I turned slowly around and looked for a light; I think I never wanted so much to see some sign of human habitation as I did at that moment.
What a coddled world we live in, truly. That being out after dark in a meadow should so disturb the very centre of our being! In all my life, indeed, and I suppose the same is true of ninety-nine out of a hundred of the people in America to-day, I had never before found myself where nothing stood between nature and me, where I had no place to sleep, no shelter for the night—nor any prospect of finding one. I was infinitely less resourceful at that moment than a rabbit, or a partridge, or a gray squirrel.
Presently I sat down on the ground where I had been standing, with a vague fear (absurd to look back upon) that it, too, in some manner might slip away from under me. And as I sat there I began to have familiar gnawings at the pit of my stomach, and I remembered that, save for a couple of Mrs. Clark's doughnuts eaten while I was sitting on the hillside, ages ago, I had had nothing since my early breakfast.
With this thought of my predicament—and the glimpse I had of myself "hungry and homeless"—the humour of the whole situation suddenly came over me, and, beginning with a chuckle, I wound up, as my mind dwelt upon my recent adventures, with a long, loud, hearty laugh.
As I laughed—and what a roar it made in that darkness!—I got up on my feet and looked up at the sky. One bright star shone out over the woods, and in high heavens I could see dimly the white path of the Milky Way. And all at once I seemed again to be in command of myself and of the world. I felt a sudden lift and thrill of the spirits, a warm sense that this too was part of the great adventure—the Thing Itself.
"This is the light," I said looking up again at the sky and the single bright star, "which is set for me to-night. I will make my bed by it."
I can hope to make no one understand (unless he understands already) with what joy of adventure I now crept through the meadow toward the wood. It was an unknown, unexplored world I was in, and I, the fortunate discoverer, had here to shift for himself, make his home under the stars! Marquette on the wild shores of the Mississippi, or Stanley in Africa, had no joy that I did not know at that moment.
I crept along the meadow and came at last to the wood. Here I chose a somewhat sheltered spot at the foot of a large tree—and yet a spot not so obscured that I could not look out over the open spaces of the meadow and see the sky. Here, groping in the darkness, like some primitive creature, I raked together a pile of leaves with my fingers, and found dead twigs and branches of trees; but in that moist forest (where the rain had fallen only the day before) my efforts to kindle a fire were unavailing. Upon this, I considered using some pages from my notebook, but another alternative suggested itself:
"Why not Montaigne?"
With that I groped for the familiar volume, and with a curious sensation of satisfaction I tore out a handful of pages from the back.
"Better Montaigne than Grayson," I said, with a chuckle. It was amazing how Montaigne sparkled and crackled when he was well lighted.
"There goes a bundle of quotations from Vergil," I said, "and there's his observations on the eating of fish. There are more uses than one for the classics."
So I ripped out a good part of another chapter, and thus, by coaxing, got my fire to going. It was not difficult after that to find enough fuel to make it blaze up warmly.
I opened my bag and took out the remnants of the luncheon which Mrs. Clark had given me that morning; and I was surprised and delighted to find, among the other things, a small bottle of coffee. This suggested all sorts of pleasing possibilities and, the spirit of invention being now awakened, I got out my tin cup, split a sapling stick so I could fit it into the handle, and set the cup, full of coffee, on the coals at the edge of the fire. It was soon heated, and although I spilled some of it in getting it off, and although it was well spiced with ashes, I enjoyed it, with Mrs. Clark's doughnuts and sandwiches (some of which I toasted with a sapling fork) as thoroughly, I think, as ever I enjoyed any meal.
How little we know—we who dread life—how much there is in life!
My activities around the fire had warmed me to the bone, and after I was well through with my meal I gathered a plentiful supply of wood and placed it near at hand, I got out my waterproof cape and put it on, and, finally piling more sticks on the fire, I sat down comfortably at the foot of the tree.
I wish I could convey the mystery and the beauty of that night. Did you ever sit by a campfire and watch the flames dance, and the sparks fly upward into the cool dark air? Did you ever see the fitful light among the tree-depths, at one moment opening vast shadowy vistas into the forest, at the next dying downward and leaving it all in sombre mystery? It came to me that night with the wonderful vividness of a fresh experience.
And what a friendly and companionable thing a campfire is! How generous and outright it is! It plays for you when you wish so be lively, and it glows for you when you wish to be reflective.
After a while, for I did not feel in the least sleepy, I stepped out of the woods to the edge of the pasture. All around me lay the dark and silent earth, and above the blue bowl of the sky, all glorious with the blaze of a million worlds. Sometimes I have been oppressed by this spectacle of utter space, of infinite distance, of forces too great for me to grasp or understand, but that night it came upon me with fresh wonder and power, and with a sense of great humility that I belonged here too, that I was a part of it all—and would not be neglected or forgotten. It seemed to me I never had a moment of greater faith than that.
And so, with a sense of satisfaction and peace, I returned to my fire. As I sat there I could hear the curious noises of the woods, the little droppings, cracklings, rustlings which seemed to make all the world alive. I even fancied I could see small bright eyes looking out at my fire, and once or twice I was almost sure I heard voices—whispering—, perhaps the voices of the woods.
Occasionally I added, with some amusement, a few dry pages of Montaigne to the fire, and watched the cheerful blaze that followed.
"No," said I, "Montaigne is not for the open spaces and the stars. Without a roof over his head Montaigne would—well, die of sneezing."
So I sat all night long there by the tree. Occasionally I dropped into a light sleep, and then, as my fire died down, I grew chilly and awakened, to build up the fire and doze again. I saw the first faint gray streaks of dawn above the trees, I saw the pink glow in the east before the sunrise, and I watched the sun himself rise upon a new day—
When I walked out into the meadow by daylight and looked about me curiously, I saw, not forty rods away, the back of a barn.
"Be you the fellow that was daown in my cowpasture all night?" asked the sturdy farmer.
"I'm that fellow," I said.
"Why didn't you come right up to the house?"
"Well—" I said, and then paused.
"Well..." said I.
CHAPTER VIII. THE HEDGE
Strange, strange, how small the big world is!
"Why didn't you come right into the house?" the sturdy farmer had asked me when I came out of the meadow where I had spent the night under the stars.
"Well," I said, turning the question as adroitly as I could, "I'll make it up by going into the house now."
So I went with him into his fine, comfortable house.
"This is my wife," said he.
A woman stood there facing me. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "Mr. Grayson!"
I recalled swiftly a child—a child she seemed then—with braids down her back, whom I had known when I first came to my farm. She had grown up, married, and had borne three children, while I had been looking the other way for a minute or two. She had not been in our neighborhood for several years.
"And how is your sister and Doctor McAlway?"
Well, we had quite a wonderful visit, she made breakfast for me, asking and talking eagerly as I ate.
"We've just had news that old Mr. Toombs is dead."
"Dead!" I exclaimed, dropping my fork; "old Nathan Toombs!"
"Yes, he was my uncle. Did you know him?"
"I knew Nathan Toombs," I said.
I spent two days there with the Ransomes, for they would not hear of my leaving, and half of our spare time, I think, was spent in discussing Nathan Toombs. I was not able to get him out of my mind for days, for his death was one of those events which prove so much and leave so much unproven.
I can recall vividly my astonishment at the first evidence I ever had of the strange old man or of his work. It was not very long after I came to my farm to live. I had taken to spending my spare evenings—the long evenings of summer—in exploring the country roads for miles around, getting acquainted with each farmstead, each bit of grove and meadow and marsh, making my best bow to each unfamiliar hill, and taking everywhere that toll of pleasure which comes of quiet discovery.
One evening, having walked farther than usual, I came quite suddenly around a turn in the road and saw stretching away before me an extraordinary sight.
I feel that I am conveying no adequate impression of what I beheld by giving it any such prim and decorous name as—a Hedge. It was a menagerie, a living, green menagerie! I had no sooner seen it than I began puzzling my brain as to whether one of the curious ornaments into which the upper part of the hedge had been clipped and trimmed was made to represent the head of a horse, or a camel, or an Egyptian sphinx.
The hedge was of arbor vitae and as high as a man's waist. At more or less regular intervals the trees in it had been allowed to grow much taller and had been wonderfully pruned into the similitude of towers, pinnacles, bells, and many other strange designs. Here and there the hedge held up a spindling umbrella of greenery, sometimes a double umbrella—a little one above the big one—and over the gateway at the centre; as a sort of final triumph, rose a grandiose arch of interlaced branches upon which the artist had outdone himself in marvels of ornamentation.
I shall never forget the sensation of delight I had over this discovery, or of how I walked, tiptoe, along the road in front, studying each of the marvellous adornments. How eagerly, too, I looked over at the house beyond—a rather bare, bleak house set on a slight knoll or elevation and guarded at one corner by a dark spruce tree. At some distance behind I saw a number of huge barns, a cattle yard and a silo—all the evidences of prosperity—with well-nurtured fields, now yellowing with the summer crops, spreading pleasantly away on every hand.
It was nearly dark before I left that bit of roadside, and I shall never forget the eerie impression I had as I turned back to take a final look at the hedge, the strange, grotesque aspect it presented there in the half light with the bare, lonely house rising from the knoll behind.
It was not until some weeks later that I met the owner of the wonderful hedge. By that time, however, having learned of my interest, I found the whole countryside alive with stories about it and about Old Nathan Toombs, its owner. It was as though I had struck the rock of refreshment in a weary land.
