Chapter IX
School Days

From "John Burroughs - Boy And Man" (1920)
By Clara Barrus

After two summers at the old stone jug, as they called the first school that John attended, the Burroughs youngsters went to the West Settlement school, John going there in the summer till he was eleven or twelve, when, being old enough to help on the farm in earnest, his schooling was confined to winters. His last winter there was in his seventeenth year.

It was a long way to school now-up a hill, down a smooth rolling meadow, through a piece of woods, through more meadow and pasture land, then across a creek in the valley -- a mile and a half from home. Never too long a walk in summer, but trudging through the snows those long winters was a tough experience. With caps pulled down over forehead and ears, muffled in comforters, they battled with wind and snow, often wading through drifts waist-high, the snow getting in at their boot-tops, later to melt and trickle down and add to their discomfort during the thawing-out process around the school-house stove. Oh! the misery of that process, from the time their numb hands and feet began to tingle on through the forenoon when the burning and itching drove them frantic! and drove the teacher frantic, too, with the uneasy wriggling and shuffling induced by their chilblains!

The footpaths they followed, especially in summer, furnished a good deal of natural history for an observing boy: There were trout in the valley stream. They used to feel for them under the banks; by slipping their hands along, they could often get good big fellows, grabbing them under the gills. Squirrels scampered along the fences, and in winter skunks and 'coons sometimes sallied forth from the woods and crossed their path. In the May woods they gathered the early wild flowers, and sought the crisp, aromatic, crinkle-root to eat with their bread and butter at noon, though John usually ate his before reaching school. They carried their lunches in a little red and white splint basket-rye bread and butter, apple-pie (which in winter was often frozen on reaching school), cookies and apples.

The spring that supplied the drinking water was "quite a piece" up the hill, and John's desire to make himself useful took the form of coaxing for this daily task. It was surprising how often he found that spring roiled by a frog or a muskrat, necessitating a long wait for it to settle; surprising, too, how painfully neat he was, requesting permission at very short intervals to go out and wash his slate!

The noon-mark cut in the window-sill of the old schoolhouse was a point of daily interest to the boys. Watching when the sun got there, they grew exceedingly restive if the teacher did not dismiss school on the instant.

Sometimes the boys went down to Stratton Falls for their nooning, bathing in the creek under the rocks. It was a long way off, and occasionally they decided that since they would be tardy anyhow, they might as well stay all the afternoon and get material for slate pencils. Loitering there in the deep gorge worn in the shaly rocks, they hunted out the soft green streaks in the red sandstone, first testing them on their teeth to make sure they would not scratch their slates! They saved these up till winter, whittling them out into pencils in the long evenings before the fire. Some boys became very deft at pencil-making. It was quite a trick to get a good-sized piece, nicely whittled, without breaking it, and a boy who could do it extra well was the envy of the whole school. The best pencils were used as barter. John always envied one boy an especially fine long pencil with its shining-copper gun-cap. He was never able to swap his pocket treasures for it, and when his hair was white with age he confessed that he had seldom coveted anything in life as he did that slate pencil of Hi Bouton's. There was another thing he remembers coveting-the hair of a boy named John Shout. The Shout boy, who was his senior by several years, spent half his time in school curling his hair under so that it formed a beautiful glossy roll in the neck; he also had a peculiar well-trained lock in front by his cowlick, which was John's despair.

"How I envied that boy his hair! I tried to make mine curl under, but it wouldn't; I was always imitative, and I guess I am still-in certain things," he confesses.

He says further of these days:

    John Shout went away to study and came back a doctor. One summer when he came home -- I was in the garden weeding onions -- I remember how nimbly he stepped as he went by our house. Later, when practising there, for some reason he shot at poor old Cuff, putting a bullet-hole in his hip, and one day after that, as he was riding past with his saddle-bags, Cuff, who was the kindest dog in the world, ran out and nearly pulled him off his horse. He never forgave him the injury -- a good illustration of the associative memory of the dog.

It was in this school that John took his first writinglessons, simple lessons consisting of straight lines and pothooks turned upside down.

    I was between six and seven, I think. Liberty Cator and I were learning at the same time. I can see yet how he used to squeeze the quill. I did not make quite such hard work of it. When we got so we could make the pot-hooks, we would put two together to make an n, and three to make an m. We learned coarse hand (capitals) before we tried fine hand.

    We took our goose-quills to school and the teacher made our pensthat's what a pen-knife was for, you know; he also sharpened them for us when they needed it. "Please, sir, will you mend my pen?" was a request the teacher must have found very tiresome.

    Hiram made our ink-wells by casting them from molten lead. We carried them home in our pockets so the ink wouldn't freeze. Our ink, sometimes black, and sometimes purple, was bought at the village store -- no, it was earlier than my time that they used poke-berry juice for ink. Hiram would take a cylindrical piece of dozy wood and hollow it out, shaping it like the cavity of an ink-well; then, tying a piece of moistened fool's cap paper around it, he poured in the lead, later digging out the wood. For the cork he whittled a pine stick to fit.

