The Country Boy/Chapter 6

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The hunger that had been hidden by the excitement of the race soon came to the surface again, increased tenfold, and we were fairly bent over with hunger and pain. Bob asked me to go among my friends and hint that we were broke and had had no dinner. I did, but it seemed we had lost our friends with the race.

I returned to the vehicle and told Bob we had better drive to Silverton as fast as possible, where we could get something to eat. We hitched up and were preparing to start home when, in the act of putting away the halter, which the horse had worn coming down, but which I was now taking off and putting under the seat, my hand ran against a cool surface and glanced off.

I looked under the seat-curtain and saw a sight that I didn’t soon forget. It was an enormous dishpan of high polish, the contents of which were concealed by a clean linen tablecloth over the top. I lifted the cloth, and could perceive that it was a most bountiful dinner. I felt faint and weak and grabbed the buggy wheel. Then I called Patton, and when he looked, his countenance changed from that of the humiliated athlete to that of a victor. We thought it belonged to someone on the ground, so we lost no time in driving away with it.

We drove for a mile and a half to where the country road crossed, by way of an old, covered bridge, a beautiful stream called Butte Creek. We halted at the side of the stream, and there spread out this royal lunch. ’Twas the most luxurious affair I have ever seen. There was fully enough for twenty people,—six roast chickens, the most sumptuous pies and cakes imaginable; biscuits buttered, some with preserves between, others with slices of cheese and pickles, and there were several loaves of salt rising bread. There were tarts and cookies, sliced tongue, pickled pigs’ feet, radishes, and about ten dozen hard-boiled eggs. We spread it all out on a grassy peninsula, and proceeded to devour it until we fell into a stupor. We ate until our hands and feet went to sleep.

It was with the greatest difficulty that we mastered sufficient energy to pack up the remaining carcasses and uncut pies and cakes and the general debris that would follow such a meeting.

We drove into Silverton, taking our time. As we approached town we met people coming away that yelled and asked us how Ben’s lunch was. Some of the blood by that time had got back to our brains, and we were able to understand why the horse pulled so heavily on the way to Marquam. When we got into town we heard wild stories over the abduction of Ben Davenport’s lunch, and that Ben had been on the warpath, and that it was a good thing for us he had gone home, as he had invited the orator of the day, the chief marshal, and a man that was running for Congress, to dine with him, and they had accepted.

All hands had proceeded to our barnyard, where they expected to spread this great lunch underneath a pear-tree in the back yard; but, to their astonishment, they found the buggy wherein he had carefully concealed his treasure gone, no one knew where. Ben had gone to my father and threatened to divide the family, but father knew nothing of it. He thought possibly I had discovered the lunch under the buggy seat, and had taken that as an excuse to leave the country, and in his own heart felt much relieved; but Ben was furious. When I met father he wanted me to explain at once, and I did, as I have in this story, and I think he believed me. But the less I can say about Uncle Ben the better.

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I might add, however, that though he and Patton live in the same neighborhood, they have never been seen sitting on the rail-fence talking, as sometimes neighbors do. The truth is, they haven’t spoken since. The ablest debater couldn’t make Ben Davenport believe that we didn’t know the lunch was under the buggy seat when we drove out of town.

Uncle Ben was a genius in a way; he was what you would call a success. If he owned a good pocket-knife with a good rivet that he could snap the blade back and forth from his finger to his thumb, then if he had an old knife that looked good but wasn’t, to trade on, then he was happy.

In some trade he once got a gib bay horse with peculiarly heavy feet. He was about the finest looking horse anybody ever saw. He was sixteen and a half hands high, and as well made as they could be put up. But there was one mistake about him,—he evidently wasn’t intended to work, and if you got him to move after you put a collar on him, you would have to haul him.

It was a lucky thing for Ben Davenport that he got hold of the bay horse, as most all of the property that he accumulated afterward was directly or indirectly due to the big bay horse. Everybody that came into that part of the country owned him at least a day, and he put several gypsy camps out of business. Whenever a stranger came over the road, Uncle Ben had occasion to go out with the big bay; and unless the man knew the horse he couldn’t resist giving everything he had for him, and a little to boot. After he was traded off, Uncle always came to the family with a smile and said: “Well, I have done great business to-day. I’ve got rid of old Broadfoot.” All of our family would plead with him to stay rid of him. He’d promise never to get him back again; but inside of twenty-four hours, he came with just as broad a smile and said, “Well, I’ve got back the big bay.” And it was through that kind of operations, the rake-off, as it were, that went to the kitty, that Uncle Ben got a good financial start. He traded and retraded the horse for years. Every time he passed out he was called “Old Broadfoot,” and every time he came back he was the “Big Bay.”

