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Naughty Little Angel by Scotty Snow 0. Mikey and the French Teacher by Scotty Snow 0. Blizzard One by Scotty Snow 0. Wheeler had come out from Vermont to be Principal of the High School, when Frankfort was a frontier town and Nat Wheeler was a prosperous bachelor. He must have fancied her for the same reason he liked his son Bayliss,—because she was so different.
There was this to be said for Nat Wheeler, that he liked every sort of human creature; he liked good people and honest people, and he liked rascals and hypocrites almost to the point of loving them. If he heard that a neighbour had played a sharp trick or done something paricularly mean, he was sure to drive over to see the man at once, as if he hadn't hitherto appreciated him. There was a large, loafing dignity about Claude's father.
He liked to provoke others to uncouth laughter, but he never laughed immoderately himself. In telling stories about him, people often tried to imitate his smooth, senatorial voice, robust but never loud.
by Mark Twain
Even when he was hilariously de-lighted by anything,—as when poor Mahailey, undressing in the dark on a summer night, sat down on the sticky fly-paper,—he was not boisterous. He was a jolly, easy-going father, indeed, for a boy who was not thin-skinned. Getting rid of his disagreable freight and his uncongenial companions as soon as possible, he elbowed his way along the crowded sidewalk, looking for some of the neighbour boys.
Wheeler was standing on the Farmer's Bank corner, towering a head above the throng, chaffing with a little hunchback who was setting up a shell-game. To avoid his father, Claude turned and went into his brother's store. The two big show windows were full of country children, their mothers standing behind them to watch the parade. Bayliss was seated in the little glass cage where he did his writing and bookkeeping. He nodded at Claude from his desk. I thought I might find him in here. Bayliss swung round in his swivel chair to return a plough catalogue to the shelf.
Better look for him in the saloon. Claude's cheeks flamed with anger. As he turned away, he noticed something unusual about his brother's face, but he wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of asking him how he had got a black eye. From Bayliss' drawl one might have supposed that the boy was a drunken loafer.
At that very moment Claude saw his friend on the other side of the street, following the wagon of trained dogs that brought up the rear of the procession. He ran across, through a crowd of shouting youngsters, and caught Ernest by the arm. I left my wagon out by the pumping station, on the creek. Claude would have liked to take Ernest to the hotel for dinner.
He had more than enough money in his pockets; and his father was a rich farmer. In the Wheeler family a new thrasher or a new automobile was ordered without a question, but it was considered extravagant to go to a hotel for dinner. If his father or Bayliss heard that he had been there—and Bayliss heard everything—they would say he was putting on airs, and would get back at him.
He tried to excuse his cowardice to himself by saying that he was dirty and smelled of the hides; but in his heart he knew that he did not ask Ernest to go to the hotel with him because he had been so brought up that it would be difficult for him to do this simple thing. He made some purchases at the fruit stand and the cigar counter, and then hurried out along the dusty road toward the pumping station. Claude threw himself on the sand beside the stream and wiped the dust from his hot face.
He felt he had now closed the door on his disagreeable morning. He was nineteen years old, and he was afraid to go into a saloon, and his friend knew he was afraid. After lunch, Claude took out a handful of good cigars he had bought at the drugstore. Ernest, who couldn't afford cigars, was pleased.
He lit one, and as he smoked he kept looking at it with an air of pride and turning it around between his fingers. The horses stood with their heads over the wagon-box, munching their oats. The stream trickled by under the willow roots with a cool, persuasive sound.
Claude and Ernest lay in the shade, their coats under their heads, talking very little. Occasionally a motor dashed along the road toward town, and a cloud of dust and a smell of gasoline blew in over the creek bottom; but for the most part the silence of the warm, lazy summer noon was undisturbed. Claude could usually forget his own vexations and chagrins when he was with Ernest.
The Bohemian boy was never uncertain, was not pulled in two or three ways at once. He was simple and direct. He had a number of impersonal preoccupations; was interested in politics and history and in new inventions. Claude felt that his friend lived in an atmosphere of mental liberty to which he himself could never hope to attain. After he had talked with Ernest for awhile, the things that did not go right on the farm seemed less important.
Claude's mother was almost as fond of Ernest as he was himself. When the two boys were going to high school, Ernest often came over in the evening to study with Claude and while they worked at the long kitchen table Mrs. Wheeler brought her darning and sat near them, helping them with their Latin and algebra. Even old Mahailey was enlightened by their words of wisdom. Wheeler said she would never forget the night Ernest arrived from the Old Country. His brother, Joe Havel, had gone to Frankfort to meet him, and was to stop on the way home and leave some groceries for the Wheelers.
The train from the east was late; it was ten o'clock that night when Mrs. Wheeler, waiting in the kitchen, heard Havel's wagon rumble across the little bridge over Lovely Creek. She opened the outside door, and presently Joe cam in with a bucket of salt fish in one hand and a sack of flour on his shoulder. While he took the fish down to the cellar for her, another figure appeared in the doorway; a young boy, short, stooped, with a flat cap on his head and a great oilcloth valise, such as pedlars carry, strapped to his back. He had fallen asleep in the wagon, and on waking and finding his brother gone, he had supposed they were at home and scrambled for his pack.
