The Country Boy/Chapter 2
The old brass band hadn’t done well and the organization of a new band was talked of around the post-office. The old instruments were brass and had the old-fashioned rotary valves, and the strings kept breaking. The town thought we should have a new band, nickel-plated instruments with the late piston valves. As it would advertise the town, and so long as the band didn’t play would give it an up-to-date appearance, the wealthier citizens contributed, but notwithstanding my exhibition and failure at the McMillan musical demonstration, they let me in, and I played the snare drum, because it was the easiest to carry. Our instruments came, and the town nearly went wild over them, and we began practicing every night in the band hall. We got thirty dollars to go and play at ordinary picnics, and you came and got us in a wagon with flags on the side of the box. We played along for a few months this way, and then we thought of uniforms. We wanted something that would distinguish us from the common herd. As it was, unless you carried your horn or drum all day at a picnic, they couldn’t tell us from the rest of the farmers, which reflected on the city. So again we levied a tax on the citizens, and some of them moved out of town to escape it, but under the head of education they contributed according to their means, as their property that lay in town would be enhanced in value by the uniforms.
We began to receive large booklets of uniforms, shown on handsome young men with pink cheeks. Ralph Geer was the only member of our band who looked like the lithographs, so after a long discussion we picked out the ones that were on the fellow that looked like Ralph, and ordered seventeen assorted uniforms, second-hand, from Lyon & Healy, of Chicago. They were supposed to be all sizes between such and such. The colored pictures of them showed them to be a beautiful light blue gray, with red stripes down the pants leg, and the coat was a long cutaway, with three rows of big brass buttons on the chest, and large red epaulettes on the shoulders, and a lot of red and gold braid on the coat tails and collars. The caps were high and leaned forward, with a short straight stiff brim and a red plume went in the front and top of the cap.
There wasn’t much sleeping done after the money order left town. The whole town sat around the post-office stove and wondered whether they would steal the money order or not, but we kept it as much of a secret as possible the day the money left.
There wasn’t a man in town, or a drummer that came to town that could figure accurately how long we would have to wait. After the order had been gone about a week, I hung out at the depot and watched for the train that was due at noon each day, but each day the express messenger said he hadn’t seen or heard anything of them. Father finally came to me and said that the whole town thought the reason I hung around the depot was to get the first dive into the uniforms when they came. Of course he knew different. He knew it was because the musical strain ran so strong in our family, but the town in general was about ready to accuse me of crowding, so he said, “You go now out in the hills and I’ll let you know when they come.” I knew when I left the depot that it was suicide, but there was nothing else to do, so I went. A few days later I saw a man driving fast over the country road through the hills, and knew it wasn’t the doctor’s rig—it must be the band uniforms hadthey looked like the pictures, and they said, “Just exactly, only finer.” I was astonished to hear that the others had all taken theirs and left only one for me to choose from. I had never left in the box. I took it out and held it up against me, and the crowd laughed, while I saw nothing to laugh at. I could see that the man who cut it didn’t especially have me in mind, so to pacify the mob I stepped into the trousers, and I think I took one or two more steps before either pants leg moved. This suit they had left for me was cut to fit a man five feet six, that weighed two hundred pounds at least, and who didn’t carry much of his weight in broad shoulders. I stood six feet one, and weighed one hundred and thirty-five. I put on the coat, and John Wolfard yelled from the crowd and asked if the epaulettes didn’t go on my shoulders. I told him on horn players they did, but on drummers they always folded just across his bosom. The coat tails struck the calves of my legs. Fortunately there was a big fold at the bottom of the trousers, and much gray cloth that could be taken out of the back of the coat, and with these remedies it got to fit pretty well. All of the pants had to be made over anyway, as they were not spring bottom, which was all the rage then, so we had them cut that way. Of course, our popularity grew quickly with these clothes,
and half of the young fellows in the band got married that winter, while the gilt braid was yet new, and before the moth holes that were in most of them got together. Our prices jumped from thirty up to fifty, and you still came and got us, and brought as many of us away from the celebration as you could find.
