JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
_The Child-World--long and long since lost to view--
A Fairy Paradise!--
How always fair it was and fresh and new--
How every affluent hour heaped heart and eyes
With treasures of surprise!
Enchantments tangible: The under-brink
Of dawns that launched the sight
Up seas of gold: The dewdrop on the pink
With all the green earth in it and blue height
Of heavens infinite:
The liquid dripping songs of orchard-birds--
The wee bass of the bees--
With lucent deeps of silence afterwards;
The gay clandestine whisperings of the breeze
And glad leaves of the trees.
* * * * *
O Child-World: After this world--just as when
I found you first sufficed
My soulmost need--if I found you again
With all my childish dream so realised
I should not be surprised._
THE OLD-HOME FOLKS
"A NOTED TRAVELER"
A PROSPECTIVE VISIT
AT NOEY'S HOUSE
"THAT LITTLE DOG"
THE LOEHRS AND THE HAMMONDS
THE HIRED MAN AND FLORETTY
THE EVENING COMPANY
MAYMIE'S STORY OF RED RIDING HOOD
LIMITATIONS OF GENIUS
MR. HAMMOND'S PARABLE--THE DREAMER
FLORETTY'S MUSICAL CONTRIBUTION
A DELICIOUS INTERRUPTION
COUSIN RUFUS' STORY
ALEX TELLS A BEAR-STORY
THE PATHOS OF APPLAUSE
TOLD BY "THE NOTED TRAVELER"
UNCLE MART'S POEM
"LITTLE JACK JANITOR"
A Child-World yet a wondrous world no less
To those who knew its boundless happiness.
A simple old frame house--eight rooms in all--
Set just one side the center of a small
But very hopeful Indiana town--
The upper-story looking squarely down
Upon the main street and the main highway
From East to West--historic in its day
Known as The National Road--old-timers all
Who linger yet will happily recall
It as the scheme and handiwork as well
As property of "Uncle Sam" and tell
Of its importance "long and long afore
Railroads wuz ever _dreamp_' of!"--Furthermore
The reminiscent first Inhabitants
Will make that old road blossom with romance
Of snowy caravans in long parade
Of covered vehicles of every grade
From ox-cart of most primitive design
To Conestoga wagons with their fine
Deep-chested six-horse teams in heavy gear
High names and chiming bells--to childish ear
And eye entrancing as the glittering train
Of some sun-smitten pageant of old Spain.
And in like spirit haply they will tell
You of the roadside forests and the yell
Of "wolfs" and "painters" in the long night-ride
And "screechin' catamounts" on every side.--
Of stagecoach-days highwaymen and strange crimes
And yet unriddled mysteries of the times
Called "Good Old." "And why 'Good Old'?" once a rare
Old chronicler was asked who brushed the hair
Out of his twinkling eyes and said--"Well John
They're 'good old times' because they're dead and gone!"
The old home site was portioned into three
Distinctive lots. The front one--natively
Facing to southward broad and gaudy-fine
With lilac dahlia rose and flowering vine--
The dwelling stood in; and behind that and
Upon the alley north and south left hand
The old wood-house--half trimly stacked with wood
And half a work-shop where a workbench stood
Steadfastly through all seasons.--Over it
Along the wall hung compass brace-and-bit
And square and drawing-knife and smoothing-plane--
And little jack-plane too--the children's vain
Possession by pretense--in fancy they
Manipulating it in endless play
Turning out countless curls and loops of bright
Fine satin shavings--Rapture infinite!
Shelved quilting-frames; the toolchest; the old box
Of refuse nails and screws; a rough gun-stock's
Outline in "curly maple"; and a pair
Of clamps and old krout-cutter hanging there.
Some "patterns" in thin wood of shield and scroll
Hung higher with a neat "cane-fishing-pole"
And careful tackle--all securely out
Of reach of children rummaging about.
Beside the wood-house with broad branches free
Yet close above the roof an apple-tree
Known as "The Prince's Harvest"--Magic phrase!
That was _a boy's own tree_ in many ways!--
Its girth and height meet both for the caress
Of his bare legs and his ambitiousness:
And then its apples humoring his whim
Seemed just to fairly _hurry_ ripe for him--
Even in June impetuous as he
They dropped to meet him halfway up the tree.
And O their bruised sweet faces where they fell!--
And ho! the lips that feigned to "kiss them _well_"!
"The Old Sweet-Apple-Tree" a stalwart stood
In fairly sympathetic neighborhood
Of this wild princeling with his early gold
To toss about so lavishly nor hold
In bounteous hoard to overbrim at once
All Nature's lap when came the Autumn months.
Under the spacious shade of this the eyes
Of swinging children saw swift-changing skies
Of blue and green with sunshine shot between
And "when the old cat died" they saw but green.