He stood in the doorway, blinking his eyes at the light, looking astonished but eager to do whatever was required of him. What if one of her own boys, Mrs. She went up to him and put her arm around him, laughing a little and saying in her quiet voice, just as if he could understand her, "Why, you're only a little boy after all, aren't you? That night he and Claude only shook hands and looked at each other suspiciously, but ever since they had been good friends.
After their picnic the two boys went to the circus in a happy frame of mind. In the animal tent they met big Leonard Dawson, the oldest son of one of the Wheelers' near neighbours, and the three sat together for the performance. Leonard said he had come to town alone in his car; wouldn't Claude ride out with him? Claude was glad enough to turn the mules over to Ralph, who didn't mind the hired men as much as he did.
Leonard was a strapping brown fellow of twenty-five, with big hands and big feet, white teeth, and flashing eyes full of energy. He and his father and two brothers not only worked their own big farm, but rented a quarter section from Nat Wheeler. They were master farmers. If there was a dry summer and a failure, Leonard only laughed and stretched his long arms, and put in a bigger crop next year. Claude was always a little reserved with Leonard; he felt that the young man was rather contemptuous of the hap-hazard way in which things were done on the Wheeler place, and thought his going to college a waste of money.
Leonard had not even gone through Frankfort High School, and he was already a more successful man than Claude was ever likely to be. Leonard did think these things, but he was fond of Claude, all the same. At sunset the car was speeding over a fine stretch of smooth road across the level country that lay between Frankfort and the rougher land along Lovely Creek. Presently he chuckled to himself and turned to Claude. Notice anything queer about him, one eye a little off colour? Did he tell you how he got it? A lot of people did ask him, though, and he said he was hunting around his place for something in the dark and ran into a reaper.
Well, I'm the reaper! Don't you know Bayliss? I went in there to pay a bill yesterday, and Susie Gray and another girl came in to sell tickets for the fireman's dinner. An advance man for this circus was hanging around, and he began talking a little smart,—nothing rough, but the way such fellers will. The girls handed it back to him, and sold him three tickets to shut him up.
I couldn't see how Susie thought so quick what to say. The minute the girls went out Bayliss started knocking them; said all country girls were getting too fresh and knew more than they ought to about managing sporty men—and right there I reached out and handed him one. I hit harder than I meant to. I meant to slap him, not to give him a black eye.
I waited for him to come back at me. I'm bigger than he is, and I wanted to give him satisfaction. Well, sir, he never moved a muscle! He stood there getting redder and redder, and his eyes watered. For the next few minutes the driver was occupied with trying to get up a long, rough hill on high gear. Sometimes he could make that hill, and sometimes he couldn't, and he was not able to account for the difference. After he pulled the second lever with some disgust and let the car amble on as she would, he noticed that his companion was disconcerted.
Leonard swung his steering wheel savagely to pass a wagon on the down side of the hill. Leonard looked down in amazement at his own big brown hands, lying on the wheel. I never thought you got on too well with Bayliss yourself. Young Leonard Dawson saw he had hurt the boy's feelings. I went to school with him.
The ride ended amicably, but Claude wouldn't let Leonard take him home. He jumped out of the car with a curt good-night, and ran across the dusky fields toward the light that shone from the house on the hill. At the little bridge over the creek, he stopped to get his breath and to be sure that he was outwardly composed before he went in to see his mother. Listening to the deep singing of the frogs, and to the distant barking of the dogs up at the house, he grew calmer. Nevertheless, he wondered why it was that one had sometimes to feel responsible for the behaviour of people whose natures were wholly antipathetic to one's own.
THE circus was on Saturday. The next morning Claude was standing at his dresser, shaving. His beard was already strong, a shade darker than his hair and not so red as his skin. His eyebrows and long lashes were a pale corn-colour—made his blue eyes seem lighter than they were, and, he thought, gave a look of shyness and weakness to the upper part of his face. He was exactly the sort of looking boy he didn't want to be.
He especially hated his head,—so big that he had trouble in buying his hats, and uncompromisingly square in shape; a perfect block-head. His name was another source of humiliation. In country schools there was always a red-headed, warty-handed, runny-nosed little boy who was called Claude. His good physique he took for granted; smooth, muscular arms and legs, and strong shoulders, a farmer boy might be supposed to have.
Unfortunately he had none of his father's physical repose, and his strength often asserted itself inharmoniously. The storms that went on in his mind sometimes made him rise, or sit down, or lift something, more violently than there was any apparent reason for doing. The household slept late on Sunday morning; even Mahailey did not get up until seven.
The general signal for breakfast was the smell of doughnuts frying. This morning Ralph rolled out of bed at the last minute and callously put on his clean underwear without taking a bath. He reached the table when all the others were half through breakfast, and made his peace by genially asking his mother if she didn't want him to drive her to church in the car. But she can't fit all the parts together. It's a good deal of work, you know. Nobody ever thinks of skimming milk now-a-days. Every up-to-date farmer uses a separator.