Silverton kept growing more and more, and traveling men with bigger diamonds began to come to town. I drew pictures for lots of the drummers, and several of them told me they sent to Paris every few months to buy the goods they sold in Silverton. They said that in Paris most everybody drew pictures, and that some day they’d take me. I told father about their promise to take me to Paris, but he only smiled.

It seemed that I ought to be doing something. I was getting pretty big for my age, and still there didn’t seem to be anything that I was just suited for. Finally, McMahan’s circus came,—a one-ring circus,—and they needed a sort of a cheap clown, so I joined them.

I heard from some of the neighbors that it looked bad, owing to father’s standing in the State as a man, but I went ahead. I learned to sing the clown’s song while standing on a barrel, with brass band accompaniment, and at that I did fairly well, if the band played loud; but Joe McMahan, the manager of the circus, thought I ought to do more, so I tried the spring-board. They had led up an old elephant and a horse with spots on him. All the acrobats and tumblers ran down this steep incline and hit the spring-board, and went up and turned from one to three somersaults, going over the elephant and horse, and lit on a big straw tick on the other side. My clown makeup consisted of a heavy, ponderous stomach, also made of straw. I’d never jumped on a spring-board, and no one explained to me the angles at which it was best to hit. I took a long run as I hit the spring-board. I evidently hit it too high up, and instead of going up over the elephant and horse, I cushioned back up the spring-board, lit on the back of my neck, and fell off among the brass band. It made a tremendous hit with the audience, notwithstanding that it nearly broke my neck. They applauded and applauded until they saw me being helped into the dressing room.

It made another clown jealous, as he didn’t do anything half as funny that evening. It was some days before I recovered; but in a circus they use you all the time. While I was laid up with this stiff neck, I had to take care of the children that belonged to a husband and wife who were trapeze performers, and every time their act was called somebody had to mind the baby.

But somehow a fellow soon tires of circus life, and I came home and found that my drawing had improved some, as I had made lots of pictures in the circus. So, finally, father thought I had better go to San Francisco, as he said that was the art center for all the United States. So, the following winter, after it had been raining about a week, we commenced to get ready for the San Francisco trip.

People had been coming to the house all morning to say good-bye, and finally father came up from downtown carrying a valise. It was really a beautiful valise. He explained to me that it was better than these stiff dress-suit cases, as in case it became necessary, I could use it as a pillow. On one side of it was a scene in a garden, and on the other side it showed the coast range mountains with a sunset. The handles were leather, but the rest of it was made of fine, thick cloth that looked like carpet.

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It was nearly time for us to start when father thought perhaps the twenty-dollar gold piece I was taking with me had better not be carried in my

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pants pocket. So, owing to certain differences between San Francisco and Silverton, they thought it best to have me step behind the door and take off my coat and vest and shirt while they put the gold piece in a patch on my underclothes. They sewed it so that it practically lay on my right shoulder-blade, so that by moving my right arm I could tell whether my bank account was all right or not.

Father was always careful at figures and accurate in calculations, so he figured in giving me the change I was to have in my pockets, a day’s allowance extra, in case of a washout, or something, and finally we started for the train. All along the streets were lined with people. Silverton, as I was likely seeing it for the last time, looked more beautiful than ever. The rain had dwindled down to a fine mist that didn’t amount to anything. The people of the town were all smiles. I guess they looked better to me than I did to them. It was a bashful trip for me, as I had left a few months before to be the artist on the Oregonian at Portland, and the whole town went into a half-holiday, and the streets were decorated. I even bid them good-bye for ever; but I was fired, and came back before some of the flower decorations had wilted. Thus it got to be a joke, and naturally the people thought we were foolish to let father spend so much money on such an uncertain trail, and I couldn’t blame them.

But father,—God bless him,—he didn’t comment one way or the other. He just carried the carpet-bag and kept a sad expression on his face. But Silverton came out to a man. The blacksmiths with their aprons on as they lined up in front of the

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shop looked like sculptors. The clerks in the stores looked as good as the proprietors themselves, and Ai Coolidge and Jake McClaine looked like the coast range mountains. Some of them made father’s chin quiver a little when in their good advice they yelled, as they shook hands:

“Well, Homer, be a good boy and stick to it; don’t ever come back!”