I remember distinctly how puzzled was by the stories I heard. The neighbourhood portrait—and ours is really a friendly neighbourhood—was by no means flattering. Old Toombs was apparently of that type of hard-shelled, grasping, self-reliant, old-fashioned farmer not unfamiliar to many country neighbourhoods. He had come of tough old American stock and he was a worker, a saver, and thus he had grown rich, the richest farmer in the whole neighbourhood. He was a regular individualistic American.
"A dour man," said the Scotch Preacher, "but just—you must admit that he is just."
There was no man living about whom the Scotch Preacher could not find something good to say.
"Yes, just," replied Horace, "but hard—hard, and as mean as pusley."
This portrait was true enough in itself, for I knew just the sort of an aggressive, undoubtedly irritable old fellow it pictured, but somehow, try as I would, I could not see any such old fellow wasting his moneyed hours clipping bells, umbrellas, and camel's heads on his ornamental greenery. It left just that incongruity which is at once the lure, the humour, and the perplexity of human life. Instead of satisfying my curiosity I was more anxious than ever to see Old Toombs with my own eyes.
But the weeks passed and somehow I did not meet him. He was a lonely, unneighbourly old fellow. He had apparently come to fit into the community without ever really becoming a part of it. His neighbours accepted him as they accepted a hard hill in the town road. From time to time he would foreclose a mortgage where he had loaned money to some less thrifty farmer, or he would extend his acres by purchase, hard cash down, or he would build a bigger barn. When any of these things happened the community would crowd over a little, as it were, to give him more room. It is a curious thing, and tragic, too, when you come to think of it, how the world lets alone those people who appear to want to be let alone. "I can live to myself," says the unneighbourly one. "Well, live to yourself, then," cheerfully responds the world, and it goes about its more or less amusing affairs and lets the unneighbourly one cut himself off.
So our small community had let Old Toombs go his way with all his money, his acres, his hedge, and his reputation for being a just man.
Not meeting him, therefore, in the familiar and friendly life of the neighbourhood, I took to walking out toward his farm, looking freshly at the wonderful hedge and musing upon that most fascinating of all subjects—how men come to be what they are. And at last I was rewarded.
One day I had scarcely reached the end of the hedge when I saw Old Toombs himself, moving toward me down the country road. Though I had never seen him before, I was at no loss to identify him. The first and vital impression he gave me, if I can compress it into a single word, was, I think, force—force. He came stubbing down the country road with a brown hickory stick in his hand which at every step he set vigorously into the soft earth. Though not tall, he gave the impression of being enormously strong. He was thick, solid, firm—thick through the body, thick through the thighs; and his shoulders—what shoulders they were!—round like a maple log; and his great head with its thatching of coarse iron-gray hair, though thrust slightly forward, seemed set immovably upon them.
He presented such a forbidding appearance that I was of two minds about addressing him. Dour he was indeed! Nor shall I ever forget how he looked when I spoke to him. He stopped short there in the road. On his big square nose he wore a pair of curious spring-bowed glasses with black rims. For a moment he looked at me through these glasses, raising his chin a little, and then, deliberately wrinkling his nose, they fell off and dangled at the length of the faded cord by which they were hung. There was something almost uncanny about this peculiar habit of his and of the way in which, afterward, he looked at me from under his bushy gray brows. This was in truth the very man of the neighbourhood portrait.
"I am a new settler here," I said, "and I've been interested in looking at your wonderful hedge."
The old man's eyes rested upon me a moment with a mingled look of suspicion and hostility.
"So you've heard o' me," he said in a high-pitched voice, "and you've heard o' my hedge."
Again he paused and looked me over. "Well," he said, with an indescribably harsh, cackling laugh, "I warrant you've heard nothing good o' me down there. I'm a skinflint, ain't I? I'm a hard citizen, ain't I? I grind the faces o' the poor, don't I?"
At first his words were marked by a sort of bitter humour, but as he continued to speak his voice rose higher and higher until it was positively menacing.
There were just two things I could do—haul down the flag and retreat ingloriously, or face the music. With a sudden sense of rising spirits—for such things do not often happen to a man in a quiet country road—I paused a moment, looking him square in the eye.
"Yes," I said, with great deliberation, "you've given me just about the neighborhood picture of yourself as I have had it. They do say you are a skinflint, yes, and a hard man. They say that you are rich and friendless; they say that while you are a just man, you do not know mercy. These are terrible things to say of any man if they are true."
I paused. The old man looked for a moment as though he were going to strike me with his stick, but he neither stirred nor spoke. It was evidently a wholly new experience for him.
"Yes," I said, "you are not popular in this community, but what do you suppose I care about that? I'm interested in your hedge. What I'm curious to know—and I might as well tell you frankly—is how such a man as you are reputed to be could grow such an extraordinary hedge. You must have been at it a very long time."
I was surprised at the effect of my words. The old man turned partly aside and looked for a moment along the proud and flaunting embattlements of the green marvel before us. Then he said in a moderate voice:
"It's a putty good hedge, a putty good hedge."
"I've got him," I thought exultantly, "I've got him!"
"How long ago did you start it?" I pursued my advantage eagerly.
"Thirty-two years come spring," said he.
"Thirty-two years!" I repeated; "you've been at it a long time."
With that I plied him with questions in the liveliest manner, and in five minutes I had the gruff old fellow stumping along at my side and pointing out the various notable-features of his wonderful creation. His suppressed excitement was quite wonderful to see. He would point his hickory stick with a poking motion, and, when he looked up, instead of throwing back his big, rough head, he bent at the hips, thus imparting an impression of astonishing solidity.
"It took me all o' ten years to get that bell right," he said, and, "Take a look at that arch: now what is your opinion o' that?"
Once, in the midst of our conversation, he checked himself abruptly and looked around at me with a sudden dark expression of suspicion. I saw exactly what lay in his mind, but I continued my questioning as though I perceived no change in him. It was only momentary, however, and he was soon as much interested as before. He talked as though he had not had such an opportunity before in years—and I doubt whether he had. It was plain to see that if any one ever loved anything in this world, Old Toombs loved that hedge of his. Think of it, indeed! He had lived with it, nurtured it, clipped it, groomed it—for thirty-two years.
So we walked down the sloping field within the hedge, and it seemed as though one of the deep mysteries of human nature was opening there before me. What strange things men set their hearts upon!
Thus, presently, we came nearly to the farther end of the hedge. Here the old man stopped and turned around, facing me.
"Do you see that valley?" he asked. "Do you see that slopin' valley up through the meadow?"
His voice rose suddenly to a sort of high-pitched violence.
"That' passel o' hounds up there," he said, "want to build a road down my valley."
He drew his breath fiercely.
"They want to build a road through my land. They want to ruin my farm—they want to cut down my hedge. I'll fight 'em. I'll fight 'em. I'll show 'em yet!"
It was appalling. His face grew purple, his eyes narrowed to pin points and grew red and angry—like the eyes of an infuriated boar. His hands shook. Suddenly he turned upon me, poising his stick in his hand, and said violently.
"And who are you? Who are you? Are you one of these surveyor fellows?"
"My name," I answered as quietly as I could, "is Grayson. I live on the old Mather farm. I am not in the least interested in any of your road troubles."
He looked at me a moment more, and then seemed to shake himself or shudder, his eyes dropped away and he began walking toward his house. He had taken only a few steps, however, before he turned, and, without looking at me, asked if I would like to see the tools he used for trimming his hedge. When I hesitated, for I was decidedly uncomfortable, he came up to me and laid his hand awkwardly on my arm.
"You'll see something, I warrant, you never see before."
It was so evident that he regretted his outbreak that I followed him, and he showed me an odd double ladder set on low wheels which he said he used in trimming the higher parts of his hedge.
"It's my own invention," he said with pride.
"And that"—he pointed as we came out of the tool shed—"is my house—a good house. I planned it all myself. I never needed to take lessons of any carpenter I ever see. And there's my barns. What do you think o' my barns? Ever see any bigger ones? They ain't any bigger in this country than Old Toombs's barns. They don't like Old Toombs, but they ain't any of one of 'em can ekal his barns!"
He followed me down to the roadside now quite loquacious. Even after I had thanked him and started to go he called after me.
When I stopped he came forward hesitatingly—and I had the impressions, suddenly, and for the first time that he was an old man. It may have been the result of his sudden fierce explosion of anger, but his hand shook, his face was pale, and he seemed somehow broken.
"You—you like my hedge?" he asked.
"It is certainly wonderful hedge," I said. "I never have seen anything like it?"
"The' AIN'T nothing like it," he responded, quickly. "The' ain't nothing like it anywhere."
In the twilight as I passed onward I saw the lonely figure of the old man moving with his hickory stick up the pathway to his lonely house. The poor rich old man!
"He thinks he can live wholly to himself," I said aloud.
I thought, as I tramped homeward, of our friendly and kindly community, of how we often come together of an evening with skylarking and laughter, of how we weep with one another, of how we join in making better roads and better schools, and building up the Scotch Preacher's friendly little church. And in all these things Old Toombs has never had a part. He is not even missed.
As a matter of fact, I reflected, and this is a strange, deep thing, no man is in reality more dependent upon the community which he despises and holds at arm's length than this same Old Nathan Toombs. Everything he has, everything he does, gives evidence of it. And I don't mean this in any mere material sense, though of course his wealth and his farm would mean no more than the stones in his hills to him if he did not have us here around him. Without our work, our buying, our selling, our governing, his dollars would be dust. But we are still more necessary to him in other ways: the unfriendly man is usually the one who demands most from his neighbours. Thus, if he have not people's love or confidence, then he will smite them until they fear him, or admire him, or hate him. Oh, no man, however may try, can hold himself aloof!
