Keeping up with Dan'l Webster
KEEPING UP WITH DAN'L WEBSTER
IN TWO PARTS: PART I
WITH PICTURES BY F. C. YOHN
THEY have always called me "Havelock of Stillwater," though I am plain Uriel Havelock. I have little in my purse, but there are treasures in my memory, and I am here giving some of them back to the world, with all my joyous thoughts about them, and with never a feeling of ill-will. They have helped me to keep young, and God send they may carry good luck to other people!
I remember well that period in New England villages when many men were keeping up with "Dan'l" Webster, and more women were emulating Ruth of the Bible. The first effort afforded a grotesque or comic spectacle; the second was either sublime or tragic. In my boyhood the fame of Webster was on every lip. He was a demigod in the imagination of the people, with a voice of thunder and an eye to threaten and command. Men gathered in the streets to talk about "the immortal Webster." Countless anecdotes celebrated his wit, his eloquence, and his supposed capacity for stimulants. He was not the only great man of his period who suffered from the inventive talent of a later generation. Powers of indulgence and of reckless wit were conferred upon them in a way to excite the wonder and emulation of the weak. Daniel Webster especially had been a martyr to such flattery. He never deserved it. Wearied by his great labors, he may now and then have resorted to stimulants, but he had a profound respect for all the decencies. Nevertheless, he was handed down to posterity as a great exemplar of the rum habit, and as such he filled a long-felt need to those who catered to the traffic With that imaginary trait of greatness at the fore, the resounding Websterian age began.
When still a boy I left home and went to live in Griggsby. It was a better place to die in, but that does not matter, since going to Griggsby to live, I succeeded. Among my fellow-students at school was a boy I greatly envied. Bright and handsome, as a scholar he was at one end of the class, and I at the other; and that was about the way we stood in local prophecy. I wonder when people will learn that scholarship should not be the first, or even the second, aim of schooling. For it is not what the mind takes in that makes the man, but what the mind gives out; it is not the quantity of one's memories, but the quality of one's thoughts. Character makes the man and also the community. It was character that made Griggsby, and in a retroactive way Griggsby in turn made character.
Old John Henry Griggs was the first sample of its finished product. He had been keeping up with Webster, as he thought, ever since he left school, and in that effort was both a drunkard and a "distinguished statesman." Though he modestly denied the compliment, a majority of his fellow-citizens stood firm. The result was a public peril.
Among the students at school was a girl that I loved. Her name was Florence Dunbar, which had a fine sound, while mine, like many names of Yankee choosing, was a help to humility and a discouragement to pride. Then, again, Florence was rich and beautiful, while I was poor and plain. She had come to Griggsby from the West, where her father had gone in his youth and had made a fortune. They had sent her and her brother back to the old home to be educated. I had come to Griggsby from a stumpy farm on the edge of the forest ten miles away.
Now, this plainness of mine, I soon discovered, was largely due to my mother's looking-glass, aided and abetted by untiring efforts on the part of all the family to keep me humble. I often wondered how it came about that I was the only one in the house whose looks were a misfortune. It did not seem just that I should be singled out to carry all the ugliness for that generation of Havelocks. I would not have minded a generous share, but it seemed to me that I was the only one who had been hit by the avalanche. One day I confided to my elder brother this overwhelming sense of facial deformity. To my surprise, he assured me that I had a face to be proud of, while his had kept him awake of nights and caused him to despise himself. That exchange of views increased our confidence in ourselves a little, if not our knowledge. By and by a neighbor moved into that lonely part of the world where we were living. I shall never forget the day I went to play with the strange children, and especially the moment when I stood before their looking-glass combing my hair. To my joy and astonishment, I saw a new face, of better proportions and smaller defects, and with only one twist in it. I tarried so long at the glass that the mother of the family smiled, and said that she feared I was a rather foolish boy. When I went home I proceeded with as little delay as possible to my mother's looking-glass, where I found the long, gnarled face of old with its magnified freckles. I wondered at this difference of opinion regarding my personal appearance between the two glasses, but with noble patriotism decided that my mother's mirror was probably right. As a discourager of sinful pride, that gilt-bound, oval looking-glass was a great success. It lengthened the face and enlarged every defect; it crumpled the nose and put sundry twists in the countenance. There have been two humble ministers and three old maids in our family, and in my opinion that looking-glass did it. Of course other things helped, but the glass was mainly responsible. I myself would have been a minister, if it had not fallen to my lot to break a yoke of steers, and that saved me from a misfit. In the course of this task I acquired an accomplishment inconsistent with the life of a clergyman. It was sharp enough to trim the beech-trees about my father's house, and it lasted through many calls to repentance; so my family consulted with the Rev. Appleton Hall, who was principal of the village school at Griggsby, and he undertook to make a man of me. That was how I came to go there, and to live in a small room rudely furnished by my father, where I did my own cooking. The school principal began to call me "Havelock of Stillwater," Stillwater being our township in the woods, and others followed his example.
