There were neither tinted walls nor polished woodwork in that hall of learning. But, thank God, learning does not depend upon tinted walls or polished woodwork. Indeed it seems that rude rafters and unplastered ceilings most often covers the head of learning. The humble cottage of the farmer shelters many a true scholar and statesmen are bred in log cabins. Neither was there a furnace with mysterious cranks and chains nor steam pipes nor radiators. But, when the cold weather came, the room was warmed by an old sheet iron stove that stood near the center of the building with an armful of wood in a box nearby and the kindlings for to-morrow's fire drying on the floor beneath. The desks were of soft pine, without paint or varnish, but carved with many a quaint and curious figure by jack knives in the hands of ambitious youngsters. The seats were rude benches worn smooth and shiny. A water bucket had its place near the door and a rusty tin dipper that leaked quite badly hung from a nail in the casing.
And hanging upon the dingy wall were the old maps and charts that, torn and soiled by long usage, had patiently guided generations of boys and girls through the mysteries of lands and seas, icebergs, trade winds, deserts, and plains. Still patiently they marked for the boy's bewildered brain latitude and longitude, the tropic of cancer, the arctic circle, and the poles. Were they hanging there still? the man wondered. Were they still patiently leading the way through a wilderness of islands and peninsulas, capes and continents, rivers, lakes, and sounds? Or had they, in the years that had gone since he looked upon their learned faces, been sunk to oblivion in the depths of their own oceans by the weight of their own mountain ranges? And, suddenly, the man who sought Knowledge in facts found himself wishing in his heart that some gracious being would make for older children maps and charts that they might know where flow the rivers of prosperity, where rise the mountains of fame, where ripple the lakes of love, where sleep the valleys of rest, or where thunders the ocean of truth.
At one end of the old schoolroom, behind the teacher's desk, was a blackboard with its accompanying chalk, erasers, rulers, and bits of string. To the boy, that blackboard was a trial, a temptation, a vindication, or a betrayal. Often, as he sat with his class on the long recitation seat that faced the teacher's desk, with half studied lesson, but with bright hopes of passing the twenty minutes safely, before the slow hand of the old clock had marked but half the time, his hopes would be blasted by a call to the board where he would bring upon himself the ridicule of his schoolmates, the condemnation of the teacher, and would take his seat to hear, with burning cheeks, the awful sentence: "You may study your lesson after school."
After school—sorrowfully the boy saw the others passing from the room, leaving him behind. And the last to go, glancing back with tear dimmed eyes, was the little girl. Sadly he listened to the voices in the entry and heard their shouts as they burst out doors; and—suddenly, his heart beat quicker and his cheeks burned—that was her voice!
Clear and sweet through the open window of the man's memory it came—the voice of his little girl mate of the Yesterdays.
She was standing on the worn threshold of the old schoolhouse, calling to her friends to wait; and the boy knew that she was lingering there for him and that she called to her companions loudly so that he would understand.
But the teacher knew it too and bade the little girl go home.
Then, while the boy listened to that sweet voice growing fainter and fainter in the distance; while he saw her, in his fancy, walking slowly, lagging behind her companions, looking back for him; the teacher talked to him very seriously about the value of his opportunities; told him that to acquire an education was his duty; sought to impress upon him that the most important thing in life was Knowledge.
Of course, thought the boy, teacher must know. And, thinking this, he felt himself to be a very bad boy, indeed; because, in his heart, he knew that he would have, that moment, given up every chance of an education; he would have sacrificed every hope of wisdom; he would have thrown away all Knowledge and heaven itself just to be walking down the road with the little girl. And he must have been a little had—that boy—because also, most ardently, did he wish that he was big enough to thrash the teacher or whoever it was that invented blackboards.
As the man stooped to take up again his too solid and substantial book, he felt that he was but a schoolboy still. To him, the world had become but a great blackboard. In his private life or in conversation with a friend, he might hide his poorly prepared lesson behind a show of fine talk, a pet quotation, or an air of learning; but when he was forced to put what he knew where all men might see—when he was made to write his sentences in books or papers or compelled to do his problems in the business world—then it was that his lack of preparation was discovered, and that he brought upon himself the ridicule or condemnation of his fellows. Unconsciously he listened, half expecting to hear again the old familiar sentence: "You may study your lesson after school." After school—would there be any after school, he wondered.
"And, after all, was that teacher in his Yesterdays right?" the man asked himself. "Was Knowledge the most important thing in life? After all, was that schoolboy of the Yesterdays such a bad schoolboy because, in his boyish heart, he rebelled against the tasks that kept him from his schoolmates and from the companionship of the little girl? Was that boy so bad because he wished that he was big enough to thrash whoever it was that invented blackboards, to rob schoolboys of their schoolgirl mates?"
Suppose—the man asked himself, as he laid aside the too heavy and substantial book and looked into the fire again—suppose, that, after a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of Knowledge, there should be no one, when school time was over, to linger on the worn old threshold for him? Suppose he should be forced, in the late afternoon, to go down the homeward road alone? Could it be truly said that his manhood years had been well spent? Could any number of accumulated facts satisfy him if the hour was a lonely hour when school closed for the day? Might it not be that there is a Knowledge to be gained from Life that is of more value than the wintry Knowledge of facts?
As the man looked back into his Yesterdays, the blackboard and its condemnation mattered little to him. It was the going home alone that mattered. What, he wondered, would matter most when, at last, he could look back upon his grown up school days—the world blackboard with its approval or its condemnation, or the going home alone?
* * * * *
It was the time of melting snow. The top of the orchard hill was a faded brown patch as though, on a shoulder of winter's coat, the season had worn a hole quite through; while the fields of the fall plowing made spots that looked pitifully thin and threadbare; and the creek, below the house where the little girl lived, was a long dark line looking for all the world like a rip where the icy stitching of a seam in the once proud garment had, at last, given way. But the drift in the garden on the boy's side of the hedge was still piled high against the barrier of thickly interwoven branches and twigs and the cherry tree, in its shivering nakedness, seemed to be pleading, now, for spring to come quickly.
The woman who knew herself to be a woman did not attempt to walk home from her work that Saturday afternoon. The streets were too muddy and she was later than usual because of some extra work.
Of her Occupation—of the world into which she had gone—the woman also was gaining Knowledge. Though, she did not learn from choice but because she must. And she learned of her work only what was needful for her to know that she might hold her place. She had no desire to know more. Because the woman already knew the supreme thing, she had no desire to learn more of her Occupation than she must. Already she knew her womanhood, and that, to a woman who knows, is the supreme thing. For a woman with understanding there is no Knowledge greater than this: the knowledge of her womanhood. There was born in her no passion for knowledge of things. She burned with no desire to follow the golden chain, link by link, to its hidden end. In her womanhood she held already the answer to the sum of Life.
The passion of her womanhood was not to know but to trust—not facts but faith—not evidence but belief—not reason but emotion. Her desire was not to take from the world by the power of Knowledge but to receive from the world by right of her sex and love. She did not crave the independence of great learning but longed, rather, for the prouder dependence of a true womanhood. Out of her woman heart's fullness she pitied and fed the poor mendicant without inquiring into the economic condition that made him a beggar. Her situation, she accepted with secret rebellion, with hidden shame and humiliation in her heart, but never asked why the age forced her into such a position. For affection, for sympathy, for confidence, and understanding, she hungered with a woman hunger; and, through her hunger for these, from the men and women with whom she labored she gained Knowledge of Life. Of the lives of her fellow workers—of the women who had entered that world, even as she had entered it, because they must—of the men whom she came to know under circumstances that forbade recognition of her womanhood—she gained Knowledge; and the Knowledge she gained was this: that the world is a world of hungry hearts.
I do not know just what the circumstances were under which the woman learned this. I do not know what her Occupation was nor who her friends were; nor can I tell in detail of the peculiar incidents that led to this Knowledge. Such things are not of my story. This, only, belongs to my story: the woman learned that the world is a world of hungry hearts. Cold and cruel and calculating and bold, fighting desperately, merciless, and menacing, the world is but a hungry hearted world with it all. This, when a woman knows it, is, for her, a saving Knowledge. Just to the degree that a woman knows this, she is wise above all men—wise with a wisdom that men cannot attain. Just to the degree that a woman is ignorant of this, she is unlearned in the world's best wisdom.
Long before she knocked at the door of the world into which she had been admitted, upon condition that she left her womanhood without, the woman had thought herself wise in knowledge of mankind. In her school days, text books and lessons had meant little to her beside the friendship of her schoolmates. At her graduation she had considered her life education complete. She thought, modestly, that she was fitted for a woman's place in life. And that which she learned first from the world into which she had gone was this: that her knowledge of life was very, very, meager; that there were many, many, things about men and women that she did not know.