I came home deeply stirred from my visit with Old Toombs and lost no time in making further inquiries. I learned, speedily, that there was indeed something in the old man's dread of a road being built through his farm. The case was already in the courts. His farm was a very old one and extensive, and of recent years a large settlement of small farmers had been developing the rougher lands in the upper part of the townships called the Swan Hill district. Their only way to reach the railroad was by a rocky, winding road among the 'hills,' while their outlet was down a gently sloping valley through Old Toombs's farm. They were now so numerous and politically important that they had stirred up the town authorities. A proposition had been made to Old Toombs for a right-of-way; they argued with him that it was a good thing for the whole country, that it would enhance the values of his own upper lands, and that they would pay him far more for a right-of-way than the land was actually worth, but he had spurned them—I can imagine with what vehemence.
"Let 'em drive round," he said. "Didn't they know what they'd have to do when they settled up there? What a passel o' curs! They can keep off o' my land, or I'll have the law on 'em."
And thus the matter came to the courts with the town attempting to condemn the land for a road through Old Toombs's farm.
"What can we do?" asked the Scotch Preacher, who was deeply distressed by the bitterness of feeling displayed. "There is no getting to the man. He will listen to no one."
At one time I thought of going over and talking with Old Toombs myself, for it seemed that I had been able to get nearer to him than any one had in a long time. But I dreaded it. I kept dallying—for what, indeed, could I have said to him? If he had been suspicious of me before, how much more hostile he might be when I expressed an interest in his difficulties. As to reaching the Swan Hill settlers, they were now aroused to an implacable state of bitterness; and they had the people of the whole community with them, for no one liked Old Toombs.
Thus while I hesitated time passed and my next meeting with Old Toombs, instead of being premeditated, came about quite unexpectedly. I was walking in the town road late one afternoon when I heard a wagon rattling behind me, and then, quite suddenly, a shouted, "Whoa."
Looking around, I saw Old Toombs, his great solid figure mounted high on the wagon seat, the reins held fast in the fingers of one hand. I was struck by the strange expression in his face—a sort of grim exaltation. As I stepped aside he burst out in a loud, shrill, cackling laugh:
I was too astonished to speak at once. Ordinarily when I meet any one in the town road it is in my heart to cry out to him,
"Good morning, friend," or, "How are you, brother?" but I had no such prompting that day.
"Git in, Grayson," he said; "git in, git in."
I climbed up beside him, and he slapped me on the knee with another burst of shrill laughter.
"They thought they had the old man," he said, starting up his horses. "They thought there weren't no law left in Israel. I showed 'em."
I cannot convey the bitter triumphancy of his voice.
"You mean the road case?" I asked.
"Road case!" he exploded, "they wan't no road case; they didn't have no road case. I beat 'em. I says to 'em, 'What right hev any o' you on my property? Go round with you,' I says. Oh, I beat 'em. If they'd had their way, they'd 'a' cut through my hedge—the hounds!"
When he set me down at my door, I had said hardly a word. There seemed nothing that could be said. I remember I stood for some time watching the old man as he rode away, his wagon jolting in the country road, his stout figure perched firmly in the seat. I went in with a sense of heaviness at the heart.
"Harriet," I said, "there are some things in this world beyond human remedy."
Two evenings later I was surprised to see the Scotch Preacher drive up to my gate and hastily tie his horse.
"David," said he, "there's bad business afoot. A lot of the young fellows in Swan Hill are planning a raid on Old Toombs's hedge. They are coming down to-night."
I got my hat and jumped in with him. We drove up the hilly road and out around Old Toombs's farm and thus came, near to the settlement. I had no conception of the bitterness that the lawsuit had engendered.
"Where once you start men hating one another," said the Scotch Preacher, "there's utterly no end of it."
I have seen our Scotch Preacher in many difficult places, but never have I seen him rise to greater heights than he did that night. It is not in his preaching that Doctor McAlway excels, but what a power he is among men! He was like some stern old giant, standing there and holding up the portals of civilization. I saw men melt under his words like wax; I saw wild young fellows subdued into quietude; I saw unwise old men set to thinking.
"Man, man," he'd say, lapsing in his earnestness into the broad Scotch accent of his youth, "you canna' mean plunder, and destruction, and riot! You canna! Not in this neighbourhood!"
"What about Old Toombs?" shouted one of the boys.
I never shall forget how Doctor McAlway drew himself up nor the majesty that looked from his eye.
"Old Toombs!" he said in a voice that thrilled one to the bone, "Old Toombs! Have you no faith, that you stand in the place of Almighty God and measure punishments?"
Before we left it was past midnight and we drove home, almost silent, in the darkness.
"Doctor McAlway," I said, "if Old Toombs could know the history of this night it might change his point of view."
"I doot it," said the Scotch Preacher. "I doot it."
The night passed serenely; the morning saw Old Toombs's hedge standing as gorgeous as ever. The community had again stepped aside and let Old Toombs have his way: they had let him alone, with all his great barns, his wide acres and his wonderful hedge. He probably never even knew what had threatened him that night, nor how the forces of religion, of social order, of neighbourliness in the community which he despised had, after all, held him safe. There is a supreme faith among common people—it is, indeed, the very taproot of democracy—that although the unfriendly one may persist long in his power and arrogance, there is a moving Force which commands events.
I suppose if I were writing a mere story I should tell how Old Toombs was miraculously softened at the age of sixty-eight years, and came into new relationships with his neighbours, or else I should relate how the mills of God, grinding slowly, had crushed the recalcitrant human atom into dust.
Either of these results conceivably might have happened—all things are possible—and being ingeniously related would somehow have answered a need in the human soul that the logic of events be constantly and conclusively demonstrated in the lives of individual men and women.
But as a matter of fact, neither of these things did happen in this quiet community of ours. There exists, assuredly, a logic of events, oh, a terrible, irresistible logic of events, but it is careless of the span of any one man's life. We would like to have each man enjoy the sweets of his own virtues and suffer the lash of his own misdeeds—but it rarely so happens in life. No, it is the community which lives or dies, is regenerated or marred by the deeds of men.
So Old Toombs continued to live. So he continued to buy more land, raise more cattle, collect more interest, and the wonderful hedge continued to flaunt its marvels still more notably upon the country road. To what end? Who knows? Who knows?
I saw him afterward from time to time, tried to maintain some sort of friendly relations with him; but it seemed as the years passed that he grew ever lonelier and more bitter, and not only more friendless, but seemingly more incapable of friendliness. In times past I have seen what men call tragedies—I saw once a perfect young man die in his strength—but it seems to me I never knew anything more tragic than the life and death of Old Toombs. If it cannot be said of a man when he dies that either his nation, his state, his neighborhood, his family, or at least his wife or child, is better for his having lived, what CAN be said for him?
Old Toombs is dead. Like Jehoram, King of Judah, of whom it is terribly said in the Book of Chronicles, "he departed without being desired."
Of this story of Nathan Toombs we talked much and long there in the Ransome home. I was with them, as I said, about two days—kept inside most of the time by a driving spring rain which filled the valley with a pale gray mist and turned all the country roads into running streams. One morning, the weather having cleared, I swung my bag to my shoulder, and with much warmth of parting I set my face again to the free road and the open country.
CHAPTER IX. THE MAN POSSESSED
I suppose I was predestined (and likewise foreordained) to reach the city sooner or later. My fate in that respect was settled for me when I placed my trust in the vagrant road. I thought for a time that I was more than a match for the Road, but I soon learned that the Road was more than a match for me. Sly? There's no name for it. Alluring, lovable, mysterious—as the heart of a woman. Many a time I followed the Road where it led through innocent meadows or climbed leisurely hill slopes only to find that it had crept around slyly and led me before I knew it into the back door of some busy town.
Mostly in this country the towns squat low in the valleys, they lie in wait by the rivers, and often I scarcely know of their presence until I am so close upon them that I can smell the breath of their heated nostrils and hear their low growlings and grumblings.
My fear of these lesser towns has never been profound. I have even been bold enough, when I came across one of them, to hasten straight through as though assured that Cerberus was securely chained; but I found, after a time, what I might indeed have guessed, that the Road, also led irresistibly to the lair of the Old Monster himself, the He-one of the species, where he lies upon the plain, lolling under his soiled gray blanket of smoke.
It is wonderful to be safe at home again, to watch the tender, reddish brown shoots of the Virginia creeper reaching in at my study window, to see the green of my own quiet fields, to hear the peaceful clucking of the hens in the sunny dooryard—and Harriet humming at her work in the kitchen.
When I left the Ransomes that fine spring morning, I had not the slightest presentiment of what the world held in store for me. After being a prisoner of the weather for so long, I took to the Road with fresh joy. All the fields were of a misty greenness and there were pools still shining in the road, but the air was deliciously clear, clean, and soft. I came through the hill country for three or four miles, even running down some of the steeper places for the very joy the motion gave me, the feel of the air on my face.
Thus I came finally to the Great Road, and stood for a moment looking first this way, then that.
"Where now?" I asked aloud.
With an amusing sense of the possibilities that lay open before me, I closed my eyes, turned slowly around several times and then stopped. When I opened my eyes I was facing nearly southward: and that way I set out, not knowing in the least what Fortune had presided at that turning. If I had gone the other way—
I walked vigorously for two or three hours, meeting or passing many people upon the busy road. Automobiles there were in plenty, and loaded wagons, and jolly families off for town, and a herdsman driving sheep, and small boys on their way to school with their dinner pails, and a gypsy wagon with lean, led horses following behind, and even a Jewish peddler with a crinkly black beard, whom I was on the very point of stopping.