There was but one Democrat in Silverton, and he was one in every sense of the word. He hadn’t said much for years—just paid his bets regularly every four years without much back talk—but that fall when Grover Cleveland was elected for the first time Jake McClaine’s voice lasted about half an hour. Then he wrote what he wanted to tell you on a slate. He wrote to the leader that he wanted to defray all of the expenses of the entire band to Portland the next Saturday night, where they were
going to give Cleveland a big Democratic rally, and have electric lights. Of course, we accepted, as Jake McClaine had paid more toward the new instruments and uniforms than any other man in town.
We had to leave Silverton at three o’clock Saturday morning, and go in a “dead-ax” wagon twelve miles to Gervais, so as to catch the morning train on the main line of the Southern Pacific. I rode directly over the hind axle and lost the only gold filling I ever had up to that time. We got there at daylight and had breakfast that had been specially prepared for us, for which Uncle Jake paid. He wasn’t an uncle, but like “Aunty” McMillan, was fat, so everybody called him in Silverton, “Uncle Jake.” We took the Albany local, and by eight o’clock were in Portland, forty-seven miles from Silverton. It was the first time I was ever there without some one holding me by the wrist, and it seemed great. The uniforms kind of made us brave, and Uncle Jake marched ahead and we played as we marched up the main street, which was First Street. On the bass drum was printed in red letters, “Silverton Trombone Band,” and people would yell “Hurrah for Silverton!” while Uncle Jake would answer them by yelling “Hurrah for Cleveland!” Uncle Jake frequently sold cattle to the butchers there, so before we knew it we had stopped in front of a butcher shop, and were playing while he was in the back end of the shop selling cattle. From one butcher shop to another we went, playing all the time, and many of us marching in new shoes on the first cobblestones we had ever seen. Finally in the afternoon we bought a box of apples for lunch. The day was dark and cloudy. In front of one shop Uncle Jake brought a butcher, who he said had bought more cattle than any of the rest, and
he wanted us to play for this man, number eighteen in the new book. Eighteen in the new book was the one piece of classical music which we bought when we got the uniforms. The only difference that it bore to the other quicksteps was that it didn’t go quite so fast, and about the middle of the piece it had sixteen bars rest for everybody but the barytone player, and from long and careful training we had reached a stage where we could play up to within a few feet of this sixteen bars’ rest and almost all of us stop simultaneously, at which point the barytone player would run a little scale that was called a cadenza, and we would all watch the leader’s head and when he nodded we would join in and finish out the piece. It was a pretty thing, and we told Uncle Jake we were holding it for the reviewing stand, where we wanted Cleveland to hear it; so he said all right, he would have the butcher there to hear it also. After marching all afternoon and having our photos taken, the big parade started at eight o’clock.
After marching in the parade until nearly midnight it came our turn to stop and play before the reviewing stand. Most of us were so sleepy we could hardly keep our eyes open, and the horn blowers were a sorry lot. Between their new shoes and their lips, they were about done up. Their upper lips hung out far and were purple. They looked like they had all got into a bee’s nest and had been stung on the lips. The leader cautioned each member that the supreme moment of our lives was upon us; that all the other bands were present, and that he thought Cleveland himself was. He said, “Whatever you do, don’t play when you get the sixteen bars of rest; and you, there, with the snare drum, don’t roll out into that
open space as you have always done before.” It was an awful moment. Uncle Jake was still to be heard bragging to everybody what a piece it was. Finally, with the greatest difficulty, the piece was started. I thought I had a pioneer idea that they didn’t need me, and for fear of being accused of breaking down the piece in case they made a fizzle of it, I would quit as soon as we got started—and did. I just made motions without hitting the drum; but it wasn’t a new thought, as nearly every other member had done the same thing, so when we approached the sixteen bars’ rest the only one player was the leader himself, and he had the tremolo stop out. He stopped just as a large skyrocket went up. We hadn’t been used to fireworks—that is, big ones—and the only barytone solo anybody heard was the barytone player yelling to the man next to him, “Look, quick, Tom, at that skyrocket.” Uncle Jake directed the butchers he had brought down to hear number eighteen, to the fireworks, and we never resumed the piece, and never saw each other until we met the next day on the train bound for home. Aside from that one piece the trip was a great musical triumph, and Uncle Jake was the hero.