Wheeler's pale eyes twinkled. We're old-fashioned, and I don't know but you'd better let us be. I could see the advantage of a separator if we milked half-a-dozen cows. It's a very ingenious machine. But it's a great deal more work to scald it and fit it together than it was to take care of the milk in the old way. He was the chief mechanic of the Wheeler farm, and when the farm implements and the automobiles did not give him enough to do, he went to town and bought machines for the house.
As soon as Mahailey got used to a washing-machine or a churn, Ralph, to keep up with the bristling march of events, brought home a still newer one. The mechanical dish-washer she had never been able to use, and the patent flat-irons and oil-stoves drove her wild. Claude told his mother to go upstairs and dress; he would scald the separator while Ralph got the car ready.
He was still working at it when his bother came in from the garage to wash his hands. Dawson is a younger woman. Anyhow, there's no point in trying to make machinists of Mahailey and mother. Ralph lifted his eyebrows to excuse Claude's bluntness. Mother's entitled to all the labour-saving devices we can get her.
Claude rattled the thirty-odd graduated metal funnels which he was trying to fit together in their proper sequence. The younger boy giggled and ran upstairs for his panama hat. Wheeler sometimes said it was wonderful, how much Ralph would take from Claude. After Ralph and his mother had gone off in the car, Mr. Wheeler drove to see his German neighbour, Gus Yoeder, who had just bought a blooded bull. Dan and Jerry were pitching horseshoes down behind the barn. Claude told Mahailey he was going to the cellar to put up the swinging shelf she had been wanting, so that the rats couldn't get at her vegetables.
I don't know what does make the rats so bad. The cats catches one most everyday, too. I've got a nice wide board down at the garage for your shelf. The cellar was cemented, cool and dry, with deep closets for canned fruit and flour and groceries, bins for coal and cobs, and a dark-room full of photographer's apparatus.
Claude took his place at the carpenter's bench under one of the square windows. Mysterious objects stood about him in the grey twilight; electric batteries, old bicycles and typewriters, a machine for making cement fence-posts, a vulcanizer, a stereoptican with a broken lens.
The mechanical toys Ralph could not operate successfully, as well as those he had got tired of, were stored away here. If they were left in the barn, Mr. Wheeler saw them too often, and sometimes, when they happened to be in his way, he made sarcastic comments. Claude had begged his mother to let him pile this lumber into a wagon and dump it into some washout hole along the creek; but Mrs.
Wheeler said he must not think of such a thing, as it would hurt Ralph's feelings very much. Nearly every time Claude went into the cellar, he made a desperate resolve to clear the place out some day, reflecting bitterly that the money this wreckage cost would have put a boy through college decently. While Claude was planing off the board he meant to suspend from the joists, Mahailey left her work and came down to watch him.
She made some pretence of hunting for pickled onions, then seated herself upon a cracker box; close at hand there was a plush "spring-rocker" with one arm gone, but it wouldn't have been her idea of good manners to sit there. Her eyes had a kind of sleepy contentment in them as she followed Claude's motions. She watched him as if he were a baby playing. Her hands lay comfortably in her lap. He's awful busy this summer.
I saw him in town yesterday. We went to the circus together. Mahailey smiled and nodded. I'm glad for you two boys to have a good time. Ernest's a nice boy; I always liked him first rate. He's a little feller, though. He ain't big like you, is he? I quess he ain't as tall as Mr. I know he is. I know he works hard. All them foreigners work hard, don't they, Mr. I reckon he liked the circus. Maybe they don't have circuses like our'n, over where he come from. Claude began to tell her about the clown elephant and the trained dogs, and she sat listening to him with her pleased, foolish smile; there was something wise and far-seeing about her smile, too.
Mahailey had come to them long ago, when Claude was only a few months old. She had been brought West by a shiftless Virginia family which went to pieces and scattered under the rigours of pioneer farm-life. When the mother of the family died, there was nowhere for Mahailey to go, and Mrs. Wheeler took her in. Mahailey had no one to take care of her, and Mrs. Wheeler had no one to help her with the work; it had turned out very well.
Mahailey had had a hard life in her young days, married to a savage mountaineer who often abused her and never provided for her. She could remember times when she sat in the cabin, beside an empty meal-barrel and a cold iron pot, waiting for "him" to bring home a squirrel he had shot or a chicken he had stolen. She thought herself well off now, never to have to beg for food or go off into the woods to gather firing, to be sure of a warm bed and shoes and decent clothes.
Mahailey was one of eighteen children; most of them grew up lawless or half-witted, and two of her brothers, like her husband, ended their lives in jail. She had never been sent to school, and could not read or write. Claude, when he was a little boy, tried to teach her to read, but what she learned one night she had forgotten by the next. She could count, and tell the time of day by the clock, and she was very proud of knowing the alphabet and of being able to spell out letters on the flour sacks and coffee packages.
Mahailey was shrewd in her estimate of people, and Claude thought her judgment sound in a good many things. He knew she sensed all the shades of personal feeling, the accords and antipathies in the household, as keenly as he did, and he would have hated to lose her good opinion. She consulted him in all her little difficulties. If the leg of the kitchen table got wobbly, she knew he would put in new screws for her.