"I should like sometime to know a Jew," I said to myself.
As I travelled, feeling like one who possesses hidden riches, I came quite without warning upon the beginning of my great adventure. I had been looking for a certain thing all the morning, first on one side of the road, then the other, and finally I was rewarded. There it was, nailed high upon tree, the curious, familiar sign:
[ REST ]
I stopped instantly. It seemed like an old friend.
"Well," said I. "I'm not at all tired, but I want to be agreeable."
With that I sat down on a convenient stone, took off my hat, wiped my forehead, and looked about me with satisfaction, for it was a pleasant country.
I had not been sitting there above two minutes when my eyes fell upon one of the oddest specimens of humanity (I thought then) that ever I saw. He had been standing near the roadside, just under the tree upon which I had seen the sign, "Rest." My heart dotted and carried one.
"The sign man himself!" I exclaimed.
I arose instantly and walked down the road toward him.
"A man has only to stop anywhere here," I said exultantly, "and things happen."
The stranger's appearance was indeed extraordinary. He seemed at first glimpse to be about twice as large around the hips as he was at the shoulders, but this I soon discovered to be due to no natural avoir-dupois but to the prodigious number of soiled newspapers and magazines with which the low-hanging pockets of his overcoat were stuffed. For he was still wearing an old shabby overcoat though the weather was warm and bright—and on his head was an odd and outlandish hat. It was of fur, flat at the top, flat as a pie tin, with the moth-eaten earlaps turned up at the sides and looking exactly like small furry ears. These, with the round steel spectacles which he wore—the only distinctive feature of his countenance—gave him an indescribably droll appearance.
"A fox!" I thought.
Then I looked at him more closely.
"No," said I, "an owl, an owl!"
The stranger stepped out into the road and evidently awaited my approach. My first vivid impression of his face—I remember it afterward shining with a strange inward illumination—was not favourable. It was a deep-lined, scarred, worn-looking face, insignificant if not indeed ugly in its features, and yet, even at the first glance, revealing something inexplainable—incalculable—
"Good day, friend," I said heartily.
Without replying to my greeting, he asked:
"Is this the road to Kilburn?"—with a faint flavour of foreignness in his words.
"I think it is," I replied, and I noticed as he lifted his hand to thank me that one finger was missing and that the hand itself was cruelly twisted and scarred.
The stranger instantly set off up the Road without giving me much more attention than he would have given any other signpost. I stood a moment looking after him—the wings of his overcoat beating about his legs and the small furry ears on his cap wagging gently.
"There," said I aloud, "is a man who is actually going somewhere."
So many men in this world are going nowhere in particular that when one comes along—even though he be amusing and insignificant—who is really (and passionately) going somewhere, what a stir he communicates to a dull world! We catch sparks of electricity from the very friction of his passage.
It was so with this odd stranger. Though at one moment I could not help smiling at him, at the next I was following him.
"It may be," said I to myself, "that this is really the sign man!"
I felt like Captain Kidd under full sail to capture a treasure ship; and as I approached I was much agitated as to the best method of grappling and boarding. I finally decided, being a lover of bold methods, to let go my largest gun first—for moral effect.
"So," said I, as I ran alongside, "you are the man who puts up the signs."
He stopped and looked at me.
"Why the sign 'Rest' along this road."
He paused for some seconds with a perplexed expression on his face.
"Then you are not the sign man?" I said.
"No," he replied, "I ain't any sign man."
I was not a little disappointed, but having made my attack, I determined to see if there was any treasure aboard—which, I suppose, should be the procedure of any well-regulated pirate.
"I'm going this way myself," I said, "and if you have no objections—"
He stood looking at me curiously, indeed suspiciously, through his round spectacles.
"Have you got the passport?" he asked finally.
"The passport!" I exclaimed, mystified in my turn.
"Yes," said he, "the passport. Let me see your hand."
When I held out my hand he looked at it closely for a moment, and then took it with a quick warm pressure in one of his, and gave it a little shake, in a way not quite American.
"You are one of us," said he, "you work."
I thought at first that it was a bit of pleasantry, and I was about to return it in kind when I saw plainly in his face a look of solemn intent.
"So," he said, "we shall travel like comrades."
He thrust his scarred hand through my arm, and we walked up the road side by side, his bulging pockets beating first against his legs and then against mine, quite impartially.
"I think," said the stranger, "that we shall be arrested at Kilburn."
"We shall!" I exclaimed with something, I admit, of a shock.
"Yes," he said, "but it is all in the day's work."
"How is that?"
He stopped in the road and faced me. Throwing back his overcoat he pointed to a small red button on his coat lapel.
"They don't want me in Kilburn," said he, "the mill men are strikin' there, and the bosses have got armed men on every corner. Oh, the capitalists are watchin' for me, all right."
I cannot convey the strange excitement I felt. It seemed as though these words suddenly opened a whole new world around me—a world I had heard about for years, but never entered. And the tone in which he had used the word "capitalist!" I had almost to glance around to make sure that there were no ravening capitalists hiding behind the trees.
"So you are a Socialist," I said.
"Yes," he answered. "I'm one of those dangerous persons."
First and last I have read much of Socialism, and thought about it, too, from the quiet angle of my farm among the hills, but this was the first time I had ever had a live Socialist on my arm. I could not have been more surprised if the stranger had said, "Yes, I am Theodore Roosevelt."
One of the discoveries we keep making all our life long (provided we remain humble) is the humorous discovery of the ordinariness of the extraordinary. Here was this disrupter of society, this man of the red flag—here he was with his mild spectacled eyes and his furry ears wagging as he walked. It was unbelievable!—and the sun shining on him quite as impartially as it shone on me.
Coming at last to a pleasant bit of woodland, where a stream ran under the roadway, I said:
"Stranger, let's sit down and have a bite of luncheon."
He began to expostulate, said he was expected in Kilburn.
"Oh, I've plenty for two," I said, "and I can say, at least, that I am a firm believer in cooperation."
Without more urging he followed me into the woods, where we sat down comfortably under a tree.
Now, when I take a fine thick sandwich out of my bag, I always feel like making it a polite bow, and before I bite into a big brown doughnut, I am tempted to say, "By your leave, madam," and as for MINCE PIE——-Beau Brummel himself could not outdo me in respectful consideration. But Bill Hahn neither saw, nor smelled, nor, I think, tasted Mrs. Ransome's cookery. As soon as we sat down he began talking. From time to time he would reach out for another sandwich or doughnut or pickle (without knowing in the least which he was getting), and when that was gone some reflex impulse caused him to reach out for some more. When the last crumb of our lunch had disappeared Bill Hahn still reached out. His hand groped absently about, and coming in contact with no more doughnuts or pickles he withdrew it—and did not know, I think, that the meal was finished. (Confidentially, I have speculated on what might have happened if the supply had been unlimited!)
But that was Bill Hahn. Once started on his talk, he never thought of food or clothing or shelter; but his eyes glowed, his face lighted up with a strange effulgence, and he quite lost himself upon the tide of his own oratory. I saw him afterward by a flare-light at the centre of a great crowd of men and women—but that is getting ahead of my story.
His talk bristled with such words as "capitalism," "proletariat," "class-consciousness"—and he spoke with fluency of "economic determinism" and "syndicalism." It was quite wonderful! And from time to time, he would bring in a smashing quotation from Aristotle, Napoleon, Karl Marx, or Eugene V. Debs, giving them all equal value, and he cited statistics!—oh, marvellous statistics, that never were on sea or land.
Once he was so swept away by his own eloquence that he sprang to his feet and, raising one hand high above his head (quite unconscious that he was holding up a dill pickle), he worked through one of his most thrilling periods.
Yes, I laughed, and yet there was so brave a simplicity about this odd, absurd little man that what I laughed at was only his outward appearance (and that he himself had no care for), and all the time I felt a growing respect and admiration for him. He was not only sincere, but he was genuinely simple—a much higher virtue, as Fenelon says. For while sincere people do not aim at appearing anything but what they are, they are always in fear of passing for something they are not. They are forever thinking about themselves, weighing all their words and thoughts and dwelling upon what they have done, in the fear of having done too much or too little, whereas simplicity, as Fenelon says, is an uprightness of soul which has ceased wholly to dwell upon itself or its actions. Thus there are plenty of sincere folk in the world but few who are simple.
Well, the longer he talked, the less interested I was in what he said and the more fascinated I became in what he was. I felt a wistful interest in him: and I wanted to know what way he took to purge himself of himself. I think if I had been in that group nineteen hundred years ago, which surrounded the beggar who was born blind, but whose anointed eyes now looked out upon glories of the world, I should have been among the questioners:
"What did he to thee? How opened he thine eyes?"
I tried ineffectually several times to break the swift current of his oratory and finally succeeded (when he paused a moment to finish off a bit of pie crust).
"You must have seen some hard experiences in your life," I said.
"That I have," responded Bill Hahn, "the capitalistic system—"
"Did you ever work in the mills yourself?" I interrupted hastily.
"Boy and man," said Bill Hahn, "I worked in that hell for thirty-two years—The class-conscious proletariat have only to exert themselves—"
"And your wife, did she work too—and your sons and daughters?"
A spasm of pain crossed his face.
"My daughter?" he said. "They killed her in the mills."
It was appalling—the dead level of the tone in which he uttered those words—the monotone of an emotion long ago burned out, and yet leaving frightful scars.
"My friend!" I exclaimed, and I could not help laying my hand on his arm.