And then there was a cherry-tree.--We all
And severally will yet recall
From our lost youth in gentlest memory
The blessed fact--There was a cherry-tree.
There was a cherry-tree. Its bloomy snows
Cool even now the fevered sight that knows
No more its airy visions of pure joy--
As when you were a boy.
There was a cherry-tree. The Bluejay set
His blue against its white--O blue as jet
He seemed there then!--But _now_--Whoever knew
He was so pale a blue!
There was a cherry-tree--Our child-eyes saw
The miracle:--Its pure white snows did thaw
Into a crimson fruitage far too sweet
But for a boy to eat.
There was a cherry-tree give thanks and joy!--
There was a bloom of snow--There was a boy--
There was a Bluejay of the realest blue--
And fruit for both of you.
Then the old garden with the apple-trees
Grouped 'round the margin and "a stand of bees"
By the "white-winter-pearmain"; and a row
Of currant-bushes; and a quince or so.
The old grape-arbor in the center by
The pathway to the stable with the sty
Behind it and _upon_ it cootering flocks
Of pigeons and the cutest "martin-box"!--
Made like a sure-enough house--with roof and doors
And windows in it and veranda-floors
And balusters all 'round it--yes and at
Each end a chimney--painted red at that
And penciled white to look like little bricks;
And to cap all the builder's cunning tricks
Two tiny little lightning-rods were run
Straight up their sides and twinkled in the sun.
Who built it? Nay no answer but a smile.--
It _may_ be you can guess who afterwhile.
Home in his stall "Old Sorrel" munched his hay
And oats and corn and switched the flies away
In a repose of patience good to see
And earnest of the gentlest pedigree.
With half pathetic eye sometimes he gazed
Upon the gambols of a colt that grazed
Around the edges of the lot outside
And kicked at nothing suddenly and tried
To act grown-up and graceful and high-bred
But dropped _k'whop!_ and scraped the buggy-shed
Leaving a tuft of woolly foxy hair
Under the sharp-end of a gate-hinge there.
Then all ignobly scrambling to his feet
And whinneying a whinney like a bleat
He would pursue himself around the lot
And--do the whole thing over like as not!...
Ah! what a life of constant fear and dread
And flop and squawk and flight the chickens led!
Above the fences either side were seen
The neighbor-houses set in plots of green
Dooryards and greener gardens tree and wall
Alike whitewashed and order in it all:
The scythe hooked in the tree-fork; and the spade
And hoe and rake and shovel all when laid
Aside were in their places ready for
The hand of either the possessor or
Of any neighbor welcome to the loan
Of any tool he might not chance to own.
THE OLD-HOME FOLKS
Such was the Child-World of the long-ago--
The little world these children used to know:--
Johnty the oldest and the best perhaps
Of the five happy little Hoosier chaps
Inhabiting this wee world all their own.--
Johnty the leader with his native tone
Of grave command--a general on parade
Whose each punctilious order was obeyed
By his proud followers.
But Johnty yet--
After all serious duties--could forget
The gravity of life to the extent
At times of kindling much astonishment
About him: With a quick observant eye
And mind and memory he could supply
The tamest incident with liveliest mirth;
And at the most unlooked-for times on earth
Was wont to break into some travesty
On those around him--feats of mimicry
Of this one's trick of gesture--that one's walk--
Or this one's laugh--or that one's funny talk--
The way "the watermelon-man" would try
His humor on town-folks that wouldn't buy;--
How he drove into town at morning--then
At dusk (alas!) how he drove out again.
Though these divertisements of Johnty's were
Hailed with a hearty glee and relish there
Appeared a sense on his part of regret--
A spirit of remorse that would not let
Him rest for days thereafter.--Such times he
As some boy said "jist got too overly
Blame good fer common boys like us you know
To '_so_ciate with--less'n we 'ud go
And jine his church!"
Next after Johnty came
His little tow-head brother Bud by name.--
And O how white his hair was--and how thick
His face with freckles--and his ears how quick
And curious and intrusive!--And how pale
The blue of his big eyes;--and how a tale
Of Giants Trolls or Fairies bulged them still
Bigger and bigger!--and when "Jack" would kill
The old "Four-headed Giant" Bud's big eyes
Were swollen truly into giant-size.
And Bud was apt in make-believes--would hear
His Grandma talk or read with such an ear
And memory of both subject and big words
That he would take the book up afterwards
And feign to "read aloud" with such success
As caused his truthful elders real distress.
But he _must_ have _big words_--they seemed to give
Extremer range to the superlative--
That was his passion. "My Gran'ma" he said
One evening after listening as she read
Some heavy old historical review--
With copious explanations thereunto
Drawn out by his inquiring turn of mind--
"My Gran'ma she's read _all_ books--ever' kind
They is 'at tells all 'bout the land an' sea
An' Nations of the Earth!--An' she is the
Historicul-est woman ever wuz!"