Winter sports consisted chiefly of snow fights, coasting down the hill-meadows on the crust, and fishing for suckers through the ice. They had only such sleds as they made. Sometimes they slid on barrel-staves fastened together, and sometimes on the rude sled with ash runners that Hiram made -- a sled with steel runners being a luxury of which they never even dreamed.

There being no ice very near, John did not learn to skate when a boy; in fact, he never had on a pair of skates till, when five and twenty, he learned to skate on the Hudson. But winter fishing was a sport not to be sneezed at. John ran away one day and went fishing in the Pepacton with four men who, happening by the school-house at recess, asked him to come along.

Cutting holes in the ice midway of the long still reach of the river, and at either end, the men stationed John at the end of the reach with a long pole. He felt very important at this. Two of the men, starting at the end of the pool, hammered the ice with axes as they came down while the others, lying with faces close to the water, watched at the holes and hooked up the fish which shot along underneath. It was John's stunt to thrust the pole under the ice and keep the water so agitated as to turn the school of fish back as it came down, and he did it well. At each drive, for a few minutes, the fish were snatched up through the holes at a lively rate, till the ice round about was a mass of suckers, with now and then a trout.

Gathering up the fish the men carried them, a bushel basket-full, over to the inn at Shacksville, proceeding to divide them. As there were four men in the party, they began throwing out the fish in four equal piles. John stood there looking mournfully on when one of the men, chancing to glance up and see the lad's expression, called out, "Why, here's Johnny-we must give him some"; so each in turn threw him a sucker from his pile till he had a very respectable one of his own. Hurrying home, he trusted to the fine mess of fish to atone for his truancy.

The summer games they played at school were chiefly ball, I Spy, Head-All, Den, and Throwing Knives-the boy who threw the farthest getting the choice of knives. The boys made their own balls, ravelling out old stocking legs, winding them tight, and covering them with leather which they sewed with a waxed-end, if they could get one from the cobbler in the village. Their bats were hand- his made, crude affairs. Head-All was a game much like Pom-Pom-Pull-Away of to-day. Den was one in which the boy who was "It" led off, fleeing like a deer across the fields, the others taking after him for a specified goal.

At recess the boys used to propound riddles to one another. Here is one that John remembers:

    Grandfather flimiduddle
    Danced in a mud puddle,
    In red-top boots and a green fur hat.
    Guess all your life-time,
    You can't guess that.

The answer is the masculine to one of our domestic fowl. (A drake.)

There were perhaps two dozen books in the library of the West Settlement school, and John used to take them out regularly, reading them over and over. They were mostly books of travel or of adventure. Murphy, the Indian Killer he read again and again, thrilled by the heroism of that intrepid fighter of Red men and Tories. The Life of Washington, the authorship of which is unknown to him, also made a lasting impression upon him when he was probably not more than eight years of age. He recalls how one Sunday morning when he and his brother Hiram and a cousin were playing through the house, carrying this book in his hand, he would stop every little while and read aloud a certain passage which moved him strangely. Its eloquence almost lifted him out of himself, although the older boys seemed indifferent to it. In this connection he recalls other exalted emotional states which occasionally came to him a few years later, particularly one of a June morning when, walking on the top of a stone wall across the summit of a hill, a piece of a root shaped like a pistol in his hand, he felt an unwonted joy. Walking along the toppling stones, flourishing his rude plaything, he called and shouted and exulted, drunk with the wild joy of living. Life was amazingly beautiful at that moment, and his soul sparkled and flashed in the sunlight.

His sensitiveness to the eloquence of the Washington book might lead us to expect a more critical taste for other literature than we find borne out by the facts. Truth compels the statement that at the age of ten he delighted in a book of Negro jingles... (webmaster's note)

Uncle Tom's Cabin was published when John was a lad of fifteen, and although he must have heard much talk of a book which made the stir it did, then and later, still he never read it, and, what is more, doesn't remember ever having had a copy in his hands.

At about the same time (1852) Kossuth came to the United States to stir up sympathy for the Hungarians ground down by the Austrians. Although John remembers often hearing Kossuth's name, the only association he had with it was with the large black Kossuth hats which came into vogue at that time-current history topics evidently were not made much of in the West Settlement school.

Some scenes of those school days are vividly stamped on John's memory: One of his teachers, Bill Allaben, struck Dave Smith on the head, and Sandy, Dave's elder brother, spoke up, saying, " My father don't want you to hit us on the head," whereupon the angry teacher laid the whip on Sandy, belabouring him more and more as he failed to flinch, striking him so hard that the whip made a dent in the desk where it hit the edge. "But Sandy was game," said grown-up John, admiringly, recalling his spunk -- "his Scotch was up-the man was contemptible --we ought to have put him out-doors! "

Hiram once " sassed back " another teacher (Graves), an inefficient man who was having a hard time with the grammar lesson. Now Hiram was a "cracker-jack" at parsing though he could not write a grammatical sentence to save his life. In fact, all the boys were blissfully ignorant of there being any connection between parsing and correct speech. Seeing the teacher evidently in doubt about a point, Hiram ventured a suggestion.