I had the feeling I often have with troubled children—an indescribable pity that they have had to pass through the valley of the shadow, and I not there to take them by the hand.
"And was this—your daughter—what brought you to your present belief?"
"No," said he, "oh, no. I was a Socialist, as you might say, from youth up. That is, I called myself a Socialist, but, comrade, I've learned this here truth: that it ain't of so much importance that you possess a belief, as that the belief possess you. Do you understand?"
"I think," said I, "that I understand."
Well, he told me his story, mostly in a curious, dull, detached way—as though he were speaking of some third person in whom he felt only a brotherly interest, but from time to time some incident or observation would flame up out of the narrative, like the opening of the door of a molten pit—so that the glare hurt one!—and then the story would die back again into quiet narrative.
Like most working people he had never lived in the twentieth century at all. He was still in the feudal age, and his whole life had been a blind and ceaseless struggle for the bare necessaries of life, broken from time to time by fierce irregular wars called strikes. He had never known anything of a real self-governing commonwealth, and such progress as he and his kind had made was never the result of their citizenship, of their powers as voters, but grew out of the explosive and ragged upheavals, of their own half-organized societies and unions.
It was against the "black people" he said, that he was first on strike back in the early nineties. He told me all about it, how he had been working in the mills pretty comfortably—he was young and strong then; with a fine growing family and a small home of his own.
"It was as pretty a place as you would want to see," he said; "we grew cabbages and onions and turnips—everything grew fine!—in the garden behind the house."
And then the "black people" began to come in, little by little at first, and then by the carload. By the "black people" he meant the people from Southern Europe, he called them "hordes"—"hordes and hordes of 'em"—Italians mostly, and they began getting into the mills and underbidding for the jobs, so that wages slowly went down and at the same time the machines were speeded up. It seems that many of these "black people" were single men or vigorous young married people with only themselves to support, while the old American workers were men with families and little homes to pay for, and plenty of old grandfathers and mothers, to say nothing of babies, depending upon them.
"There wasn't a living for a decent family left," he said.
So they struck—and he told me in his dull monotone of the long bitterness of that strike, the empty cupboards, the approach of winter with no coal for the stoves and no warm clothing for the children. He told me that many of the old workers began to leave the town (some bound for the larger cities, some for the Far West).
"But," said he with a sudden outburst of emotion, "I couldn't leave. I had the woman and the children!"
And presently the strike collapsed, and the workers rushed helter skelter back to the mills to get their old jobs. "Begging like whipped dogs," he said bitterly.
Many of them found their places taken by the eager "black people," and many had to go to work at lower wages in poorer places—punished for the fight they had made.
But he got along somehow, he said—"the woman was a good manager"—until one day he had the misfortune to get his hand caught in the machinery. It was a place which should have been protected with guards, but was not. He was laid up for several weeks, and the company, claiming that the accident was due to his own stupidity and carelessness, refused even to pay his wages while he was idle. Well, the family had to live somehow, and the woman and the daughter—"she was a little thing," he said, "and frail"—the woman and the daughter went into the mill. But even with this new source of income they began to fall behind. Money which should have gone toward making the last payments on their home (already long delayed by the strike) had now to go to the doctor and the grocer.
"We had to live," said Bill Hahn.
Again and again he used this same phrase, "We had to live!" as a sort of bedrock explanation for all the woes of life.
After a time, with one finger gone and a frightfully scarred hand—he held it up for me to see—he went back into the mill.
"But it kept getting worse and worse," said he, "and finally I couldn't stand it any longer."
He and a group of friends got together secretly and tried to organize a union, tried to get the workmen together to improve their own condition; but in some way ("they had spies everywhere," he said) the manager learned of the attempt and one morning when he reported at the mill he was handed a slip asking him to call for his wages, that his help was no longer required.
"I'd been with that one company for twenty years and four months," he said bitterly, "I'd helped in my small way to build it up, make it a big concern payin' 28 per cent. dividends every year; I'd given part of my right hand in doin' it—and they threw me out like an old shoe."
He said he would have pulled up and gone away, but he still had the little home and the garden, and his wife and daughter were still at work, so he hung on grimly, trying to get some other job. "But what good is a man for any other sort of work," he said, "when he has been trained to the mills for thirty-two years!"
It was not very long after that when the "great strike" began—indeed, it grew out of the organization which he had tried to launched—and Bill Hahn threw himself into it with all his strength. He was one of the leaders. I shall not attempt to repeat here his description of the bitter struggle, the coming of the soldiery, the street riots, the long lists of arrests ("some," said he, "got into jail on purpose, so that they could at least have enough to eat!"), the late meetings of strikers, the wild turmoil and excitement.
Of all this he told me, and then he stopped suddenly, and after a long pause he said in a low voice:
"Comrade, did ye ever see your wife and your sickly daughter and your kids sufferin' for bread to eat?"
He paused again with a hard, dry sob in his voice.
"Did ye ever see that?"
"No," said I, very humbly, "I have never seen anything like that."
He turned on me suddenly, and I shall never forget the look on his face, nor the blaze in his eyes:
"Then what can you know about working-men?"
What could I answer?
A moment passed and then he said, as if a little remorseful at having turned thus on me:
"Comrade, I tell you, the iron entered my soul—them days."
It seems that the leaders of the strike were mostly old employees like Bill Hahn, and the company had conceived the idea that if these men could be eliminated the organization would collapse, and the strikers be forced back to work. One day Bill Hahn found that proceedings had been started to turn him out of his home, upon which he had not been able to keep up his payments, and at the same time the merchant, of whom he had been a respected customer for years, refused to give him any further credit.
"But we lived somehow," he said, "we lived and we fought."
It was then that he began to see clearly what it all meant. He said he made a great discovery: that the "black people" against whom they had struck in 1894 were not to blame!
"I tell you," said he, "we found when we got started that them black people—we used to call 'em dagoes—were just workin' people like us—and in hell with us. They were good soldiers, them Eyetalians and Poles and Syrians, they fought with us to the end."
I shall not soon forget the intensely dramatic but perfectly simple way in which he told me how he came, as he said, "to see the true light." Holding up his maimed right hand (that trembled a little), he pointed one finger upward.
"I seen the big hand in the sky," he said, "I seen it as clear as daylight."
He said he saw at last what Socialism meant. One day he went home from a strikers' meeting—one of the last, for the men were worn out with their long struggle. It was a bitter cold day, and he was completely discouraged. When he reached his own street he saw a pile of household goods on the sidewalk in front of his home. He saw his wife there wringing her hands and crying. He said he could not take a step further, but sat down on a neighbour's porch and looked and looked. "It was curious," he said, "but the only thing I could see or think about was our old family clock which they had stuck on top of the pile, half tipped over. It looked odd and I wanted to set it up straight. It was the clock we bought when we were married, and we'd had it about twenty years on the mantel in the livin'-room. It was a good clock," he said.
He paused and then smiled a little.
"I never have figured it out why I should have been able to think of nothing but that clock," he said, "but so it was."
When he got home, he found his frail daughter just coming out of the empty house, "coughing as though she was dyin'." Something, he said, seemed to stop inside him. Those were his words: "Something seemed to stop inside 'o me."
He turned away without saying a word, walked back to strike headquarters, borrowed a revolver from a friend, and started out along the main road which led into the better part of the town.
"Did you ever hear o' Robert Winter?" he asked.
"No," said I.
"Well, Robert Winter was the biggest gun of 'em all. He owned the mills there and the largest store and the newspaper—he pretty nearly owned the town."
He told me much more about Robert Winter which betrayed still a curious sort of feudal admiration for him, and for his great place and power; but I need not dwell on it here. He told me how he climbed through a hemlock hedge (for the stone gateway was guarded) and walked through the snow toward the great house.
"An' all the time I seemed to be seein' my daughter Margy right there before my eyes coughing as though she was dyin'."
It was just nightfall and all the windows were alight. He crept up to a clump of bushes under a window and waited there a moment while he drew out and cocked his revolver. Then he slowly reached upward until his head cleared the sill and he could look into the room. "A big, warm room," he described it.
"Comrade," said he, "I had murder in my heart that night."
So he stood there looking in with the revolver ready cocked in his hand.
"And what do you think I seen there?" he asked.
"I cannot guess," I said.
"Well," said Bill Hahn, "I seen the great Robert Winter that we had been fighting for five long months—and he was down on his hands and knees on the carpet—he had his little daughter on his back—and he was creepin' about with her—an' she was laughin'."
Bill Hahn paused.
"I had a bead on him," he said, "but I couldn't do it—I just couldn't do it."
He came away all weak and trembling and cold, and, "Comrade," he said, "I was cryin' like a baby, and didn't know why."
The next day the strike collapsed and there was the familiar stampede for work—but Bill Hahn did not go back. He knew it would be useless. A week later his frail daughter died and was buried in the paupers field.
"She was as truly killed," he said, "as though some one had fired a bullet at her through a window."
"And what did you do after that?" I asked, when he had paused for a long time with his chin on his breast.
"Well," said he, "I did a lot of thinking them days, and I says to myself: 'This thing is wrong, and I will go out and stop it—I will go out and stop it.'"
As he uttered these words, I looked at him curiously—his absurd flat fur hat with the moth-eaten ears, the old bulging overcoat, the round spectacles, the scarred, insignificant face—he seemed somehow transformed, a person elevated above himself, the tool of some vast incalculable force.
I shall never forget the phrase he used to describe his own feelings when he had reached this astonishing decision to go out and stop the wrongs of the World. He said he "began to feel all clean inside."