(Forgive the verse's chuckling as it does
In its erratic current.--Oftentimes
The little willowy waterbrook of rhymes
Must falter in its music listening to
The children laughing as they used to do.)
Who shall sing a simple ditty all about the Willow
Dainty-fine and delicate as any bending spray
That dandles high the happy bird that flutters there to trill a
Tremulously tender song of greeting to the May.
Ah my lovely Willow!--Let the Waters lilt your graces--
They alone with limpid kisses lave your leaves above
Flashing back your sylvan beauty and in shady places
Peering up with glimmering pebbles like the eyes of love.
Next Maymie with her hazy cloud of hair
And the blue skies of eyes beneath it there.
Her dignified and "little lady" airs
Of never either romping up the stairs
Or falling down them; thoughtful everyway
Of others first--The kind of child at play
That "gave up" for the rest the ripest pear
Or peach or apple in the garden there
Beneath the trees where swooped the airy swing--
She pushing it too glad for anything!
Or in the character of hostess she
Would entertain her friends delightfully
In her play-house--with strips of carpet laid
Along the garden-fence within the shade
Of the old apple-trees--where from next yard
Came the two dearest friends in her regard
The little Crawford girls Ella and Lu--
As shy and lovely as the lilies grew
In their idyllic home--yet sometimes they
Admitted Bud and Alex to their play
Who did their heavier work and helped them fix
To have a "Festibul"--and brought the bricks
And built the "stove" with a real fire and all
And stovepipe-joint for chimney looming tall
And wonderfully smoky--even to
Their childish aspirations as it blew
And swooped and swirled about them till their sight
Was feverish even as their high delight.
Then Alex with his freckles and his freaks
Of temper and the peach-bloom of his cheeks
And "_amber-colored_ hair"--his mother said
'Twas that when others laughed and called it "_red_"
And Alex threw things at them--till they'd call
A truce agreeing "'t'uz n't red _ut-tall_!"
But Alex was affectionate beyond
The average child and was extremely fond
Of the paternal relatives of his
Of whom he once made estimate like this:--
"_I'm_ only got _two_ brothers--but my _Pa_
He's got most brothers'n you ever saw!--
He's got _seben_ brothers!--Yes an' they're all my
Seben Uncles!--Uncle John an' Jim--an' I'
Got Uncle George an' Uncle Andy too
An' Uncle Frank an' Uncle Joe.--An' you
_Know_ Uncle _Mart_.--An' all but _him_ they're great
Big mens!--An' nen s Aunt Sarah--she makes eight!--
I'm got _eight_ uncles!--'cept Aunt Sarah _can't_
Be ist my _uncle_ 'cause she's ist my _aunt_!"
Then next to Alex--and the last indeed
Of these five little ones of whom you read--
Was baby Lizzie with her velvet lisp--
As though her Elfin lips had caught some wisp
Of floss between them as they strove with speech
Which ever seemed just in yet out of reach--
Though what her lips missed her dark eyes could say
With looks that made her meaning clear as day.
And knowing now the children you must know
The father and the mother they loved so:--
The father was a swarthy man black-eyed
Black-haired and high of forehead; and beside
The slender little mother seemed in truth
A very king of men--since from his youth
To his hale manhood _now_--(worthy as then--
A lawyer and a leading citizen
Of the proud little town and county-seat--
His hopes his neighbors' and their fealty sweet)--
He had known outdoor labor--rain and shine--
Bleak Winter and bland Summer--foul and fine.
So Nature had ennobled him and set
Her symbol on him like a coronet:
His lifted brow and frank reliant face.--
Superior of stature as of grace
Even the children by the spell were wrought
Up to heroics of their simple thought
And saw him trim of build and lithe and straight
And tall almost as at the pasture-gate
The towering ironweed the scythe had spared
For their sakes when The Hired Man declared
It would grow on till it became a _tree_
With cocoanuts and monkeys in--maybe!
Yet though the children in their pride and awe
And admiration of the father saw
A being so exalted--even more
Like adoration was the love they bore
The gentle mother.--Her mild plaintive face
Was purely fair and haloed with a grace
And sweetness luminous when joy made glad
Her features with a smile; or saintly sad
As twilight fell the sympathetic gloom
Of any childish grief or as a room
Were darkened suddenly the curtain drawn
Across the window and the sunshine gone.
Her brow below her fair hair's glimmering strands
Seemed meetest resting-place for blessing hands
Or holiest touches of soft finger-tips
And little roseleaf-cheeks and dewy lips.
Though heavy household tasks were pitiless
No little waist or coat or checkered dress
But knew her needle's deftness; and no skill
Matched hers in shaping pleat or flounce or frill;