In the main, the looking-glasses of Griggsby were kind to me, and the weight of evidence seemed to indicate that my face was not a misfortune, after all. Still, I had no conceit of it. The big buildings of the town, the high hats and "lofty" manners of the great men, excited my wonder and admiration. At first they were beyond my understanding and did not even amuse me. I had a profound sense of inferiority to almost every one I met, and specially to Florence Dunbar. I suppose it was a part of that ample gift of humility which had been pounded into my ancestors, and passed on to me with the aid of the beech-rod, the looking-glass, and the shrill voice of Elder Whitman in the school-house. For a long time my love for Florence was a secret locked in my own breast.
Summer had returned to the little village in the hills, and one Saturday in June I gathered wild flowers in the fields and took them to Florence. She received them with a cry of joy, and asked me to show her where they grew; so away we went together into the meadow, by the wayside, and, when our hands were full, sat under a tree by the road. Then, poor lad! I opened my heart to her—a heart that was in full bloom. I shall never forget the sweet, girlish frankness with which she said:
"I 'm sorry, but I cannot love you."
"I did n't think it would be possible," I said.
"Oh, yes, it would be possible," she explained; "but, you see, I love another."
I remember well how her frankness hurt me. I turned away, and had trouble to breathe for a moment. She saw the effect of her words, and said by way of comfort:
"But I think you 're very, very nice; Henry likes you, too."
Henry was her brother and my chum at school.
"I wish you would tell me what to do with him," she went on after a moment. "He 's drinking, and behind in his work, and I am terribly worried."
"It 's nothing to worry about," I said, though not in perfect innocence. "Liquor does n't hurt men if they 're respectable, does it?"
"Havelock, you talk like a child," she answered. "It 's something dreadful, the example the leading men of this village are setting. No wonder the boys take after them. Look at Ralph. He 's going to the bad as fast as possible. I 'd pack up and go home with Henry if—"
Her eyes filled with tears. I sat silent and full of shame, and quite aware of her secret. She loved Ralph Buckstone, the good-looking son of the great colonel.
"You love him, don't you?" I said sorrowfully.
She had regained her composure, but made no answer.
At that moment Colonel Buckstone himself came galloping along on his big, black horse, shot-gun in hand, with two hounds at his heels. He pulled up with a knowing look, shook his head, and then rode away with only a wave of his hand. Florence and I walked along in silence for a while, then she said:
"I 'm sorry for you, and I will never tell what you have told me—never."
"And I will never tell what you have told me," I said.
"I 'm willing you should tell him," she answered. "He may as well know—even if he does n't care."
Temptation beset me even then, but in those first months my natural innocence was like a shield. By and by I began to feel the weight of my innocence, and to lighten the load a little. A gleam of the humor in the life about me was beginning to make an impression when I went home to work in the fields during the summer. In the autumn I returned to school a big, swarthy youth of seventeen. Before the end of that year the first of my real adventures raised me to a new plane of life.
It was a day in December. Henry and Florence Dunbar, Ralph Buckstone, and I were skating on the lake. The ice was new and bent a little under our feet as we flew half across the lake in pursuit of Florence, more daring and expert than the rest of us. The day was cloudless, and the smooth plain of ice shone in the sunlight. An hour later we were returning, with Florence a hundred or more feet ahead of us, when I heard the snap of the breaking ice, and saw her go down like a stone going through a sky-light. I skated straight for the break, and, taking a deep breath, crashed over the broken slabs of ice and down into cold, roaring water. My hand touched something, and I seized it—her coat, as I knew by the feeling. Then came that little fraction of a minute in which one must do the right thing and do It quickly. I could see, of course, and could hear the shouts of the boys, the click of skates passing near, and the stir of the shattered ice. That saved us, that sound of wavering ice. I made for it, got my hand through, and caught a shinny-stick in the hands of Henry Dunbar, who was lying flat at the edge of the hole. There we hung and lived until the boys came with a pole and got us out. Chilled? No. I was never so hot in my life until I began to feel the wind.
One day soon after that my father came into the village and said that I was to board at the house of Mr. Daniel W. Smead, have three square meals a day, and a room with four windows and a stove in it. Poor lad! I did not know until long after that Florence and Henry paid the bill. My father said he had sold the big Wilkes mare and her foal, and I supposed that that accounted for his generosity.
Florence would have it that I had saved her life, although the truth is that if I had not gone down after her, one of the other boys doubtless would have done so, or she might even have reached the air alone. How she pitied me after that! Almost every day she tried to show me her gratitude with some little token—a flower, a tender word or look, or an invitation to supper. I loved her with all the steadfastness of the true-born Yankee; but I knew that my love was hopeless. I could never ask her to marry me, for how could she say no to me now? I would not have been guilty of such unfairness.