When she broke a handle off her rolling pin, he put on another, and he fitted a haft to her favourite butcher-knife after every one else said it must be thrown away. These objects, after they had been mended, acquired a new value in her eyes, and she liked to work with them. When Claude helped her lift or carry anything, he never avoided touching her,—this she felt deeply.
She suspected that Ralph was a little ashamed of her, and would prefer to have some brisk young thing about the kitchen. Claude could remember warm spring days when the plum bushes were all in blossom and Mahailey used to lie down under them and sing to herself, as if the honey-heavy sweetness made her drowsy; songs without words, for the most part, though he recalled one mountain dirge which said over and over, "And they laid Jesse James in his grave. THE time was approaching for Claude to go back to the struggling denominational college on the outskirts of the state capital, where he had already spent two dreary and unprofitable winters.
The professors at the Temple aren't much good. Most of them are just preachers who couldn't make a living at preaching. The look of pain that always alarmed Claude came instantly into his mother's face. I can't believe but teachers are more interested in their students when they are concerned for their spirtual development, as well as the mental. Brother Weldon said many of the professors at the State University are not Christian men; they even boast of it, in some cases.
These little pin-headed preachers like Weldon do a lot of harm, running about the country talking. He's sent around to pull in students for his own school. If he didn't get them he'd lose his job. I wish he'd never got me. Most of the fellows who flunk out at State come to us, just as he did. They pay their football coach a larger salary than their Chancellor. And those fraternity houses are places where boys learn all sorts of evil. I've heard that dreadful things go on in them sometimes. Besides, it would take more money, and you couldn't live as cheaply as you do at the Chapins'.
Claude made no reply. He stood before her frowning and pulling at the calloused spot on the inside of his palm. Wheeler looked at him wistfully. He sighed and turned away. If his mother had been the least bit unctuous, like Brother Weldon, he could have told her many enlightening facts. But she was so trusting and child-like, so faithful by nature and so ignorant of life as he knew it, that it was hopeless to argue with her.
He could shock her and make her fear the world even more than she did, but he could never make her understand. His mother was old-fashioned. She thought dancing and card-playing dangerous pastimes—only rough people did such things when she was a girl in Vermont—and "worldliness" only another word for wickedness. According to her conception of education, one should learn, not think; and above all, one must not enquire. The history of the human race, as it lay behind one, was already explained; and so was its destiny, which lay before. The mind should remain obediently within the theological concept of history.
However, he referred the matter to Bayliss one day when he was in town. Bayliss at once assumed that wise, better-be-prepared-for-the-worst expression which made him seem shrewd and seasoned from boyhood. If he gets in with that fast football crowd at the State, there'll be no holding him. If Claude wants exercise, he might put in the fall wheat. Wheeler brought the subject up at supper, questioned Claude, and tried to get at the cause of his discontent.
His manner was jocular, as usual, and Claude hated any public discussion of his personal affairs. He was afraid of his father's humour when it got too near him. Claude might have enjoyed the large and somewhat gross cartoons with which Mr. Wheeler enlivened daily life, had they been of any authorship. But he unreasonably wanted his father to be the most dignified, as he was certainly the handsomest and most intelligent, man in the community. Moreover, Claude couldn't bear ridicule very well.
He squirmed before he was hit; saw it coming, invited it. She was still more or less bewildered, but she had long ago got over any fear of him and any dread of living with him. She accepted everything about her husband as part of his rugged masculinity, and of that she was proud, in her quiet way. Claude had never quite forgiven his father for some of his practical jokes.
One warm spring day, when he was a boister-ous little boy of five, playing in and out of the house, he heard his mother entreating Mr. Wheeler to go down to the orchard and pick the cherries from a tree that hung loaded. Claude remembered that she persisted rather complainingly, saying that the cherries were too high for her to reach, and that even if she had a ladder it would hurt her back.
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Wheeler was always annoyed if his wife referred to any physical weakness, especially if she complained about her back. He got up and went out. After a while he returned. You and Claude can run along and pick 'em as easy as can be. Wheeler trustfully put on her sunbonnet, gave Claude a little pail and took a big one herself, and they went down the pasture hill to the orchard, fenced in on the low land by the creek. The ground had been ploughed that spring to make it hold moisture, and Claude was running happily along in one of the furrows, when he looked up and beheld a sight he could never forget.
The beautiful, round-topped cherry tree, full of green leaves and red fruit,—his father had sawed it through! It lay on the ground beside its bleeding stump. With one scream Claude became a little demon. He has a perfect right to cut it down if he wants to. He's often said the trees were too thick in here. Maybe it will be better for the others.
He's a damn fool, damn fool! His mother dropped on her knees beside him. I'd rather have the whole orchard cut down than hear you say such things. After she got him quieted they picked the cherries and went back to the house. Claude had promised her that he would say nothing, but his father must have noticed the little boy's angry eyes fixed upon him all through dinner, and his expression of scorn.
Even then his flexible lips were only too well adapted to hold the picture of that feeling. For days afterwards Claude went down to the orchard and watched the tree grow sicker, wilt and wither away. God would surely punish a man who could do that, he thought. A violent temper and physical restlessness were the most conspicuous things about Claude when he was a little boy. Ralph was docile, and had a precocious sagacity for keeping out of trouble.