School could fit her only for the fancy work of Life: plain sewing she must learn of Life itself. School had made her highly ornamental: Life must make her useful. School had developed her capacity for pleasure and enjoyment: not until Life had developed her capacity for sorrow and pain would her education be complete. School had taught her to speak, to dress, and to act correctly: Life must teach her to feel. School had trained her mind to appreciate: Life must teach her to sympathize. School had made her a lady: Life must make the lady a woman.
The woman had known her life schoolmates only in pleasure—in those hours when they came to her seeking to please or desiring to be pleased. In her Occupation she was coming to know them in their hours of toil, when there was no thought of gaining or giving pleasure, but only of the demands of their existence; when duty, pitiless, stern, uncompromising, duty held them in its grip; when need, unrelenting, ever present, dominating need, drove them under its lash. She had known them only in their hours of leisure—when their minds were free for the merry jest, the ready laugh, the quick sympathy: now she was coming to know them in those other hours when their minds were intent upon the battle they waged—when their thoughts were all of the attack, the defense, the advance, the retreat, the victory or defeat. She had known them only in their hours of rest—when their hands were empty, their nerves and muscles relaxed, their hearts calm and their brains cool; now she saw them when their hands held the weapons of their warfare—the tools of their craft—when their nerves and muscles were braced for the strain of the conflict or tense with the effort of toil; when their hearts beat high with the zeal of their purpose and their brains were fired with the excitement of their efforts. She had known them only in the hours of their dreaming—when, as they looked out upon life, they talked confidently of the future: she was learning now to know them when they were working out their dreams; at times with hopes high and courage strong; at other times discouraged, frightened, and dismayed. She had known them only as they dreamed of the past—when they talked in low tones of the days that were gone: now she saw them as they thought only of the present and the days that were to come. So this woman, from the world into which she had gone, gained knowledge of mankind.
And this is the pity and the danger of it: that the woman gained this knowledge from a world, that, even as it taught her, denied her womanhood. The sadness of it all is this: to the world that refused to recognize her womanhood, it was given to teach her that which would make her womanhood complete. The knowledge that she must have to complete her womanhood the woman should have gained only from the life of her dreams—the life that is beyond that old, old, open door through which she could not pass alone. In the companionship, sympathy, strength, protection, and love, of that one who was to cross with her the threshold of the door that God set open in the beginning, she should have gained the knowledge of life that would ripen her girlhood into womanhood. For what else, indeed, has God given love to men and women? In the strength that would come to her with her children, the woman should have been privileged to learn sorrow and pain. In the world that would have honored, above all else, her womanhood, she should have been permitted to find the knowledge of life that would perfect and complete her womanhood.
Fruit, I know, may be picked green from the tree and artificially forced to a kind of ripeness. But the fruit that matures under Nature's careful hand; that knows in its ripening the warm sunshine and the cleansing showers, the cool of the quiet evening and the freshness of the dewy morn, the strength of the roaring storms and the softness of the caressing breeze—this fruit alone, I say, has the flavor that is from heaven.
It is a trite saying that many a girl of sixteen, these days, knows more of life than her grandmother knew at sixty. It remains to be proven that, because of this knowledge, the young woman of to-day is a better woman than her grandmother was. But, as the only positive proof would be her children, the case is very likely to be thrown out of court for lack of evidence for it seems, somehow, that, when women gain Knowledge from that world into which they go alone, leaving their womanhood behind, they acquire also a strange pride in being too wise to mate for love or to bear children. And yet, it is true, that the knowledge that enables a woman to live happy and contented without children is a damnable knowledge and a menace to the race.
Poor old world, you are so "grown up" these days and your palate is so educated to the artificial flavor that you have forgotten, seemingly, how peaches taste when ripened on the trees. God pity you, old world, if you do not soon get back into the orchard before you lose your taste for fruit altogether.
The knowledge that the woman gained from her Occupation made her question, more and more, if that one with whom she could cross the threshold of the door that led to the life of her dreams, would ever come. The knowledge she gained made her doubt her courage to enter that door with him if he should come. In the knowledge she gained of the world into which she had gone alone, her womanhood's only salvation was this: that she gained also the knowledge that the world of men, even as the world of women, is a world of hungry hearts. It was this that kept her—that made her strong—that saved her. It was this knowledge that saved her womanhood for herself and for the race.
The week, for the woman, had been a hard week. The day, for her, had been a hard day. When she boarded the car to go to her home she was very tired and she was not quite the picture of perfect woman health that she had been that other Saturday—the time of falling leaves.
For some unaccountable reason there was one vacant seat left in the car and she dropped into it with a little inward sigh of relief. With weary, unseeing, eyes she stared out of the window at the throng of people hurrying along through the mud and slush of the streets. Her tired brain refused to think. Her very soul was faint with loneliness and the knowledge that she was gaining of life.
The car stopped again and a party of girls of the high school age, evidently just from the Saturday matinee, crowded in. Clinging to the straps and the backs of seats, clutching each other with little gusts and ripples of laughter, they filled the aisle of the crowded car with a fresh and joyous life that touched the tired woman like a breath of spring. In all this work stale, stupidly weary, world there is nothing so refreshing as the wholesome laugh of a happy, care free, young girl. The woman whose heart was heavy with knowledge of life would have liked to take them in her arms. She felt a sense of gratitude as though she were indebted to them just for their being. And would these, too—the woman thought—would these, too, be forced by the custom of the age—by necessity—to go into the world that would not recognize their womanhood—that would put a price upon the priceless things of their womanhood—that would teach them hard lessons of life and, with a too early knowledge, crush out the sweet girlish naturalness, even as a thoughtless foot crushes a tender flower while still it is in the bud?
And thinking thus, perhaps because of her weariness, perhaps because of some chance word dropped by the girls as they talked of their school and schoolmates, the woman went back again into her Yesterdays—to the schoolmates of her Yesterdays. The world in which she now lived and labored was forgotten. Forgotten were the worries and troubles of her grown up life—forgotten the trials and disappointments—forgotten the new friends, the uncongenial acquaintances, the cruel knowledge, the heartless business—forgotten everything of the present—all, all, was lost in a golden mist of the long ago.
The tall, graceful, girl holding to a strap at the forward end of the car, in the woman's Yesterdays, lived just beyond the white church at the corner. The dark haired, dark eyed, round faced one, she knew as the minister's daughter. While the dainty, doll like, miss clinging to her sturdier sister, in those days of long ago, was the woman's own particular chum. And the girl with the yellow curls—the one with the golden hair—the blue eyed, and the brown—the slender and the stout—every one—belonged to the tired woman's Yesterdays—every one she had known in the past and to each she gave a name.
And then—as the woman, watching the young schoolgirls in the crowded car, lived once again those days of the old schoolhouse on the hill where, with her girl companions of the long ago, she sought the beginnings of Knowledge—the boys came, too. Just as in the Yesterdays they had come to take their places in the old schoolroom, they came, now, to take their places in the woman's memory.
There was the tall, thin, lad whose shoulders seemed, even in his school days, to find the burden of life too heavy; and who wore always on his face such a sad and solemn air that one was almost startled when he laughed as though the parson had cracked a joke at a funeral. The woman smiled as she remembered how his clothes were never known to fit him. When his trousers were so short that they barely reached below his knees his coat sleeves covered his hands and the skirts of that garment almost swept the ground; but, when the trousers were rolled up at the bottom and hung over his feet like huge bags, his long, thin, arms showed, half way to his elbows, in a coat that was too small to button about even his narrow chest. That boy never missed his lessons, though, but when he learned them no one ever knew for he seemed to be always drawing grotesque figures and funny faces on his slate or whittling slyly on some curious toy when the teacher's back was turned. He had no particular chum or crony. He was never a leader but dared to follow the boldest. To the little boys and girls he was a hero; to the older ones he was—"Slim."
The woman, by chance, had met this old schoolmate, one day, in her grown up world. In the editorial rooms of a large city daily he was the chief, and she noticed that his clothing fitted him a little better; that he was a little broader in the shoulders; a little larger around the waist; his face was not quite so solemn and his eyes had a more knowing look perhaps. But still—still—the woman could see that he was, after all, the same old "Slim" and she fancied, with another smile, that he often, still, whittled toys when the teacher's back was turned.