"I don't want any of your help," snapped the teacher.

"Well, you need some help," retorted Hiram; and the evident truth of the retort doubtless saved the froward pupil a flogging.

One day this same teacher, on detecting a boy eating apples behind his Olney's Geography, peremptorily called him to the middle of the floor:

" I saw you this time," he triumphed as the boy approached.

"Saw me what?" indistinctly articulated the boy

"Bite that apple."

"No, sir."

"Open your mouth!"

The boy obeyed, and from its depths the teacher extracted a piece of apple.

"Didn't know it was there," announced the culprit, unabashed.

Commenting further on his school-fellows, Mr. Burroughs, in his eighty-third year, said:

    There are only three or four of us left, so far as I know, and very few of us have made any great record for ourselves.

    There was George H. Cator, my seat-mate, the old man you have seen wheeling the mail bags on a wheel-barrow from the station-he died a year or so ago-George didn't like work any better than I didhe led a desultory kind of life, sitting round taverns a good deal. George gave far more promise of amounting to something than I did. I can remember how much fun he always made at the apple-cuts, while I would sit there mute and stupid, filled with envy.

    There were the Scudder boys and girls, two families of them. Milton was a bright, well-mannered fellow-studied law, went West, and died there in early manhood, and Peace, his sister, died long ago. Rube Scudder, the boy who walked with me to Lexington that time to spend the Fourth, was a jolly, freckle-faced lad with sandy hair. He was a good fiddler -- I've told you how he could dance the "juba" [and he gets up and shows how he did it] to the envy of all the other boys. He became a school teacher-died in Beaverkill in 1870. It was his father that shot the sheriff in the Anti-rent trouble, and his grandfather, old Deacon Scudder, whose apples we used to steal.

    The Smith boys and girls lived where Tommy Smith lives now; they were canny Scots. Some of the children were born in Scotland. The boys wore little Scotch caps to school. I remember they sometimes brought cold pancakes for luncheon, which caused some of the boys to sneer, but now any of them could buy and sell those boys. They were all thrifty, and have been prosperous farmers. Most of them flew far and wide like thistle-down. John and Will and Sandy, who went West, have accumulated a good deal. I had a letter from Sandy a few weeks ago; he was my favourite. It was Sandy I have spoken of in one of my books who, when a child, riding through that wild mountain pass-the Long Woods-asked: "Mither, is there a God here?"

    Andrew Corbin and Jay Gould sat behind George and me in school. Andrew became a merchant, first in Roxbury, then in Bloomville, where he died years ago, and Jay everybody knows that Jay became a multimillionaire.

    Jay had several sisters-Betty, Annie, Polly and Sally. Betty was a stern girl with the Gould pride, who carried a stiff upper lip, like her father. I remember once when a phrenologist came to town she and I went to have our heads examined. He told me I was going to become a rich man! I believed in phrenology then. Sally was much like Betty. Annie was a beautiful girl, modest and gentle and conscientious. I shall never forget her sweet eyes; and Polly, ah! Polly was the flower of the family -- a very sweet girl -- I remember once at noon in the old schoolhouse when we were all playing about -- I a boy of fourteen had an end of one of the seats up on my head-Polly stood there looking on, and suddenly rushed up and kissed me. She was two or three years older. I suppose I flushed and was too bashful and awkward to kiss her, as I probably wanted to do-sweet Polly Gould! I'm sure she was just as winsome as Leigh Hunt's "Jenny":

        Polly kissed me!
      Time, you thief! who love to get
      Sweets into your list, put that in!
      Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
      Say that health and wealth have missed me,
      Say I'm growing old, but add
        Polly kissed me!

"Jay seems to have been the only one of the West Settlement boys to make his mark in the world."

"Except J. B.," I remind him.

"Well, yes, J. B. has made some marks-on paper; some of them may last -- I hope so-but he has spoiled a good deal of paper and ink in his time."

So it was in this little old school-house that John Burroughs and Jay Gould were school-fellows seventy-odd years ago. Here they played and wrestled together, swapped slate pencils, traded knives and marbles, helped each other out of scrapes, and into them, and went home with each other nights; or, rather, John sometimes went home with Jay, not Jay with John.

"He was too proud to stay at our house."

When asked what Jay had to be proud of, he answered, "Well, the Goulds were very prosperous, and naturally stiff-necked; and they lived in a little better style than the other farmers."

Both these boys left school early, going out into the world with little education beyond that of the district school. Each in his way attained national and international fame, though doubtless neither they nor their school-fellows dreamed that either would ever be heard from outside of Roxbury.

Jay used to snicker when John stammered in the reading-class, which cut John so keenly that he often stayed out after recess till the class was dismissed, the indulgent teacher ignoring his absence.