Quiet in manner, he was fertile in devising mischief, and easily persuaded his older brother, who was always looking for something to do, to execute his plans. It was usually Claude who was caught red-handed. Sitting mild and contemplative on his quilt on the floor, Ralph would whisper to Claude that it might be amusing to climb up and take the clock from the shelf, or to operate the sewing-maching.
The usual hardships of country boyhood were not enough for Claude; he imposed physical tests and penances upon himself. Whenever he burned his finger, he followed Mahailey's advice and held his hand close to the stove to "draw out the fire. His mother would button him up in his overcoat and put his dinner-pail in his hand and start him off. As soon as he got out of sight of the house, he pulled off his coat, rolled it under his arm, and scudded along the edge of the frozen fields, arriving at the frame schoolhouse panting and shivering, but very well pleased with himself.
CLAUDE waited for his elders to change their mind about where he should go to school; but no one seemed much concerned, not even his mother. Two years ago, the young man whom Mrs. Wheeler called "Brother Weldon" had come out from Lincoln, preaching in little towns and country churches, and recruiting students for the institution at which he taught in the winter. He had convinced Mrs. Wheeler that his college was the safest possible place for a boy who was leaving home for the first time. Claude's mother was not discriminating about preachers.
She believed them all chosen and sanctified, and was never happier than when she had one in the house to cook for and wait upon. She made young Mr. Weldon so comfortable that he remained under her roof for several weeks, occupying the spare room, where he spent the mornings in study and meditation. He appeared regularly at mealtime to ask a blessing upon the food and to sit with the devout, downcast eyes while the chicken was being dismembered.
His top-shaped head hung a little to one side, the thin hair was parted precisely over his high forehead and brushed in little ripples. He was softspoken and apologetic in manner and took up as little room as possible. His meekness amused Mr. In the afternoon usually put on a fresh lawn necktie and a hard, glistening straw hat which left a red streak across his forehead, tucked his Bible under his arm, and went out to make calls. If he went far, Ralph took him in the automobile. Claude disliked this young man from the moment he first met him, and could scarcely answer him civilly.
Wheeler, always absent-minded, and now absorbed in her cherishing care of the visitor, did not notice Claude's scornful silences until Mahailey, whom such things never escaped, whispered to her over the stove one day: Claude, he don't like the preacher. He just ain't got no use fur him, but don't you let on. Claude had come to believe that the things and people he most disliked were the ones that were to shape his destiny. When the second week of September came round, he threw a few clothes and books into his trunk and said good-bye to his mother and mahailey.
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Ralph took him into Frankfort to catch the train for Lincoln. After settling himself in the dirty day-coach, Claude fell to meditating upon his prospects. There was a Pullman car on the train, but to take a Pullman for a daylight journey was one of the things a Wheeler did not do. Claude knew that he was going back to the wrong school, that he was wasting both time and money. He sneered at himself for his lack of spirit. If he had to do with strangers, he told himself, he could take up his case and fight for it. He could not assert himself against his father or mother, but he could be bold enough with the rest of the world.
Yet, if this were true, why did he continue to live with the tiresome Chapins? The Chapin household consisted of a brother and sister. Edward Chapin was a man of twenty-six, with an old, wasted face,—and he was still going to school, studying for the ministry. His sister Annabelle kept house for him; that is to say, she did whatever housework was done. The brother supported himself and his sister by getting odd jobs from churches and religious societies; he "supplied" the pulpit when a minister was ill, did secretarial work for the college and the Young Men's Christian Association.
Claude's weekly payment for room and board, though a small sum, was very necessary to their comfort. Chapin had been going to the Temple College for four years, and it would probably take him two years more to complete the course. He conned his book on trolley-cars, or while he waited by the track on windy corners, and studied far into the night. His natural stupidity must have been something quite out of the ordinary; after years of reverential study, he could not read the Greek Testament without a lexicon and grammar at his elbow. He gave a great deal of time to the practise of elocution and oratory.
At certain hours their frail domicile—it had been thinly built for the academic poor and sat upon concrete blocks in lieu of a foundation—re-echoed with his hoarse, overstrained voice, declaiming his own orations or whose of Wendell Phillips. Annabelle Chapin was one of Claude's classmates. She was not as dull as her brother; she could learn a conjugation and recognize the forms when she met with them again.
But she was a gushing, silly girl, who found almost everything in their grubby life too good to be true; and she was, unfortunately, sentimental about Claude. Annabelle chanted her lessons over and over to herself while she cooked and srubbed. Last winter she had recited the odes of Horace about the house—it was exactly her notion of the student-like thing to do—until Claude feared he would always associate that poet with the heaviness of hurriedly prepared luncheons.
Wheeler liked to feel that Claude was assisting this worthy pair in their struggle for an education; but he had long ago decided that since neither of the Chapins got anything out of their efforts but a kind of messy inefficiency, the struggle might better have been relinquished in the beginning. He took care of his own room; kept it bare and habitable, free from Annabelle's attentions and decorations.