"I see it didn't matter what become o' me, and I began to feel all clean inside."
It seemed, he explained, as though something big and strong had got hold of him, and he began to be happy.
"Since then," he said in a low voice, "I've been happier than I ever was before in all my life. I ain't got any family, nor any home—rightly speakin'—nor any money, but, comrade, you see here in front of you, a happy man."
When he had finished his story we sat quiet for some time.
"Well," said he, finally, "I must be goin'. The committee will wonder what's become o' me."
I followed him out to the road. There I put my hand on his shoulder, and said:
"Bill Hahn, you are a better man than I am."
He smiled, a beautiful smile, and we walked off together down the road.
I wish I had gone on with him at that time into the city, but somehow I could not do it. I stopped near the top of the hill where one can see in the distance that smoky huddle of buildings which is known as Kilburn, and though he urged me, I turned aside and sat down in the edge of a meadow. There were many things I wanted to think about, to get clear in my mind.
As I sat looking out toward that great city, I saw three men walking in the white road. As I watched them, I could see them coming quickly, eagerly. Presently they threw up their hands and evidently began to shout, though I could not hear what they said. At that moment I saw my friend Bill Hahn running in the road, his coat skirts flapping heavily about his legs. When they met they almost fell into another's arms.
I suppose it was so that the early Christians, those who hid in the Roman catacombs, were wont to greet one another.
So I sat thinking.
"A man," I said to myself, "who can regard himself as a function, not an end of creation, has arrived."
After a time I got up and walked down the hill—some strange force carrying me onward—and came thus to the city of Kilburn.
CHAPTER X. I AM CAUGHT UP INTO LIFE
I can scarcely convey in written words the whirling emotions I felt when I entered the city of Kilburn. Every sight, every sound, recalled vividly and painfully the unhappy years I had once spent in another and greater city. Every mingled odour of the streets—and there is nothing that will so surely re-create (for me) the inner emotion of a time or place as a remembered odour—brought back to me the incidents of that immemorial existence.
For a time, I confess it frankly here, I felt afraid. More than once I stopped short in the street where I was walking, and considered turning about and making again for the open country. Some there may be who will feel that I am exaggerating my sensations and impressions, but they do not know of my memories of a former life, nor of how, many years ago, I left the city quite defeated, glad indeed that I was escaping, and thinking (as I have related elsewhere) that I should never again set foot upon a paved street. These things went deep with me. Only the other day, when a friend asked me how old I was, I responded instantly—our unpremeditated words are usually truest—with the date of my arrival at this farm.
"Then you are only ten years old!" he exclaimed with a laugh, thinking I was joking.
"Well," I said, "I am counting only the years worth living."
No; I existed, but I never really lived until I was reborn, that wonderful summer here among these hills.
I said I felt afraid in the streets of Kilburn, but it was no physical fear. Who could be safer in a city than the man who has not a penny in his pockets? It was rather a strange, deep, spiritual shrinking. There seemed something so irresistible about this life of the city, so utterly overpowering. I had a sense of being smaller than I had previously felt myself, that in some way my personality, all that was strong or interesting or original about me, was being smudged over, rubbed out. In the country I had in some measure come to command life, but here, it seemed to me, life was commanding me and crushing me down. It is a difficult thing to describe: I never felt just that way before.
I stopped at last on the main street of Kilburn in the very heart of the town. I stopped because it seemed necessary to me, like a man in a flood, to touch bottom, to get hold upon something immovable and stable. It was just at that hour of evening when the stores and shops are pouring forth their rivulets of humanity to join the vast flood of the streets. I stepped quickly aside into a niche near the corner of an immense building of brick and steel and glass, and there I stood with my back to the wall, and I watched the restless, whirling, torrential tide of the streets. I felt again, as I had not felt it before in years, the mysterious urge of the city—the sense of unending, overpowering movement.
There was another strange, indeed uncanny, sensation that began to creep over me as I stood there. Though hundreds upon hundreds of men and women were passing me every minute, not one of them seemed to see me. Most of them did not even look in my direction, and those who did turn their eyes toward me see me to glance through me to the building behind. I wonder if this is at all a common experience, or whether I was unduly sensitive that day, unduly wrought up? I began to feel like one clad in garments of invisibility. I could see, but was not seen. I could feel, but was not felt. In the country there are few who would not stop to speak to me, or at least appraise me with their eyes; but here I was a wraith, a ghost—not a palpable human being at all. For a moment I felt unutterably lonely.
It is this way with me. When I have reached the very depths of any serious situation or tragic emotion, something within me seems at last to stop—how shall I describe it?—and I rebound suddenly and see the world, as it were, double—see that my condition instead of being serious or tragic is in reality amusing—and I usually came out of it with an utterly absurd or whimsical idea. It was so upon this occasion. I think it was the image of my robust self as a wraith that did it.
"After all," I said aloud taking a firm hold on the good hard flesh of one of my legs, "this is positively David Grayson."
I looked out again into that tide of faces—interesting, tired, passive, smiling, sad, but above all, preoccupied faces.
"No one," I thought, "seems to know that David Grayson has come to town."
I had the sudden, almost irresistible notion of climbing up a step near me, holding up one hand, and crying out:
"Here I am, my friends. I am David Grayson. I am real and solid and opaque; I have plenty of red blood running in my veins. I assure you that I am a person well worth knowing."
I should really have enjoyed some such outlandish enterprise, and I am not at all sure yet that it would not have brought me adventures and made me friends worth while. We fail far more often by under-daring than by over-daring.
But this imaginary object had the result, at least, of giving me a new grip on things. I began to look out upon the amazing spectacle before me in a different mood. It was exactly like some enormous anthill into which an idle traveller had thrust his cane. Everywhere the ants were running out of their tunnels and burrows, many carrying burdens and giving one strangely the impression that while they were intensely alive and active, not more than half of them had any clear idea of where they were going. And serious, deadly serious, in their haste! I felt a strong inclination to stop a few of them and say:
"Friends, cheer up. It isn't half as bad as you think it is. Cheer up!"
After a time the severity of the human flood began to abate, and here and there at the bottom of that gulch of a street, which had begun to fill with soft, bluish-gray shadows, the evening lights a appeared. The air had grown cooler; in the distance around a corner I heard a street organ break suddenly and joyously into the lively strains of "The Wearin' o' the Green."
I stepped out into the street with quite a new feeling of adventure. And as if to testify that I was now a visible person a sharp-eyed newsboy discovered me—the first human being in Kilburn who had actually seen me—and came up with a paper in his hand.
I was interested in the shrewd, world-wise, humorous look in the urchin's eyes.
"No," I began, with the full intent of bantering him into some sort of acquaintance; but he evidently measured my purchasing capacity quite accurately, for he turned like a flash to another customer. "Herald, boss?"
"You'll have to step lively, David Grayson," I said to myself, "if you get aboard in this city."
A slouchy negro with a cigarette in his fingers glanced at me in passing and then, hesitating, turned quickly toward me.
"Got a match, boss?"
I gave him a match.
"Thank you, boss," and he passed on down the street.
"I seem to be 'boss' around here," I said.
This contact, slight as it was, gave me a feeling of warmth, removed a little the sensation of aloofness I had felt, and I strolled slowly down the street, looking in at the gay windows, now ablaze with lights, and watching the really wonderful procession of vehicles of all shapes and sizes that rattled by on the pavement. Even at that hour of the day I think there were more of them in one minute than I see in a whole month at my farm.
It's a great thing to wear shabby clothes and an old hat. Some of the best things I have ever known, like these experiences of the streets, have resulted from coming up to life from underneath; of being taken for less than I am rather than for more than I am.
I did not always believe in this doctrine. For many years—the years before I was rightly born into this alluring world—I tried quite the opposite course. I was constantly attempting to come down to life from above. Instead of being content to carry through life a sufficiently wonderful being named David Grayson I tried desperately to set up and support a sort of dummy creature which, so clad, so housed, so fed, should appear to be what I thought David Grayson ought to appear in the eyes of the world. Oh, I spent quite a lifetime trying to satisfy other people!
Once I remember staying at home, in bed, reading "Huckleberry Finn," while I sent my trousers out to be mended.
Well, that dummy Grayson perished in a cornfield. His empty coat served well for a scarecrow. A wisp of straw stuck out through a hole in his finest hat.
And I—the man within—I escaped, and have been out freely upon the great adventure of life.
If a shabby coat (and I speak here also symbolically, not forgetful of spiritual significances) lets you into the adventurous world of those who are poor it does not on the other hand rob you of any true friendship among those who are rich or mighty. I say true friendship, for unless a man who is rich and mighty is able to see through my shabby coat (as I see through his fine one), I shall gain nothing by knowing him.
I've permitted myself all this digression—left myself walking alone there in the streets of Kilburn while I philosophized upon the ways and means of life—not without design, for I could have had no such experiences as I did have in Kilburn if I had worn a better coat or carried upon me the evidences of security in life.
I think I have already remarked upon the extraordinary enlivenment of wits which comes to the man who has been without a meal or so and does not know when or where he is again to break his fast. Try it, friend and see! It was already getting along in the evening, and I knew or supposed I knew no one in Kilburn save only Bill Hahn, Socialist who was little better off than I was.
In this emergency my mind began to work swiftly. A score of fascinating plans for getting my supper and a bed to sleep in flashed through my mind.
"Why," said I, "when I come to think of it, I'm comparatively rich. I'll warrant there are plenty of places in Kilburn, and good ones, too, where I could barter a chapter of Montaigne and a little good conversation for a first-rate supper, and I've no doubt that I could whistle up a bed almost anywhere!"