John was stockier than Jay and a trifle taller, and could, as a rule, throw Jay when they wrestled unless Jay, ignoring the rules of the game, broke his hold.

"Now, Jay, you broke your holt -- that wa'nt fair," protested John; but the victor, having adopted rules of his own, would answer convincingly, "But I'm on top, ain't I?"

One day when required to write a composition, John had copied something from an almanac and passed it off as original. Detecting the theft, the teacher sentenced him to stay after school, unless he should hand in a certain number of lines before the close of school. Taking pity on him, Jay wrote some doggerel on his slate and, nudging John, passed it under the desk for him to copy, John, neither too conscientious nor too critical to accept it, copied it off on his own slate and shamelessly turned it in as his, going Scot-free when school was out.

These are the lines with which Jay Gould came to the rescue of John Burroughs:

    Time is flying past,
    Night is coming fast,
    I, minus two, as you all know,
    But what is more I must hand o'er
    Twelve lines by night
    Or stay and write.
    Just eight I've got,
    But you know that's not
    Enough lacking four;
    But to have twelve
    It wants no more.

Note the economy, the thriftiness, and the sharp bargain that this Shylock of a poet drove with the inexorable teacher, even when dealing for another! The genius of the financier showed even then. The required number of lines was furnished, but-could lines be shorter? The law was fulfilled to the letter, nor wrote he more, nor less, than just twelve lines!

A few years later, when Jay Gould was hard up, John, buying two old books of him, -- a German grammar and a work on geology-helped him out of a tight place, paying him eighty cents. Jay had then left school and was living in the village over his father's store and tin-shop, and working at a map of Delaware County. So the future financier helped the future writer with his pen, and the future writer helped the future financier with his coins! John once helped out Jay with eighty cents, but Jay left eighty million dollars when he died!

    Jay used to coax me to go home with him nights. I remember staying there once when they lived in the village, when I had to leave very early in the morning. It was Election Day, and as I went out on the silent village square, I heard a voice bawl out: "Hear ye! hear ye! hear ye! the polls of this election are now open!" It was Burhans, the town clerk, opening Election, but there wasn't a blessed soul around to hear but me.

    No, I never saw Jay after the Roxbury days-not to speak with him. He surveyed for the map after leaving school, then wrote a history of Delaware County, then got into his various speculations. Our paths lay far apart.

    I have never followed his career very closely.

    I saw him once in New York, on Fifth Avenue, many years later recognized his gait at once. And once he came in the Treasury Department in Washington where I was working. The Deputy Comptroller brought some officers from the Commercial Bank of New York in there, requesting me to show them the vault, and Jay was among them. He did not recognize me, though I knew him instantly. I showed them the vault, but did not make myself known to Jay-Yes, one would think I would have-there's a queer streak in me, I guess.

When Jay Gould helped him out by supplying those lines, it is clear that John's desire to write had not yet come to him; in fact, at that period he usually got out of the required task in one way and another. He never could write to order, anyhow; the spirit has to move him first, and the spirit never moved for those Friday afternoon compositions. Why, even one of his teachers, Walter Eliot, with whom John was a favourite, took pity on the lad one day and wrote a composition for him, letting him copy it surreptitiously, so as to maintain discipline. It was something about Napoleon. All that he now remembers of it is that it had a high-sounding expression about the bridge of Lodi. He remembers, however, his sheepish feeling while standing there and reading the composition he had not written. It cured him of wanting to repeat the experience.

He developed rather early a keen interest in words, and always tried to find the meaning of new ones he heard. A woman calling at the house one day, on seeing him trying to make a coloured drawing, exclaimed, " Why, what taste that boy has! "

John pricked up his ears-" Taste! then there is a kind of taste besides that of things to eat!" He was copying a chromo of General Winfield Scott, in which the hero stood by his horse and a nearby cannon. This was presumably shortly after the Mexican War when Farmer Burroughs, his admiration aroused in the hero of Lundy's Lane and Chapultepec, had bought the chromo.

Another addition to John's vocabulary at this time came about thus: One day while watching some men at work on the road, he saw one unearth a queer looking stone and, examining it interestedly, say, "What have we here-some antiquities!" "Antiquities!" John asked what that meant, and in the explanation a new world was opened up to him.

As he grew older he became more and more keen about words. He liked to say over certain phrases met in books. Certain words themselves captivated him. The words "Encyclopaedia Britannica," heard at a lecture in the village, fascinated him -- they made such a fine mouthful! He copied in a little book high-sounding sentences that appealed to him-the future writer was just beginning to handle curiously his tools.

(Chancing to come upon the name and a wood-cut of John Burroughs the other day while looking up something in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I showed him the picture -an atrocious one, however. He made some uncomplimentary remark about "the old codger" to which I replied, "But think how astounded that West Settlement lad would have been had anyone told him he would sometime see his name and picture, good or poor, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica! ") John's father was frequently annoyed by his requests for things his brothers never mentioned, especially books. He could not understand this.