When we got through the heart of the town into the residence portion between houses, father looked me straight in the eyes and said:

“They meant well, but it sounded a little hard for us, didn’t it?”

And no answer was necessary.

At each gate we said good-bye to the women of the family; and some of the girls I had seen traces of beauty in, now looked like goddesses and queens. But their advice was all about the same. The general tone was to stay away. Finally, near the depot, one old woman varied the advice by saying to me, as she shook hands:

“Homer, if you fail this time, come home and give up this here making pictures, and help your father work, as he’s getting pretty old!”

Father went with me to Woodburn, ten miles below Silverton, where we were to catch the main line of the Southern Pacific. There we spent the whole afternoon waiting for the California overland that came about six in the evening.

We spent the time talking of what I should do when I got to San Francisco; of the great sights I must naturally see, as it was evidently to be different from Portland.

Finally we had only an hour more to wait for the train, and I got to thinking of this—that father had protected me from hard labor all of my life, simply because it had been my mother’s wish that I should some day be a cartoonist. That this same man who had tried to educate me and who had wholly failed in his attempt, still took it good-naturedly; I thought of his kindness that, during sunshine and rain, sickness and good health, had always been just the same, willing and obliging, working hour after hour that he might enlighten me so that I could avoid some things that he had learned through hard knocks. I saw in him the finest type of the Western pioneer who had educated himself by his own efforts, who had come to Oregon in the early days; who had grown up with the State; who had been identified with its very earliest politics; who had risen in the esteem of his fellow-men to a high position; a man whose honor had never been questioned; a philosopher, a mathematician, a scientist, a poet,—in fact, the highest form of a scholar. He had been my champion against all comers who believed that I should have done manual labor, while he was satisfied if I would only draw pictures.

I was to leave this man perhaps forever, as his features commenced to show the letting down of the physical man that had made him so alert in the years past.

Finally we looked down the track toward Portland, and we could see the headlight on the engine that was to take me away. We had been holding hands for half an hour, and we hadn’t spoken a word. Finally, turning to me, he said:

“Homer, I feel like the old farmer, and I guess you do, who was on his death-bed, when they sent for the minister. The old farmer hadn’t been a church member in his day, hadn’t given much thought to religion or the hereafter. When the preacher asked him as the family stood close around, if he wouldn’t like to make his peace with God, he said, ‘No, I don’t see as there is any use, we ain’t never had any fuss.’”

So, as the grip of our hands grew stronger, he said, “Homer, we’ve never had any fuss, so we can part peacefully.”

On the train my valise attracted attention, and a crowd of drummers gathered around it. They asked me where I was going, and I told them to San Francisco. They asked me where I got the valise and I told them, and I saw a few of them take down the storekeeper’s name that sold it. Finally one of them said, after I had told them my name: “Mr. Davenport, I don’t think you appreciate the opening there is for you or anybody else in San Francisco with that kind of a valise.” A few in the car laughed, but at that time I didn’t see the joke. Finally one of the drummers said if I’d open and they got a look inside of it, he could tell if it was a real one. He said if the colors came clear through the cloth, it’s real; if they don’t, it’s just an imitation. So I opened it and he put his head inside of it. He said: “Yes, it is a real one; they come all the way through.”

I had never slept on a train, so, after I watched them take down a few berths, I went to bed just for the novelty of it, taking upper eight. In the middle of the night, a drummer who had got on the train after I had gone to bed, and was going to get off before I would be up in the morning, said that he would like to see that valise, if it was not too much trouble. So I dug it from under my pillow and showed it to him with the greatest of pride. I remember the drummer said he was sorry he wasn’t going to San Francisco with me, but he said he wouldn’t be there until the next week. I told him I guessed I’d remember him and should like to see him.

The next day across the mountains there were more drummers. Peanut butchers were now selling oranges that had taken the place of apples, and already you could notice quite a California air. With the assurance of how well they thought I’d do there and the sunshine that had taken the place of rain in Oregon, I was being a better fellow than I should, spending money more freely than I really needed to.

There was a gaiety in the smoking-car that I wasn’t used to. The through passengers were all thoroughly acquainted with one another, and the second night I couldn’t really sleep in upper eight. So I was thinking how great San Francisco would look, of what artists I would see there, and whether the general body of people on the streets would look so different from what they did in Portland. I got up before daylight, and, as the gray dawn came, I could see great streaks of yellow flowers out in the fields we were running through. The atmosphere was different, and I actually felt like an artist, if I could only draw.