A few more years passed studying character, when I joined the Good Templars Lodge. Father wanted to retire from it, and I was to take his place. I knew them all on the street, but when my name was voted on and accepted, and the Saturday night I was to take the oath came, it was different. I went all
dressed up and was quartered in the outer waiting room. I had heard so much about riding goats, and even Father wouldn’t tell me what they did to you there. He didn’t even go the night I joined. All he would say was that he didn’t want to see it. The outside guard brought me a red and gold regalia and said, “Put it on around your neck.” Then I waited some minutes and heard singing in the big lodge room. It was upstairs over the town hall, and no one was allowed to peep in unless he was a member. Finally I heard raps like a hammer, and people walking. The outside guard, who was one of Uncle Jake McClaine’s hired men, came, and I asked him if there was anything to be afraid of. He said he couldn’t tell me; that it was against the rules. I noticed he had cloves on his breath. He said, “Get ready; they may call for us any minute.” I asked him if I had mussed my hair when I put my regalia on, and he said I had, slightly, and he fixed it, and he gave me some perfume to put on my handkerchief and my coat lapel. Presently a rap came at the door, and a small peep hole opened, and a voice came in bass, “Who’s there?” The hired man said something and again the voice at the peep hole said, “Admit him.” We were then in another small hall and the guard noticed that every now and then, unless I held my mouth shut, my back teeth chattered. I wasn’t cold, quite, but that feeling that, thank heavens, you only have once in a lifetime, was with me. In another moment another queer rap, and a female voice asked, “Who’s there?” Uncle Jake’s hired man took me by the arm, and said in a strong, bold voice, “A brother wants to enter.” The truth was the brother didn’t. He was all in, and about out. I heard the female voice say, or rather sing it, that there was a brother outside knocking for admission. Then a great rustling of feet was heard when the lady at the wicket said, “Bring thy brother in.” I was past recognizing anybody by this time, although the woman at the door turned out to be our hired girl, but I couldn’t recognize her then. They all rose and sang, while I marched to the other end of the great hall and knelt before a throne; and a man with more cloves on his breath and a more elaborate regalia, read something about rum being a serpent, and strong drink was raging. Another rap or two with the mallet, and then we took another circle while they sang, and then we stopped in front of a lesser important booth, and there had more reading, and another odor of cloves. But all this time my neck would pop at any attempt to get easy and relax to anything like a natural pose. Finally I was escorted to a table and sworn, while the mob kept singing. They produced a book; I
signed and paid two dollars. Then they escorted me to a seat, and a recess was declared to congratulate the brother. Even then I made an attempt to walk across the floor, and wouldn’t have made it without assistance. There we were all chums, but, with the regalia, so changed.
After that about all we did was to buy candy hearts at the post-office that had reading printed on them: “I love you,” or “Will you be true?” Sometimes the printing would be too strong for a Good Templar lodge, but if it was we could always sell the one heart for what the whole sack cost. I was later discharged from this high body for sleeping on a billiard table in Portland, to the disgrace of our whole family, and especially, my father.
Easter Sunday to the country boy is about the biggest thing on the boards. Easter itself is a tame day compared with what those of the weeks previous have been. In the far West—and I suppose it’s the same all over the country—boys hide their eggs and the lid is temporarily off—that is, you can steal another boy’s eggs during the period previous to Easter without its being a crime punishable by parents or law. In fact, you can steal anybody’s eggs during the fortnight previous to Easter Sunday, and lucky are those homes where there are enough eggs for breakfast till after the big feast, composed chiefly of eggs, roasted, boiled and parched by the open fire on Easter day.
Sometimes, if a boy makes a bad throw Easter, then nothing but broken eggs follow in the free fight. But among the quieter boys the worst effect is acute indigestion from a mixture of over-done goose, guinea, turkey and hen eggs.
The last big Easter campaign I took part in was in Silverton, and all of us boys in the neighborhood were jealous of Joe Welch because we had a hunch that Joe had the greatest number of eggs. He was the shrewdest of us all, and what was more to the purpose, he was close-mouthed, and there was nothing in his silent laugh at the post-office corner of evenings to tip us off as to just where his eggs were hidden. He had made several big steals from other boys, and it was surmised that it was he who had acquired Warren Libby’s collection of turkey eggs.