"Why should he want things the others don't want?" he complainingly asked the lad's mother, and she could only reply by saying vaguely, "Why, you know he is different from the others"; and it was reason enough for her. When John came home from school one day all on fire with enthusiasm for an algebra, his father, whose education never took him even through the back part of the arithmetic, inquired impatiently, "An algebra! What is an algebra?

John tried to explain, but hesitated and stammered and, scenting failure, gave it up before his father shouted his refusal. The mother plead for the lad in vain. Next day, on starting for the village, John returned to the charge, but with no better success. With that emphatic No! ringing in his ears he set off, but on nearing the Pennyroyal Rock at the top of the hill, heard his father shouting that he might have his algebra-his mother had gained the point. His "dander" being up by that time, however, he decided he would wait and earn his own algebra, which he did by his early sugar-making, of which we have read. Richer than all the Goulds in later years was that farmboy when some of that precious selfearned money secured his algebra. He had suddenly come into possession of two treasures-the book itself, and the comfortable realization that within himself lay the means to meet his growing desire for books. Later he earned a coveted rhetoric in the same way.

A curiosity which his brothers did not share led him, at thirteen, to attend a lecture in the village in which the starting of a new Academy in Roxbury was agitated. He was the only lad among a small group of men and women. Urging the matter eloquently, the speaker told what a boon it would be to the girls and boys of the vicinity"boys like that one there," he said, pointing to John; and John dropped his head and blushed, but went home fired with the thought of the new Academy, and with the visions of learning evoked by the speaker's words.

A wave of excitement was sweeping over the United States while John, a boy of twelve, was still attending the West Settlement school-the Gold Fever that raged in 1849 and later.

Talk concerning that wonderful Eldorado in the newly acquired state of California, kept the West Settlement boys pretty well stirred up. Someone in California had picked up a piece of gold along the American river the year before while excavating for a mill-race. The news had spread like wild fire, first to Mexico and the Sandwich Islands, as the Hawaiian islands were then called, and later to the East Atlantic States. Daily the boys heard tales of the Forty-niners -- of the mad rush they were making to the mountains of California to dig for gold. Thousands of men left the East during that year, lured by tales of the washings along the western rivers, yielding the diggers fifteen and twenty dollars a day, while those who struck rich "placers" were said to make even five thousand dollars a day! Such rich streaks, however, were quickly worked out, and the unlucky ones who rushed there later often met with the cruellest disillusionment. Frenzied by fabulous tales, the prospectors would often leave a promising locality, journeying far away in quest of better "diggings," only to meet discouragement and failure, sometimes starvation and death. These tales, however, were not the ones that reached the East-not until some time later; only the glowing tales were circulated, fanning the flame in every little village and town.

Excitement among the schoolboys rose to the highest pitch when three Roxbury fellows, between twenty-five and thirty years old, caught the fever, and the citizens of the village made up a purse to help them off. They went on ships to the Isthmus of Panama, and, making their way across, partly on foot, took their chances with hosts of other gold-crazed adventurers who fought desperately for passage on the overburdened ships sailing up the Pacific Coast.

But, alas! none of those Roxbury youths made their "pile." After the first glowing letters, news of them practically ceased. Whatever adventures they had were unknown to their anxious townsmen. One died in California, in the Fraser River rush, it is thought; the fate of another was always a mystery; and the third (Kennedy) returned home, a poor man, ultimately, however, making his fortune by foisting on a credulous public the much advertised panacea-Dr. Kennedy's Favourite Remedy!

Another historic wave of excitement, this time of a religious nature, swept over the country the year after the Gold Fever started. It was caused by a third prophecy of the Millerites, or Adventists, heralding the Second Coming of Christ. This sect had set previous dates in 1843 and 1844, and the faithful had duly provided themselves with ascension robes preparatory to the end of the world. When, in 1850, a third prophecy was made, the expectant believers, undaunted, again made ready to welcome the chariot of the Lord.

There was considerable commotion around Roxbury as the appointed time drew near. One day at school when a terrific thunder storm arose, the big girls, greatly excited, regarded that as a sure sign and portent of the approaching end.

As the forked lightning played across the heavens, and crash after crash of thunder broke over their heads, as ominous clouds darkened the sky, and the rain in heavy sheets completely obliterated the mountains on the opposite side of the valley, the terror-stricken girls trembled and paled and wept. They feared each crash would prove the last before the final trump should sound. Some huddled in frightened silence, others screamed and groaned, a few prayed, as peal after peal crashed over the little school-house. And when they saw a huge black cloud come driving across the sky from the East, they shrieked, "There it comes!" and buried their heads in their arms, in abject terror awaiting the end!

John bad heard, unmoved, this talk about the end of the world, but when he saw the terror among the girls, and among some of the boys as well, combined with the unusual electric display, he began to be a little imbued with belief in the prophecy. He grew solemnly observant as that ominous cloud came driving toward them. If, indeed, this was to be the end of the world, he wanted to see what it was like! But the cloud was no chariot-it held only water. The lightning ceased, the thunder died away, and as the valley was again flooded with sunlight, the girls grew calm. Then and there the observant lad, putting that enlightening experience in his mental pipe, smoked it, reducing it to what it was worth-ashes. "And that's the cheese of it!" was, in the Roxbury vernacular, his sensible conclusion.