Then came the fat boy—"Stuffy." He, too, had another name which does not matter. Always in the Yesterdays, as in the to-days, there is a "Stuffy." "Stuffy" was evidently built to roll through life, pushed gently by that special providence that seems to look after the affairs of fat people. His teeth were white and even, his eyes of the deepest blue, and his nose—what there was of it—was almost hidden by cheeks that were as red and shiny as the apples he always carried in his pocket. He was very generous with those same apples—was "Stuffy"—though one was tempted to think that he shared his fruit not so much from choice but rather because he disliked the hard work that was sure to follow a refusal of the pressing invitation to "go halvers." The woman fancied that she could see again the look of mingled fun and fear, generosity and greed, that went over her schoolmate's face as he saw the half of his eatable possessions pass into the keeping of his companions. And then, as he watched the tempting morsels disappear, the expression on his face would seem to show a battle royal between his stomach and his heart, in that he rejoiced to see the happiness of his friends, even while he coveted that which gave them pleasure. She wondered where was "Stuffy" now? She felt sure that he must live in a big house, and drive to and from his place of business in a fine carriage, with fine horses and a coachman in livery, and dine and wine his friends as often as he chose with never a fear that he would run short of good things for himself. She was quite sure, too, that he would suffer with severe attacks of gout at times and would have four or five half grown daughters and a wife of great ambition. Does he, she wondered, does he ever—in the whirl and rush of business or in the excitement and pleasure of his social life—does he ever go back to those other days? Does the grown up "Stuffy" remember how once he traded marbles for candy or bought sweet cakes with toys?
And then, there was the boy with the freckled face and tangled hair, whose nose seemed always trying to peep into his own mischief lighted eyes as though wishing to see what new deviltry was breeding there: and his crony, who never could learn the multiplication table, who was forever swearing vengeance on the teacher, whose clothes were always torn, and who carried frogs and little snakes in his pockets: and the timid boys who always played in one corner of the yard by themselves or with the girls or stood by and watched, with mingled admiration and envy, the games and pranks of the bolder lads: and "Dummy"—poor "Dummy"—the shining mark for every schoolboy trick and joke; with his shock of yellow hair, his weak cross eyes, his sharp nose, thin lips, and shambling, shuffling, shifting manner—poor "Dummy."
And of course there was a bully, the Ishmael of the school, whom everybody shunned and nobody liked; who fought the teacher and frightened the little children; who chewed, and smoked, and swore, and lied, and did everything bad that a boy could do. He had a few followers, a very few, who joined him rather through fear than admiration and not one of whom cared for or trusted him. The woman remembered how this schoolboy face was sadly hard and cold and cruel, as though, because he had gotten so little sunshine from life, his heart was frozen over. She had read of him, in the grown up world, receiving sentence for a dreadful crime, and, remembering his father and mother, had wondered if his grandparents were like them and how many generations before his birth his career of crime began.
Again and again, the car had stopped to let people off but the woman had not noticed. The schoolgirls, all but the tall one who had found a seat, were gone. But the woman had not seen them go.
And then, as she sat dreaming of the days long gone—as she saw again the faces of her school day friends, one there was that stood out from among them all. It was the face of the boy who lived next door—the boy who had stood with her under the cherry tree; who had put a tiny play ring of brass upon her finger; and who had kissed her with a kiss that was somehow different. He was the hero of her Yesterdays as he was the acknowledged chieftain of the school. No one could run so fast, swim so far, dive so deep, or climb so high as he. No one could throw him in wrestling or defeat him in boxing. He was their lord, their leader, their boyish master and royally he ruled them all—his willing subjects. He it was who stopped the runaway horse; who killed the big snake; and who pulled the minister's little daughter from the pond. It was he who planned the parties and the picnics; the sleigh rides in winter and the berrying trips in summer. It was he whom the girls all loved and the boys all worshiped—bold, handsome, daring, dashing, careless, generous, leader of the Yesterdays.
Again she saw his face lifted slyly from a spelling book to smile at her across the aisle. Again she felt the rich, warm, color rush to her cheeks as he took his seat, beside her on the recitation bench. Again her eyes were dimmed with tears when he was punished for some broken rule or shone with gladness when she heard his clear voice laughing with his friends or calling to his mates and her.
And once again, in the late afternoon, with him and with the other boys and girls, she went down the road from the little schoolhouse in the edge of the timber on the hill; her sunbonnet hanging by its strings and her dinner basket on her arm. Onward, through the long shadows that lay across their way, they went together, to pause at last before the gate of her home, there to linger for a little, while the others still went on. Farther and farther in the evening they watched their schoolmates go—up the road past the house where he lived—past the orchard and over the hill—until, in the distance, they seemed to vanish into the sunset sky and she was left with him alone.
The conductor called the woman's street but she did not heed. The man in uniform pulled the bell cord and, as the car stopped, called again, looking toward her expectantly. But she did not notice. With a smile, the man, who knew her, approached, and: "Beg your pardon Miss, but here's your street."
With blushing cheeks and confused manner, she stammered her thanks, and hurried from the car amid the smiles of the passengers. And the woman did not know how beautiful she was at that moment. She was wondering: in the hungry hearted world—under all his ambition, plans, and labor, with the knowledge that must have come to him also from life—was his heart ever hungry too?
When the man had gained a little knowledge from the thing that he had found to do and had wearied himself greatly trying to follow the golden chain, link by link, to the very end, he came, then, to understand the value of Ignorance. He came to see that success in working out his dreams depended quite as much upon Ignorance as upon Knowledge—that, indeed, to know the value of Ignorance is the highest order of Knowledge.
There are a great many things about this man's life that I do not know. But that does not matter because most of the things about any man's life are of little or no importance. That the man came to know the value of Ignorance was a thing of vast importance to the man and, therefore, is of importance to my story. Ignorance also is one of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life but only those who have much knowledge know its value.
A wise Ignorance is rich soil from which the seeds of Knowledge will bring forth fruit, a hundred fold. "I do not know": this is the beginning and the end of wisdom. One who has never learned to say: "I do not know," has not the A B C of education. He who professes to be educated but will not confess Ignorance is intellectually condemned.
A man who pretends to a knowledge which he has not is like a pygmy wearing giant's clothing, ridiculous: but he who admits Ignorance is like a strong knight, clothed in a well fitting suit of mail, ready to achieve truth.
When a man declares openly his ignorance concerning things of which he knows but little, the world listens with increased respect when he speaks of the thing he knows: but when a man claims knowledge of all things, the world doubts mightily that he knows much of anything, and accepts questioningly whatever he says of everything.
That which a man does not know harms him not at all, neither does it harm the world; but that which, through a shallow, foolish, self-conceit, he professes to know, when he has at best only a half knowledge, or, in a self destructive vanity, deceives himself into thinking that he knows, betrays him always to the injury of both himself and others. An honest Ignorance is a golden vessel, empty, ready to be filled with wealth but a pretentious or arrogant knowledge is a vessel so filled with worthless trash that there is no room for that which is of value.
The world is as full of things to know as it is full of hooks, No man can hope to read all the books in the world. Selection is enforced by necessity. So it is in Knowledge. One should not think that, because a man is ignorant of some things, he is therefore a fool; his ignorance may be the manifestation of a choice wiser than that of the one who elects to sit in judgment upon him.
With the passion to know fully aroused; with his mind fretting to grapple with the problem of Life; and his purpose fired to solve the riddle of time; the man succeeded in acquiring this: that he must dare to know little. He came to understand that, while all knowable things are for all mankind to know, no man can know them all; and that the wisest men to whom the world pays highest tribute, are the wisest because they have not attempted to know all, but, recognizing the value of Ignorance, have dared to remain ignorant of much. Intellectual giants they are; intellectual babes they are, also. The man had thought that there was nothing that these men—these wise ones—did not know. He came to understand that even he knew some things of which they were ignorant. So his determination to know all things passed to a determination to know nothing of many things that he might know more of the things that were most closely associated with his life and work. He determined to know the most of the things that, to him, were most vital.
He saw also that he must work out his dreams within the circle of his own limitations; and that his limitations were not the limitations of his fellow workers; neither were their limitations his. He did not know yet just where the outmost circle of his limitations lay but he knew that it was there and that he must make no mistake when he came to it. And this, too, is true: just to the degree that the man recognized his limitations, the circle widened.
Also the man came to understand that there are things knowable and things unknowable. He came to see that truest wisdom is in this: for one to spend well his strength on the knowable things and refuse to dissipate his intellectual vigor upon the unknowable. Not until he began really to know things was he conscious in any saving degree of the unknowable. He saw that those who strive always with the unknowable beat the air in vain and exhaust themselves in their senseless folly. He saw that to concern oneself wholly with the unknowable is to rob the world of the things in which are its life. To meditate much upon the unknowable is an intellectual dissipation that produces spiritual intoxication and often results in spiritual delirium tremens. A habitual spiritual drunkard is a nuisance in the world. The wisdom of Ignorance is in nothing more apparent than in a clear recognition of the unknowable.
