given to it full grown by somebody. It was some time after my boy failed to buy what he called a Confoundland dog, from a colored boy who had it for sale, a pretty puppy with white and black spots which he had quite set his heart on; but Tip more than consoled him. Tip was of no particular breed, and he had no personal beauty; he was of the color of a mouse of an elephant, and his tail was without the smallest grace; it was smooth and round, but it was so strong that he could pull a boy all over the town by it, and usually did; and he had the best, and kindest, and truest ugly old face in the world. He loved the whole human race, and as a watch-dog he was a failure through his trustful nature; he would no more have bitten a person than he would have bitten a pig; but where other dogs were concerned, he was a lion. He might be lying fast asleep in the back-yard, and he usually was, but if a dog passed the front of the house under a wagon, he would be up and after that dog before you knew what you were about. He seemed to want to fight country dogs the worst, but any strange dog would do. A good half the time he would come off best; but, however he came off, he returned to the back-yard with his tongue hanging out, and wagging his tail in good-humor with all the world. Nothing could stop him, however, where strange dogs were concerned. He was a Whig dog, of course, as any one could tell by his name, which was Tippecanoe in full, and was given him because it was the nickname of General Harrison, the great Whig who won the battle of Tippecanoe. The boys' Henry Clay Club used him to pull the little wagon that they went about in singing Whig songs, and he would pull five or six boys, guided simply by a stick which he held in his mouth, and which a boy held on either side of him. But if he caught sight of a dog that he did not know, he would drop that stick and start for that dog as far off as he could see him, spilling the Henry Clay Club out of the wagon piecemeal as he went, and never stopping till he mixed up the strange dog in a fight where it would have been hard to tell which was either champion and which was the club wagon. When the fight was over Tip would come smilingly back to the fragments of the Henry Clay Club, with pieces of the vehicle sticking about him, and profess himself, in a dog's way, ready to go on with the concert.
Any crowd of boys could get Tip to go off with them, in swimming, or hunting, or simply running races. He was known through the whole town, and beloved for his many endearing qualities of heart. As to his mind, it was perhaps not much to brag of, and he certainly had some defects of character. He was incurably lazy, and his laziness grew upon him as he grew older, till hardly anything but the sight of a gun or a bone would move him. He lost his interest in politics, and, though there is no reason to suppose that he ever became indifferent to his principles, it is certain that he no longer showed his early ardor. He joined the Free-Soil movement in 1848, and supported Van Buren and Adams, but without the zeal he had shown for Henry Clay. Once a year as long as the family lived in the Boy's Town, the children were anxious about Tip when the dog-law was put in force, and the constables went round shooting all the dogs that were found running at large without muzzles. At this time, when Tip was in danger of going mad and biting people, he showed a most unseasonable activity, and could hardly be kept in bounds. A dog whose sole delight at other moments was to bask in the summer sun, or dream by the winter fire, would now rouse himself to an interest in everything that was going on in the dangerous world, and make forays into it at all unguarded points. The only thing to do was to muzzle him, and this was done by my boy's brother with a piece of heavy twine, in such a manner as to interfere with Tip's happiness as little as possible. It was a muzzle that need not be removed for either eating, drinking, or fighting; but it satisfied the law, and Tip always came safely through the dog-days, perhaps by favor or affection with the officers who were so inexorable with some dogs.
My boy long remembered with horror and remorse his part in giving up to justice an unconscious offender, and seeing him pay for his transgression with his life. The boy was playing before his door, when a constable came by with his rifle on his shoulder, and asked him if he had seen any unmuzzled dogs about; and partly from pride at being addressed by a constable, partly from a nervous fear of refusing to answer, and partly from a childish curiosity to see what would happen, he said, "Yes; one over there by the pork-house." The constable whistled, and the poor little animal, which had got lost from the farmer it had followed to town, came running into sight round the corner of the pork-house, and sat up on its haunches to look about. It was a small red dog, the size of a fox, and the boy always saw it afterwards as it sat there in the gray afternoon, and fascinated him with its deadly peril. The constable swung his rifle quickly to his shoulder; the sharp, whiplike report came, and the dog dropped over, and its heart's blood flowed upon the ground and lay there in a pool. The boy ran into the house, with that picture forever printed in his memory. For him it was as if he had seen a fellow-being slain, and had helped to bring him to his death.