The only Movies in John's school-days were, for example, those of actual life, of cattle and sheep wending their way down the steep paths in the pastures, of oxen drawing the stone-boat, goaded on by the farm-boy's gad as he shouted his gee's and bases; of trout darting in the meadow-brooks; of hosts of wild pigeons darkening the skies, wheeling and alighting in the nearby woods-tame affairs compared to the Movies that thrill the boys and girls of to-day! So when John craved excitement he went 'cross lots down to the village to a lecture! and not a lecture arranged to interest the young either, for of such there were none; but he eagerly accepted whatever offered, glad of anything on which to feed his growing hunger for intellectual things. During that last term at the district school, he attended two consecutive lectures in the village, in which the speaker aimed to prove that the soul was not immortal. "Immortal fiddlesticks!" thought Hiram and the other boys, as they poked fun at John for taking those long lonely walks over the hills in the dark, to listen to such fol-de-rol. But something drew him there. Listening eagerly, taking notes of the Biblical passages cited by the lecturer in support of his views, he looked these up on reaching home. (It was with a peculiar interest that I recently examined those pencilled citations made in a little notebook by that eager, thoughtful lad so long ago.) He was by that time beginning to look on both sides of a question, beginning to test things, and to do a little real thinking on his own account, though in a vague, untutored way.

As we have seen, John's desire for knowledge and hunger for books became acute that last year at the district school. He had, in fact, for two years previous, longed for something more than the humble little school offered. During the summer of his fifteenth year, as he had watched the village Academy nearing completion, he had pic t ured I him self going 'cross lots in the fall to join the first pupils to enter its walls. But his father had effectually dashed those hopes before school opened. John coaxed and his mother pleaded in vain, his father, however, giving a half promise that if he stuck to the fall work, he might go to the Academy for the winter term. He kept his part of the bargain, but his father did not keep his. When winter came it looked like a piece of nonsense to Farmer Burroughs-the school in the West Settlement was "good enough for anybody." So there John continued to go, but how yearningly he regarded the boys who attended the Academy! They seemed to move in another sphere.

The following summer his aspirations mounted still higher-he wanted to go away to school. Dave and Sandy Smith had come back from the Franklin Institute with glowing accounts of the life there, and Dick Van Dyke from Harpersfield with equally glowing tales of the seminary there. Both of these places drew John powerfully, and he longed, oh, how he longed, to go to one or the other! The Franklin school, being farther away, seemed quite out of reach, but Harpersfield -- Harpersfield! -- the very name breathed romance and a world of possibilities!

The lad's yearnings, together with the pleadings of his mother, so moved the obdurate father that he again made John a promise: if he would work like a nailer through the fall, he thought he could manage to send him to Harpersfield for the winter term!

Day by day in the September weather, John followed the plough on the side-hill lot above the sap-bush, crossploughing to prepare the ground for rye. His hands were on the plough-handles, but his head was in the clouds, and Harpersfield was at the end of every furrow! It was a world of alluring day-dreams in which he dwelt, as, following old Prince and Pete, though jerked about by the plough-handles, he moved in an enchanted land.

Yet, dreamer that he was, he never lost interest in the wild life around him; many a pleasant incident marked his humdrum toil. Like the Poet Plough-boy of bonnie Scotland, our Plough-boy of the Catskills one day unwittingly routed with his cruel colter a " wee, sleekit, timorous beastie" from her nest. It was the little white-footed mouse, the deer mouse, which, as she scampered away with the young clinging to her teats, looked like the "raggedy man" of Mouseland. She jumped so fast in her fright that some of the young fell off, but, plucky little mother that she was! running to a place of safety with the hangers-on, she soon returned and searched for the backsliders, which, on finding, she seized as a cat does her kittens, and made off right speedily.

When winter came, alas! it proved to be the winter of our hero's discontent. Dick Van Dyke went back to school alone-the expense looked too big to John's father when the pinch came.

"He didn't mean to break his word," says the son in later years, "but there was very little money. I often wonder how they got along as well as they did with so little." Bitter as was the disappointment, he swallowed it in silence, no one but his mother divining how bitter it was.

Going for his last term at the home school that winter (1853), he studied with unwonted earnestness, buoyed up by the determination to get away to school soon on money of his own earning.

Years after, in speaking of this he said, "I was better unhelped, as it turned out, and better for all I could help father. He could not understand my needs, but love outweighs understanding, and he was a loving father all the same."

He cannot, even now, hear the name of Harpersfield without a momentary glow on his mental horizon, it was so interwoven with his youthful hopes and dreams. He often says he is not so sure but that he had the best of Harpersfield after all, since the desire to go, the effort to make himself worthy to go, the mental awakening and the high dreams were, after all, the main matter. "I doubt if the reality," he adds, "would have given me anything more valuable than these. The aspiration for Knowledge opens the door of the mind and makes ready for her coming."