Mr. Daniel Webster Smead had five children and a wife, who did all the work of the household. He was an auctioneer, a musician, and a horseman.
When I went to begin my life in his house it was he who opened the door. He was coatless, collarless, and in dirty linen.
"I am Uriel Havelock," I said.
"Havelock of Stillwater," said he. "I salute you. How is your health?"
"Pretty good," I said.
"Walk right into the drawin'-room, an' draw yer jack-knife an' go to whittlin' if ye want to."
The drawing-room wrung a smile from my sad face. It was the plainest of rooms, decorated with chromos, mottos in colored yarns, and with faded wall-paper. On the floor was a worn and shabby carpet; and some plain, wooden chairs, a haircloth sofa, with its antimacassar and crocheted cushion, completed" the furnishing. The woodwork, the windows, and all the appointments of the room were noticeably clean. A ragged-looking Newfoundland dog came roaring in upon me.
"Leo, Leo, be still, or you 'll be put out," said Mr. Smead.
"Is he full-blooded?" I asked.
"As full-blooded as Colonel Sile Buckstone, an' that 's sayin' a good deal."
"Sets an' watches the scenery all day."
He opened the stairway door and called: "Mrs. Smead! O Mrs. Smead! A noble guest is under our battlements."
There was a sound of footsteps on the floor above, and in a moment a pale, weary woman, followed by three boys from seven to twelve years of age, each in patched trousers, came down the stairway. The woman shook my hand and said she was glad to see me, although I had never seen a face so utterly joyless.
The master of the household kept up a running fire of talk. Addressing the children, he said:
"Dan'l, Rufus, Edward, salute the young gentleman."
As they timidly shook my hand, their father observed: "These boys have ascended from Roger Williams, Remember Baker, an' General Winfield Scott. If they look tired, excuse them; it 's quite a climb."
The eldest boy showed me to my room, and so began my life at Smead's. Distressed with loneliness, I walked about the village for hours that afternoon, and on my return had time only to comb my hair and wash when a bell summoned me to supper.
Mr. Smead was considerably dressed up in clean linen, a prodigious necktie, and a coat of black broadcloth. His wife wore a clean calico dress, with a gold-plated brooch at her throat.
"I wish the girls were here," said Mr. Smead.
"They are out in the country teaching school," Mrs. Smead explained; "they want to help their father."
"Beautiful girls," said their father, "tall, queenly, magnificent, talented. By force of habit I was about to ask, 'How much am I bid?’"
"How do you like Griggsby?" Mrs. Smead inquired of me, as though wishing to change the subject.
"I do not call it a very pretty place," I said, still loyal to Stillwater.
"An' you would n't be a pretty place if you were the mother of so many orators an' statesmen," said Smead. "You would be a proud but worn-out an' weary place. There would be dust an' scratched-up gravel in your immediate vicinity, an' you would n't care. Don't expect too much o' Griggsby. It is a Vesuvius of oratory. It is full of high an' grand emotions, mingled with smoke an' fire an' thunder an' other accessories, includin' Smeads. It is the home an' birthplace of the Griggses. There was the Hon. John Henry Griggs, once the speaker of our lower house an' a great orator. By pure eloquence one day he established the reputation of an honest man, his greatest accomplishment; for as an honest man there were obstacles in his way. It did n't last long, that reputation; it had so much to contend with. He never gave it a fair chance. By an' by it tottered an' fell. Then he established another with some more eloquence. He was the first Dan'l Webster of Griggsby, looked like him, dressed like him, spoke like him, drank like him. Always took a tumbler of brandy before he made a speech, an', say! wa' n't he a swayer? The way he handled an audience was like swingin' a cat by the tail. He kep' 'em goin'; did n't give 'em time to think. It would n't have been safe. The result was both humorous an' pathetic."
Mr. Smead, with the voice of Stentor at the gates of ancient Troy, delivered a playful imitation of the late John Henry.
"You 're quite an orator," I said.
"Oh, I can swing the cat a little," said he. "Ye ought to hear me talk hoss or tackle the old arm-chair at an auction-sale. It would break a drought. So much for the Smeads. As to the other great folks. Senator John Griggs, a distinguished member of our upper house, is also a son of Griggsby, not so great as his father, but a high-headed, hard-workin', full-jeweled orator. Flowers of rhetoric grow on him as naturally as moss on a log.
"Years ago he convicted a man of murder here with oratory; made the jury weep till they longed for blood, an' got it. Bill Smithers loaded himself to the muzzle with rum an' oratory for the defense. Nobody did any work on the case. The oratory of Griggs was keener than the oratory of Smithers—more flowery, more movin'. It fetched the tears, an' conviction came with them. Of course Griggs had the body of the victim on his side. Smithers roared an' wept for half a day. The jury had been swung until it was tired. It clung to the ground with tooth an' nail. The fountain of its tears had gone dry. The prisoner was convicted, slain by oratory, pure oratory, undefiled by intelligence, an' years after he was put in his grave a woman confessed that she had committed the crime. Oh, Griggs is a wonder. He 's another D. W., but he 's a good-hearted man. I heard him say that he had rebuilt the church of his parish with his earnings at poker. That 's the kind of a man he is—reckless, but charitable. Everybody calls him John. They say that whisky has no more effect on him than so much water.