Late one afternoon, when I had been kept in our house longer than usual by a lesson in arithmetic by my father, and just as I was starting downtown, I went to take a last glance at the place where my eggs were hidden in a hole under the barn, when, lo and behold, there was Joe Welch crawling out from under our barn with my eggs in a sack. Before he saw me I darted back into the house and watched him from the attic window. He looked all around, and then ran out of the barnyard, across the street to his own home and crawled under the house from the back. He was gone for fifteen minutes, and when he came out he brushed his clothes, looked all around, and seeing no one, went downtown, whistling a new tune our brass band had just received from the East. I saw that the day was all mine—I was born under a lucky star—so I ran and got a sack, for I smelled big business. Sack in hand, I crawled under Dr. Welch’s house, and away up in the darkest corner, next to the chimney, were the eggs with my own initials on them. There was a big heap altogether, and it seemed as if every egg that any goose, turkey, hen or guinea had laid in the neighborhood of Silverton for the last year was there. I wiped my eyes at first, then my heart began to beat so loudly that I was afraid Mrs. Welch, Joe’s mother, would discover me, for I could hear her walking around in the house plainly. I got all the sack would hold comfortably, also filled my hat, and then made a trip to our calf pasture, where I hid them in a fence corner.
I had to make another journey to get them all, for there were goose eggs, turkey eggs and guinea eggs, besides all shades of hen eggs, including some yellow cochin eggs I knew Joe had stolen from another boy. When I reached the fence corner with the last load I got a shock. The fence creaked, and I thought I had been discovered. But it was a false alarm, and I was about as proud as a pirate could be when I realized that no one would ever look in such an out-of-the-way place for the eggs.
That night when I went to the post-office Joe Welch had a twinkle in his eye that no one understood but me, and I let on that I was just as certain as he as to who had the most eggs. But when I saw him the next day he was more thoughtful—he had a far-away look on his face, and I—well, I guess I looked a trifle happier than he did.
I guess it was when I was about seventeen I raised a pup. I liked him more than I did some people and he preferred me to some dogs, so it would seem natural that we were much alike in general character.
I loved him then and I love his memory now. He died in my lap in Portland, Ore., when he was about six years old. Some one had poisoned him. Every time I go to Portland there is no place I look on with more deep regret than the spot near the railroad yards where he lies buried.
I owned this dog’s mother and he and I became pals. He was more than a dog. He had almost human intelligence, but passed in a crowd for a dog. In that way he fooled fleas, as they stayed on him in preference to me.
I named him Duff when he was a few weeks old, and when I was at the Lewis and Clark exposition in Portland a long time afterwards many were the people that came, not to see my exhibit of birds and horses, but to talk about Duff. These people had been impressed years before by this rather ordinary looking bull terrier. Like a good many very worthy dogs, he would have been a joke at the New York Dog show.
He was anything the crowd he was with wanted him to be. His early character in Silverton represented the local color of the town. As a result he was more or less a clown. He and I went about without much purpose, and where there was the least resistance—not meaning that we tried any of the doorknobs. But we sort of loitered around at our leisure, and in that way got to know each other very well, and incidentally a lot of other people.
One Sunday we went to Wilhoit Springs, a mountain resort, where many prominent people came from Portland to spend a week or so. The proprietor was a cross, surly man, and his guests were pining for something intellectual. They soon found Duff. They marveled at his tricks and his keen mind. They said they wished he was the proprietor of the soda springs.
It was here that Duff introduced me into the first real artistic atmosphere I had experienced. The man that admired my dog chum most was a lithographer named Walling. I drew pictures for him on bark and chips while Duff was resting. Mr. Walling told me that both of us ought to come to Portland, where he was sure our talents would make a hit.
We finally did go to Portland after several years, and Duff’s friends received us warmly. I had expected to make my fortune and to support Duff royally. But my drawing was not appreciated in Portland as it was in Silverton.
The first money I ever acquired from art was brought in by Duff. I got him a position at the Standard theatre, where he joined the song and dance team of Hickey and Clifford. They paid me $1.50 per week for the stunts Duff did every evening during their few months’ engagement.
One rehearsal was all the dog needed. I doubt if any chorus girl’s vanity ever took her to the theatre with more regularity than this dog’s pride in his act took him. His part was, at a given signal, to run on the stage and grab Hickey by a prepared pad concealed under the actor’s coat tails. Then Duff was swung around and around hanging by his teeth.