And then the man came to regret knowing some of the things that he knew. He came, in some things, to wish with all his heart that he had Ignorance where he had Knowledge. He found that much of the time and strength that he desired to spend in acquiring the knowledge that would help him to work out his dreams, he must spend, instead, in ridding himself of knowledge that he had already acquired. He learned that to forget is quite as necessary as to remember and very often much more difficult. Young he was, and strong he was, but, already, he felt the dragging power of the things he would have been better for not knowing—the things he desired to forget. They were very little things in comparison to the things that in the future he would wish to forget; but to him, at this time, they did not seem small. So it was that, in his effort to acquire Knowledge, the man began to strive also for Ignorance.
I do not know what it was that the man had learned that he desired to forget. My story is not the kind of a story that tells those things. I know, only, that for him to forget was imperative. I know, only, that had he held fast to Ignorance in some things of which he had gained knowledge, it would have been better. For him in some things Ignorance would have been the truest wisdom. Ignorance would have helped him to work out his dreams when Knowledge only hindered by forcing him to spend much time striving to forget. Those who know too much of evil find it extremely difficult to gain knowledge of the good. Those who know too much of the false find it very hard to recognize the true. A too great knowledge of things that are wrong makes it almost impossible for one to believe in that which is right. Ignorance, rightly understood, is, indeed, one of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life.
And then this man, in learning the value of Ignorance, came perilously near believing that no man could know anything. He came dangerously near the belief that Knowledge is all a mirage toward which men journey hopelessly; a phantom to be grasped by no hand; a will-o'-the-wisp to be followed here and there but leading nowhere. He, for a little, said that Ignorance is the truest wisdom. He believed, for a time, that to say always: "I do not know," is the height of all intelligence. One by one, he saw his intellectual idols fall in the dust of the commonplace. Little by little, he discovered that the intellectual masters he had served were themselves only servants. His intellectual Gods, he found to be men like himself. And so, for a while, he said: "We can know nothing. We can only think that we know. We can only pretend to know. There is no real Knowledge but only Ignorance. Ignorance should be exalted. In Ignorance lies peace, contentment, happiness, and safety." Even of his work—of his dreams he said this. He said: "It is no use." To the very edge of this pit he came but he did not fall in.
To accept the fact of the unknowable without losing his faith in the knowable: to recognize the unknown without losing in the least his grip upon the known: to find the Knowledge of Yesterday becoming the Ignorance of to-day and still hold fast to the Knowledge of the present; to watch his intellectual leaders dropping to the rear and to follow as bravely those who were still in the front: to see his intellectual heroes fall and his intellectual idols crumbling in the dust and still to keep burning the fire of his enthusiasm: to find Knowledge so often a curse and Ignorance a blessing and still to desire Knowledge: all this, the man learned that he must do if he would work out his dreams. That which saved the man from the pit of hopeless disbelief in everything and helped him to a clear understanding of Ignorance, was this: he went back again into his Yesterdays.
From sheltered fence corners and hidden woodland hollows, from the lee of high banks, and along the hedge in the garden, the last worn and ragged remnant of winter's garment was gone. The brook in the valley, below the little girl's house, had broken the last of its fetters and was rejoicing boisterously in its freedom. The meadow and pasture lands showed the tender green of the first grass life. Pussy willow buds were swelling and over the orchard and the wood a filmy veil of summer color was dropped as though by fairy hands. In the cherry tree, a pair of brown birds, just returning from their southern home, were discussing the merits of the nearby hedge as a building site: the madam bird insisting, as women will, that the beautiful traditions of the spot made it, for home building, peculiarly desirable. It was a well known fact, said she, that brown birds had builded there for no one knows how many ages. Even in the far away city, the man felt the season in the air. The reek of city odors could not altogether drown the subtle perfume that betrayed the near presence of the spring. As though the magic of the budding, sprouting, starting, time of the year placed him under its spell, the man went back to the springtime of his life—back into his Yesterdays.
Once again, he walked under the clear skies of childhood. Once again, he lived in the blessed, blessed, days when he had nothing to forget—when his mind and life were as a mountain brook that, clear and pure, from the spring of its birth runs ever onward, outward, turning never back, pausing never to form stagnant, poisonous, pools. And there it was—in his Yesterdays—in the pure sunlight of childhood—that he found new intellectual faith—that he came to a right understanding of the real wisdom of Ignorance.
The intellectual giants of his Yesterdays—those wise ones upon whose learning he looked with childish awe—who were they? Famous scholars who lectured in caps and gowns and words of many syllables upon themes of mighty interest to themselves? Students who, in their laboratory worlds, discovered many wonderful things that were not so and solved many puzzling problems with solutions that were right and entirely satisfactory until the next graduating class discovered them to be all wrong and no solution at all? Great religious leaders who were supernaturally called, divinely commissioned, and armed with holy authority to point out the true and only way of life until some other with the same call, commission, and authority, pointed out a wholly different true and only way? Great statesmen upon whose knowledge and leadership the salvation of the nation depended, until the next election discovered them to be foolish puppets of a dishonest and corrupt party and put new leaders in their places to save the nation with a new brand of political salvation, the chief value of which was its newness? No indeed! Such as these were not the intellectual giants of the man's Yesterdays. The heights of knowledge in those days were held by others than these.
One of the very highest peaks in the whole mountain range of learning, in the Yesterdays, was held by the hired man. Again, at chore time, the boy followed this wise one about the stables and the barn, watching, from a safe position near the door, while the horses were groomed and bedded down for the night. Again the pungent odors from the stalls, the scent of the straw and the hay in the loft, the smell of harness leather damp with sweat was in his nostrils and in his ears, the soft swish of switching tails, the thud of stamping hoofs, the contented munching of grain, the rustle of hay, with now and then a low whinny or an angry squeal. And fearlessly to and fro in this strange world moved the hired man. In and out among the horses he passed, perfectly at home in the stalls, seeming to share the most intimate secrets of the horse life.
Everything that there was to know about a horse, confidently thought the little boy, this wonderful man knew. The very language that he used when talking about horses was a language full of strange, hard, words, the meaning of which was hidden from the childish worshiper of wisdom. Such words as "ringbone" and "spavin" and "heaves" and "stringhalt" and "pastern" and "stifle" and "wethers" and "girth" and "hock," to the boy, seemed to establish, beyond all question, the intellectual greatness of the one who used them just as words of many syllables sometimes fix for older children the position on the intellectual heights of those who use them. "Chiaroscuro," "cheiropterous," "eschatology," and the "unearned increment"—who, in the common, every day, grown up, world, would dare question the artistic, scientific, religious, or political, knowledge of one who could talk like that?
Nor did the intellectual strength of this wise one of the Yesterdays exhaust itself with the scientific knowledge of horses. He was equally at home in the co-ordinate sciences of cows and pigs and chickens. Again the boy stood in the cow shed laboratory and watched, with childish wonder, the demonstration of the master's superior wisdom as the white streams poured into the tinkling milk pail. How did he do it—wondered the boy—where did this wizard in overalls and hickory shirt and tattered straw hat acquire his marvelous scientific skill?
In the garden, the orchard, or the field, it was the same. No secret of nature was hidden from this learned one. He knew whether potatoes should be planted in the dark or light of the moon: whether next winter would be "close" or "open": whether the coming season would be "early" or "late": whether next summer would be "wet" or "dry." Always he could tell, days ahead, whether it would rain or if the weather would be fair. With a peach tree twig he could tell where to dig for water. By many signs he could say whether luck would be good or bad. Small wonder that the boy felt very ignorant, very humble, in the presence of this wise one!
Then, one day, the boy, to his amazement, learned that this wizard of the barnyard knew nothing at all about fairies. Common, every day, knowledge was this knowledge of fairies to the boy: but the wise one knew nothing about them. So dense was his ignorance that he even seemed to doubt and smiled an incredulous smile when the boy tried to enlighten him.
It was a great day in his Yesterdays when the boy discovered that the hired man did not know about fairies.
As the years passed and the time approached when the boy was to become a man, he learned the meaning of many words that were as strange to the intellectual hero of his childhood as the language of that companion of horses had once been strange to him. In time, much of the knowledge of that barnyard sage became, to the boy, even as the boy's knowledge of fairies had been to the man. Still—still—it was a great day in his Yesterdays when the boy discovered that the hired man did not know about fairies. Perhaps, though, it was just as well that the hired man did not know. If he had become too familiar with the fairies, his potatoes might not have been planted either in the light or the dark of the moon and the world's potatoes must be planted somehow.