"Then there is Colonel Silas Buckstone, our congressman, whose home is also in Griggsby, another D. W., a man of quality an' quantity,—great length, breadth, an' thickness,—with a mustache eight inches long an' a voice that can travel like a trottin'-hoss. A man of a distinguished presence an' several distinguished absences.
"Yes, I regret to say that he goes on a spree now an' then. It 's a pity, but so often the case with men o' talent—so awfully often,. About twice a year the colonel slides off his eminence, an' down he goes into the valley o' the common herd with loud yells o' joy. Once he slid across a corner o' the valley o' death, but that did n't matter. What 's the use o' havin' an eminence unless you 're to enjoy the privilege of slidin' down it when ye want to? While his spree lasts, the colonel buys everything in sight until his money is gone. Then some one has t' go an' tow him back to us. Once he returned the proud owner of a car-load of goats an' a millinery store."
Mr. Smead also told me of the two judges, Warner and Brooks, the ablest members of the county bar, who, it seems, were always wandering toward the dewy, meadowy path of dalliance. He said that sometimes they hit the path, and sometimes the path hit them and left some bruises.
"Of course there are able men in the village who are addicted to sobriety," he went on. "Some of them have tried to reform, but, alas! the habit of sobriety has become fixed upon them—weak stomachs, maybe. They have to worry along with- out the stamp o' genius, just commonplace, every-day-alike men. Nobody takes any notice of 'em. Once a prominent citizen denounced one o' them on the street as a little-souled, conscientious Christian who could get drunk on a thimble o' whisky. It was one o' the first indictments against virtue on record.
"Then we have the rural hoss-trader, who never fools anybody except when he tells the truth. One of 'em was sued for sellin' a worthless hoss. His defense was that a man who traded with him took his life in his hands, an' everybody ought to know it; an' the justice ruled that there were certain men that it was a crime to believe, an' the man who did it received a natural and deserved punishment."
So in his curious way, which was not to be forgotten, he described this heroism of the human stomach, this adventurous defiance of nature. In those callow days that view appealed to my sporting instinct.
"You see, the stamp of genius is on all our public men," Mr. Smead continued. "They all wear the scarlet blossom of capacity on their noses. The scarlet blossom an' the silver tongue go hand in hand, as it were."
Mr. Daniel Webster Smead was, indeed, a singular man. He had little learning, but was a keen observer. Ever since his boyhood he had browsed in books, notably those of Artemus Ward and Charles Dickens. The Websterian thunder did not appeal to him, but he had cultivated certain of the weaknesses which he had vividly described, as well as a massive indolence and a fondness for horses. He was drunk with hope all the time, and now and then with something stronger. Hopes and hops were his worst enemies. When he talked, people were wont to laugh, but every one said that Smead did not amount to anything. However, if all the other leading lights of the village had conferred their brains jointly on one man, he would not have been more than knee-high to the mental stature of Smead. He was a man of wide talent—a kind of human what-not. He could do many things well, but did not. Yet Mr. Smead was an ass, and he knew enough to know that he was an ass, which of itself distinguished him above all the citizens of Griggsby. He was drifting along in the bondage of custom, and he knew it, and laughed at his own folly.
As we rose from the table, he said in a little aside to me, "In the mornin' I 'll show you a hoss an' a fool, an' both standard-bred an' in the two-thirty list."
I spent the evening in my own room with a book, and when I came down in the morning I saw Mr. Smead entering the gate in a shining, red road-cart behind a horse blanketed to his nose, and in knee-and ankle-boots. I hurried to the stable, where Mr. Smead stood proudly, with a short whip in his hand, while the boys were. removing the harness and boots from a steaming stallion.
"There is Montravers—mark of two twenty-nine an' a half," said he, glibly. "By Bald Eagle out of Clara Belle, he by George Wilkes, he by Hambletonian X, dam Queen Bess by Wanderer, out of Crazy Jane, she by Meteor. I expect him to transport me to the goal of affluence."
Two of the boys were deftly scraping Montravers's sides, while the third sponged his mouth and legs. Then the youthful band fell to with rubbing-cloths, backed by terrible energy, on the body of the big horse.
"The fathers of this village all have to be helped," said Mr. Smead, "they 're so busy with one thing or another—mostly another. Ye can't be a Dan'l Webster an' do anything else."
This matter of "helpin' father" seemed to me to be rather arduous. As the horse grew dry, the boys grew wet. Perspiration had begun to roll down their faces.