(More than sixty years after those Harpersfield longings, the grown-up boy took some of us in his car to Harpersfield -- his Carcassonne! All eagerness as we set out, and talking animatedly, he grew strangely quiet as we neared the place. The seminary was no longer standing. He wandered alone up and down the little street, as though in search of something, and we who looked on at a distance knew that the Harpersfield he beheld was not the sorry little hamlet which we saw, but the Harpersfield of that Plough-boy's dreams. Though walking down near us in reality, he walked alone and lonely there, the Street of Lost Time.

"Alas!" said he, on rejoining us, "here are only the ashes of my boyhood dreams-the Academy, they tell me, was burned years ago.")

That winter, engaging in some of the pleasures of a grown-up youth, John began to be more concerned about his personal appearance; he sometimes indulged in a hair-cut at the village barber's, and sported a pair of fine calfskin boots, with high heels, elegant affairs which he wore to the neighbourhood apple-cuts with bashful pride.

Apple-cuts, which were held around at the various farm-houses in the late autumn evenings, were the chief social affairs of those days. The young folks went dressed in their best; the girls brought their aprons and paring knives, the boys their jack-knives. The extravagance of several lighted candles was afforded on such occasions.

One person sat at the machine and pared the apples, while the youths and maidens sitting around cut, cored, and strung them for drying. It is said that there were often other things cut and dried at those old-time gatherings besides apples.

The work progressed amid great chattering and chaffing, and after pie, doughnuts, and cider were served, they sometimes danced, though this was regarded as sinful by their parents.

Once at an apple-cut at the Burroughs homestead, the nor parents being away, Hiram proposed a dance, but Jane, the who had been recently baptized over in the creek at Stratton Falls, protested against so sinful a pastime.

Hiram and John, unregenerate that they were! being deaf to her scruples, the dance was soon well under way, Hiram playing the jewsharp, John calling off. The awkward youths and shy maidens were fast losing their bashfulness in the mazes of the quadrille when conscientious Jane rang the curtain down on their pleasure. None could be deaf to the persuader to which she resorted: Seizing the dinner-bell, she rang it with such prolonged zeal that the revellers were forced to abandon their unholy frivolity.

There was a jolly old sailor who sometimes fiddled for them at the apple-cuts, singing rollicking ditties as he played:

    Oh! my Bowery girl, ain't ye comin' out to-night?
      Ain't ye comin' out to-night?
      Ain't ye comin' out to-night?
    Oh! my Bowery girl, ain't ye comin' out to-night
      To dance by the light of the moon?
    Oh! I danced all night and my heel kep' a-rockin',
      My heel kep' a-rockin',
      My heel kep' a-rockin',
    Oh! I danced all night and my heel kep' a-rockin'
    An' I danced with a gal with a hole in her stockin'
      The purtiest gal in the room!

And down he would bring his foot with a rousing slam at the end!

At an apple-cut over in the West Settlement it seemed to be generally understood that Jim Bartram was to see Jane Burroughs home, and all the young folks were expecting that John would be equally gallant and see Eleanor Bar-tram home-little Eleanor of the pink sunbonnet, the sweetheart of his childhood. He knew that this was expected of him, suspected that Eleanor herself expected it, and even had some hankering after the experience; but he was very bashful, and there were those blackguarding boys and giggling girls standing around while he valiantly tried to muster up courage to step up and say in his most polite manner, while offering his arm, "Please may I see you home to-night? "

Eleanor was walking demurely alone behind a blushing couple who had already run the gauntlet. As she neared the place where John stood, he made a start, then drew back-no use, he couldn't screw his courage to the point, and little Eleanor tagged along, unescorted, behind her sisters and their beaux.

John had to stand a good deal of bantering the next day:

" Did you have your 'mitten' on, John? " " Maybe he was afraid Eleanor'd give him the mitten." "Afraid of a girl, were you? "-taunts like these were volleyed at the diffident suitor, till in desperation, he blurted out, " I'll be darned if I'd go all the way down the road with her, and come back alone over the hill in the dark." And, if the truth must be told, that was the "cheese" of it!

There came a time, however, and not many months later, when he conquered this difficulty. He was soon calling of a Sunday night at a little red house in the village and paying bashful court to gentle Mary Taft, toward whom he had long felt a decided leaning, in spite of her having eaten so greedily of his maple sugar a year or two before.

Those Sunday night visits were a sort of "linked-sweetness-long-drawn-out." The bashful pair sat at a respectful distance from each other. The conversation was never brisk, and the swain would get pretty sleepy before midnight. Promptly on the stroke of twelve, Mary would withdraw, returning soon with a pie and a cake, after which the talk would grow a bit livelier. " The Lord only knows what we talked about," Mary's reticent beau declares. After refreshments were discussed, the hours again dragged wearily on until two-the accepted time for such visits to end-to leave earlier were to slight the maid!