Equally great in his special field of knowledge was the old, white haired, negro who lived in a tiny cabin just a little way over the hill. Strange and awful were the things that he knew about the fearsome, supernatural, creatures, that lived and moved in the unseen world. Of "hants" and "spirits" and "witches" and "hoodoos" he told the boy with such earnest confidence and so convincing a manner that to doubt was impossible. In the unknowable world, the old negro moved with authority unquestioned, with piety above criticism, with a religious zeal of such warmth that the boy was often moved by the old man's wisdom and goodness to go to him with offerings from mother's pantry.
And then, one day, the boy discovered that this wonderfully wise one could neither read nor write. Everybody that the boy knew, in the grown up world, could read and write. The boy himself could even read "cat" and "rat" and "dog." Vaguely the boy wondered, even then, if the old black saint's lack of those commonplace accomplishments accounted, in any way, for his marvelous knowledge of the unseen world.
And father—father—was the greatest, the wisest, and the best man that ever lived. The boy wondered, sometimes, why the Bible did not tell about his father. Surely, in all the world, there was no other man so good as he. And, as for wisdom! There was nothing—nothing— that father did not know! Always, when other men came to see them, there was talk of such strange things as "government" and "party" and "campaigns" and "senators" and "congressmen"—things that the boy did not in the least know about—but he knew that his father knew, which was quite enough, indeed, for a boy of his age to know.
The boy, in his Yesterdays, wondered greatly when he heard his father sometimes wish that he could be a boy again. To him, in the ignorance of his childhood, such a wish was very strange. Not until the boy had himself become a man and had learned to rightly value Ignorance did he understand his father's wish and in his heart repeat it.
But there was one in those Yesterdays, upon whose knowledge the boy looked in admiring awe, who taught him that which he could never outgrow. Very different from the wisdom of the hired man was the wisdom of this one. Very different was his knowledge from the knowledge of the old negro. Nor was his learning like, in any way, to the learning that made the boy's father so good and so wise among men.
But this leader did not often come openly to the boy's home. Always, when his mother saw the boy in the company of this one, she called him into the house, and often she explained to him that the one whom he so admired was a bad boy and that she did not wish her little son to play with him. So this intellectual leader of the Yesterdays was forced to come, stealthily, through the orchard, dodging from tree to tree, until, from behind the woodshed, he could, with a low whistle, attract the attention of his admiring disciple and beckon him to his side. Then the two would slip away over the brow of the hill or down behind the barn where, safe from mother's watchful eye, the boy could enjoy the companionship of this one whom Knowledge had so distinguished.
And often the older boy laughed at the Ignorance of his younger companion—laughed and sneered at him in the pride of superior learning—while the little boy felt ashamed and, filled with admiration for his forbidden friend, wondered if he would ever grow to be as wise. Scarcely could he hope, for instance, to be able, ever, to smoke and chew and swear in so masterful a way. And the little learner's face would beam with timid adoration and envy as he listened to the tales of wicked adventures so boastfully related by his teacher. Would he, could he, ever be so bold, so wise in knowledge of the world?
Poor little boy in the Yesterdays who knew nothing of the value of Ignorance! Poor boys in the grown up world—admiring and envying those who know more of evil than themselves!
So, always, secretly, the boy, as the years passed, gained the knowledge that makes men wish that they could be boys again. So, always, do men learn the value of Ignorance too late.
And then, as the man lived again in his Yesterdays, and, realizing in his manhood the value of Ignorance, wished that he could be a boy again, the little girl came to take her place in his intellectual life even as she took her place in all the life of his boyhood. Again he saw her wondering eyes as she stood with him in the stable door to watch the hired man among the horses. Again he felt her timid hand in his as he led her to a place where, safe from horns and heels, they could observe, together, the fascinating operation of milking. Together they listened to the words of strange wisdom and marveled at the knowledge of the barnyard scientist.
All that the boy learned from the old negro, of the fearsome creatures that inhabit the unseen world, he, in turn, gave to the little girl. And sometimes she even went with him on a pilgrimage to the cabin over the hill; there to gaze, half frightened, at the black-faced seer who had such store of awful wisdom.
The boy's pride in his father's superior goodness and wisdom she shared fully—because he was the father of the boy.
All the sweet lore of childhood was theirs in common. All the wise Ignorance of his Yesterdays she shared.
Only in the boy's forbidden friendship with that one who had such knowledge of evil the little girl did not share. This knowledge—the knowledge that was to go with him, even in his manhood years, and which, at last, would teach him the real value of Ignorance—the boy gained alone. Sadly, the man remembered how, sometimes, when the boy had stolen away to drink at that first muddy fountain of evil, he would hear her calling and would be held from answering by the jeers of his wicked teacher. But never when he was playing with the little girl did the boy answer the signal whistle of that one whose knowledge he envied but of whose friendship he was ashamed.
In his Yesterdays, the ignorance of his little girl mate was an anchor that held the boy from drifting too far in the current of evil. In his Yesterdays, the goodness and wisdom of his father was not a will-o'-the-wisp but, to the boy, a steady guiding light. What mattered, then, if the knowledge of the old negro was but a foolish mirage? What mattered if the hired man did not know about fairies or if he did know so many things that were not so? So it was that the man came to know the value of Ignorance. So it was that the man did not fall into the pit of saying: "There is only Ignorance."
And so it was, as he returned again from his Yesterdays, that day when even the reeking atmosphere of the city could not hide, altogether, the sweetness of the spring, that the memory of the little girl was with him even as the perfume of the season was in the air.
* * * * *
It was the time of the first flowers.
The woman had been out, somewhere, on a business errand and was returning to the place where she worked. A crowd had gathered, blocking the sidewalk, and she was forced to stop. Quickly, as if by magic, the people came running from all directions. The woman was annoyed. Her destination was only a few doors away and she had much work, still, to do before the remaining hours of the afternoon should be gone. She could not cross the street without going back for the traffic was very heavy. She faced about as if to retrace her steps, then, paused and turned again. The street would be open in a moment. It would be better to wait. Above the heads of the people she could see, already, the helmets of the police clearing the sidewalk. Pushing into the jam, she worked slowly forward.
Clang, clang, clang, with a rattle and clatter and crash, a patrol wagon swung up to the curb—so close that a spatter of mud from the gutter fell on the woman's skirt. The wagon wheeled and backed. The police formed a quick lane across the sidewalk. The crowd surged forward and carried the woman close against the blue coated barrier. Down the lane held by the officers of the law, so close to the woman that she could have touched them, came two poor creatures who were not ignorant of what is commonly called the world. They had seen life—so the world would have said. They were wise. They had knowledge of many things of which the woman, who shrank back from them in horror, knew nothing. Their haggard, painted, faces, their disheveled hair, their tawdry clothing, false jewels, and drunken blasphemies, drew a laugh from the crowd.
Upon the soul of the woman the laughter of the crowd fell like a demon laugh from the depths of hell. Almost she shrieked aloud her protest. Because she knew herself to be a woman, she almost shrieked aloud.
It was over in an instant. The patrol wagon rumbled away with its burden of woe. The crowd melted as magically as it had gathered. At the entrance of the building where she worked, the woman turned to look back, as though fascinated by the horror of that which she had seen. But, upon the surface of that sea of life, there was not the faintest ripple to mark the spot of the tragedy.
And the crowd had laughed.
The woman knew the character of that place so near the building in which she worked. Several times, each day, she passed the swinging doors of the saloon below and, always, she saw men going in and out. Many times she had caught glimpses of the faces of those who occupied the rooms above as they watched at the windows. When first she went to work she had known little of such things, but she was learning. Not because she wished to learn but because she could not help it. But the knowledge of such things had come to her so gradually that she had grown accustomed to knowing even as she came to know. She had become familiar with the fact without being forced to feel.
Perhaps, if the incident had occurred a few years later, when the woman's knowledge was more complete, she, herself, might have been able to laugh with the crowd. This knowledge that enables one so to laugh is, seemingly, much prized these days among those who have not the wisdom to value Ignorance.
The afternoon passed, as such afternoons must, and the woman did her work. What mattered the work that was being wrought in the soul of her womanhood—the work committed to her hands—the work that refused to recognize her womanhood—that work was done—and that is all that seems to matter. And, when her day's work was done, the woman boarded a car for her home.
It was an hour when many hundreds of toilers were going from their labor. So many hundreds there were that the cars could scarcely hold them and there were seats for only a few. Among those hundreds there were many who were proud of their knowledge of life. There were not many who knew the value of Ignorance. The woman who knew that she was a woman was crowded in a car where there was scarcely room for her to stand. She felt the rude touch of strangers—felt the bodies of strange men forced against her body—felt their limbs crushed against her limbs—felt their breath in her face—felt and trembled in frightened shame. In that car, crowded close against the woman, there were men whose knowledge of life was very great. By going to the lowest depths of the city's shame, where the foulest dregs of humanity settle, they had acquired that knowledge.