Finally the train ran on to a ponderous ferry boat and was ferried across a river or bay and the closer we got to San Francisco, the faster the train ran; and as the conductor came through and gave each of us a ferry ticket to cross the bay from Oakland to San Francisco, I saw that I had spent the last cent of change father gave me,—that I had made it just a dead heat.

Aside from the twenty-dollar gold piece in my undershirt, I was completely out.

I wanted to get to the Murphy Building, in which building we had some friends living. A drummer put me on a car as it stood on the turn-table at the foot of Market Street. As this car rolled off the turn-table, I saw what a peculiar position I was in financially. When the conductor came for the fare, I told him that I had come from Oregon, that my father thought he gave me enough change to last until I got to San Francisco, but that he hadn’t. That on my back, sewed in my underclothes, I had a twenty-dollar gold piece. That if he would let me off at the Murphy Building, I would get some change there, and pay him when his car came back. But he said gruffly: “I haven’t the slightest doubt, after a look of your valise, that you have money sewed all over your clothes, but the company doesn’t send us out with buttonhole shears, so you will have to get out your money.”

I told him he could feel of it on my back, whereupon he did. Several passengers also volunteered; but I had to get off the car and, owing to the difference that San Francisco bore to Silverton, I lost several hours it seemed, hunting a suitable place that I might get to this twenty.

Finally, after I got the twenty, I went back and got on another car on the turn-table, and had ridden to about the same spot, when the conductor came through and I gave him my money. He informed me that they didn’t make change for over five dollars. That I would have to get off and have it changed. It seemed that I never would get to the Murphy Building. I had gotten to San Francisco about eight o’clock in the morning, and now it was past noon, and I hadn’t got away from the ferry. I lost more time trying to get change. Finally a man suggested that I buy a cigar. I foolishly told him I didn’t smoke, and he suggested that I had better smoke, even to get my change.

Finally, with the change, I again proceeded to a car. This time I got on a blue car, told the conductor I wanted to get off at the Murphy Building. The car rolled up Market Street with the beautiful gliding, soothing noise. I don’t think I have ever been so impressed or bewildered as I was by that ride. It seemed that I rode hours. Finally the car sheered off to the left and came to Eucalyptus Trees and then to Scant Settlement, and finally to the end of the line. Everybody got off but me, and the conductor said, “Oh, yes; you wanted to get off, didn’t you?”

I said: “Yes, at the Murphy Building.”

He said: “Stay on until we go back.”

They came in, the conductor and gripman, and sat down and talked to me of where I had come from. They said they were bound to see a great deal of me, especially the gripman. I asked them how long they thought it would take a fellow to learn the city, and it seemed like the truth when they told me some people never learned it. Finally we started back toward town. Strange and beautiful faces got on the car, and finally I was lost again in admiration of the heart of the city, when everybody seemed to jump from the car and run for the ferryboat, and I noticed we were back to the turn-table. The conductor came through and said: “Oh, yes; you still want to get off at the Murphy Building.” I said: “Yes, if I can get there before dark I’d like to; but if I can’t, transfer me to a sleeper.” He said: “All right now, set your valise up in your lap so that when I see it I will know you get off at the Murphy Building.”

I saw him look in my direction once or twice, and I held the valise up at him; but he shook his head. Finally, just about dusk of what had been the most strenuous day of all my life, he put me off in front of the Murphy Building, and I lost no time in hurrying in.

Once in the Murphy Building the elevator man asked me first where I wanted to go, and I told him to see some people named Mr. and Mrs. Cline who lived somewhere on the top floor. So he took me up in the elevator, kind of showing off, I guess, by the way he ran it, as it didn’t seem over a second till we were at the top, the sixth floor; and for fear some accident might happen and I would get astray, he led me to the Cline’s very door.

Once inside, a few seconds after I had rapped, it was all over. We were home, and in their presence I felt safe. We visited for two or three hours as hard as people ever visit. Night had come but it didn’t get dark. The glare from the street below seemed to light us up for miles. Finally, with their permission, I went to the front window and, with my forehead plastered against the pane, until it had stuck, I stood a good while looking down on Market Street below. It didn’t seem possible that I would ever be able to walk down there alone; and, as I watched the traffic coming and going and saw the first signs of the real outside world, I thought and longed for Silverton, which seemed so far away.