[Illustration:"‘The trottin'-hoss is the natural ally of the orator an' the conversationalist’"]
"The trottin'-hoss is the natural ally of the orator an' the conversationalist," said Mr. Smead. "He stimulates the mind an' furnishes food for thought. A man who has owned a trotter is capable of any feat of the imagination, an' some of our deepest thinkers have graduated from the grand stand an' the sulky. Everybody goes in for trotters here.
"John Griggs an' Colonel Sile an' Horace Brooks an' Bill Warner all have their trotters. If a farmer gets some money ahead, he buys a trotter an' begins to train for speed an' bankruptcy. It helps him to a sense o' grandeur an' distinction. If there 's anything else that can be done with money, he don't know it. His boys look like beggars, an' his hoss looks like a prince—just like mine. I told ye I 'd show ye a fool, an' here I am—a direct descendant of Thankful Smead by Remember Baker. But I really have a prize in this animal. I expect to sell him for big money."
Soon we heard the voice of Mrs. Smead at the back door.
"Boys, where are you?" she called.
"Helpin' father," answered Daniel, the eldest of them.
"Well, breakfast is waiting," said she, with a touch of impatience in her tone. "You must be getting ready for school."
"He 'll do now," said Smead. "Put on the coolin' sheet an' walk him for ten minutes."
A big, spotless sheet blanket was thrown over the shiny, silken coat of the horse, and Rufus began to walk him up and down the yard while the rest of us went in to breakfast.
There was a pathetic contrast which I did not fail to observe, young as I was, between the silken coat of the beast and the faded calico dress of the woman, between his lustrous, flashing eyes and hers, dull and sad; between his bounding feet and hers, which moved about heavily; between the whole spirit of Montravers and that of Mrs. Smead. I saw, too, the contrast between the splendid trappings of the stallion and the patched trousers of the boys. I wondered how the boys were going to be cooled off. They simply took a hurried wash in a tin basin at the back door and sat down at the table in damp clothes. We could hear timid remark in the kitchen about a worthless horse; about boys who would be late to school, and the delayed work of the day.
"If that hoss could only keep up with my imagination!" said Smead, mournfully.
"Dan'l, you must take care of the horse yourself in the morning," said Mrs. Smead.
"But my imagination keeps me so busy. Mother," said he. "Montravers works it night an' day. It don't give me any sleep, thinkin' o' the wealth that 's just ahead of us. It pants with weariness. Almost every night I dream of tossin' a whole basket of gold into my wife's lap an' sayin', 'There, Mother, it 's yours; do as you like with it.’"
She made no reply. That gold-tossing had revived her hope a little and pacified her for the moment.
Such was a sample day in the life of the Smeads when Dan'l Webster was at home. Every night and morning the boys were helping father by rubbing the legs and body of the stallion. I soon acquired the habit, partly because I admired the splendid animal, partly to help the boys. I had never rubbed a horse's legs before, and it appealed to me as a new form of dissipation.
We were all helping father while the mother worked along from dawn till we had all gone to our beds—all save the head of the house. He spent his evenings reading or in the company of the horse- men at the Palace Hotel.
I was now deeply interested in my school-work. One night I had sat late with my problems in algebra, and lay awake for hours after I went to bed. The clock struck twelve, and still I could hear Mrs. Smead rocking as she sewed down-stairs. By and by there were sounds of Mr. Smead entering the front door. Then I heard her say:
"Dan'l, you promised me not to do this again. The boys are growing up, and you must set them a better example."
She spoke kindly, but with feeling.
"Mother, don't wake me up," he pleaded. "I 've enjoyed an evening of great pride an' immeasurable wealth. They 've been praisin' my hoss, an' two men from New York are comin' to buy him. I 'm a Croesus. For the Lord's sake, lemme go to bed with the money!"
I lay awake thinking what a singular sort of slavery was going on in that house.
In a way, Henry Dunbar was like Texas, whence he had come with his sister Florence to go to school in Griggsby. Colonel Buckstone had often referred to him as "The Lone Star." He was big, warm-hearted, and brave; he could turn a hand-spring, and was the best ball-player at the academy. He could also smoke and chew tobacco.
"Have a chew?" he asked the first day we met.
I confessed with shame that I was not so accomplished.
"If you get sick, take some more," he said. "That 's the only way. Everybody chews that is anybody."
It was almost true. Many of the leading men went about with a bulge on one side of their faces. An idea came to me. I would show Henry that I had at least one manly accomplishment. So I conducted him to the Smead stable and began rubbing a leg of Montravers. Henry was impressed; he wanted to try it, and did, and thereby the horse got hold of his imagination also.
Next morning at daylight we went down to the fair-ground to see Montravers driven. There were other horses at work, and the shouts of the drivers and the swift tattoo of the hoofs quickened our pulses before we could see the track. The scene, so full of life and spirit, thrilled us. It was fine bait for boys and men. In our excitement we thought neither of school nor of breakfast.