At first the woman had dreaded those evening trips from work in the crowded cars. But it was an everyday experience and she was becoming accustomed to it. She was learning not to mind. That is the horror of it—she was learning not to mind.
But this night it was different. The heart of her womanhood shrank within her trembling and afraid—cried out within her in protest at the outrage. In the fetid atmosphere of the crowded car; in the rough touch of the crushing bodies of sweating humanity; in the coarse, low, jest; she felt again the demon that she had heard in the laughter of the crowd. She saw again the horror of that which had leered at her from out the disfigured, drunken, faces of the poor creatures taken by the police.
Must she—must she learn to laugh that laugh with the crowd? Must she gain knowledge of the unclean, the vicious, the degrading things of life by actual contact? Was it not enough for her to know that those things were in the world as she knew that there was fever in the marsh lands; or must she go in person into the muck and mire of the swamps?
So it was that this woman, who knew herself to be a woman, did not crave Knowledge, but Ignorance. She prayed to be kept from knowing too much. And it was well for her so to pray. It was the highest wisdom. Because she knew her womanhood, she was afraid. She feared for her dream life that was to be beyond the old, old, door. She feared for that one who, perhaps, would come to cross with her the threshold for it was given this woman to know that only with one in whose purity of life she believed could she ever enter into the life of her dreams. The Master of Life, in His infinite wisdom, made the heart of womanhood divinely selfish. This woman knew that her dreams could never be for her save through her belief in the one who should ask her to go with him through that old, old, door. And the things that the woman found herself learning made it hard for her to believe in any man. The knowledge that was forced upon her was breeding doubt and distrust and denial of good. The realization of her womanhood's beautiful dream was possible only through wise Ignorance. She must fight to keep from learning too much.
And in the woman's fight there was this to help her: in the crowd that had laughed, her startled eyes had seen one or two who did not laugh—one or two there were whose faces were filled with pity and with shame. Always, in the crowded cars, there was some one who tried quietly to shield her from the press—some one who seemed to understand. It was this that helped. These men who knew the value of Ignorance kept the spark of her faith in men alive. The faith, without which her dreams would be idle dreams, impossible of fulfillment, was kept for her by those men who knew the value of Ignorance.
The woman went to her work the next morning with a heart that was heavy with dread and nerves that were quivering with fear. The brightness, the beauty, and the joy, of her womanhood, she felt to be going from her as the sunshine goes under threatening clouds. The blackness, the ugliness, and the sorrow, of life, she felt coming over her as fog rolls in from the sea. The faith, trust, and hope, that is the soul of womanhood was threatened by doubt, distrust, and despair. The gentleness, sensitiveness, and delicacy, that is the heart of womanhood was beset by coarseness, vulgarity, and rudeness. Could she harden her woman heart, steel her woman nerves, and make coarse her woman soul to withstand the things that she was forced to meet and know? And if she could—what then—would she gain or lose thereby? For the life of which she had dreamed, would she gain or lose?
It was nearly noon when a voice at her side said: "You are ill!"
It was a voice of authority but it was not at all unkind.
Turning, she looked up into his face and stammered a feeble denial. No, she was not ill.
But the kind eyes looked down at her so searchingly, so gravely, that her own eyes filled with tears.
"Come, come," said the voice, "this won't do at all. You must not lose your grip, you know. It will be all right to-morrow. Take the afternoon off and get out into the fresh air."
And something in his voice—something in his grave, steady, eyes—told her—made her feel that he understood. It helped her to know that this man of large affairs, of power and authority, understood.
So, for that afternoon, she went to a park in a distant part of the city to escape, for a few hours, the things that were crowding her too closely. Near the entrance of the park, she met a gray haired policeman who, looking at her keenly, smiled kindly and touched his hat; then, before she had passed from sight, he turned to follow leisurely the path that she had taken. Finding a quiet nook on the bank of a little stream that was permitted to run undisturbed by the wise makers of the park, the woman seated herself, while the policeman, unobserved by her, paused not far away to watch a group of children at play.
Perhaps it was the blue sky, unstained by the city smoke: perhaps it was the sunbeams that filtered through the leafy net-work of the trees to fall in golden flakes and patches on the soft green: perhaps it was the song that the little brook was singing as it went its merry way: perhaps it was the twittering, chirping, presence of the feathery folk who hopped and flitted so cheerily in and out among the shrubs and flowers—whatever it was that brought it about, the life that crowded her so closely drifted far, far, away. The city with its noisy clamor, with its mad rush and unceasing turmoil, was gone. The world of danger, and doubt, and fear, was forgotten. The woman lived again the days that were gone. The sky so blue above her head was the sky that arched her days of long ago. The sunshine that filtered through the trees was the same golden wealth that enriched the days of her childhood. The twittering, chirping, feathery, folk were telling the same old stories. The little brook that went so merrily on its way was singing a song of the Yesterdays.
They were free days—those Yesterdays—free as the days of the feathery folk who lived among the shrubs and flowers. There was none of the knowledge that, with distrust and doubt and despair, shuts in the soul. They were bright days—those Yesterdays—as bright as the sunlight that out of a clear sky comes to glorify the world. There was none of that dark and dreadful knowledge that shrouds the soul in gloom. And they were glad days—those Yesterdays—glad with the gladness of the singing brook. There was none of that knowledge that stains and saddens the heart.
The woman, sitting there so still by the little brook, did not notice a well dressed man who was strolling slowly through the park. A little way down the walk, the man turned, and again went slowly past the place where the woman sat. Once more he turned and this time seated himself where he could watch her. The man's face was not a good face. For a little while he watched the woman, then rising, was starting leisurely toward her when the gray haired policeman came suddenly into view around a turn in the path. The officer did not hesitate; nor was he smiling, now, as he stepped in front of the man. A few crisp words he spoke, in a low tone, and pointed with his stick. There was no reply. The fellow turned and slunk away while the guardian of the law, with angry eyes, watched him out of sight, then turned to look toward the woman. She had not noticed. The officer smiled and quietly strolled on down the path.
The woman had noticed neither the man nor her protector because she was far, far, away in her Yesterdays. She did not heed the incident because she was a little girl again, playing beside the brook that came across the road and made its winding way through the field just below the house. It was only a little brook, but beautifully clear and fresh, for it had come only a short distance from its birth place in a glen under the hill that she could see from her window. In some places, the long meadow grass, growing close down to the edge, almost touched above, making a cool, green, cradle arch through which the pure waters flowed with soft whispers as though the baby stream were crooning to itself a lullaby. In other stretches, the green willows bent far over to dip their long, slim, fingers in the slow current that crept so lazily through the flickering light and shade that it seemed scarce to move at all. And other places there were, where the streamlet chuckled and laughed over tiny pebbly bars in the sunlight or gurgled past where flags and rushes grew.
Again, with her dolls, the little girl played on the grassy bank; washing their tiny garments in the clear water and hanging them on the flags or willows to dry; resting often to listen to the fairy song the water sang; or to whisper to the brook the secrets of her childhood dreams. The drowsy air was full of the sweet, grassy, smell mingled with the odor of mint and the perfume of the willows and flags and warm moist earth. Gorgeous winged butterflies zigzagged here and there from flower to flower—now near for a little—then far away. Honeybees droned their hymns of industry the while they searched for sweet treasures. And now and then a tiny green frog would come out of a shadowy nook in the bank of the stream to see what the little girl was doing; or a bird would drop from out the blue sky for a drink or a bath in the pebbly shallows. And not far away—easily within call—mother sat on the shady porch, with her sewing, where she could watch over her little girl.
Dear, innocent, sheltered, protected, Yesterdays—when mother told her child all that was needful for her to know, and told her in a most tender, beautiful, way. Dear, blessed, Yesterdays—when love did not leave vice to teach the sacred truths of love—days that were days of blissful Ignorance—not vicious Ignorance but ignorance of the vicious. There was a wealth of Ignorance in those Yesterdays that is of more worth to womanhood, by far, than much knowledge of the world.
And often the boy would come, too, and, together, they would wade hand in hand in the clear flood, mingling their shouts and laughter with the music of their playmate brook, while the minnows darted to and fro about their bare legs; or, they would build brave dams and bridges and harbors with the bright stones; or, best of all, fashion and launch the ships of childhood.
Oh, childish ships of the Yesterdays! What precious cargoes they carried! What priceless treasures they bore to the far away port of dreams!
The little brook was a safe stream for the boy and the girl to play beside. Nor did they know, then, that their streamlet flowed on and on until it joined the river; and that the river, in its course, led it past great cities that poured into it the poisons and the filth of their sewers, fouling its bright waters, until it was unfit for children to play beside.
They did not know, then—but the woman knew, now.