But the flimsy pretences of light-housekeeping were very distasteful to him. He was born with a love of order, just as he was born with red hair. It was a personal attribute. The boy felt bitterly about the way in which he had been brought up, and about his hair and his freckles and his awkwardness. When he went to the theatre in Lincoln, he took a seat in the gallery, because he knew that he looked like a green country boy. His clothes were never right. He bought collars that were too high and neckties that were too bright, and hid them away in his trunk.
His one experiment with a tailor was unsuccessful. The tailor saw at once that his stammering client didn't know what he wanted, so he persuaded him that as the season was spring he needed light checked trousers and a blue serge coat and vest. When Claude wore his new clothes to St. Paul's church on Sunday morning, the eyes of every one he met followed his smart legs down the street. For the next week he observed the legs of old men and young, and decided there wasn't another pair of checked pants in Lincoln.
Nevertheless, Claude thought he could recognize a well-dressed man when he saw one. He even thought he could recognize a well-dressed woman. If an attractive woman got into the street car when he was on his way to or from Temple Place, he was distracted between the desire to look at her and the wish to seem indifferent.
Claude is on his way back to Lincoln, with a fairly liberal allowance which does not contribute much to his comfort or pleasure. He has no friends or instructors whom he can regard with admiration, though the need to admire is just now uppermost in his nature. He is convinced that the people who might mean something to him will always misjudge him and pass him by. He is not so much afraid of loneliness as he is of accepting cheap substitutes; of making excuses to himself for a teacher who flatters him, of waking up some morning to find himself admiring a girl merely because she is accessible.
He has a dread of easy compromises, and he is terribly afraid of being fooled. THREE months later, on a grey December day, Claude was seated in the passenger coach of an accommodation freight train, going home for the holidays. He had a pile of books on the seat beside him and was reading, when the train stopped with a jerk that sent the volumes tumbling to the floor. He picked them up and looked at his watch. The freight would lie here for an hour or more, until the east-bound passenger went by.
Claude left the car and walked slowly up the platform toward the station. A bundle of little spruce trees had been flung off near the freight office, and sent a smell of Christmas into the cold air. A few drays stood about, the horses blanketed. The steam from the locomotive made a spreading, deep-violet stain as it curled up against the grey sky. Claude went into a restaurant across the street and ordered an oyster stew.
The proprietress, a plump little German woman with a frizzed bang, always remembered him from trip to trip. While he was eating his oysters she told him that she had just finished roasting a chicken with sweet potatoes, and if he liked he could have the first brown cut off the brest before the train-men came in for dinner. Asking her to bring it along, he waited, sitting on a stool, his boots on the lead-pipe foot-rest, his elbows on the shiny brown counter, staring at a pyramid of tough looking bun-sandwiches under a glass globe.
Voigt when she brought his plate. Sometimes dey bring me a liddle Sweitzerkase from one of dem big saloons in Omaha what de Cherman beobles batronize. I ain't got no boys mein own self, so I got to fix up liddle tings for dem boys, eh? She stood nursing her stumpy hands under her apron, watching every mouthful he ate so eagerly that she might have been tasting it herself. The train crew trooped in, shouting to her and asking what there was for dinner, and she ran about like an excited little hen, chuckling and cackling. Claude wondered whether working-men were as nice as that to old women the world over.
He didn't believe so. He liked to think that such geniality was common only in what he broadly called "the West. After his freight train got under steam he did not open his books again, but sat looking out at the grey homesteads as they unrolled before him, with their stripped, dry cornfields, and the great ploughed stretches where the winter wheat was asleep. A starry sprinkling of snow lay like hoar-frost along the crumbly ridges between the furrows.
Claude believed he knew almost every farm between Frankfort and Lincoln, he made the journey so often, on fast trains and slow. He went home for all the holidays, and had been again and again called back on various pretexts; when his mother was sick, when Ralph overturned the car and broke his shoulder, when his father was kicked by a vicious stallion. Claude was reflecting upon the fact that he had never gone home before in such good spirits.
Two fortunate things had happened to him since he went over this road three months ago. As soon as he reached Lincoln in September, he had matriculated at the State University for special work in European History. The year before he had heard the head of the department lecture for some charity, and resolved that even if he were not allowed to change his college, he would manage to study under that man.
The course Claude selected wass one upon which a student could put as much time as he chose. It was based upon the reading of historical sources, and the Professor was notoriously greedy for full notebooks. Claude's were of the fullest. He worked early and late at the University Library, often got his supper in town and went back to read until closing hour. For the first time he was studying a subject which seemed to him vital, which had to do with events and ideas, instead of with lexicons and grammars.
How often he had wished for Ernest during the lectures. He could see Ernest drinking them up, agreeing or dissenting in his independent way. The class was very large, and the Professor spoke without notes,—he talked rapidly, as if he were addressing his equals, with none of the coaxing persuasiveness to which Temple students were accustomed.
His lectures were condensed like a legal brief, but there was a kind of dry fervour in his voice, and when he occasionally interrupted his exposition with purely personal comment, it seemed valuable and important.
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His reading that autumn actually made the future look brighter to him; seemed to promise him something. One of his chief difficulties had always been that he could not make himself believe in the importance of making money or spending it. If that were all, then life was not worth the trouble. The second good thing that had befallen him was that he had got to know some people he liked.