Whilst Tip was still in his prime the family of children was further enriched by the possession of a goat; but this did not belong to the whole family, or it was, at least nominally, the property of that eldest brother they all looked up to. I do not know how they came by the goat, any more than I know how they came by Tip; I only know that there came a time when it was already in the family, and that before it was got rid of it was a presence there was no mistaking. Nobody who has not kept a goat can have any notion of how many different kinds of mischief a goat can get into, without seeming to try, either, but merely by following the impulses of its own goatishness. This one was a nanny-goat, and it answered to the name of Nanny with an intelligence that was otherwise wholly employed in making trouble. It went up and down stairs, from cellar to garret, and in and out of all the rooms, like anybody, with a faint, cynical indifference in the glance of its cold gray eyes that gave no hint of its purposes or performances. In the chambers it chewed the sheets and pillow-cases on the beds, and in the dining-room, if it found nothing else, it would do its best to eat the table-cloth. Washing-day was a perfect feast for it, for then it would banquet on the shirt-sleeves and stockings that dangled from the clothes-line, and simply glut itself with the family linen and cotton. In default of these dainties, Nanny would gladly eat a chip-hat; she was not proud; she would eat a split-basket, if there was nothing else at hand. Once she got up on the kitchen-table, and had a perfect orgy with a lot of fresh-baked pumpkin-pies she found there; she cleaned all the pumpkin so neatly out of the pastry shells that, if there had been any more pumpkin left, they could have been filled up again, and nobody could have told the difference. The grandmother, who was visiting in the house at the time, declared to the mother that it would serve the father and the boys just right if she did fill these very shells up and give them to the father and the boys to eat. But I believe this was not done, and it was only suggested in a moment of awful exasperation, and because it was the father who was to blame for letting the boys keep the goat. The mother was always saying that the goat should not stay in the house another day, but she had not the heart to insist on its banishment, the children were so fond of it. I do not know why they were fond of it, for it never showed them the least affection, but was always taking the most unfair advantages of them, and it would butt them over whenever it got the chance. It would try to butt them into the well when they leaned down to pull up the bucket from the curb; and if it came out of the house, and saw a boy cracking nuts at the low flat stone the children had in the back-yard to crack nuts on, it would pretend that the boy was making motions to insult it, and before he knew what he was about it would fly at him and send him spinning head over heels. It was not of the least use in the world, and could not be, but the children were allowed to keep it till, one fatal day, when the mother had a number of other ladies to tea, as the fashion used to be in small towns, when they sat down to a comfortable gossip over dainty dishes of stewed chicken, hot biscuit, peach-preserves, sweet tomato-pickles, and pound-cake. That day they all laid off their bonnets on the hall-table, and the goat, after demurely waiting and watching with its faded eyes, which saw everything and seemed to see nothing, discerned a golden opportunity, and began to make such a supper of bonnet-ribbons as perhaps never fell to a goat's lot in life before. It was detected in its stolen joys just as it had chewed the ribbon of a best bonnet up to the bonnet, and was chased into the back-yard; but, as it had swallowed the ribbon without being able to swallow the bonnet, it carried that with it. The boy who specially owned the goat ran it down in a frenzy of horror and apprehension, and managed to unravel the ribbon from its throat, and get back the bonnet. Then he took the bonnet in and laid it carefully down on the table again, and decided that it would be best not to say anything about the affair. But such a thing as that could not be kept. The goat was known at once to have done the mischief; and this time it was really sent away. All the children mourned it, and the boy who owned it the most used to go to the house of the people who took it, and who had a high board fence round their yard, and try to catch sight of it through the cracks. When he called "Nanny" it answered him instantly with a plaintive "Baa!" and then, after a vain interchange of lamentations, he had to come away, and console himself as he could with the pets that were left him.
Among these were a family of white rabbits, which the boys kept in a little hutch at the bottom of the yard. They were of no more use than the goat was, but they were at least not mischievous, and there was only one of them that would bite, and he would not bite if you would take him up close behind the ears, so that he could not get at you. The rest were very good-natured, and would let you smooth them, or put them inside of your shirt-bosom, or anything. They would eat cabbage or bread or apples out of your hand; and it was fun to see their noses twitch. Otherwise they had no accomplishments. All you could do with them was to trade with other boys, or else keep the dogs from them; it was pretty exciting to keep the dogs from them. Tip was such a good dog that he never dreamed of touching the rabbits.
Of course these boys kept chickens. The favorite chicken in those days was a small white bantam, and the more feathers it had down its legs the better. My boy had a bantam hen that was perfectly white, and so tame that she would run up to him whenever he came into the yard, and follow him round like a dog. When she had chickens she taught them to be just as fond of him, and the tiny little balls of yellow down tumbled fearlessly about in his hands, and pecked the crumbs of bread between his fingers. As they got older they ran with their mother to meet him, and when he sat down on the grass they clambered over him and crept into his shirt-bosom, and crooned softly, as they did when their mother hovered them. The boy loved them better than anything he ever had; he always saw them safe in the coop at night, and he ran out early in the morning to see how they had got through the night, and to feed them. One fatal morning he found them all scattered dead upon the grass, the mother and every one of her pretty chicks, with no sign upon them of how they had been killed. He could only guess that they had fallen a prey to rats, or to some owl that had got into their coop; but, as they had not been torn or carried away, he guessed in vain. He buried them with the sympathy of all the children and all the fellows at school who heard about the affair. It was a real grief; it was long before he could think of his loss without tears; and I am not sure there is so much difference of quality in our bereavements; the loss can hurt more or it can hurt less, but the pang must be always the same in kind.