And what—she thought as she came back from her Yesterdays—what of the boy who had played with her beside the brook? He, too, must have learned what happened to their brook. In learning, what had happened to him—she wondered—and wondering, she was afraid.
Because she was no longer ignorant, she was afraid for the mate of her Yesterdays. Not that she thought over to meet him again. She did not wish, now, to meet him for she was afraid. She would rather have him as he was in her Yesterdays.
Slowly the woman turned away from the quiet seat beside the brook. It was time for her to go.
Not far away, she passed the gray haired policeman, who again smiled and touched his hat.
Smiling in return she bade him: "Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon, Miss," he said, still smiling gravely. "Come again, Miss, when ye's want a breath of air that's pure and clean."
May heaven bless, for the sweet sake of womanhood, all men who understand.
It was springtime—blossoming time—mating time. The world was a riot of color and perfume and song.
Every twig that a few weeks before had been a bare, unsightly stick was now a miracle of dainty beauty. From the creek, below the little girl's house, the orchard hill appeared against the soft, blue, sky a wonderous, cumulus, cloud of fleecy whiteness flushed with a glow of delicate pink. The meadows and pastures were studded with stars of gold and pearl, of ruby and amethyst and silver. The fairy hands that had thrown over the wood a filmy veil of dainty color now dressed each tree and bush in robes of royal fabric woven from many tints of shimmering, shining, green.
Through the amber light above new turned furrows; amid the jewel glint of water in the sun; in the diamond sparkle of the morning; against the changing opal skies of evening; the bees and all their winged kin floated and darted, flashed and danced, and whirled, from flower to flower and field to field, from blossom to blossom and tree to tree, bearing their pollen messages of love and life while sweet voiced birds, in their brightest plumage, burdened the perfumed air with the passionate melody of their mating time.
All nature seemed bursting with eager desire to evidence a Creator's power. Every tint and color, every breath of perfume, every note of music, every darting flight or whirling dance, was a call to life—a challenge to love—an invitation to mate—a declaration of God. The world throbbed and exulted with the passion of the Giver of Life.
Life itself begat Religion.
Not the least of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life is Religion. Religion is an exaltation of Life or it is nothing. To exalt Life truly is to be most truly religious.
But the man, when he first awoke that morning, did not think of Religion. His first thought was a thought of lazy gratitude that he need not get up. It was Sunday. With a long sigh of sleepy content, he turned toward the wall to escape the too bright light that, from the open window, had awakened him and dozed again.
It was Sunday.
There are bitter cold, icy, snowy, Sundays in mid-winter when one hugs the cheerless radiator and, shivering in chilly discomfort, wishes that Sundays were months instead of days apart. There are stifling, sticky, sweltering. Sundays in midsummer when one prays, if he can pray at all, for the night to come. And there are blustering, rainy, sleety, dismal, Sundays in the fall when the dead hours go in funeral procession by and the world seems a gloomy tomb. But a Sunday in blossoming time! That is different! The very milk wagons, as they clattered, belated, down the street rattled a cheery note of fellowship and good will. The long drawn call of the paper boy had in it a hint of the joy of living. And the rumble of an occasional passing cab came like a deep undertone of peace.
The streets were nearly empty. The stores and offices, with closed doors, were deserted and still. A solitary policeman on the corner appeared to be meditating, indifferent to his surroundings. The few pedestrians to be seen moved leisurely and appeared as though in a mood for reflective thought and quiet interest in the welfare of their fellows. The hurrying, scrambling, jostling, rushing crowd; the clanging, crashing, roaring turmoil; the racking madness, the fierce confusion, the cruel selfishness of the week day world was as a dreadful dream in the night. In the hard fought battle of life, the world had called a truce, testifying thus to the place and power of Religion.
This is not to say that the world professes Religion; but it is to say that Religion possesses the world. In a thousand, thousand, forms, Religion possesses the world. In thoughts, in deeds, in words—in song and picture and story—in customs and laws and industries—in society, state, and school—in all of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life, Religion makes itself manifest and declares its power over men. If one proclaim himself without Religion then is its power made known in that one's peculiarity. If Religion did not possess the world, to scorn it would mark no one as different from his fellows, And this, too, is true: so imperial is the fact of Religion, that he who would deny it is forced to believe so firmly in his disbelief that he accepts the very thing he rejects, disguised in a dress of his own making, and thus bows down in worship before a God of his own creation.
To many, Sunday is a day of labor. To many others, it is a day of roistering and debauch. To some, it is a day of idleness and thoughtless pleasure. To some, it is a day of devotion and worship. But still, I say, that, whatever men, as individuals, may do with the day, the deserted streets, the silent stores, the closed banks, the empty offices, evidence that, to the world, this day is not as other days and give recognition—not to creeds and doctrines of warring sects indeed—but, to Religion.
Again the man awoke. Coming slowly out of his sleep and turning leisurely in his bed he looked through the open window at the day. And still he did not think of Religion.
Leisurely he arose and, after his bath, shaved himself with particular care. With particular care he dressed, not in the garb of every day, but in fresher, newer, raiment. Thus did he, even as the world, give unthinking testimony to the power and place of Religion.
Later, when the church bells sent their sweet voiced invitations ringing over the city, the man went to church. He did not go to church because he was a religious man nor because he was in a religious mood; he went because it was his habit to go occasionally. Even as most men sometimes go to church, so this man went. Nor did he, as a member of any religious organization, feel it his duty to go. He went as he had always gone—as thousands of others who, like himself, in habit of dress and manner were giving unconscious testimony to the power of Religion in the world, went, that day, to some place of public worship.
The streets of the city were now well filled with people. Yesterday, these same people, in the same streets, had rushed along with anxious, eager, strained, expressions upon their faces that told of nerves tense, minds intent, and bodies alert, in the battle they waged for daily bread, for gain, and for all the things that are held by men to be worth the struggle. To-morrow, these same people would again lose themselves in the fierce and strenuous effort of their lives. But to-day, they walked leisurely; they spoke calmly; they thought coolly; they had time to notice each other; to greet each other, to smile, to shake each others' hands. There were many children, too, who, dressed in their Sunday clothes, with clean faces and subdued manners, even as their parents, evidenced the power of Religion in the life of humankind. And, even as their parents, the children knew it not. They did not recognize the power of Religion in their lives.
The man did not think of the meaning of these things; though he felt it, perhaps, somewhat as he felt the warm life of the sun filled air: he sensed it, perhaps, as he sensed the beauty of the morning. He did not realize, then, how, in his Dreams, Religion had subtly manifested itself. He did not realize, that, in his Occupation, he was, every day, revealing the influence of Religion in his life. He had seen Religion but dimly when he had thought to follow the golden chain of Knowledge, link by link, to its hidden end. Dimly had he seen it when he was learning the value of Ignorance. And yet, in all of these things it had been even as it would be in all the things that were yet to come. No man can escape Religion. Man may escape particular forms of Religion, indeed, but Religion itself he cannot escape.
With many others the man entered a church. An usher gravely led him to a seat. I do not know what church it was to which the man went that morning nor does it, for my story, matter that I do not know. My story is not of churches nor of sects nor of creeds. This is my story: that the man came to realize in his life the power of Religion.
It may have been the beauty of the morning that did it; it may have been that the week just past was unusually hard and trying and that the day of rest, therefore, was more than usual, needed: or, perhaps, it was because the man had learned that he could never follow the golden chain of Knowledge to its hidden end and had come to know the value of Ignorance for Religion walks ever close to both Knowledge and Ignorance, hand in hand with each; whatever it was that brought it about, the man, that Sunday, came to realize the power of Religion in the world and in his own manhood life.
It was very quiet in the church but it was not a sad quietness. The people moved softly and, when they spoke at all, spoke in whispers but there was no feeling of death in the air; rather was there a feeling of life—a feeling of life, too, that was very unlike the feeling of life in a crowded place of business or amusement. The sweet, plaintively pleading, tones of the organ trembled in the air. The glorious sunshine came through the stained glass windows softened and subdued. Here and there heads were bowed. The people became very still. And, in the stillness, the man felt strongly the spirit of the day and place. The organ tones increased in volume. The choir filed in. The preacher entered. The congregation arose to sing an old triumphant hymn.
The man did not sing, but, as he listened to the music and followed the words of the hymn, he smiled. The people were singing about unknowable things—of streets of gold and gates of pearl—of crowns and harps and the throne of God.
All his life, the man had known that hymn but he had never before thought of it just as he thought of it that morning. He looked about at the people who were singing. Who were they? Uneducated, irresponsible, fanatical dreamers of no place or importance in the week day world? No indeed! They were educated, responsible, practical, hard headed, clear brained, people of power and influence—and—the man smiled again—they were singing about unknowable things. For the first time in his life, the man wondered at the strangeness of it all.