I thought of a little motto I often repeat to myself:
TO KNOW LIFE, BEGIN ANYWHERE!
There were several people on the streets of Kilburn that night who don't know yet how very near they were to being boarded by a somewhat shabby looking farmer who would have offered them, let us say, a notable musical production called "Old Dan Tucker," exquisitely performed on a tin whistle, in exchange for a good honest supper.
There was one man in particular—a fine, pompous citizen who came down the street swinging his cane and looking as though the universe was a sort of Christmas turkey, lying all brown and sizzling before him ready to be carved—a fine pompous citizen who never realized how nearly Fate with a battered volume of Montaigne in one hand and a tin whistle in the other—came to pouncing upon him that evening! And I am firmly convinced that if I had attacked him with the Great Particular Word he would have carved me off a juicy slice of the white breast meat.
"I'm getting hungry," I said; "I must find Bill Hahn!"
I had turned down a side street, and seeing there in front of a building a number of lounging men with two or three cabs or carriages standing nearby in the street I walked up to them. It was a livery barn.
Now I like all sorts of out-of-door people: I seem to be related to them through horses and cattle and cold winds and sunshine. I like them and understand them, and they seem to like me and understand me. So I walked up to the group of jolly drivers and stablemen intending to ask my directions. The talking died out and they all turned to look at me. I suppose I was not altogether a familiar type there in the city streets. My bag, especially, seemed to set me apart as a curious person.
"Friends," I said, "I am a farmer—"
They all broke out laughing; they seemed to know it already! I was just a little taken aback, but I laughed, too, knowing that there was a way of getting at them if only I could find it.
"It may surprise you," I said, "but this is the first time in some dozen years that I've been in a big city like this."
"You hadn't 'ave told us, partner!" said one of them, evidently the wit of the group, in a rich Irish brogue.
"Well," I responded, laughing with the best of them, "you've been living right here all the time, and don't realize how amusing and curious the city looks to me. Why, I feel as though I had been away sleeping for twenty years, like Rip Van Winkle. When I left the city there was scarcely an automobile to be seen anywhere—and now look at them snorting through the streets. I counted twenty-two passing that corner up there in five minutes by the clock."
This was a fortunate remark, for I found instantly that the invasion of the automobile was a matter of tremendous import to such Knights of Bucephalus as these.
At first the wit interrupted me with amusing remarks, as wits will, but I soon had him as quiet as the others. For I have found the things that chiefly interest people are the things they already know about—provided you show them that these common things are still mysterious, still miraculous, as indeed they are.
After a time some one pushed me a stable stool and I sat down among them, and we had quite a conversation, which finally developed into an amusing comparison (I wish I had room to repeat it here) between the city and the country. I told them something about my farm, how much I enjoyed it, and what a wonderful free life one had in the country. In this I was really taking an unfair advantage of them, for I was trading on the fact that every man, down deep in his heart, has more or less of an instinct to get back to the soil—at least all outdoor men have. And when I described the simplest things about my barn, and the cattle and pigs, and the bees—and the good things we have to eat—I had every one of them leaning forward and hanging on my words.
Harriet sometimes laughs at me for the way I celebrate farm life. She says all my apples are the size of Hubbard squashes, my eggs all double-yolked, and my cornfields tropical jungles. Practical Harriet! My apples may not ALL be the size of Hubbard squashes, but they are good, sizable apples, and as for flavour—all the spices of Arcady—! And I believe, I KNOW, from my own experience that these fields and hills are capable of healing men's souls. And when I see people wandering around a lonesome city like Kilburn, with never a soft bit of soil to put their heels into, nor a green thing to cultivate, nor any corn or apples or honey to harvest, I feel—well, that they are wasting their time.
(It's a fact, Harriet!)
Indeed I had the most curious experience with my friend the wit—his name I soon learned was Healy—a jolly, round, red-nosed, outdoor chap with fists that looked like small-sized hams, and a rich, warm Irish voice. At first he was inclined to use me as the ready butt of his lively mind, but presently he became so much interested in what I was saying that he sat squarely in front of me with both his jolly eyes and his smiling mouth wide open.
"If ever you pass my way," I said to him, "just drop in and I'll give you a dinner of baked beans"—and I smacked—"and home made bread" and I smacked again—"and pumpkin pie"—and I smacked a third time—"that will make your mouth water."
All this smacking and the description of baked beans and pumpkin pie had an odd counter effect upon ME; for I suddenly recalled my own tragic state. So I jumped up quickly and asked directions for getting down to the mill neighbourhood, where I hoped to find Bill Hahn. My friend Healy instantly volunteered the information.
"And now," I said, "I want to ask a small favour of you. I'm looking for a friend, and I'd like to leave my bag here for the night."
"Sure, sure," said the Irishman heartily. "Put it there in the office—on top o' the desk. It'll be all right."
So I put it in the office and was about to say good-bye, when my friend said to me:
"Come in, partner, and have a drink before you go"—and he pointed to a nearby saloon.
"Thank you," I answered heartily, for I knew it was as fine a bit of hospitality as he could offer me, "thank you, but I must find my friend before it gets too late."
"Aw, come on now," he cried, taking my arm. "Sure you'll be better off for a bit o' warmth inside."
I had hard work to get away from them, and I am as sure as can be that they would have found supper and a bed for me if they had known I needed either.
"Come agin," Healy shouted after me, "we're glad to see a farmer any toime."
My way led me quickly out of the well-groomed and glittering main streets of the town. I passed first through several blocks of quiet residences, and then came to a street near the river which was garishly lighted, and crowded with small, poor shops and stores, with a saloon on nearly every corner. I passed a huge, dark, silent box of a mill, and I saw what I never saw before in a city, armed men guarding the streets.
Although it was growing late—it was after nine o'clock—crowds of people were still parading the streets, and there was something intangibly restless, something tense, in the very atmosphere of the neighbourhood. It was very plain that I had reached the strike district. I was about to make some further inquiries for the headquarters of the mill men or for Bill Hahn personally, when I saw, not far ahead of me, a black crowd of people reaching out into the street. Drawing nearer I saw that an open space or block between two rows of houses was literally black with human beings, and in the centre on a raised platform, under a gasolene flare, I beheld my friend of the road, Bill Hahn. The overcoat and the hat with the furry ears had disappeared, and the little man stood there bare-headed, before that great audience.
My experience in the world is limited, but I have never heard anything like that speech for sheer power. It was as unruly and powerful and resistless as life itself. It was not like any other speech I ever heard, for it was no mere giving out by the orator of ideas and thoughts and feelings of his own. It seemed rather—how shall I describe it?—as though the speaker was looking into the very hearts of that vast gathering of poor men and poor women and merely telling them what they themselves felt, but could not tell. And I shall never forget the breathless hush of the people or the quality of their responses to the orator's words. It was as though they said, "Yes, yes" with a feeling of vast relief—"Yes, yes—at last our own hopes and fears and desires are being uttered—yes, yes."
As for the orator himself, he held up one maimed hand and leaned over the edge of the platform, and his undistinguished face glowed with the white light of a great passion within. The man had utterly forgotten himself.
I confess, among those eager working people, clad in their poor garments, I confess I was profoundly moved. Faith is not so bounteous a commodity in this world that we can afford to treat even its unfamiliar manifestations with contempt. And when a movement is hot with life, when it stirs common men to their depths, look out! look out!
Up to that time I had never known much of the practical workings of Socialism; and the main contention of its philosophy has never accorded wholly with my experience in life.
But the Socialism of to-day is no mere abstraction—as it was, perhaps, in the days of Brook Farm. It is a mode of action. Men whose view of life is perfectly balanced rarely soil themselves with the dust of battle. The heat necessary to produce social conflict (and social progress—who knows?) is generated by a supreme faith that certain principles are universal in their application when in reality they are only local or temporary.
Thus while one may not accept the philosophy of Socialism as a final explanation of human life, he may yet look upon Socialism in action as a powerful method of stimulating human progress. The world has been lagging behind in its sense of brotherhood, and we now have the Socialists knit together in a fighting friendship as fierce and narrow in its motives as Calvinism, pricking us to reform, asking the cogent question:
"Are we not all brothers?"
Oh, we are going a long way with these Socialists, we are going to discover a new world of social relationships—and then, and then, like a mighty wave; will flow in upon us a renewed and more wonderful sense of the worth of the individual human soul. A new individualism, bringing with it, perhaps, some faint realization of our dreams of a race of Supermen, lies just beyond! Its prophets, girded with rude garments and feeding upon the wild honey of poverty, are already crying in the wilderness.
I think I could have remained there at the Socialist meeting all night long: there was something about it that brought a hard, dry twist to my throat. But after a time my friend Bill Hahn, evidently quite worn out, yielded his place to another and far less clairvoyant speaker, and the crowd, among whom I now discovered quite a number of policemen, began to thin out.
I made my way forward and saw Bill Hahn and several other men just leaving the platform. I stepped up to him, but it was not until I called him by name (I knew how absent minded he was!) that he recognized me.
"Well, well," he said; "you came after all!"
He seized me by both arms and introduced me to several of his companions as "Brother Grayson." They all shook hands with me warmly.