Besides his goat, my boy's brother kept pigeons, which, again, were like the goat and the rabbits in not being of very much use. They had to be much more carefully looked after than chickens when they were young, they were so helpless in their nests, such mere weak wads of featherless flesh. At first you had to open their bills and poke the food in; and you had to look out how you gave them water for fear you would drown them; but when they got a little larger they would drink and eat from your mouth; and that was some pleasure, for they did not seem to know you from an old pigeon when you took your mouth full of corn or water and fed them. Afterwards, when they began to fly, it was a good deal of fun to keep them, and make more cots for them, and build them nests in the cots.
But they were not very intelligent pets; hardly more intelligent than the fish that the boys kept in the large wooden hogshead of rain-water at the corner of the house. They had caught some of these fish when they were quite small, and the fish grew very fast, for there was plenty of food for them in the mosquito-tadpoles that abounded in the hogshead. Then, the boys fed them every day with bread-crumbs and worms. There was one big sunfish that was not afraid of anything; if you held a worm just over him he would jump out of the water and snatch it. Besides the fish, there was a turtle in the hogshead, and he had a broad chip that he liked to sun himself on. It was fun to watch him resting on this chip, with his nose barely poked out of his shell, and his eyes, with the skin dropped over them, just showing. He had some tricks: he would snap at a stick if you teased him with it, and would let you lift him up by it. That was a good deal of pleasure.
But all these were trifling joys, except maybe Tip and Nanny, compared with the pony which the boys owned in common, and which was the greatest thing that ever came into their lives. I cannot tell just how their father came to buy it for them, or where he got it; but I dare say he thought they were about old enough for a pony, and might as well have one. It was a Mexican pony, and as it appeared on the scene just after the Mexican war, some volunteer may have brought it home. One volunteer brought home a Mexican dog, that was smooth and hairless, with a skin like an elephant, and that was always shivering round with the cold; he was not otherwise a remarkable dog, and I do not know that he ever felt even the warmth of friendship among the boys; his manners were reserved and his temper seemed doubtful. But the pony never had any trouble with the climate of Southern Ohio (which is indeed hot enough to fry a salamander in summer); and though his temper was no better than other ponies', he was perfectly approachable. I mean that he was approachable from the side, for it was not well to get where he could bite you or kick you. He was of a bright sorrel color, and he had a brand on one haunch. My boy had an ideal of a pony, conceived from pictures in his reading-books at school, that held its head high and arched its neck, and he strove by means of checks and martingales to make this real pony conform to the illustrations. But it was of no use; the real pony held his neck straight out like a ewe, or, if reined up, like a camel, and he hung his big head at the end of it with no regard whatever for the ideal. His caparison was another mortification and failure. What the boy wanted was an English saddle, embroidered on the morocco seat in crimson silk, and furnished with shining steel stirrups. What he had was the framework of a Mexican saddle, covered with rawhide, and cushioned with a blanket; the stirrups were Mexican too, and clumsily fashioned out of wood. The boys were always talking about getting their father to get them a pad, but they never did it, and they managed as they could with the saddle they had. For the most part they preferred to ride the pony barebacked, for then they could ride him double, and when they first got him they all wanted to ride him so much that they had to ride him double. They kept him going the whole day long; but after a while they calmed down enough to take him one at a time, and to let him have a chance for his meals.
They had no regular stable, and the father left the boys to fit part of the cow-shed up for the pony, which they did by throwing part of the hen-coop open into it. The pigeon-cots were just over his head, and he never could have complained of being lonesome. At first everybody wanted to feed him as well as ride him, and if he had been allowed time for it he might have eaten himself to death, or if he had not always tried to bite you or kick you when you came in with his corn. After a while the boys got so they forgot him, and nobody wanted to go out and feed the pony, especially after dark; but he knew how to take care of himself, and when he had eaten up everything there was in the cow-shed he would break out and eat up everything there was in the yard.
The boys got lots of good out of him. When you were once on his back you were pretty safe, for he was so lazy that he would not think of running away, and there was no danger unless he bounced you off when he trotted; he had a hard trot. The boys wanted to ride him standing up, like circus-actors, and the pony did not mind, but the boys could not stay on, though they practised a good deal, turn about, when the other fellows were riding their horses, standing up, on the Commons. He was not of much more use in Indian fights, for he could seldom be lashed into a gallop, and a pony that proposed to walk through an Indian fight was ridiculous. Still, with the help of imagination, my boy employed him in some scenes of wild Arab life, and hurled the Moorish javelin from him in mid-career, when the pony was flying along at the mad pace of a canal-boat. The pony early gave the boys to understand that they could get very little out of him in the way of herding the family cow. He would let them ride him to the pasture, and he would keep up with the cow on the way home, when she walked, but if they wanted anything more than that they must get some other pony. They tried to use him in carrying papers, but the subscribers objected to having him ridden up to their front doors over the sidewalk, and they had to give it up.