When the minister prayed, the man listened as he had never listened to a prayer before. He felt baffled and bewildered as though he had wandered into a strange land, among strange people, of whose customs he was ignorant, and whose language he could neither speak nor understand. Who was this man who seemed on such familiar terms with the Infinite? Upon what did he base his assurance that the wealth of blessings he asked for himself and his people would be granted or even heard? Had he more than finite mind that he could know the Infinite?
The sermon that followed was largely a sermon about unknowable things. It was full of beautiful, helpful, thoughts about things that it was impossible for anyone to really know anything about. Very familiar were the things that the minister said that morning. Since his childhood, the man had heard them over and over many times; but he had never before thought of them in just that way.
The sermon was finished and the beautifully mysterious and impressive words of the benediction were spoken as the people stood with bowed heads, hushed and still. Again the deep tones of the organ trembled in the air as the crowd poured forth from the building into the street.
The man was thoughtful and troubled. He felt as one, who, meeting an old friend after many years, finds him changed beyond recognition. He was as one visiting, after years of absence, his old home to find the familiar landmarks all gone with the years. He was sadly conscious that something had gone out of his life—that something exceedingly precious had been taken away from him and that it could never be replaced.
Seriously, sadly, the man asked himself: must his belief in Religion go as his faith in fairies had gone? Was Religion, after all, but a beautiful game played by the grown up world, even as children play? And if, indeed, his faith must go because songs and prayers and sermons have to do so largely with unknowable things, what of the spirit of the world expressed in the day that is so set apart from all other days? Sunday is a fact knowable enough. And the atmosphere of the church is another fact as knowable as the atmosphere of a race track, a foundry, or a political convention. And the fruits of Religion in the lives of men—these are as clearly knowable as the fruits of drunkenness, or gambling, or licentiousness. The man was as sure of the fruits of Religion as he was sure that the sun was shining—that the day, so warm and bright, was unlike the cold, hard, stormy, days of winter. And still—and still—the songs and prayers and sermons about unknowable things—must his belief in Religion go as his faith in fairies had gone?
Unknowable things? Yes—as unknowable as that mysterious something that colors the trees and plants and flowers with tints of infinite shadings—as unknowable as that which puts the flavor in the peach, the strength in the corn, the perfume in the rose—as unknowable as the awful force that reveals itself in the lightning flash or speaks in the rolling thunder—as unknowable as the mysterious hand that holds the compass needle to the north and swings the star worlds far beyond the farthest reach of the boasting eye of Science. Unknowable? Yes—as unknowable as that which lies safe hidden behind the most commonplace facts of life—as unknowable indeed, as Life itself.
"Nature," said the man, in answer to himself, and smiled at the foolishness of his own answer. Is nature then so knowable? Are all her laws revealed; all her secrets known; all her ways understood; all her mysteries made clear? Do the wise men, after all, know more of nature than they do of God? Do they know more of earth than of heaven? Do they know more of a man's mind than they do of his soul? And yet—and yet—does one refuse to live because he cannot understand the mystery of life? Does one deny the earth because the secrets of Mature are unknowable? Does one refuse to think because thoughts are not material things—because no one has ever seen a thought to say from whence it came or whither it went?
Disbelief demands a knowledge as exact as that demanded by belief. To deny the unknowable is as impossible as to affirm it. If it be true that man knows too much to believe in miracles these days, it is just as true that he does not know enough to disbelieve in them. And, after all, there is no reason why anyone should believe in miracles; neither is there any reason why one should disbelieve in them.
Every altar is an altar to an unknown God. But man does not refuse to believe in bread because he cannot understand the mystery of the wheat field. One believes in a garden, not because he knows how, from the same soil, water, and air, Nature produces strawberries, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes, or lettuce, but because fresh vegetables are good. The hungry man neither believes nor disbelieves but sits down to the table and, if he be a right minded man, gives thanks to the God of gardens who, in ways so unknowable, gives such knowable gifts to man.
Nor was the man, at this time, able to distinguish clearly between Religion and the things that men have piled about and hung upon Religion. Therefore was he troubled about his waning belief and worried because of his growing doubt. He did not wish to doubt; he wished to believe.
In all these many years, through intellectual pride or selfish ambition, because of an earnest but mistaken purpose to make clear, or in a pious zeal to emphasize, men have been piling things about and hanging things upon Religion; and, always, they have insisted that this vast accumulation of things is Religion.
These things that men have hung upon Religion are no more a part of Religion than the ivy that grows upon the stone wall of a fortress is a part of the nation's defensive strength. These things that men have piled about Religion belong to it no more than a pile of trash dumped at the foot of a cliff belongs to the everlasting hills. But these traditions and customs of men, with their ever multiplying confusions of doctrines and creeds and sects, beautiful as they are, hide Religion even as the ivy hides the wall. Even as the accumulated trash of the ages piled at the foot of the cliff is of interest to the archaeologist and the seeker after curious junk, so these things that men have piled about Religion are of interest. But the observer, in admiration of the ivy, is in danger of ignoring the stern reality of the fortress. The curious digger in the pile of trash, if his interest be great, heeds not the grandeur of the cliff that towers above his head.
That afternoon the man went for a long walk. He wished to think out, if he could, the things that troubled him.
Without plan on his part, his walk led toward a quarter of the city where he had never been before and where he came at last to an old cemetery. The ancient iron gates, between their vine clad columns of stone, were invitingly open and within the enclosure were great trees that locked their green arms above the silent, grass grown, graves as though in sheltering kindness for the dead. Tempted by the beauty of the place the man entered, and, in the deep shade of the old trees, screened from the road by their mossy trunks, found a seat. Here and there, among the old graves under the trees, a few people moved slowly; pausing often to decipher the inscriptions upon the leaning and fallen tombstones. So old was that ancient burying place that there was left among the living no one to keep the flowers upon the graves and visitors came only from idle curiosity.
And it was so, that, as the man sat there under the quiet old trees, the graves with their leaning and fallen tombstones, or, perhaps, the day itself, led his mind back to those companion graves that marked the passing of his boyhood—back to father and mother and to their religion—back to the religion of his Yesterdays. And the week of toil and strife, of struggle and of storm, slipped far, far, away. The disturbing questions, the doubt and the uncertainty of the morning, raised as the fogs lift to leave the landscape clear.
It was such a little way from the boy's home to the church that, when the weather was fine, they always walked. And surely no day could have been finer than that Sunday to which the man went back. As the boy, all washed and combed and dressed in his Sunday best, sat on the big gate post waiting for his father and mother, it seemed to him that every living thing about the place knew what day it was. In the pasture across the road, the horses, leisurely cropping the new grass, paused often to lift their heads and look about with an air of kindly interest in things to which they would have given no heed at all had they been in week day harness. And one old gray, finding an inviting spot, lay down to roll—got up—and, because it felt so good, lay down again upon his other side; and then, as if regretting that he had no more sides to rub, stretched himself out with such a huge sigh of content that the boy on the gate post laughed; whereat the horse raised his head and looked at him as though to say: "Little boy, don't you know that it is Sunday?" Under the big elm, in the corner of the pasture, the cows stood, with half closed eyes, chewing their cuds with an air of pious meditation. The hens strolled sedately about singing solemnly: ca-w-w, ca-w-w, ca-w-w, and the old red rooster, standing on tiptoe, flapped his wings as if to crow then checked himself suddenly and looked around as if to say: "Bless me, I nearly forgot what day it is!" Then the clear, mellow, tones of the church bell floated across the little valley and the boy's parents came out of the house. The dog, stretched at full length on the porch, lifted his head but did not offer to follow. He, too, seemed to know, thought the boy as he climbed down from the post to walk soberly away with his parents.
Before they reached the lower end of the garden, the little girl with her mother and uncle came out of their house and, at the gate, waited for them while the little girl waved her hand in greeting. Then the two men and the two women walked on ahead and, as the boy and girl followed, the boy, looking shyly at his companion, saw the sunlight on her soft, brown, hair that was so prettily arranged with a blue ribbon—saw the merry eyes under the broad brim of her best hat—saw the flushed, softly rounded, cheek with the dimple, the curve of the red lips, and the dainty chin—saw her dress so clean and white and starched—saw and wondered if the angels in heaven could be more beautiful than this little girl.
So they went, that Sunday, down the hill, across the creek, and up the gentle slope beyond, until they came to the cross roads where the white church stood under the old elm and maple trees. Already there were many teams standing under the sheds or tied to the hitch racks along the side of the road. And by the roads that led away in four directions, through the fields and meadows and pastures of the farms, other country folk were coming from their homes and their labors to worship the God of seedtime and harvest.