Although he was perspiring, Bill put on his overcoat and the old fur hat with the ears, and as he now took my arm I could feel one of his bulging pockets beating against my leg. I had not the slightest idea where they were going, but Bill held me by the arm and presently we came, a block or so distant, to a dark, narrow stairway leading up from the street. I recall the stumbling sound of steps on the wooden boards, a laugh or two, the high voice of a woman asserting and denying. Feeling our way along the wall, we came to the top and went into a long, low, rather dimly lighted room set about with tables and chairs—a sort of restaurant. A number of men and a few women had already gathered there. Among them my eyes instantly singled out a huge, rough-looking man who stood at the centre of an animated group. He had thick, shaggy hair, and one side of his face over the cheekbone was of a dull blue-black and raked and scarred, where it had been burned in a Powder blast. He had been a miner. His gray eyes, which had a surprisingly youthful and even humorous expression, looked out from under coarse, thick, gray brows. A very remarkable face and figure he presented. I soon learned that he was R—— D——, the leader of whom I had often heard, and heard no good thing. He was quite a different type from Bill Hahn: he was the man of authority, the organizer, the diplomat—as Bill was the prophet, preaching a holy war.
How wonderful human nature is! Only a short time before I had been thrilled by the intensity of the passion of the throng, but here the mood suddenly changed to one of friendly gayety. Fully a third of those present were women, some of them plainly from the mills and some of them curiously different—women from other walks in life who had thrown themselves heart and soul into the strike. Without ceremony but with much laughing and joking, they found their places around the tables. A cook, who appeared in a dim doorway was greeted with a shout, to which he responded with a wide smile, waving the long spoon which he held in his hand.
I shall not attempt to give any complete description of the gathering or of what they said or did. I think I could devote a dozen pages to the single man who was placed next to me. I was interested in him from the outset. The first thing that struck me about him was an air of neatness, even fastidiousness, about his person—though he wore no stiff collar, only a soft woollen shirt without a necktie. He had the long sensitive, beautiful hands of an artist, but his face was thin and marked with the pallor peculiar to the indoor worker. I soon learned that he was a weaver in the mills, an Englishman by birth, and we had not talked two minutes before I found that, while he had never had any education in the schools, he had been a gluttonous reader of books—all kind of books—and, what is more, had thought about them and was ready with vigorous (and narrow) opinions about this author or that. And he knew more about economics and sociology, I firmly believe, than half the college professors. A truly remarkable man.
It was an Italian restaurant, and I remember how, in my hunger, I assailed the generous dishes of boiled meat and spaghetti. A red wine was served in large bottles which circulated rapidly around the table, and almost immediately the room began to fill with tobacco smoke. Every one seemed to be talking and laughing at once, in the liveliest spirit of good fellowship. They joked from table to table, and sometimes the whole room would quiet down while some one told a joke, which invariably wound up with a roar of laughter.
"Why," I said, "these people have a whole life, a whole society, of their own!"
In the midst of this jollity the clear voice of a girl rang out with the first lines of a song. Instantly the room was hushed:
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation, Arise, ye wretched of the earth, For justice thunders condemnation A better world's in birth.
These were the words she sang, and when the clear, sweet voice died down the whole company, as though by a common impulse, arose from their chairs, and joined in a great swelling chorus:
It is the final conflict, Let each stand in his place, The Brotherhood of Man Shall be the human race.
It was beyond belief, to me, the spirit with which these words were sung. In no sense with jollity—all that seemed to have been dropped when they came to their feet—but with an unmistakable fervour of faith. Some of the things I had thought and dreamed about secretly among the hills of my farm all these years, dreamed about as being something far off and as unrealizable as the millennium, were here being sung abroad with jaunty faith by these weavers of Kilburn, these weavers and workers whom I had schooled myself to regard with a sort of distant pity.
Hardly had the company sat down again, with a renewal of the flow of jolly conversation When I heard a rapping on one of the tables. I saw the great form of R——- D——- slowly rising.
"Brothers and sisters," he said, "a word of caution. The authorities will lose no chance of putting us in the wrong. Above all we must comport ourselves here and in the strike with great care. We are fighting a great battle, bigger than we are—"
At this instant the door from the dark hallway suddenly opened and a man in a policeman's uniform stepped in. There fell an instant's dead silence—an explosive silence. Every person there seemed to be petrified in the position in which his attention was attracted. Every eye was fixed on the figure at the door. For an instant no one said a word; then I heard a woman's shrill voice, like a rifle-shot:
I cannot imagine what might have happened next, for the feeling in the room, as in the city itself, was at the tensest, had not the leader suddenly brought the goblet which he held in his hand down with a bang upon the table.
"As I was saying," he continued in a steady, clear voice, "we are fighting to-day the greatest of battles, and we cannot permit trivial incidents, or personal bitterness, or small persecutions, to turn us from the great work we have in hand. However our opponents may comport themselves, we must be calm, steady, sure, patient, for we know that our cause is just and will prevail."
"You're right," shouted a voice back in the room.
Instantly the tension relaxed, conversation started again and every one turned away from the policeman at the door. In a few minutes, he disappeared without having said a word.
There was no regular speaking, and about midnight the party began to break up. I leaned over and said to my friend Bill Hahn:
"Can you find me a place to sleep tonight?"
"Certainly I can," he said heartily.
There was to be a brief conference of the leaders after the supper, and those present soon departed. I went down the long, dark stairway and out into the almost deserted street. Looking up between the buildings I could see the clear blue sky and the stars. And I walked slowly up and down awaiting my friend and trying, vainly to calm my whirling emotions.
He came at last and I went with him. That night I slept scarcely at all, but lay looking up into the darkness. And it seemed as though, as I lay there, listening, that I could hear the city moving in its restless sleep and sighing as with heavy pain. All night long I lay there thinking.
CHAPTER XI. I COME TO GRAPPLE WITH THE CITY
I have laughed heartily many times since I came home to think of the Figure of Tragedy I felt myself that morning in the city of Kilburn. I had not slept well, had not slept at all, I think, and the experiences and emotions of the previous night still lay heavy upon me. Not before in many years had I felt such a depression of the spirits.
It was all so different from the things I love! Not so much as a spear of grass or a leafy tree to comfort the eye, or a bird to sing; no quiet hills, no sight of the sun coming up in the morning over dewy fields, no sound of cattle in the lane, no cheerful cackling of fowls, nor buzzing of bees! That morning, I remember, when I first went out into those squalid streets and saw everywhere the evidences of poverty, dirt, and ignorance—and the sweet, clean country not two miles away—the thought of my own home among the hills (with Harriet there in the doorway) came upon me with incredible longing.
"I must go home; I must go home!" I caught myself saying aloud.
I remember how glad I was when I found that my friend Bill Hahn and other leaders of the strike were to be engaged in conferences during the forenoon, for I wanted to be alone, to try to get a few things straightened out in my mind.
But I soon found that a city is a poor place for reflection or contemplation. It bombards one with an infinite variety of new impressions and new adventures; and I could not escape the impression made by crowded houses, and ill-smelling streets, and dirty sidewalks, and swarming human beings. For a time the burden of these things rested upon my breast like a leaden weight; they all seemed so utterly wrong to me, so unnecessary; so unjust! I sometimes think of religion as only a high sense of good order; and it seemed to me that morning as though the very existence of this disorderly mill district was a challenge to religion, and an offence to the Orderer of an Orderly Universe. I don't now how such conditions may affect other people, but for a time I felt a sharp sense of impatience—yes, anger—with it all. I had an impulse to take off my coat then and there and go at the job of setting things to rights. Oh, I never was more serious in my life: I was quite prepared to change the entire scheme of things to my way of thinking whether the people who lived there liked it or not. It seemed to me for a few glorious moments that I had only to tell them of the wonders in our country, the pleasant, quiet roads, the comfortable farmhouses, the fertile fields, and the wooded hills—and, poof! all this crowded poverty would dissolve and disappear, and they would all come to the country and be as happy as I was.
I remember how, once in my life, I wasted untold energy trying to make over my dearest friends. There was Harriet, for example, dear, serious, practical Harriet. I used to be fretted by the way she was forever trying to clip my wing feathers—I suppose to keep me close to the quiet and friendly and unadventurous roost! We come by such a long, long road, sometimes, to the acceptance of our nearest friends for exactly what they are. Because we are so fond of them we try to make them over to suit some curious ideal of perfection of our own—until one day we suddenly laugh aloud at our own absurdity (knowing that they are probably trying as hard to reconstruct us as we are to reconstruct them) and thereafter we try no more to change them, we just love 'em and enjoy 'em!
Some such psychological process went on in my consciousness that morning. As I walked briskly through the streets I began to look out more broadly around me. It was really a perfect spring morning, the air crisp, fresh, and sunny, and the streets full of life and activity. I looked into the faces of the people I met, and it began to strike me that most of them seemed oblivious of the fact that they should, by good rights, be looking downcast and dispirited. They had cheered their approval the night before when the speakers had told them how miserable they were (even acknowledging that they were slaves), and yet here they were this morning looking positively good-humoured, cheerful, some of them even gay. I warrant if I had stepped up to one of them that morning and intimated that he was a slave he would have—well, I should have had serious trouble with him! There was a degree of sociability in those back streets, a visiting from window to window, gossipy gatherings in front area-ways, a sort of pavement domesticity, that I had never seen before. Being a lover myself of such friendly intercourse I could actually feel the hum and warmth of that neighbourhood.
A group of brightly clad girl strikers gathered on a corner were chatting and laughing, and children in plenty ran and shouted at their play in the street. I saw a group of them dancing merrily around an Italian hand-organ man who was filling the air with jolly music. I recall what a sinking sensation I had at the pit of my reformer's stomach when it suddenly occurred to me that these people some of them, anyway, might actually LIKE this crowded, sociable neighbourhood! "They might even HATE the country," I exclaimed.