When he became an old story, and there was no competition for him among the brothers, my boy sometimes took him into the woods, and rode him in the wandering bridle-paths, with a thrilling sense of adventure. He did not like to be alone there, and he oftener had the company of a boy who was learning the trade in his father's printing-office. This boy was just between him and his elder brother in age, and he was the good comrade of both; all the family loved him, and made him one of them, and my boy was fond of him because they had some tastes in common that were not very common among the other boys. They liked the same books, and they both began to write historical romances. My boy's romance was founded on facts of the Conquest of Granada, which he had read of again and again in Washington Irving, with a passionate pity for the Moors, and yet with pride in the grave and noble Spaniards. He would have given almost anything to be a Spaniard, and he lived in a dream of some day sallying out upon the Vega before Granada, in silk and steel, with an Arabian charger under him that champed its bit. In the meantime he did what he could with the family pony, and he had long rides in the woods with the other boy, who used to get his father's horse when he was not using it on Sunday, and race with him through the dangling wild grape-vines and pawpaw thickets, and over the reedy levels of the river, their hearts both bounding with the same high hopes of a world that could never come true.
GUNS AND GUNNING.
ALL round the Boy's Town stood the forest, with the trees that must have been well grown when Mad Anthony Wayne drove the Indians from their shadow forever. The white people had hewn space for their streets and houses, for their fields and farmsteads, out of the woods, but where the woods had been left they were of immemorial age. They were not very dense, and the timber was not very heavy; the trees stood more like trees in a park than trees in a forest; there was little or no undergrowth, except here and there a pawpaw thicket; and there were sometimes grassy spaces between them, where the may-apples pitched their pretty tents in the spring. Perhaps, at no very great distance of time, it had been a prairie country, with those wide savannahs of waving grass that took the eyes of the first-comers in the Ohio wilderness with an image of Nature long tamed to the hand of man. But this is merely my conjecture, and what I know does not bear me out in it; for the wall of forest that enclosed the Boy's Town was without a break except where the axe had made it. At some points it was nearer and at some farther; but, nearer or farther, the forest encompassed the town, and it called the boys born within its circuit, as the sea calls the boys born by its shore, with mysterious, alluring voices, kindling the blood, taking the soul with love for its strangeness. There was not a boy in the Boy's Town who would not gladly have turned from the town and lived in the woods if his mother had let him; and in every vague plan of running off the forest had its place as a city of refuge from pursuit and recapture. The pioneer days were still so close to those times that the love of solitary adventure which took the boys' fathers into the sylvan wastes of the great West might well have burned in the boys' hearts; and if their ideal of life was the free life of the woods, no doubt it was because their near ancestors had lived it. At any rate, that was their ideal, and they were always talking among themselves of how they would go farther West when they grew up, and be trappers and hunters. I do not remember any boy but one who meant to be a sailor; they lived too hopelessly far from the sea; and I dare say the boy who invented the marine-engine governor, and who wished to be a pirate, would just as soon have been a bandit of the Osage. In those days Oregon had just been opened to settlers, and the boys all wanted to go and live in Oregon, where you could stand in your door and shoot deer and wild turkey, while a salmon big enough to pull you in was tugging away at the line you had set in the river that ran before the log-cabin.
If they could, the boys would rather have been Indians than anything else, but, as there was really no hope of this whatever, they were willing to be settlers, and fight the Indians. They had rather a mixed mind about them in the meantime, but perhaps they were not unlike other idolaters in both fearing and adoring their idols; perhaps they came pretty near being Indians in that, and certainly they came nearer than they knew. When they played war, and the war was between the whites and the Indians, it was almost as low a thing to be white as it was to be British when there were Americans on the other side; in either case you had to be beaten. The boys lived in the desire, if not the hope, of some time seeing an Indian, and they made the most of the Indians in the circus, whom they knew to be just white men dressed up; but none of them dreamed that what really happened one day could ever happen. This was at the arrival of several canal-boat loads of genuine Indians from the Wyandot Reservation in the northwestern part of the state, on their way to new lands beyond the Mississippi. The boys' fathers must have known that these Indians were coming, but it just shows how stupid the most of fathers are, that they never told the boys about it. All at once there the Indians were, as if the canal-boats had dropped with them out of heaven. There they were, crowding the decks, in their blankets and moccasins, braves and squaws and pappooses, standing about or squatting in groups, not saying anything, and looking exactly like the pictures. The squaws had the pappooses on their backs, and the men and boys had bows and arrows in their hands; and as soon as the boats landed the Indians, all except the squaws and pappooses, came ashore, and went up to the court-house yard, and began to shoot with their bows and arrows. It almost made the boys crazy.