I sat in a front seat every night and applauded. Sometimes Duff would come to the footlights and peek over at me and wag his tail. He turned a few hand springs and jumped rope and never objected as to who came on first. This made him the most popular actor with the stage director.
In Silverton, before we went to Portland, Duff did more tricks than I could tell you of in a day’s talk. He carried in stove wood; he rode up on the hay fork holding to a sack; he sat on the cowcatcher of the locomotive; he was the retriever, the bird dog, the shepherd, the clown. He could catch a coin or a baseball that was laid on the top of his nose. He would turn a back somersault just for the asking. What is more, he understood any plain language, the kind we used in Silverton.
When I was an engine wiper he was the watchdog of all the company’s property. Thus, when Receiver Scott, of the O. R. Co., doubted the dog’s ability to watch the engine all night as he slept on the cab seat—where I ought to have been, but was accustomed to stay away from my post and sleep in my bed—Duff attacked the inquisitive receiver who had sneaked up in the dark, and treed him on an old-fashioned pump in the yard of a nearby hotel.
A lady once, when I was boasting of Duff’s wonderful intelligence, said:
“Do you mean to tell me that I can’t hide your knife where he can’t find it?”
“Yes,” I said; “it would be impossible.”
I told Duff to go in the next room till we hid the knife. She put it up on the top shelf of the sideboard, behind the only real cut glass there was in Silverton.
Duff came in and began to sniff with his head up. Before either of us had time to stop him he mounted the sideboard, knocking down all the glass and breaking it and brought us the knife.
An actor finally offered me $100 for Duff. My father came to Portland to see me about accepting the offer. We talked it over one day on the Stark street ferry. Duff was with us and we thought he knew what we were talking about. He looked as sad as father, and I felt I couldn’t bear to sell him, though I couldn’t imagine anything that one hundred dollars wouldn’t buy.
Father said life was made up of such sorrows and disappointments; that while nothing could be finer than to spend a lifetime with a dog of such wonderful intelligence and sympathy, still a hundred dollars at compound interest at 10 per cent. for twenty years would buy so-and-so and so-and-so, and that in the professional life Duff was leading he might be stolen.
I was about to agree. All this time Duff had stood between us, his eyes on the floor. I spoke to him and he raised his head slowly and looked at father full in the eye.
In that look he saved us. Father turned to me and said:
“Homer, I guess we can’t sell him.”
At that Duff leaped high in the air, bumped father’s hat off his head, caught it in the air and ran frisking about the boat with it.
No, he couldn’t be sold; there was something in Duff that showed in his eyes and prohibited a price.
The Silverton Appeal was the one newspaper in Silverton. It was a weekly, that the editor told me might some time be changed to a daily, if the town ever responded to its encouragement; but the town didn’t respond, so that the Silverton Appeal is still a weekly. For a time it got to look like it would be a monthly. The editor always set type and smoked long stem pipes; with big shears he culled from every other paper. Lots of times he took cord wood for subscriptions, and, after that system had been inaugurated for a few years, he ran a wood yard in connection with the Silverton Appeal.
The Appeal was unique in its way; there was an individuality about the paper that one would know it was published in Silverton and nowhere else. The editor was about as smart as any man in town, but once in a while he got things into the paper that they didn’t see till they were printed. I noticed an advertisement once for a lost horse that read as follows: “Found, a bay horse fifteen and a half hands high, left hind foot white, small star in the forehead; any one describing the property, and paying for this advertisement, can have the same by calling at my farm.”
There was one strong opposition to the Silverton Appeal, and it was a hard competitor. It was the old covered bridge that crossed Silver Creek, on Main Street. Sometimes the old bridge had more news on it than the Appeal; people got so they posted some of the town scandals, and it always had more local news than the home paper. H. G. Guild, who was the best editor the Silverton Appeal ever had, was shrewd enough Saturday nights, before the Appeal appeared on the streets, to go out and quietly tear down some of the big headlines that the bridge had and the Appeal didn’t, and in that way the Appeal finally got ahead.