By and by the leading citizens began to arrive in handsome runabouts, and to take their places on the grand stand.
"That 's Colonel Sile Buckstone," Henry whispered.
There was no mistaking the Colonel's bovine head and scarlet blossom. His voice roared a greeting to every new-comer.
His son, our schoolmate Ralph, arrived with his father, and joined us down by the wire. Senator Griggs, Judge Warner, and a number of leading merchants had also arrived. In the use of tobacco, these men had what was called a fine "delivery." Most of them sat in broadcloth and silk hats, expectorating with a delivery at once exact and impressive. There was the resounding Websterian tone, coupled with a rustic swagger and glibness that could be found in every country village. What vocal and pedestrial splendor was theirs as they rose and strode to the sulky of Montravers, who had finished a trial heat! Much of the splendor had been imported from the political centers by Smithers, Brooks, and Buckstone, but more of it was natural Websterian effulgence.
Mr. Smead was right: the trotter was indeed the friend and ally of the "conversationalist." How well those high-sounding names fitted the Websterian tone—Montravers, Hambletonian, Abdallah, Mambrino Chief! And so it was with all the vivid phrases of the race-track. The sleek, high heads and spurning feet of the horses seemed to stimulate and reflect the Websterian spirit. When a man looked at one of those horses he unconsciously tightened his check-rein. If his neck was a bit weary, he felt for his flask or set out for the Palace Hotel.
Those great men complimented Mr. Smead on his horse, and the senator bet a hundred dollars with the congressman that Montravers would win his race.
"Let us bet on that horse," said Henry to me; "we can't lose."
I confessed with some shame that I did not know how to bet.
"That 's easy," said Henry. "I 'll show you how when the time comes."
Then we went round among the stables.
What a center of influence and power was that half-mile track and the stables about it! It was a primary school of crime, with its museum of blasphemy and its department of dirty slang. What a place for tender youth!
There were the sleek trotters passing in and out, booted for their work. In the sulkies behind them were those king-like drivers, in their cursing moods so contemptuous of ordinary men as to be almost sublime, and beyond the reach of our envy. There were the great prancing, beautiful stallions, and the swipes—some of them dog-faced, and all of whom we envied! We became their willing slaves, we boys of the school, fetching water, and sweeping floors for the sacred privilege of rubbing a horse's leg.
We boys began to think that greatness was like a tree with its top in the brain and its roots in the human stomach, and that the latter needed much irrigation. It seemed to us that poker, inebriety, slangy wit, and the lavish hand were as the foliage of the tree; that fame, wealth, and honor were its fruit. Parents, ministers, and Sunday-schools were temporary obstacles to the wearing of beaver hats, the carrying of gold-headed-canes, and the driving of fast horses. It would not do for a boy to be swelling around bigger than his father, but when we had become large and strong and worthy, tobacco and the beaver would be added unto us. Some of us got the idea, although none of us dared to express it, that our fathers were not so great or so grand as they might be, and we thought we knew the reason. Luckily, from one of our secret sessions with tobacco I went home sick, convinced that a humble life was best for me.
The next day Florence sent a note to my room, saying that she wished to see me. We went out for a walk together.
"I 'm going to look after you," she said. "You have n't any mother here, and you need me. You 've simply got to behave yourself."
She stopped, faced me, and stamped her pretty foot on the ground, and there were tears in her blue eyes. She turned me about and took my arm and held it close against her side as we walked on in silence.
"I will do anything you want me to," I said helplessly.
"Then be a good boy," said she, looking into my eyes.
I did my best after that, not very well, I fear, but my best, all things considered, and kept my heart recently clean for her sake. More than once I wept for sorrow over my adventure through the ice, for it had made me give her up.
That night I told Ralph that Florence loved him, and how I knew. It was a sublime renunciation. After all, what is better than the heart of a decent boy? I wish it were mine again.
"I love her, too," he said, "but I have n't dared to tell her of it. I 'm going to see her now."
After that, Ralph was a model student and a warm friend of mine.
Fair-time had arrived. The Smead boys had worked every night and morning on the legs and body of that splendid horse. His coat was satin, and his plumes were silk when he went out of the stable; he returned dripping with sweat and foam.
I wonder what Daniel Webster Smead would have accomplished with those boys if they had had the care and training of his "hoss." But they were only descended from Thankful. Smead and Remember Baker and Winfield Scott, and what was that in comparison with the blood of Hambletonian X?
I gave to Henry to be wagered a part of the money which my father had provided for the term's expenses. Henry promised that he would surely double it, and that is what happened. Montravers won, our pockets bulged with money, but the horse did not sell. A buyer from New York made an offer, which was refused. Mr. Smead informed us that the buyer had said that if Montravers showed that he could repeat his performance, the price was not too high. Our imaginations began to swell.