Of course they would have liked to have the Indians shoot at birds, or some game, but they were mighty glad to have them shoot at cents and bits and quarters that anybody could stick up in the ground. The Indians would all shoot at the mark till some one hit it, and the one who hit it had the money, whatever it was. The boys ran and brought back the arrows; and they were so proud to do this that I wonder they lived through it. My boy was too bashful to bring the Indians their arrows; he could only stand apart and long to approach the filthy savages, whom he revered; to have touched the border of one of their blankets would have been too much. Some of them were rather handsome, and two or three of the Indian boys were so pretty that the Boy's Town boys said they were girls. They were of all ages, from old, withered men to children of six or seven, but they were all alike grave and unsmiling; the old men were not a whit more dignified than the children, and the children did not enter into their sport with more zeal and ardor than the wrinkled sages who shared it. In fact they were, old and young alike, savages, and the boys who looked on and envied them were savages in their ideal of a world where people spent their lives in hunting and fishing and ranging the woods, and never grew up into the toils and cares that can alone make men of boys. They wished to escape these, as many foolish persons do among civilized nations, and they thought if they could only escape them they would be happy; they did not know that they would be merely savage, and that the great difference between a savage and a civilized man is work. They would all have been willing to follow these Indians away into the far West, where they were going, and be barbarians for the rest of their days; and the wonder is that some of the fellows did not try it. After the red men had flitted away like red leaves their memory remained with the boys, and a plague of bows and arrows raged among them, and it was a good while before they calmed down to their old desire of having a gun.
But they came back to that at last, for that was the normal desire of every boy in the Boy's Town who was not a girl-boy, and there were mighty few girl-boys there. Up to a certain point, a pistol would do, especially if you had bullet-moulds, and could run bullets to shoot out of it; only your mother would be sure to see you running them, and just as likely as not would be so scared that she would say you must not shoot bullets. Then you would have to use buckshot, if you could get them anywhere near the right size, or small marbles; but a pistol was always a makeshift, and you never could hit anything with it, not even a board fence; it always kicked, or burst, or something. Very few boys ever came to have a gun, though they all expected to have one. But seven or eight boys would go hunting with one shot-gun, and take turn-about shooting; some of the little fellows never got to shoot at all, but they could run and see whether the big boys had hit anything when they fired, and that was something. This was my boy's privilege for a long time before he had a gun of his own, and he went patiently with his elder brother, and never expected to fire the gun, except, perhaps, to shoot the load off before they got back to town; they were not allowed to bring the gun home loaded. It was a gun that was pretty safe for anything in front of it, but you never could tell what it was going to do. It began by being simply an old gun-barrel, which my boy's brother bought of another boy who was sick of it for a fip, as the half-real piece was called, and it went on till it got a lock from one gunsmith and a stock from another, and was a complete gun. But this took time; perhaps a month; for the gunsmiths would only work at it in their leisure; they were delinquent subscribers, and they did it in part pay for their papers. When they got through with it my boy's brother made himself a ramrod out of a straight piece of hickory, or at least as straight as the gun-barrel, which was rather sway-backed, and had a little twist to one side, so that one of the jour printers said it was a first-rate gun to shoot round a corner with. Then he made himself a powder-flask out of an ox-horn that he got and boiled till it was soft (it smelt the whole house up), and then scraped thin with a piece of glass; it hung at his side; and he carried his shot in his pantaloons pocket. He went hunting with this gun for a good many years, but he had never shot anything with it, when his uncle gave him a smoothbore rifle, and he in turn gave his gun to my boy, who must then have been nearly ten years old. It seemed to him that he was quite old enough to have a gun; but he was mortified the very next morning after he got it by a citizen who thought differently. He had risen at daybreak to go out and shoot kildees on the Common, and he was hurrying along with his gun on his shoulder when the citizen stopped him and asked him what he was going to do with that gun. He said to shoot kildees, and he added that it was his gun. This seemed to surprise the citizen even more than the boy could have wished. He asked him if he did not think he was a pretty small boy to have a gun; and he took the gun from him, and examined it thoughtfully, and then handed it back to the boy, who felt himself getting smaller all the time. The man went his way without saying anything more, but his behavior was somehow so sarcastic that the boy had no pleasure in his sport that morning; partly, perhaps, because he found no kildees to shoot at on the Common. He only fired off his gun once or twice at a fence, and then he sneaked home with it through alleys and by-ways, and whenever he met a person he hurried by for fear the person would find him too small to have a gun.