This came about accidentally, after a football game between the Temple eleven and the State University team—merely a practice game for the latter. Toward the close of the first quarter, he followed his interference safely around the right end, dodged a tackle which threatened to end the play, and broke loose for a ninety-yard run down the field for a touchdown. He brought his eleven off with a good showing. The State men congratulated him warmly, and their coach went so far as to hint that if he ever wanted to make a change, there would be a place for him on the University team.
Claude had a proud moment, but even while coach Ballinger was talking to him, the Temple students rushed howling from the grandstand, and Annabelle Chapin, ridiculous in a sport suit of her own construction, bedecked with the Temple colours and blowing a child's horn, positively threw herself upon his neck. He disengaged himself, not very gently, and stalked grimly away to the dressing shed. What was the use, if you were always with the wrong crowd? Julius Erlich, who played quarter on the State team, took him aside and said affably: You have your clothes in your suitcase, haven't you?
We're all boys at home. Mother wouldn't mind if you came in your track things. Claude consented before he had time to frighten himself by imagining difficulties. The Erlich boy often sat next him in the history class, and they had several times talked together. Hitherto Claude had felt that he "couldn't make Erlich out," but this afternoon, while they dressed after their shower, they became good friends, all in a few minutes.
Claude was perhaps less tied-up in mind and body than usual. He was so astonished at finding himself on easy, confidential terms with Erlich that he scarcely gave a thought to his second-day shirt and his collar with a broken edge,—wretched economies he had been trained to observe.
They had not walked more than two blocks from the Armory when Julius turned in at a rambling wooden house with an unfenced, terraced lawn. He led Claude around to the wing, and through a glass door into a big room that was all windows on three sides, above the wainscoting. The room was full of boys and young men, seated on long divans or perched on the arms of easy chairs, and they were all talking at once. On one of the couches a young man in a smoking jacket lay reading as composedly as if he were alone. The company recognized Claude and included him in their talk about the game.
When the visitors had gone, Julius introduced his brothers. The three older ones were in business, but they too had been to the game that afternoon. Claude had never before seen brothers who were so outspoken and frank with one another. To him they were very cordial; the one who was lying down came forward to shake hands, keeping the place in his book with his finger. On a table in the middle of the room were pipes boxes of tobacco, cigars in a glass jar, and a big Chinese bowl full of cigarettes. This provisionment seemed the more remarkable to Claude because at home he had to smoke in the cowshed.
The number of books astonished him almost as much; the wainscoting all around the room was built up in the open bookcases, stuffed with volumes fat and thin, and they all looked interesting and hard-used. One of the brothers had been to a party the night before, and on coming home had put his dress-tie about the neck of a little plaster bust of Byron that stood on the mantel. This head, with the tie at a rakish angle, drew Claude's attention more than anything else in the room, and for some reason instantly made him wish he lived there.
Julius brought in his mother, and when they went to supper Claude was seated beside her at one end of the long table. Erlich seemed to him very young to be the head of such a family. Her hair was still brown, and she wore it drawn over her ears and twisted in two little horns, like the ladies in old daguerrotypes.
Her face, too, suggested a daguerreotype. Her skin had the soft whiteness of white flowers that have been drenched by rain. She talked with quick gestures, and her decided little nod was quaint and very personal. The boys were discussing an engagement that had just been announced, and Mrs. Erlich began to tell Claude a long story about how this brilliant young man had come to Lincoln and met this beautiful young girl, who was already engaged to a cold and academic youth, and how after many heart-burnings the beautiful girl had broken with the wrong man and become betrothed to the right one, and now they were so happy,—and every one, she asked Claude to believe, was equally happy!
In the middle of her narrative Julius reminded her smilingly that since Claude didn't know these people, he would hardly be interested in their romance, but she merely looked at him over her nose-glasses and said, "And is that so, Herr Julius! The conversation went racing from one thing to another. To Claude this was like talk in a play. He had never heard a living person discussed and analysed thus before. He had never heard a family talk so much, or with anything like so much zest. Here there was none of the poisonous reticence he had always associated with family gatherings, nor the awkwardness of people sitting with their hands in their lap, facing each other, each one guarding his secret or his suspicion, while he hunted for a safe subject to talk about.
Their fertility of phrase, too, astonished him; how could people find so much to say about one girl? To be sure, a good deal of it sounded far-fetched to him, but he sadly admitted that in such matters he was no judge. When they went back to the living room Julius began to pick out airs on his guitar, and the bearded brother sat down to read.
Otto, the youngest, seeing a group of students passing the house, ran out on the lawn and called them in,—two boys, and a girl with red cheeks and a fur stole. Claude had made for a corner, and was perfectly content to be an on-looker, but Mrs. Erlich soon came and seated herself beside him. When the doors into the parlour were opened, she noticed his eyes straying to an engraving of Napoleon which hung over the piano, and made him go and look at it.
She told him it was a rare engraving, and she showed him a portrait of her great-grandfather, who was an officer in Napoleon's army. To explain how this came about was a long story. As she talked to Claude, Mrs. Erlich discovered that his eyes were not really pale, but only looked so because of his light lashes.