The job work in connection with the Silverton Appeal was advertised all over the bridge, and throughout the Appeal the job work was as queer as the editorial page. One advertisement announced a sale of Ai Coolidge, the banker. It appears that Uncle Ai had got overstocked with old harrows and a mixture of livestock, and was going to sell them at auction. The advertisement listed among the enumerated stock “one two-year-old yearling bull.”
Of course, it wasn’t the intention of the Silverton Appeal to compete with any other paper, and, as the editor started the wood yard for subscriptions, after that had run a couple of years it was frequently remarked that he had got to be a better judge of cord wood than he was of news. But the people of Silverton appreciated the Silverton Appeal; they many times remarked that they liked it lots better than the Portland Oregonian, as it always had more home news in it.
I used to drift around into the shoe shop. Simeral was a ball player, so he used to sit in his shop and talk over the errors of the latest games. If you have ever sat in a shoemaker’s chair, you are bound to admit that it is the most comfortable seat you ever fell into. I used to sit there and whittle leather and talk with the shoemaker; I must have whittled leather scraps for two or three years without missing much time. Finally one day by mistake I cut into an upper that was to be made
into a shoe and it nearly broke up the shop; I couldn’t pay for it, and we didn’t want to ask Father to settle, so I joined the firm to get out of it.
My only duty then in town was to get up our cows that we let run in the streets nights, hoping they would find some neighbor’s garden gate open. I used to get them up and milk them, but going into this firm as a shoemaker was such a big surprise.
I told all the young men around town and some of the old ones that thought I drew too many pictures; in fact, I told a few girls that thought because I did not have pocket change enough to take them to dances, that I wasn’t much. I went home early, didn’t tell Father, because he didn’t want me to work; just wanted me to study faces and draw.
I didn’t sleep much; turned and tossed until four o’clock, then got up and went to Simeral’s shop. I thought of the cows, but didn’t get them up; in fact, didn’t have time and didn’t think it would look dignified. Simeral came about nine, and let me in, and before he had the key out of the door I was into a roll of red morocco, starting on some boots that would have sold even before they had been finished. He came to me and said, “Homer, there ain’t a boot in this shop I would trust you with now, but I saw a feller the other day with two and when he brings them in they’re yours. In the meantime, I have twenty cords of wood up in the alley next to my house. If you will go up and saw that twice in two and toss it up into the woodshed, by the time that’s done there’ll be some boots in.”
Of course I saw the peculiar part of learning the shoemaking trade, but I had told so many people that I had to go. I had been sawing wood about half an hour, just long enough to be thoroughly disgusted with any branch of the shoemaking trade, when I heard a familiar cow bell, looked around, and saw my old father come driving our cows past this very woodpile. There was no way to escape, as they were too close. I thought of many ways of eluding discovery; perhaps the safest of the many would be to bend over and saw wood, knowing that as he had never seen me in that position, he would likely pass on by.
But the older and shrewder of the three cows recognized me and stopped, perhaps because she saw so much of her milk on my boots. I didn’t look up, but kept on sawing, pulled the hat down tighter and felt strange. I also felt Father’s hand on my shoulders and dreaded for once to tell him the truth, as it sometimes hurts. He said, “Homer, will you please tell me what has happened? Have you had any trouble at home? Speak up plainly.” “No,” I said, “nothing wrong there.” “Then tell me what this strange departure means. I got up early, called you, and you were not in your room. Tell me just the plain truth.”
“Well, I’m here learning the shoemaker’s trade of Frank Simeral, and I started in to saw.” “You’re what?” said Father. “I’m learning the shoemaker’s trade.” He made me repeat it till it sounded ghastly, then taking me by one hand he squeezed it gently and affectionately when he said, “Homer, look me square in the eye.” I thought on that particular occasion just a stab over the shoulder would do, but he said, “No, right in the eye. You know, don’t you, that I sold the most beautiful farm you or any one else ever saw, mainly that you might live here in Silverton so that if by any chance you didn’t turn out to be a cartoonist, you couldn’t say that I hadn’t done all that was in my power to do for your art education. You know that, don’t you?” “Yes,” I said. “Then do you think you are playing me fair? Mind you, I am delighted to see you learn this trade, but don’t you think you ought to have had the manhood to come home and learn it of me? I’ve got twice as much wood as this to saw.”