Afterwards he came to have a bolder spirit about it, and he went hunting with it a good deal. It was a very curious kind of gun; you had to snap a good many caps on it, sometimes, before the load would go off; and sometimes it would hang fire, and then seem to recollect itself, and go off, maybe, just when you were going to take it down from your shoulder. The barrel was so crooked that it could not shoot straight, but this was not the only reason why the boy never hit anything with it. He could not shut his left eye and keep his right eye open; so he had to take aim with both eyes, or else with the left eye, which was worse yet, till one day when he was playing shinny (or hockey) at school, and got a blow over his left eye from a shinny-stick. At first he thought his eye was put out; he could not see for the blood that poured into it from the cut above it. He ran homeward wild with fear, but on the way he stopped at a pump to wash away the blood, and then he found his eye was safe. It suddenly came into his mind to try if he could not shut that eye now, and keep the right one open. He found that he could do it perfectly; by help of his handkerchief, he stanched his wound, and made himself presentable, with the glassy pool before the pump for a mirror, and went joyfully back to school. He kept trying his left eye, to make sure it had not lost its new-found art, and as soon as school was out he hurried home to share the joyful news with his family. He went hunting the very next Saturday, and at the first shot he killed a bird. It was a suicidal sap-sucker, which had suffered him to steal upon it so close that it could not escape even the vagaries of that wandering gun-barrel, and was blown into such small pieces that the boy could bring only a few feathers of it away. In the evening, when his father came home, he showed him these trophies of the chase, and boasted of his exploit with the minutest detail. His father asked him whether he had expected to eat this sap-sucker, if he could have got enough of it together. He said no, sap-suckers were not good to eat. "Then you took its poor little life merely for the pleasure of killing it," said the father. "Was it a great pleasure to see it die?" The boy hung his head in shame and silence; it seemed to him that he would never go hunting again. Of course he did go hunting often afterwards, but his brother and he kept faithfully to the rule of never killing anything that they did not want to eat. To be sure, they gave themselves a wide range; they were willing to eat almost anything that they could shoot, even blackbirds, which were so abundant and so easy to shoot. But there were some things which they would have thought it not only wanton but wicked to kill, like turtle-doves, which they somehow believed were sacred, because they were the symbols of the Holy Ghost; it was quite their own notion to hold them sacred. They would not kill robins either, because robins were hallowed by poetry, and they kept about the house, and were almost tame, so that it seemed a shame to shoot them. They were very plentiful, and so were the turtle-doves, which used to light on the basin-bank, and pick up the grain scattered there from the boats and wagons. One of the apprentices in the printing-office kept a shot-gun loaded beside the press while he was rolling, and whenever he caught the soft twitter that the doves make with their wings, he rushed out with his gun and knocked over two or three of them. He was a good shot, and could nearly always get them in range. When he brought them back, it seemed to my boy that he had committed the unpardonable sin, and that something awful would surely happen to him. But he just kept on rolling the forms of type and exchanging insults with the pressman; and at the first faint twitter of doves' wings he would be off again.
My boy and his brother made a fine distinction between turtle-doves and wild pigeons; they would have killed wild pigeons if they had got a chance, though you could not tell them from turtle-doves except by their size and the sound they made with their wings. But there were not many pigeons in the woods around the Boy's Town, and they were very shy. There were snipe along the river, and flocks of kildees on the Commons, but the bird that was mostly killed by these boys was the yellowhammer. They distinguished, again, in its case; and decided that it was not a woodpecker, and might be killed; sometimes they thought that woodpeckers were so nearly yellowhammers that they might be killed, but they had never heard of any one's eating a woodpecker, and so they could not quite bring themselves to it. There were said to be squirrels in the hickory woods near the Poor-House, but that was a great way off for my boy; besides the squirrels, there was a cross bull in those woods, and sometimes Solomon Whistler passed through them on his way to or from the Poor-House; so my boy never hunted squirrels. Sometimes he went with his brother for rabbits, which you could track through the corn-fields in a light snow, and sometimes, if they did not turn out to be cats, you could get a shot at them. Now and then there were quail in the wheat-stubble, and there were meadow-larks in the pastures, but they were very wild.