There was no fear of the dark then as he started on his homeward walk over the hills and through the woods.

He only wondered how soon he might arrange to call on Mary again. If one went every Sunday night, it meant an engagement; he was circumspect and ruled that out; but, asking himself whether he would wait two, or three, weeks, he strongly inclined to but two.

Such allurements, however, did not make him lose sight of his resolution to earn money in the spring for some real schooling, and in late March, shortly before his seventeenth birthday, he started out to seek a place as teacher. He went down into Ulster County, to Dr. Hull's, a friend of his father's, to seek a school-his only journey of any account since when, a lad of eleven, he had gone to Catskill on his father's load of butter!

With his black oilcloth satchel in hand, and a few dollars in his pocket, earned, as usual, by making maple-sugar, he went forth with a heart full of vague yearnings and forebodings.

There was a heavy snow-squall as he crossed Batavia mountain into Red Kill, going over the saddle of the mountin and following the same course his father used to point out as the one he had taken on his old sorrel mare when courting John's mother. Walking the eight miles to Uncle Martin's, he was driven next day to Griffin's Corners to take the stage-coach for Olive.

Standing in the tavern door while waiting for the stagecoach, he was anxious and uncomfortable. He did not even know how the "stage" would look; knew not in the least how to act, nor what would be expected of him. Learning at the tavern what the fare would be, he paid it at the rate of a six-pence a mile for some thirty-odd miles, and soon after saw the old Concord coach, drawn by four horses, come driving up with a flourish. The young traveller watched them enter his name on the way-bill, and, at the brusque command of the driver to hustle, climbed nimbly to the top of the coach behind the driver, his heart beating violently as they started off.

On leaving the snowy hills of Delaware County and dropping down into the milder climate of Ulster, John grew more and more homesick, but on reaching the old Doctor's, was greatly cheered by the warm welcome he received. The next day, riding with the Doctor on his rounds, he made inquiries everywhere about schools in need of a teacher. After three days of this he heard of a school eight miles away, in Tongore, and walking there, hunted up the trustees, and made application. How uncomfortable he felt as they looked him over sharply, questioning him as to his ability!

"I cal'late ye hain't had much experience," said one of them, " but we'll let ye know in the course of a week, or sech matter."

It was the first day of April when he started back home, a few days before his seventeenth birthday. As they stopped at the same tavern to change horses, seeing a copper cent lying on the floor, John stooped to pick it up, but found it nailed fast. Great was his mortification, and keenly was he aware of the sly looks and chuckles of bartender and bystanders!

Before the week ended a letter came from the trustees bidding him come at his earliest opportunity. Wages were to be ten dollars the first month, and eleven a month for the other five if he should prove satisfactory, "and board 'round." Elated, he answered that he would be on hand to open school the next Monday.

Then came the real leave-taking. His mother was full of anxious care as she mended and packed his clothes. Breakfast was over before daylight, the lunch was put up, and all stood silently around to say good-bye to John, going away from home to "keep school." The father was silent, the mother was silent, too, but busy, proud and anxious-her boy, John, the apple of her eye, was going out into the world alone! Did her divining heart know that he was going to meet renown? that he was going to do work. of enduring worth? that he was going to write his name deeply on the hearts of men? The brothers hung around, half envious, half incredulous of his success; his sisters stood by shy and tearful, and with a lump in his throat and a wistful look at the group on the doorsteps, the agitated lad climbed up on the spring-seat beside his father, and they drove briskly the ten miles to Dimmick's Corners (now Arkville) to meet the "stage" -- John, especially, in trepidation lest it leave before they should get there.

He felt more experienced as he mounted the Concord coach for his second trip. In due time the rocking vehicle set him down at Terry's Tavern, whence he walked the few remaining miles to Tongore in the April twilight.

The little spring peepers were piping in the ponds, and the familiar sound made the pent-up feelings of the homesick boy almost burst their bounds-this boy starting out to work his way in the world! He was very forlorn. Oh! if he were only home again! If he could only see the old hills instead of this strange land! But, no longer the child of four on that first journey on the Deacon road-the child that had looked back, and on seeing how far he was from home, had ran back as fast as he could! -- there can be no running back now! he must push on, wherever the road leads!

The long road at last had a turning. Just as the weight on his heart was the heaviest, he spied a man with a strangely familiar gait coming around a bend. His heart leapt up as he beheld Neighbour Scudder, Rube's father, who had been to Tongore to deliver a yoke of oxen. Cheered by the brief encounter, John made the rest of the journey with a lighter heart. Soon he was almost exulting in the new experience. To-morrow he would begin teaching! His wages would enable him to go away to school!

That night his head fairly buzzed with plans and projects and it was long before he fell asleep.

It was a different world into which he awakened. Though still thinking wistfully of the home amid the hills, he followed eagerly the beckoning Future.

The Plough-boy went forth to make his dreams come true!


  1. webmaster's note: the jingles, which some may consider offensive, have been edited out - (Return)


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