The next week the stallion was entered at Higglebury. Henry and I were going over to get rich. Early in the morning of the race we skipped school and took a train to Higglebury. Such riches have never come to me as we had in our minds that morning. We considered what we should do with the money. I secretly decided that I would buy a diamond ring for Florence Dunbar. Henry had his mental eye on a ranch in Texas, near his father's—not a very big one, he explained to me. As Henry knew the art of betting, I gave all my money to him, except a dollar and fifty-four cents.
We spent the morning at the stables, by the track, and endured a good deal of abuse from the swipe boys, who looked down upon us from that upper level of horsedom. We knew it was justified and made only a feeble response. We stood near with eyes and ears of envy while they jested with many a full, round oath. Some one of them would say:
"Here, sonny, keep away f'm thet mare's legs! She 'll kick a hole in ye. If she don't, I will. Come, now, take a walk—run home to yer mammy."
That was the mildest brand of scorn bestowed on us whenever we tried to demonstrate our fondness for the "trottin'-hoss." We found the stall of Montravers, but the trainer would not have us there despite our friendship for the owner. Driven by the contempt of our superiors from this part of the grounds, we haunted the rifle-ranges and the gingerbread- and lemonade-stalls until the grand stand was thrown open. Henry left me for a while, and on his return said that he had wagered all our money on Montravers. I sat in a joyful trance until the bell rang.
The race began with our favorite among the five leaders of a large field. Suddenly the sky turned black. Montravers had broken, and had begun bucking, and acted as though he wanted to kick. He fell far behind, and when the red flag came down before him and shut him out of the race, I had to believe it, and could not. It was like having to climb a tree, with a wolf coming, and no tree in sight.
Now, the truth is, Montravers might have won, but his driver sold the race, as we were to learn by and by—sold it for ten dollars and two bottles of whisky. He pulled and bedeviled the horse until the latter showed more temper than speed. The horse made every effort to get free and head the procession. He was on the square, that horse, but the ten-dollar man kept pulling. The horse was far more decent, more honest, more human than his driver; but the latter blamed the horse, and the New Yorker got him for a thousand dollars less than he would have had to pay by any other method.
The ten-dollar man proved to be one of the few philanthropists in Griggsby. He became one of the great educators of the village. He stood by the gate that opened into the broad way of leisure. His cheap venality was like a club in his hands, with which he smote the head of the fool and turned him away from the race-track. If he had been a hundred-dollar man, everybody would have had a trotting-horse and the farms of the country would have gone to weeds.
Henry and I had only twenty-four cents between us. We met Mr. Smead coming from the stables. Despite his gay way of taking his misfortune, he was awfully cut up. We soon saw that something like an earthquake had happened to him.
"My education is complete," said he, sadly. "I have got my degree; it is D. F. I have honestly earned it, and shall seek new worlds to conquer. The man who mentions hoss to me after this day shall perish by the sword of my wrath."
He carried his little driving-whip in his hand.
"I have sold everything but this whip," he added; "I keep that as a souvenir of my school-days. Boys, are you ready to join me in a life of industry?"
"We are," said both of us in concert.
"Then, in the language of D. Webster, follow me, strike down yon guard, gain the highway, an' start for a new destination. Boys, we will walk home; let us shake from our feet the dust of Higglebury."
"We have got to walk," said Henry. "We lost every dollar we had on the race."
[Illustration: "‘We have got to walk,’ said Henry. ‘We lost every dollar we had on the race.’"]
"We are all of equal rank," said Smead, with a smile. "I will share with you my degree, my new dishonors. Now, let us proceed to the higher walks of life, the first of which shall be the walk to Griggsby."
The sun was low when, beyond the last house in the village of Higglebury, we came out on the turnpike with our faces set in the direction of Griggsby, seven miles away—and destinations far better and more remote.
Henry and I were weary, but the talk of Smead helped us along.
By and by he said: "Boys, as workers of iniquity we are failures; let us admit it. For the weak the competition is too severe. The ill-trained, half-hearted, third-rate, incompetent criminal is no good. He is respected neither by God, man, nor the devil. Let 's be respectable. If we must have something for nothing, let 's go to cuttin' throats, or boldly an' openly an' without shame jump into Wall Street. Then we might have our mansions, our horses, an' our hounds. Whether we died in bed or on the gallows, we should be honored in song an' story, like Captain Kidd."
He gaily sang a verse of the ballad, very familiar in the days of which I am telling:
"Jim Fisk was a man, wore his heart on his sleeve no matter what people might say.
And he did all his deeds—both the good and the bad—in the broad, open light of the day.
If a man was in trouble Jim helped him along to drive the grim wolf from the door,
He often did right and he often did wrong, but he always remembered the poor.
"That 's the thing!" He went on. "Cut the throats of the people, grab a million, an' throw back a thousan' for charity.