After all, yellowhammers were the chief reliance in the chase; they were pre-occupied, unsuspecting birds, and lit on fence rails and dead trees, so that they were pretty easy to shoot. If you could bring home a yellowhammer you felt that you had something to show for your long day's tramp through the woods and fields, and for the five cents' worth of powder and five cents' worth of shot that you had fired off at other game. Sometimes you just fired it off at mullein-stalks, or barns, or anything you came to. There were a good many things you could do with a gun; you could fire your ramrod out of it, and see it sail through the air; you could fill the muzzle up with water, on top of a charge, and send the water in a straight column at a fence. The boys all believed that you could fire that column of water right through a man, and they always wanted to try whether it would go through a cow, but they were afraid the owner of the cow would find it out. There was a good deal of pleasure in cleaning your gun when it got so foul that your ramrod stuck in it and you could hardly get it out. You poured hot water into the muzzle and blew it through the nipple, till it began to show clear; then you wiped it dry with soft rags wound on your gun-screw, and then oiled it with greasy tow. Sometimes the tow would get loose from the screw, and stay in the barrel, and then you would have to pick enough powder in at the nipple to blow it out. Of course I am talking of the old muzzle-loading shot-gun, which I dare say the boys never use nowadays.
But the great pleasure of all, in hunting, was getting home tired and footsore in the evening, and smelling the supper almost as soon as you came in sight of the house. There was nearly always hot biscuit for supper, with steak, and with coffee such as nobody but a boy's mother ever knew how to make; and just as likely as not there was some kind of preserves; at any rate, there was apple-butter. You could hardly take the time to wash the powder-grime off your hands and face before you rushed to the table; and if you had brought home a yellowhammer you left it with your gun on the back porch, and perhaps the cat got it and saved you the trouble of cleaning it. A cat can clean a bird a good deal quicker than a boy can, and she does not hate to do it half as badly.
Next to the pleasure of getting home from hunting late, was the pleasure of starting early, as my boy and his brother sometimes did, to shoot ducks on the Little Reservoir in the fall. His brother had an alarm-clock, which he set at about four, and he was up the instant it rang, and pulling my boy out of bed, where he would rather have stayed than shot the largest mallard duck in the world. They raked the ashes off the bed of coals in the fireplace, and while the embers ticked and bristled, and flung out little showers of sparks, they hustled on their clothes, and ran down the back stairs into the yard with their guns. Tip, the dog, was already waiting for them there, for he seemed to know they were going that morning, and he began whimpering for joy, and twisting himself sideways up against them, and nearly wagging his tail off; and licking their hands and faces, and kissing their guns all over; he was about crazy. When they started, he knew where they were going, and he rushed ahead through the silent little sleeping town, and led the way across the wide Commons, where the cows lay in dim bulks on the grass, and the geese waddled out of his way with wild clamorous cries, till they came in sight of the Reservoir. Then Tip fell back with my boy and let the elder brother go ahead, for he always had a right to the first shot; and while he dodged down behind the bank, and crept along to the place where the ducks usually were, my boy kept a hold on Tip's collar, and took in the beautiful mystery of the early morning. The place so familiar by day was estranged to his eyes in that pale light, and he was glad of old Tip's company, for it seemed a time when there might very well be ghosts about. The water stretched a sheet of smooth, gray silver, with little tufts of mist on its surface, and through these at last he could see the ducks softly gliding to and fro, and he could catch some dreamy sound from them. His heart stood still and then jumped wildly in his breast, as the still air was startled with the rush of wings, and the water broke with the plunge of other flocks arriving. Then he began to make those bets with himself that a boy hopes he will lose: he bet that his brother would not hit any of them; he bet that he did not even see them; he bet that if he did see them and got a shot at them, they would not come back so that he could get a chance himself to kill any. It seemed to him that he had to wait an hour, and just when he was going to hollo, and tell his brother where the ducks were, the old smoothbore sent out a red flash and a white puff before he heard the report; Tip tore loose from his grasp; and he heard the splashing rise of the ducks, and the hurtling rush of their wings; and he ran forward, yelling, "How many did you hit? Where are they? Where are you? Are they coming back? It's my turn now!" and making an outcry that would have frightened away a fleet of ironclads, but much less a flock of ducks.
One shot always ended the morning's sport, and there were always good reasons why this shot never killed anything.