They could say a great deal when they looked squarely into hers, and she liked what they said. She soon found out that he was discontented; how he hated the Temple school, and why his mother wished him to go there. When the three who had been called in from the sidewalk took their leave, Claude rose also.
The Innocents Abroad
They were evidently familiars of the house, and their careless exit, with a gay "Good-night, everybody! Julius made things more difficult by telling him to sit down, as it wasn't time to go yet. Erlich said it was time; he would have a long ride out to Temple Place. It was really very easy. She walked to the door with him and gave him his hat, patting his arm in a final way. We are going to be friends. Certainly, nobody had ever looked at him like that before. While the freight train was puffing slowly across the winter country, leaving a black trail suspended in the still air, Claude went over that experience minutely in his mind, as if he feared to lose something of it on approaching home.
He could remember exactly how Mrs. Erlich and the boys had looked to him on that first night, could repeat almost word for word the conversation which had been so novel to him. Then he supposed the Erlichs were rich people, but he found out afterwards that they were poor. The father was dead, and all the boys had to work, even those who were still in school. They merely knew how to live, he discovered, and spent their money on themselves, instead of on machines to do the work and machines to entertain people.
Machines, Claude decided, could not make pleasure, whatever else they could do. They could not make agreeable people, either. In so far as he could see, the latter were made by judicious indulgence in almost everything he had been taught to shun. Since that first visit, he had gone to the Erlichs', not as often as he wished, certainly, but as often as he dared.
Some of the University boys seemed to drop in there whenever they felt like it, were almost members of the family; but they were better looking than he, and better company. Claude didn't wish to be a bore. Sometimes in the evening, when he left the Library to smoke a cigar, he walked slowly past the Erlichs' house, looking at the lighted windows of the sitting-room and wondering what was going on inside. Before he went there to call, he racked his brain for things to talk about.
If there had been a football game, or a good play at the theatre, that helped, of course.
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Almost without realizing what he was doing, he tried to think things out and to justify his opinions to himself, so that he would have something to say when the Erlich boys questioned him. He had grown up with the conviction that it was beneath his dignity to explain himself, just as it was to dress carefully, or to be caught taking pains about anything.
Ernest was the only person he knew who tried to state clearly why he believed this or that; and people at home thought him very conceited and foreign. It wasn't American to explain yourself; you didn't have to! On the farm you said you would or you wouldn't; that Roosevelt was all right, or that he was crazy. You weren't supposed to say more unless you were a stump speaker,—if you tried to say more, it was because you liked to hear yourself talk. Since you never said anything, you didn't form the habit of thinking. If you got too much bored, you went to town and bought something new.
But all the people he met at the Erlichs' talked. If they asked him about a play or a book and he said it was "no good," they at once demanded why. The Erlichs thought him a clam, but Claude sometimes thought himself amazing. He caught himself using words that had never crossed his lips before, that in his mind were associated only with the printed page. When he suddenly realized that he was using a word for the first time, and probably mispronouncing it, he would become as much confused as if he were trying to pass a lead dollar, would blush and stammer and let some one finish his sentence for him.
Claude couldn't resist occasionally dropping in at the Erlichs' in the afternoon; then the boys were away, and he could have Mrs. Erlich to himself for half-an-hour. When she talked to him she taught him so much about life. He loved to hear her sing sentimental German songs as she worked; "Spinn, spinn, du Tochter mein. Every time he went away from her he felt happy and full of kindness, and thought about beechwoods and walled towns, or about Carl Schurz and the Romantic revolution.
He had been to see Mrs. Erlich just before starting home for the holidays, and found her making German Christmas cakes. She took him into the kitchen and explained the almost holy traditions that governed this complicated cookery. Her excitement and seriousness as she beat and stirred were very pretty, Claude thought.
She told off on her fingers the many ingredients, but he believed there were things she did not name: Surely these were fine things to put into little cakes! After Claude left her, he did something a Wheeler didn't do; he went down to O street and sent her a box of the reddest roses he could find. In his pocket was the little note she had written to thank him. IT was beginning to grow dark when Claude reached the farm.
While Ralph stopped to put away the car, he walked on alone to the house. He never came back without emotion,—try as he would to pass lightly over these departures and returns which were all in the day's work. When he came up the hill like this, toward the tall house with its lighted windows, something always clutched at his heart. He both loved and hated to come home. He was always disappointed, and yet he always felt the rightness of returning to his own place. Even when it broke his spirit and humbled his pride, he felt it was right that he should be thus humbled.
He didn't question that the lowest state of mind was the truest, and that the less a man thought of himself, the more likely he was to be correct in his estimate. Approaching the door, Claude stopped a moment and peered in at the kitchen window. The table was set for supper, and Mahailey was at the stove, stirring something in a big iron pot; cornmeal mush, probably,—she often made it for herself now that her teeth had begun to fail.
She stood leaning over, embracing the pot with one arm, and with the other she beat the still contents, nodding her head in time to this rotary movement. Confused emotions surged up in Claude. He went in quickly and gave her a bearish hug. Her face wrinkled up in the foolish grin he knew so well. A little more'n I'd 'a' had mush all over the floor. You lookin' fine, you nice boy, you!
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