"As it is, we are neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. Satan scorns our aid. I, for one, resent it. After all, a man of my gifts an' attainments deserves some recognition. Le' 's resign our commissions in his army an' go in for reform.
"Le' 's take up the idee o' givin' somethin' fer somethin', an' see how that 'll work. In my opinion, it 'll pay better. For one thing, we shall not have much competition in Griggsby. Of course there are the churches, but they are busy with the sins of the Philistines an' Amalekites.
"Satan has made Griggsby his headquarters as bein' more homelike than any other part of the universe. That is the place to begin operations. We 'll be lonesome an' unpopular, but we 'll raze hell—I mean of course that we 'll cause it to move from Griggsby. There is nothin' else for us to do. We are driven to it. Griggsby is untouched; it is virgin soil. As we have been comin' along, I have been countin' on my fingers the young men of good families who under my eye have gone down to untimely an' dishonored graves in that little village. There are twenty-six that I can think of who have followed the leadin' lights to perdition. Of course there are more, but that is enough. It 's a ghastly harvest, boys. First, we will attack the leadin' lights; we will put them out."
Henry and I were rather deeply impressed by this talk, so new, so different, so suited to our state of mind. It hit us straight between the eyes.
I was in a bad way, and dreadfully worried, without a cent for books or tuition or spending money, or the courage to appeal to my father.
"I 've got some money in my pocket, boys," he went on, "If I could only buy 'The Little Corporal’" (our weekly paper), "it would be just the jaw-bone with which to slay the Philistines. Wholesome publicity is the weapon we need. With it we could both demolish an' build up."
Black clouds had covered the sky, and now we were walking in darkness, with a damp wind coming out of the west. We were some miles from the village of Griggsby when a drenching rain began to fall. We could see a light in a window close by the road, and we made for it.
A woman timidly opened the door as we rapped. Smead knew her.
"Sorry to trouble you, Mrs. Bradshaw," said he. "Where is Bill?"
"He an' Sam Reynolds went over to Higglebury fair," said she.
"Well, it is time the prize pumpkins were rollin' home," said Smead; "but I 'm 'fraid we 've rolled about as far as we can to-night. A heavy rain has set in, an' we 're nearly wet through."
"We ain't much to offer you," said the woman, "but if one o' you can sleep with the hired man, there 's a bed for the other two up-stairs."
"Do you think the hired man would sleep with me?" asked Smead, in playful astonishment.
"I guess so," said the woman.
"Well, if you don't think he 'd be offended, if he would n't git mad an' throw me out, I 'd take it as a great compliment to sleep with the hired man."
The woman put aside her sewing, rose wearily, lit a candle, and went up-stairs to make the bed for Henry and me. She moved heavily in big shoes. Her face was pale and care-worn, her hands were knotted with toil. She was another slave.
"Her girl is away teachin' school," Smead explained to us. "One boy has worked his way to the grave—worn out as ye 'd wear out a hoss. Another is workin' his way through college."
We went to bed, but my sorrows kept me awake. Henry and I discussed them in whispers for half an hour. He said that he felt sure his sister Florence could lend us some money. Their bank-account was in her name.
He fell asleep by and by, but I lay thinking of Florence and of my folly. I could hear Mrs. Bradshaw singing softly down-stairs as she rocked in her sewing-chair. Near midnight I heard a carriage, and soon there was an entrance at the front door. Then I heard the woman speak in a low tone, and the angry answer of the man.
Had it come to this? he said with an oath. A man could n't do as he liked in his own house? He would see. Then he proceeded to break the furniture. Oh, the men were always at the bat in those days, an' the women chasing the ball!
When we left in the morning, on a muddy road, Mr. Smead said to us:
"That man is another Simon Legree. The women are mostly slaves about here. If they could have their way, how long do you suppose the leadin' lights would be leadin' us? What would become of the trottin'-hoss an' the half-mile road to bankruptcy an' perdition an' the red noses?
"Now, look at me. I went an' grabbed the earnin's o' my wife an' children an' staked 'em on a hoss. Not that I 've anything ag'in' the hoss; hosses would be all right if it wa' n't for their associatin' with men. You put a five-thousan'-dollar hoss in the company of a ten-dollar man, an' the reputation o' the hoss is bound to suffer. If it 's hard on a hoss, it 's harder on a woman.
"Boys, I shall not buy the 'Corporal.' I shall give every dollar in my pocket to Mrs. Smead an' throw in myself. It ain't much, but it may be more."
That week he lettered a placard with great pains, and had it framed and hung in the drawing-room, and it said:
Proclamation of D. W. Smead:
In the name of God, amen. I hereby declare my wife to be a free woman and entitled to the rights of a human being in my home—the same right that I have to be wise or foolish. She shall have a part of the money that she earns by her own labor, and the right to rest when she is weary and to enjoy a share of my abundant leisure. All persons are warned against harboring or trusting me any further at her expense.
(To be concluded)