THE foraging began with the first relenting days of winter, which usually came in February. Then the boys began to go to the woods to get sugar-water, as they called the maple sap, and they gave whole Saturdays to it as long as the sap would run. It took at least five or six boys to go for sugar-water, and they always had to get a boy whose father had an auger to come along, so as to have something to bore the trees with. On their way to the woods they had to stop at an elder thicket to get elder-wood to make spiles of, and at a straw pile to cut straws to suck the sap through, if the spiles would not work. They always brought lots of tin buckets to take the sap home in, and the big boys made the little fellows carry these, for they had to keep their own hands free to whittle the elder sticks into the form of spouts, and to push the pith out and make them hollow. They talked loudly and all at once, and they ran a good deal of the way, from the excitement. If it was a good sugar-day, there were patches of snow still in the fence corners and shady places, which they searched for rabbit-tracks; but the air was so warm that they wanted to take their shoes off, and begin going barefoot at once. Overhead, the sky was a sort of pale, milky blue, with the sun burning softly through it, and casting faint shadows. When they got into the woods, it was cooler, and there were more patches of snow, with bird-tracks and squirrel-tracks in them. They could hear the blue-jays snarling at one another, and the yellowhammer chuckling; on some dead tree a redheaded woodpecker hammered noisily, and if the boys had only had a gun with them they could have killed lots of things. Now and then they passed near some woodchoppers, whose axes made a pleasant sound, without frightening any of the wild things, they had got so used to them; sometimes the boys heard the long hollow crash of a tree they were felling. But all the time they kept looking out for a good sugar-tree, and when they saw a maple stained black from the branches down with the sap running from the little holes that the sap-suckers had made, they burst into a shout, and dashed forward, and the fellow with the auger began to bore away, while the other fellows stood round and told him how, and wanted to make him let them do it. Up and down the tree there was a soft murmur from the bees that had found it out before the boys, and every now and then they wove through the air the straight lines of their coming and going, and made the fellows wish they could find a bee-tree. But for the present these were intent upon the sugar-tree, and kept hurrying up the boy with the auger. When he had bored in deep enough, they tried to fit a spile to the hole, but it was nearly always crooked and too big, or else it pointed downward and the water would not run up through the spile. Then some of them got out their straws, and began to suck the sap up from the hole through them, and to quarrel and push, till they agreed to take turn-about, and others got the auger and bunted for another blackened tree. They never could get their spiles to work, and the water gathered so slowly in the holes they bored, and some of the fellows took such long turns, that it was very little fun. They tried to get some good out of the small holes the sap-suckers had made, but there were only a few drops in them, mixed with bark and moss. If it had not been for the woodchoppers, foraging for sugar-water would always have been a failure; but one of them was pretty sure to come up with his axe in his hand, and show the boys how to get the water. He would choose one of the roots near the foot of the tree, and chop a clean, square hole in it; the sap flew at each stroke of his axe, and it rose so fast in the well he made that the thirstiest boy could not keep it down, and three or four boys, with their heads jammed tight together and their straws plunged into its depths, lay stretched upon their stomachs and drank their fill at once. When every one was satisfied, or as nearly satisfied as a boy can ever be, they began to think how they could carry some of the sugar-water home. But by this time it would be pretty late in the afternoon; and they would have to put it off till some other day, when they intended to bring something to dip the water out with; the buckets they had brought were all too big. Then, if they could get enough, they meant to boil it down and make sugar-wax. I never knew of any boys who did so.
The next thing after going for sugar-water was gathering may-apples, as they called the fruit of the mandrake in that country. They grew to their full size, nearly as large as a pullet's egg, some time in June, and they were gathered green, and carried home to be ripened in the cornmeal-barrel. The boys usually forgot about them before they were ripe; when now and then one was remembered, it was a thin, watery, sour thing at the best. But the boys gathered them every spring, in the pleasant open woods where they grew, just beyond the densest shade of the trees, among the tall, straggling grasses; and they had that joyous sense of the bounty of nature in hoarding them up which is one of the sweetest and dearest experiences of childhood. Through this the boy comes close to the heart of the mother of us all, and rejoices in the wealth she never grudges to those who are willing to be merely rich enough.
There were not many wild berries in the country near the Boy's Town, or what seemed near; but sometimes my boy's father took him a great way off to a region, long lost from the map, where there were blackberries. The swimming lasted so late into September, however, that the boys began to go for nuts almost as soon as they left off going into the water. They began with the little acorns that they called chinquepins, and that were such a pretty black, streaked upward from the cup with yellow, that they gathered them half for the unconscious pleasure of their beauty. They were rather bitter, and they puckered your mouth; but still you ate them. They were easy to knock off the low oaks where they grew, and they were so plentiful that you could get a peck of them in no time. There was no need of anybody's climbing a tree to shake them; but one day the boys got to telling what they would do if a bear came, and one of them climbed a chinquepin-tree to show how he would get out on such a small limb that the bear would be afraid to follow him; and he went so far out on the limb that it broke under him. Perhaps he was heavier than he would have been if he had not been carrying the load of guilt which must burden a boy who is playing hookey. At any rate, he fell to the ground, and lay there helpless while the other boys gathered round him, and shared all the alarm he felt for his life. His despair of now hiding the fact that he had been playing hookey was his own affair, but they reasoned with him that the offence would be overlooked in the anxiety which his disaster must arouse. He was prepared to make the most of this, and his groans grew louder as he drew near home in the arms of the boys who took turns, two and two, in carrying him the whole long way from Dayton Lane, with a terrified procession of alternates behind them. These all ran as soon as they came in sight of his house and left the last pair to deliver him to his mother. They never knew whether she forgave him fully, or merely waited till he got well. You never could tell how a boy's mother was going to act in any given case; mothers were so very apt to act differently.